Monday, 24 November 2014

Resisting the urge to play blitz games.

Yesterday I bought a nice travel sized chess board so I can properly study chess again. I also got a copy of My System, long on my to read list. I read and went through the positions in the first few pages today. Nothing new so far aside from the incredible importance Nimzowitsch gives to tempi and his great explanation on when to exchange and when not to. I enjoyed it but going through the positions was a bit exhausting.

I've kept up practising tactics and so far I am nowhere near my all time high of 1990 in tactics. Hanging around the 1700 level. Just had a massive urge to "test" my newly acquired knowledge in a live blitz game, managed to resist it until I keep my promise and get to the 99th percentile in corespondence chess. Wasn't easy, but instead I managed to get a few more tactics in. Over and out!

Friday, 21 November 2014

Tilt, Learning Plateau & Future Resolutions

A couple of months ago I seemingly got stuck at the 97-98th percentile of correspondence chess. This frustrated me and I lost 100 rating points quite quickly. After recovering about 50 points I decided the reason I reached a plateau was that correspondence chess was boring me a bit and I decided to go back to live games. I picked the Blitz format because my rating there was the most mediocre, 90th percentile, say what?!

Fast forward a couple of months and a couple hundred or so blitz games later and I reached the same problem. Stuck at the 93th percentile, tilting, losing 10 games in a row making the most horrendous moves. It was at this point I realised I play completely different when my rating is below what I think I should be, a common characteristic of chassing your losses, tilting. I took a step back and decided to find a solution. My search led me to a book entitled The mental game of poker by Jared Tendler, a sport psychologist. The insights I drew were extremely helpful.

Jared cites the Adult Learning Model (ALM) theory in his book which describes how certain skills we know (or don't) have four different levels of competence. The levels are Unconscious Incompetence, Conscious Incompetence, Conscious Competence and Unconscious Competence. Most GMs can win blindfolded against multiple opponnents because most of their skills lie in the Unconscious Competence category.

The problem that we, as learners have is that most of the skills we think we know are actually still in the Conscious Competence category. These skills are fragile and require utmost attention and focus for us to execute them properly. If emotions show up, including time pressure, these skills go out of the window and we start playing a subpar game. Jared argues that emotions are difficult to control and perhaps counterproductive as well, therefore the best way to stop emotions (or tilt) affecting your play is to move more skills to the Unconscious Competence category, aka the skills that show up irrelevant of how you are feeling.

Think about it, even in time pressure, you won't try to move your queen like a knight, right? That's an example of UC and that's where we need to bring the rest of our skills up to. Furthermore, if you are a beginner then it's likely a lot of your skills are either in the UI or CI category! For instance, if you know that moving a piece twice during the opening is considered bad, but do not know what to do about it then that skill is in the Conscious Incompetence category. Once you learn that you must complete development of all your pieces because it is an integral part of the game, this skill moves up to the Conscious Competence category.

Jared also uses a helpful example of an inchworm to drive the point home, but to keep things short I will put forward some concrete findings based on this principle that apply to my game:

1. When I reach a plateau and stop climbing rating points as fast, I get frustrated, my emotions are all over the place. This means I start playing worse than usual because all the things I think I know go out of the window.
2. To improve, I need to identify which of these skills are still at the CC level and study them to finally get them over to the UC level. When I do this, my rating will naturally climb up until I reach another plateau at which point I have to find the next UC skills to promote.
3. On the basis of that logic, I realised that I do not practise prophylaxis on every move as I should. Therefore I resolve to make it a commandment that I shall ALWAYS analyse what my oponnent's move intends before I plan my own move. Sounds simple enough, but the trick is to get used to doing it EVERY move. Bring it to the UC level.
4. I also realised how I stopped studying as much, and therefore I resolve to quit playing live games once again until I reach the 99th percentile on correspondence. Meanwhile, I will do the tactics trainer and hopefully double my tactics time from 48 hours to 100 hours. Bring some more tactical patterns to the UC level.

