Monday, 26 October 2015

Second Tournament Report & Actionable Points

So I returned from my 2nd FIDE rated tournament yesterday, which means I have completed my 10th game. I have heard it takes about 25 games to get an accurate FIDE rating but based on my own analysis I think my rating of around 1850 FIDE is pretty accurate.

This rating is based on my performance vs similarly rated players, a recent victory in a ECF game vs someone rated approximately 2000 FIDE and the relative ease with which I can handle players rated around 1600 FIDE (not that they aren't dangerous players!).

A quick summary of the tournament would be that I should have scored 2.5/5 points but after refusing a draw in my last game against an opponent rated 1915 FIDE I only secured 2/5 points, giving him a performance rating of 2000 and lowering mine to about 1770, instead of maybe keeping us both at an even 1900! Lesson? Take time left on the clock extremely seriously when considering a draw and forget 'what should have happened if time was infinite!'. I knew I had winning chances at a few points of the game and computer analysis agrees and could obviously not let this go. When I was under 10 minutes and my opponent still had 30, I started making questionable moves giving black an advantage!

See the position below, I did seriously consider Bf1 and was going to play it, but after considering his rook gets quick access to a2 and I didn't have enough time to calculate the ramifications of that, I decided to just 'push the pawn'. It was all downhill from here really, keeping my bishop out of the game and even so the draw offer came about 5 moves later, with my opponent missing a blunder the computer did see.

Sad state of affairs towards the end-game but I can be somewhat proud of my overall opening and mid-game play, aside from the time it took I guess!

So what did I learn, what are my actionable points to improve? What are my next goals?

Actionable points:

  1. Continue studying the end game (I must have done about 6 hours of end game study the last month, not good enough. Recalling the principles now, I know i should have pulled my bishop back to provide the support from long range, horrible move, b5!
  2. Close the holes in my opening repertoire so I can remain competitive longer against players who know opening lines I don't and thus save time. The way I will achieve this is by playing more 20 minute games again (have hardly had any in the last month!) and perhaps even Blitz could help, and every time I am not happy with my opening performance, study the line using the tool I've developed. Eg, I got destroyed by not knowing some fundamental differences between a Dragon setup and an Accelerated Dragon, ouch! I want to get to a stage where no matter what reasonable opening my opponent choose I can feel comfortable for at least 10-15 moves. I am not sure  correspondence chess can help patch up my opening repertoire as the flow of games isn't anywhere near as fast to find the gaps that exist. The correspondence games mainly help with middle game positions, finding plans.
The positives of my actionable points are that they are fully in line with the Russian school of chess which often backs the study of chess from the opening and the end game first, leading towards key middle game positions later.


I am not sure I will play the next FIDE chess event in London, as I feel I have some improving to do before I can go there and seriously challenge the players on the 2000-2100 band. However, I think I can really kick their ass next year, perhaps by April, so let's make that the goal. 2000 FIDE by April 2016. Here i come!

Friday, 16 October 2015

The reason I memorise opening lines. Does it make us robots?

Is memorising opening lines worth it?

So yesterday I played my second league game for the University of Bristol. I was slightly familiar with the position my opponent, rated ECF 176 (about FIDE 2020) chose with the white pieces. Perhaps a better description is, it's not like I have never seen it before; however, I haven't played it all that much at all, moreover, I definitely haven't studied any opening lines for it.

This quickly lead to a big time advantage for my opponent who obviously plays this line all the time as white. Unfortunately I did not know who I was playing beforehand so preparation was out of the question. So despite having about 40 minutes left once we got into the middle game, playing against someone with half an hour more than you and no time increment is pretty challenging.

"memorising doesn't make us machines, it just helps us get an even footing versus players who have played a lot longer than we have"

I kept going, I managed to finally get a good position and perhaps at some point a good advantage (with equal material), however, time became more and more of a factor leaving me with 7 minutes vs. my opponents 15-20 (I managed recover some time!). Eventually, I was forced to make my moves in under 30 seconds (since there was no time increment!) and this led to an unfortunate move giving my opponent easy targets. The extra pressure resulted in an eventual blunder by me. So what are the lessons to take home from this game?

Basically, any rated league/tournament game I play where I am familiar with the opening lines, I manage to go out of the opening with a time advantage and put all the pressure on my opponent. Making moves so confidently definitely gives you a psychological edge, so, I need to make sure my repertoire has no gaps. It almost doesn't, there are only a few lines where I need to brush up. Soon, I should have a good idea of what to do regardless of my opponent's first moves.

So despite anything negative anyone might say about memorising opponents, claiming its all about understanding the position, well, it's all fine to go about it that way when you are already a master or have limitless time available to you, or a great teacher perhaps. However, if you don't, surely it is a lot quicker to memorise the lines and get good positions out of the opening so you can play on an even ground where both players need to think! Eventually, by memorising you will also build an understanding of the positions.

So I will go on memorising more variations, it's pretty quick I find, and very very useful thanks to a software tool I developed (name to be revealed very soon!). Time to learn some Catalan lines. If anyone is interested in memorising lines with me, contact me and perhaps you can gain some early BETA access! Oh, and no, memorising doesn't make us machines, it just helps us get an even footing versus players who have played a lot longer than we have!

Friday, 9 October 2015

My first tournament and more!

In my last post I talked about moving to Europe, having less chess study time and my goal of getting above 1850 FIDE in my first chess tournament. Well time has passed, I am in Europe, I have played my first tournament and was slightly disappointed with my result, although, I am probably being harsh on myself as my current FIDE rating is 1873!!!

I played in the
Hampstead Chess Congress on the 26-27 September 2015, and for my first game I got white vs. Jake Hung (1708). I made a point of not looking at my opponent's ratings, so when I played Jake I did not know what his rating was. I knew the player pool was mostly above 1900 and 2000 so I assumed Jake to be the same. I was pleasantly surprised after the first few opening moves when my opponent played 8..e4, which seemed overly aggressive to me and dangerous for him considering his king side was so underdeveloped.

You can see from the analysis that after this move my advantage in the game rose steadily without much difficulty and the game was finished pretty soon. I doubt I played a splendid game and some inaccuracies got me in slight trouble later on giving my opponent counter-chances, but I managed to finish with a nice mating pattern. Here is the full game.

Having started on the right foot, I knew my opponent would be better in the second game as he also, had won his first game. I played Zoltan Kovacs (2009) as white and neither one of us managed to get a large advantage as we both missed good chances. In the end, we agreed a draw as the position was overly complicated and neither one of us wanted to take many more risks than necessary. I had a good time advantage takes to my opening preparation as I caught my opponent in lines he was unfamiliar with while I executed the first 12 moves very quickly, I should have slowed down for the 14th move though...!

In this position after 13..gxf6 white has a considerable advantage, but I go on to mess it up and give black a decent yet complicated game. You can find the full game here. 

I will be brief about the last three games, which you can find on the same lichess page, but I went on to win the third game in spectacular fashion after over 60 moves, I clinged to a draw for a while as black and eventually got my chance to go for the kill. This allowed me to go into the second day as one of the tourney leaders with 2.5/3 points. I was in dreamland!

On the final two games of the tournament, first I played Koby Kalavannan (1989). In this game I had the pressure of being one of the tourney leaders, I was in contention of the prize money and moreover, Koby decided to reveal to me that he was rated 2170 just a month ago. This probably influenced my game at some points. I did compose myself and gave Koby an extremely good game, he ended up in time trouble first but I quickly joined him as we both lived off 30 second increments. I managed to get a good advantage with a winning position just to eventually leave my knight hanging in the most obvious of fashions! This brain dysfunction (let's call it that) destroyed me emotionally and I never recovered for the next game where I just wasn't myself. Of course, the game against Koby also lasted a full 3 hours so I did not have more than half an hour to recover for my game with James Golding. I probably need a full night's sleep!!

The picture above shows the position after move 38 against Koby, black has enough of an advantage to play for a win but I completely forget my knight is hanging (although I was aware of it) and give Koby the game.

So that was my first tourney, a great first day and a terrible second day for a total score of 2.5/5 and a performance good enough for a FIDE rating of 1873! Above the target I set myself nonetheless. However, after this tournament I left with the strong feeling I can definitely play at a 2000 FIDE level and hence my disappointment to not have scored at least one more point.