I realise this post is very technical, psychological and lacks detail. However, in order to go in more depth I would end up writing a chapter of a book. I will leave that for later.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Update on the goals I set myself. Lessons learned.

5 weeks ago I set myself some goals, here is how I did:
  • Read a few books
    Man's Search for Meaning, Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health, Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle: Transform Your Body Forever Using the Secrets of the Leanest People in the World, Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's Silent Killers, The Call of the Wild, Mind Power Into the 21st Century: Techniques to Harness the Astounding Powers of Thought.
    Total: 6 books. Conclusion: Not too shabby! Great books.
  • Train & Summit Chimborazo (once and for all!)
    At the beginning of the break I went all out with my training by doing 650 meters of climbing without any previous training. This stupidity lead to injuring my knee. I had no idea what was wrong with it until 2 weeks ago when I met a nice physiotherapist who sorted my knee out. With only 2 weeks to go I trained hard to go to Chimborazo, including a 950m ascent/descent in 3h 30m. Not bad, I felt ready, however I could not get hold of my guide to actually go to Chimborazo. Shame. 
    Conclusion: Failed! :(
  • Finish developing a proof of concept for a start up I am working on with my brother
    I ended up paying a developer to do this, only a bit more work left to do and the proof of concept is ready.
    Conclusion: Almost made it!
  • Finish programming a chess study tool I left half done, this is on my list thanks to Igor Smoliński :)
    I actually programmed this myself, today I am happy to announce it is ready to be tested out by people other than myself. Closed BETA!
    Conclusion: Made it!
  • Sell a car I bought before I leave for Chile & Argentina. I thought this would be a quick flip sale but instead its taught me some difficult lessons.
    Completely failed this one, I had some ongoing negotiations to trade it as part of a payment for a small apartment but in the end it did not happen. I am probably going to lose some money on this car, oh well.
    Conclusion: Failed
  • Of course, keep playing chess :) Here is my current on-line chess ranking: #15,241 of 423,339 (96.3%). I flirted with 97% for a while.
    Oh yeah, what this blog is all about. I kept playing chess on-line and I actually managed to go above 97% and hold it for a while (around 1,850 correspondence rating). Then, as usual started too many games and the less attention I give a game the more mistakes/blunders I make. Thus I've gone back down to 96% (#14,561 of 425,566 (96.5%) <- this feels like failure after being above 97%!). Now, I have my sights set on a permanent 97-98% ranking soon. I also found out a few locals who play chess and I've been joining them once a week to play live. I must say, playing in person is way more enjoyable (and I lose less!).
    Conclusion: I did it!

Lessons Learned
All in all I am happy with how all of this has gone. I didn't do half bad and as always I've learned a few things about myself & life.

1. To program/work 8-9 hours a day or just 3?
I really do hate programming (or is it working?) when it takes up my whole day. At the beginning of the 6 weeks I kept feeling like a failure if I didn't do 6-9 hours of solid work in a day. As a result, I felt some sort of resistance to work and didn't get anything done. After realising this I've set myself more realistic goals of 90 minutes to 3 hours of work a day. When I approached work in this manner I've managed to get a lot more done than on days where I aimed for the Western standard of 8 hours. I am willing to be these days I did more than most people who work 8 hours as well!

Considering I've read multiple times that most people get around 3 hours of productive work done per day (even if they work 8), a goal of 3 hours per day seems to be the way to go. It worked, I got almost everything done! Maybe the next start up I run I will impose a rule that everyone can only work part-time (and pay them double for it?), we can spend the rest of the day playing Call of Duty or something (er, I think that's what we used to do anyway :) )

2. Buying a vehicle without solid advice from a specialist is very risky!
I took the wrong person for advice on the purchase of a car, while the car is awesome & in great condition there is a very small market for this kind of car where I am, hence, selling it on is a huge problem. A niche car such as this will  take a lot longer to sell than I originally planned.

Funny enough, I knew this rule from The Richest Man in Babylon, "Arkad lost his first investment when he trusted a brick maker to purchase jewels. The brick maker knowing nothing about jewels got tricked, losing all the investment.". I broke this rule, now I shall never forget it.

3. If you are injured, see a physiotherapist.
I was under the wrong impression that if I gave my knee time to recover on it's own, it would. After all when I cut myself my wounds heal on their own. Boy was I wrong! The knee wasn't getting any better with time. When a physiotherapist saw it, she had it sorted within a day. Amazing.

4. Chess is enjoyed more when played in person.
Can't beat a game in person, so much more fun. Thanks everyone who has played me in person lately, it was good fun!

Sunday, 29 June 2014

10 Reasons I chose to study Applied Psychology

A quick tldr, I'm still playing chess and keeping at more or less the same level (top 97%), but I haven't studied chess in a while. Instead I've been rigorously studying a Masters in Applied Psychology. Here is why:

  1. The human mind is the most complex machine there is and we are never taught how to operate it!
    Choosing to study Psychology is my bid to understand first and foremost my own behaviour, how to gain more control of this complex machinery I've been given. Would you not learn to drive if someone gifted you a Ferrari?
  2. I wanted to solidify and give foundations to all the self help books I've read.
    I've read plenty of self help books, from Think and Grow Rich to The Power of Habit and more. I wanted to dig deeper and find out where these best sellers got their foundations.
  3. The interest was there since my undergrad degree
    One of the main reasons I studied Computer Science in my undergrad was due to the pressure to pick something to study. It was the easiest choice because it was easy. I never really knew what my real interests where but my databases teacher got me started with positive psychology and to this day I love it.
  4. I needed an outlet for my creativity
    I had been studying chess less and less, I hadn't been creating cool products or games. Aside from learning languages and travelling I felt like I wasn't growing enough as a person. Studying psychology gives me an opportunity to come up with ideas and back them up with research.
  5. I could do it on-line, while travelling
    One of the key selling points was that a prestigious British university was offering exactly the degree I wanted, completely on-line. This way I can keep my freedom and relocate as much as I want. For example, this year I will have lived in Ecuador, Chile and Argentina. Last year, I was in Germany.
  6. I got a discount
    It smells like a cheeky influence technique used by my enrolment advisor, but I managed to get a "scholarship", a whole 20% off the cost of my degree. Not too shabby.
  7. I love learning
    I haven't stopped learning at any point in my life. It's fun, it's what we are born to do. We are here to follow our curiosity.
  8. It will be useful
    Applied psychology can be used in sports psychology, business, theoretical psychology, forensic psychology and more! Having this qualification will open countless more doors.
  9. I needed a break and time for my chess knowledge to crystallise
    I do not have any psychological research to back this up but my intuition said that I needed some time for all my chess knowledge to solidify. This left me with spare time, and since I was not ready to start building products, a second degree was the answer.
  10. Why not?
    The only thing I could come up with against taking this degree was the cost. If I had paid it all at once there would go all my savings, forcing me to get a job or launch a successful product straight away. Luckily, I was able to pay it in 36 quotes. So I can bum around a bit more.

So what's next?
I will be on a well earned 6 week break soon. As usual, I've overloaded myself with plans on what to do during this break. I want to:
  • Read a few books
  • Train & Summit Chimborazo (once and for all!)
  • Finish developing a proof of concept for a start up I am working on with my brother
  • Finish programming a chess study tool I left half done, this is on my list thanks to Igor Smoliński :)
  • Sell a car I bought before I leave for Chile & Argentina. I thought this would be a quick flip sale but instead its taught me some difficult lessons.
  • Of course, keep playing chess :) Here is my current on-line chess ranking: #15,241 of 423,339 (96.3%). I flirted with 97% for a while.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Why I went to the eye doctor & stopped studying chess.