I took this confidence into my on-line correspondence games and managed to climb to 1906 rating on chess [dot] com, still not good enough for the 99th percentile, leaving me at 98.2%! I also played confidently an English Chess Federation league game representing the University of Bristol, taking down an opponent rated approximately 2100 FIDE with the black pieces!!! I imagine my ECF (BCF) rating is going up!!! For more details on that victory check out my opponent's match report here 'The luck of the draw'.

Oh, to conclude, if you noticed the University of Bristol mentioned, it's because I am now studying a taught Msc there, it's really time consuming!!! Hence, the lack of blog posts, the lack of chess study and youtube chess videos. Nonetheless, my game is improving with the limited study I do and especially so thanks to my opening preparation, which is done via a web site I will soon release to the world!

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Update on Improvement

It's nice to have constant improvement, but often in chess plateaus are reached. Sometimes you don't understand why, but if you do, then you can make a plan to break the plateau and progress. Luckily, I have plans.

First, I have reached a plateau in Tactics Trainer, I cannot seem to get above 2,000 rating points, I believe the problem to be mostly psychological, whenever I am close to breaking 2,000 I solve tactics faster to get more points and then after getting a few wrong I get into a bad emotional state that make me spiral down. I have recently decided that I no longer seem to be losing games due to missing tactical patterns, in fact, my tactical awareness seems pretty strong, so I am going to cut down on tactics. However, I am not sure how much yet, maybe I will only do 5 TT problems a day and any others on other sites or books, but definitely no longer 30. To get 30 mostly right is just frustrating! For now, I am doing none as I am moving back to Europe! Here is a photo of the last set of 30 TT/day. (the last week was 20p.d.)

Second, I have kept in touch with an IM chess coach and have had a few lessons. It has mostly been about changing my opening repertoire and playing 1.e4 as well as 1.e4 e5. Before this I used to play mainly the 1.d4 and 1.e4 c5. The idea is that by changing my repertoire I will be able to improve some weak areas of my game, specifically dynamic play as well as become comfortable across a wider range of openings and positions. My Page on has videos of me mostly playing these new openings and I am finally feeling comfortable on those lines. Other than changing the opening repertoire my coach is helping me analyse my own games and correct some faulty positional decisions taken every now and again, example, which pieces are correct to swap and which aren't, correct plans in certain positions, but mainly most of my mistakes have come from not correctly defending or taking over the center. Either way, with a coach, it is nice to be able to improve this part of my game.

I am in a transition period of moving back to Europe, which has reduced the amount of chess study I have been able to do (I still did some! ;-)) but it also means that soon I will be able to play a tournament and get my first FIDE rating. I am really, really, hoping for 1850+ FIDE based on my chess . com ratings compared to other players who seem to have a FIDE rating of around 1800. I also have been getting to play more National Masters lately on ICC hence I really think I may be able to come up even with 1,900. That would be great, but of course, 2,000 will be even better. I plan to make it happen. Wish me luck!

Saturday, 8 August 2015

2000 Tactics Fever & YouTube channel.

Quick little update, I seem to have settled into the 1,900 tactics rating level on, recognising the problems more and more often and thus increasing in rating.

Solving problems even if it takes 8 minutes per problem definitely helps remember the pattern, as opposed to failing it and then just seeing the solution. I am really striving to get at least 80% right each day. Some days I manage to do so really well but other days like today I get too focused on reaching a rating goal and fail. I really wanted to just hit 2,000 but after getting to the 1,980's multiple times I'd act too fast (to gain rating points) and instead end up losing points in problems I may have managed to solve.

This rating hunt needs to stop, of course, but I won't be too harsh on myself and aim to be a stable 2,000 in a month instead of in a day as I have been trying! Today, is a perfect example on how not to solve tactic problems as I got 11/30 wrong vs my usual 5-6/30 wrong, all to try and hit 2,000! All in all, I need to remember I could hardly leave the 1,800's a couple of months ago before I started this new way of looking at tactics. This month I almost hit my 40 hour target, and I would have, but for a week I had away exploring Huaraz in Peru!

In other news, I've launched a video channel on with the goal of improving on slower time controls. How will I achieve that? Well, If I know I am recording I try and take the game more seriously, I try to calculate better, I try to practise prophylaxis better, and in general, I just play better. Usually I'd get bored of slower time controls on-line and get distracted. This way hopefully I will build good habits, one in especially, always checking what my opponents best response to my move is before I make it, as I very often catch myself not doing that.

What else am I up to in chess?
I'm also studying openings still, getting pretty knowledgeable in the Najdorf but the opening is so complicated I reckon I need at least another whole month to learn all the important variations, but I am going to go for it, it's nice to be well versed in the Najdorf, such an exciting opening!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Progress Update: June to July 2015

A quick progress update based on my last set of resolutions.

What worked?

#2) Deciding to stay in Ecuador for a while has given me more stability to take chess more seriously, it helped me achieve a few goals such as improving a lot in rock climbing and the next resolution:

#4) After being stuck in the upper 1700's and mid 1800's in Tactics Trainer, with a 55% successfully solved rate, I found myself depressed about my tactician skills. I resolved to solve for accuracy rather than speed and now I have stabilized at a 1900 rating with a peak of 1960! I could have probably hit 2000 but I got a bit too eager when I approached it and fell back down. This new approach has yielded almost 3 out of every 4 solutions correct (approximately 75%) and I do feel like I am progressing again. I will maintain this approach and hoping to update you from a stable 2,000 next month.

#6) I finished Pawn Structure Chess and a tiny bit of endgame study (got good at opposition, distant opposition, breakthroughs, mined squares, key squares in the endgame). I feel like this new chess knowledge will serve me well but I am well aware that any rating increase I will get will be mostly from eradicating bad habits, and creating good new ones. To this end, I am re-reading Chess for Zebras (the first time I only read about 30%) and hoping to find some nuggets that will help me get the next big rating jump. I imagine, I will just have to do more tactics or maybe opening guess the move and middle game guess the move kind of problems.

What didn't work?

#1) Planning each and every day, it's just next to impossible! I have however got a good solid morning routine so that by 11am I feel like I have done a lot of my chess things and I am free to do everything else that needs doing. Then if I can fit another 2 hours somewhere in the day my chess studying day has gone extremely well.

a) Also, I've played too much Blitz, and I feel like it is no longer benefiting me, my rating soared but it has reached a cap again. Once again, I believe playing slower games maybe including correspondence is the answer. So this next month, that is the goal. Correspondence chess!

New Resolutions
Finish Chess for Zebras
Continue training tactics as I have, solving for accuracy. Recently I saw a video where IM Bartholomew backs the approach as well, solving for accuracy!
Increase the amount of tactics I do by solving some paper booklets I have, or perhaps try and find a way to solve for opening moves or middle game moves to improve my strategic habits.
Ponder on other ways to improve my "skill" rather than my "knowledge" (see Chess for Zebras).

Here are some screenshots of my Tactics Trainer work during the last month, only around 18 hours, I think I should be doing at least 40 hours a month? Hmm.

Rating Progress: 
Correspondence 1856 (97.4%)
Standard 1753 (97.4%)
Blitz 1714 (96.8%)
Bullet 1581 (94.4%)

Got extremely frustrated in my standard games, I think I am not very good at that time control, need to learn better time management for it is most likely to resemble real FIDE tournaments. Quite pleasant to be getting better at Blitz though, both at 10 minute and 5 minute time controls. For Blitz, I feel like my opening preparation is paying off, for slower time controls, it feels like it is not so much the opening that is affecting my play but other factors like double checking your moves and your opponent's best response to them as well as remaining patient throughout the whole thing.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Now that I'm a stable 98th percentile, it's time to step up my game. Here is the plan.

3 months ago I set myself a goal to hit the 99th percentile by basically, today. I had some concrete goals and plans set and now is the time to reflect on them. The benefit when you aim high and fall short is that, if you do fall short you can still achieve something you are proud of. Well, I am stable 98th percentile player now! That means on 15|10 chess I am ranked #14,044 of 817,724. That's and improvement of about 50,000 ranks in 2 years! Considering my studying has been all over the place at points, with many months where I did not study at all, I think this is great! Now, I am going to take studying chess seriously, since I no longer have to study my Masters in Psychology, but that's another long story.