So last week I went to the eye doctor, as per my girlfriends request. I hate going to the doctor, I associate it with something being wrong with me or if it's regular check up I associate it with robbery (I've paid up to £400 for a check up in London!). It turns out the hate is not unfounded, as the doctor gave me bad news and said I have a problem with both my eyes. Who wants to go to the doctor when there is a chance they give you such terrible news?! Right?

Okay, I may have over exaggerated when I said the news was terrible, it annoyed me for the first few hours but by the next day I was fine. The doctor recommended an eye exercise that I must do for 20 minutes a day for 6 months. At first I wondered where I would find these 20 minutes from and boiled over with anger about all the lost time over 6 months (exactly 3,600 minutes or 6 hours). However, this diagnosis turned out to be a blessing in disguise because for those 20 minutes my brain is not occupied with anything else other than the exercise, so being the great multitasker that I am, I am now using those same 20 minutes topractice positive affirmations and meditate over a few thoughts/things.

It was during those meditations that I have realised that I promised myself I would try to work 6 months and rest 6 months (Proof: Roller coasters are fun. When you are a kid.) Now, during the last 8 months I have worked 2 full months. The month of November (Proof: How I made $30,000 this month, by not playing chess.) and the month of February (No proof, :P). So I have to work at least another 4 months to stand by what I said. This is why, starting this week, I've quit studying chess (I'm still playing!), and I am focusing on work and building skills that may potentially lead to enjoyable work in the future.

Having said that, these upcoming 4+ months (the + is because I allow myself to borrow months from vacation and vice versa ;-) ), I will be working on:
  • Something to do with tourism in Ecuador ( real work! )
  • Attaining the skills to become a British Mountain Guide ( future work! )
  • Maybe, maybe a psychology degree ( future work? )
  • Sorting out my eyes ( hard work :( )
  • Launch a single mobile app ( very speculative work )

That's it! Wish me luck. Also, stay tuned because I will be posting a few interesting bits and bobs on how I will carefully start up the business in tourism. The goal is to recover all the investment within 1 year. You may also hear more about the mobile app, if it ends up launching :)

PS.- Let's face it, if I studied chess year round becoming a GM would be a joke, it needs to be a bit harder than that, right? :) I think out of my 6 months off, I managed to study chess for just 3 months, with that, I am confident of breaking into the top 99% soon, I guess it gets harder from there.
Credits: Comic from the quirky little comic
Also posted at:

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Mark Dvoretsky's School of Chess Excellence 3: Strategy. Ch 1 Learnings

Okay, so I have not read Book 1 and Book 2 unfortunately as I grabbed this book from a shelf in a shop in Moscow, and they did not have anything other than Book 3. I guess they are popular! I will at some point buy the other books: Endgame Analysis, Tactical Play and Opening Developments. Meanwhile I am focusing on the one that interests me the most, Strategy. I will write a series of blog posts, summarizing my learnings to hopefully reinforce what I've learned and maybe help some fellow chess players out there. So here goes.

Chapter 1: Логика позиционной борьбы (Logic behind positional battles)
I've been playing the Queen's pawn game (1. d4) ever since I started taking chess seriously, and thus, I often find myself in very slow positional battles. This chapter has definitely helped me understand a bit more, mainly by reminding me of important concepts that have not yet taken permanent residence inside of my brain. Here they are:

  • Always start your turn by asking yourself what your opponent is up to, what chance's does he have?
    Recently I lost a game in 23 moves, where by move 22 I had an advantage of more than 2 points. I knew I was winning, I was quite proud that in 22 moves I made only 4 inaccuracies, no mistakes, no blunders. My opponent was suffering. On move 23 I got so excited of my growing advantage that I forgot to ask myself this question. End result? Blunder, and game lost in the blink of an eye. Now, I have already blogged about this before here: Overconfidence Kills: In Business and In Chess , and yet I keep committing this mistake. I need to reinforce this principle so that I never forget to ask it, no matter what, hopefully one day I will write a blog that proves I've managed to stick by this principle.
    White to move. White has a 2 point advantage based on this position. My blunder? Scroll to the end of the blog to see my blunder, otherwise have a guess in the comments section.
  • If you have found what your opponent's plan is, it doesn't necessarily mean you have to make a move to prevent it. That is, if their plan is not dangerous, then you should not make a concession by preventing it. Let them go ahead and do it.
    At the moment I do not have an example of me messing this principle up. I think most of the time I do not waste my time with moves like h3 and a3 if they are not necessary. Keeping to the principle of not moving your pawn's on the side you are weaker, I usually manage not to move the pawn's unless absolutely necessary.
  • Keep your opponent's weak pieces and your strong pieces on the board.
    I'm guilty of falling victim to unnecessary, inaccurate moves and trades from time to time. For example, in the same game outlined above, I had a decent black bishop, while black's black bishop was blocked off by his own pawn. I should have fixed his weakness and played on the opposite flank. However, I remembered a general rule, that you should trade off your opponent's fianchettoed bishop, and I proceeded to trade his bad fianchettoed bishop for my good bishop. Stupid of me to fall for the general rule, when the position actually called for me to keep my bishop and try to lock his bishop into his cramped, bad position. See position below: 

    What should my plan be here? Well, I incorrectly decided that I need to eliminate his fianchettoed bishop, and I went for it with Qd2, followed by Bh6. The proper course of action would have been to continue my attack on the Queen's flank with a move such as Qb3.
  • Attack your opponent's weaknesses. This is a bit obvious no? Well, in a way yes, but Dvoretsky exemplifies how to execute this to perfection. You should not rush, rather, you should find the most accurate order of moves to achieve your objectives. Whether this objective is to set up an outpost for your knight or attacking that backward pawn your opponent left. I got a feeling from this chapter that there is a certain magic, to train your brain to see a sequence of moves (like in tactics), whose end result is a "just" a weak square in the opponent's camp. Usually I've only done a sequence of moves in my brain to exploit tactics. I will now start imagining sequences of moves that will create the outposts and weak squares I want. After all, it's these kind of weaknesses that in the end define a game.

The next chapter is entitled "Which pawn to move?", which excites me very much as I think the weakest part of my game currently is pawn moves. I am definitely getting better at them, but there is a lot of room for improvement. Until the next time!! :)

My blunder: Bxh5. Completely forgot I have left the square b3 undefended. Massive, massive blunder.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

No blog entry in 2 months. Ouch. What's the plan?

So my last blog post earned 25 Quora upvotes, a record for the blog. Considering the blog had only about 25 followers yesterday, that's a decent result! It has scared me for the last 2 months, to write something good enough to publish after that record breaking post.

Okay, truth is, I wasn't that scared, so what really happened? The last two months have been devoted fully to family. One month vacation, just chilling with my loved ones during the Christmas and New Year holidays, and then one month of handling family business in chilly Russia. During this time I hardly made any progress at chess. I haven't done a single chess puzzle or watched a single chess video. I haven't studied at all. Shame on me. I can only imagine how the 2 months would turn into a year if I had kids. Luckily, I don't.

The good news is, the Russia stuff that has been haunting me for the whole of last year, is now finally, completely, OVER! So even though I made no progress at chess, I have now a clear take off strip for me to make huge leaps of progress. Thus, starting tomorrow, I will start the take off.

What's the plan?
I will resume doing chess puzzles for at least 90 minutes daily and I plan to complete the Dvoretsky book by the end of March. I shall try to devote at least 3 full hours a day to chess. Aside from that, my days shall be filled with the planning and execution of my next business venture. It has to do with tourism in Ecuador, but for now I cannot reveal more details. I will also be quite busy working out, gaining physical fitness for a few 5,000m+ peak ascents, that I have planned for the end of March. More on that, in a few weeks. Wish me luck!