It may not seem like much of a difference going from the 97th percentile to the 98th, especially when I was already flirting with the 98th percentile, but at this point every 0.10% I can go up matters to me, a lot, and I definitely managed to remain with my head above 98th and right now I am at 98.3%. In rating terms it means I went from being a high 1,600 to low 1,700 player on Standard to a stable 1,800 contender. Big difference compared to 2 years ago when I was stuck at the 90th percentile, happy if I managed to hit 1,500. Back then my goal was to get to the 97th and join a chess club. Well, I guess reflecting back on that goal, I have managed it, and I am now attending a small chess club in Cuenca every Saturday!

So what went wrong? Why did I not reach the 99th percentile over the last 3 months?

Well actually, I followed the 4 goals I set myself without even realising, almost to the letter. But things did go wrong, here they are:

1) I did not work with any form of schedule, aside from doing tactics mostly every morning, everything else was done at random times without any planning. This meant that if my mood was low (and in the last 3 months due to personal circumstances that happened often...!), then some things didn't get done or time simply flew away with random things.

Resolution: For the following 3 months, every night I will plan my next day's study & work schedule, including meals, this way, I make the most of my days.

2) A lot of life things got in the way of chess. Mainly making some complicated decisions, for instance, about where to live for the next 6 months (or longer). Would I travel? Would I settle down somewhere and get a job? Would I give my own business ideas a spin again? Difficult decisions, and when you feel like you will leave the country any day bound for an unknown destination sometimes it is hard to get a good study routine going.

Resolution: A couple of weeks ago I decided I would stay in Ecuador for at least 6 months and give a few of my business ideas a spin. This will provide a 6 month "stability" window to improve at chess and to try and generate an income again. I put stability in quotes because I still plan some weekend getaways, camping trips, mountain ascents, and perhaps even La Cordillera Blanca in Peru! Heck, this counts as stability in my life though! :)

3) To summarize (TLDR!), point 2, I let a lot of things interfered with my studying which meant my studying was all over the place.

Resolution: Try to write shorter paragraphs.

4) My tactics training was suboptimal. Although I managed to stay around 1,800 and hit 1,900 for a short period, the overall feeling was that of being stuck at 1,800 and not making any progress. After thinking about it, this was because the tactic problems that were hard for me I would consistently get wrong, and due to rushing because of the time vs. point dilemma , I would always rush. This rushing would make me get the problems wrong, again and again and not improve.

Resolution: Today, I reset my tactics training stats after almost reaching 100 hours (97.8 hours I believe!), I had about 55% problems right and 45% wrong in almost 7,000 solved tactics. More than half in the last 3 months I believe. I reset my tactics because my goal is to update you next time on my tactics and report at least 70% of tactics solved correctly as opposed to just 55%. I will no longer care whether I lose or win rating points while solving tactics, I will care about the percentage I get right. Period. I strongly believe this will allow me to familiarize myself with more patterns and eventually be able to stabilize my tactics rating at around 2,000 or more. Let's see!

5) My opening theory preparation was suboptimal. I attempted learning all the lines to an opening which took forever. While I am proud to report I am somewhat of a Nimzo expert as white, I found that people stopped playing the bloody Nimzo almost as if by chance and I hardly get to use my knowledge. Instead I often get lost in some obscure line of the King's Indian, Benoni, Slav, openings where I lack knowledge. In the rare case someone plays a Nimzo, they go off the book and I do not immediately know how to punish them. Hence many hours of learning opening theory have not yet reflected themselves on my rating, but maybe it has somehow improved my play by helping me recognise certain plans in certain pawn structures, maybe.

Resolution: I want to memorize shorter lines, instead of knowing an opening 20 moves down the opening lines, I am going to try to prepare my repertoire to 10 moves or so across a wider variety of openings. I also would like to study the book Pawn Structure Chess as I have noticed how important it is to recognise plans based on pawn structures, when your opponent is not giving you anything else.

6) I did not add any new chess knowledge. While I am very familiar with the strategic concepts of positional chess talked about in Simple Chess, I thought I would learn something new in the book "My System" which I did finally finish. It turns out, Simple Chess recycled everything My System talks about, and I must say, Simple Chess is easier to read than My System. Therefore, I did not learn anything new, which got me wondering, is there anything new to learn? While watching IM and GM videos it seems I am extremely well versed in any strategic concept they talk about, but indeed, some areas I have recognised I lack knowledge in are pawn structures and their according plans as well as perhaps some imbalances that IM Silman talks about, although I think Silman probably mostly talks about the same stuff as the author of Simple Chess and Nimzowitsch. I also lack a lot of endgame knowledge.

Resolution: Study the endgame, study pawn structures.

Having now completely recorded my progress and reflected on my weaknesses, I will set a new goal. My goal is to hit the 99th percentile on Standard Chess 15|10 within 3 months and be able to remain there without  dropping below it. I also want to hit the 99th percentile on on-line chess. I have a lot of motivation to achieve this goal as there is a FIDE rated tournament coming up and If I can reach the 99th percentile, I may play it. I say may, because I really wanted to be closer to 99.9% before doing so, but heck...!

Just for recording purposes, here are all my ratings:

Correspondence 1839 (97.1%)
Standard 1814 (98.3%)
Blitz 1603 (94.4%)
Bullet 1503 (92.4%)

Two things stand out, I managed to really pick it up on Bullet chess by getting a lot of games and thus practise in, before this I used to play at 60th percentile level on Bullet, it was almost shameful. The second thing is the lack of progress on Correspondence chess, but this is because I got caught up playing a lot of Standard, Blitz and Bullet games. Time to go and sort this out. 99th percentile, here I come.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Flirting with the 98th percentile.

On both turn based chess and live standard time controls I have managed to hit 98th percentile very briefly. Then back down to 97th I went! I have not had a plan or discipline studying chess for a while now. Taking a step back, here is what I need to do to hit the 99th percentile. Hopefully, next time I write, thats where I will be on both 15|10 and turn based chess.

  1. Play a max of 4 turn based games of chess at a time. Any more and I don't take them seriously enough because I get tired investing the mental resources required on every single game (I had like 14 going recently!).
  2. Take every live standard game I play seriously.
  3. Do tactics every day without failure for at least 60 days.
  4. Study more opening lines, it really helps knowing the book moves for the most common openings I encounter, as it helps save prescious mental resources for when the oponnent leaves the book.
I am going to try and put together a disciplined plan to achieve this 99th percentile goal within the next 3 months. Hopefully, the next will be a positive update. Regardless, I am pretty proud of my playing level considering the lack of time investment into chess, as even when I am at my worst I no longer seem to drop below the 96th percentile, ever. Woop!

Friday, 30 January 2015

Still Unrated

While I have successfully resisted the urge to play blitz games, I have also allowed all my chess efforts to stop for the past 8 weeks. Too much travelling about, celebrations, seeing friends, family, studies, all of that left little time for chess.

This is a big hint towards the reason few people manage to become grandmasters as adults: it appears that it takes more than just discipline as you juggle all of your wants, needs and obligations. It may take superhuman discipline (after all I consider myself a pretty disciplined person!)

If you have many needs & obligations, little time is left for chess, and the little time left you may just spend playing rather than studying the subject!

If you have many wants, like me, juggling priorities may leave you achieving little in one of the fields you are really interested in. I want to travel more, I want to learn more languages, I want to learn psychology, I want to read more books, I want to learn chess, I want to keep friendships & family close, I want to rock & mountain climb, I want to snowboard more, oh, and I want to make money again! As a kid, you don't question all your wants and just go for one of them. As an adult, I seem to be wanting to perform the most complex balancing act to make sure I get ALL of them. Is this realistic? Only time will tell.

When you combine all of it, eventually one of these ends up taking a back seat. This last 8 weeks, that happened to my chess progress. Luckily, today I've resolved to get back to it. Today I'm warming up to get back into action, I've done some opening revision and I'm going to solve at least 20 tactics. The next few days I will follow the same routine until I feel I can unpause my  games and continue the full scale project. I am also going to pick My System back up as I left it about half way read. Hopefully, these steps will help me reach a next milestone in my chess progress.