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Monday, 29 December 2014

A flawed game , the most important game of 2014?

2014 was a year filled with exiting chess games , many of which were brilliant in terms of tactics or setting up some positional advantage. 2014 is also the year Magnus Carlsen retained his World Champion status by defeating Viswanathan Anand. It was a much anticipated rematch , but the Championship just did not deliver on the hype surrounding it. There were no real brilliancies and although winning convinsingly , Carlsen did not play with the finesse we have come accustomed to.

However inspite of these factors , Game 6 of the 2014 World Chess Championships has to be the most important game of the year. This being for one simple reason. The fact that two grandmasters , both considered to be amongst the all time elite in chess blundered on two consecutive moves. This being move 26 (see game below)

*Variations checked with Fritz

Although other games also had a similar occurence and other games also had blunders , this has to be the most prolific game of this nature. Anand made a shocking blunder in game 2 , but Carlsen seized the opportunity and won.

So why is a game , that would not be considered brilliant even when played by far weaker players eclipse brilliant games as the most important game of 2014? The simple fact for this is , that it reminds us that even brilliant players make an error from time to time. It gives other players who blunder on a far more regular basis comfort in the fact that even the World Champion blunders from time to time.

Secondly ,after the game one could see a disappointed Anand and a relieved but unhappy Carlsen. Their faces the same as so many players in tournaments around the globe once they have had a similar game. Considering this factor , this is also a link between us mere mortals and legends of the chess world. Their play is computer like sometimes , but just like us they are humans with emotions and private lives which also affects their playing abilities.

Although their playing abilities also suffer from time to time , both players showed up to the next round showing no signs of the previous encounter , fully focussed on the task at hand. This is a lesson that can be learned by other players , put the previous round behind you and focus on the next game as if nothing happened before. Countless times a player loses focus because of the emotional turmoil caused by a blunder like the one Carlsen made and the one Anand missed.

This emotional turmoil is a direcrt result of the “How could I have missed that” response. A similar response Anand had after the game. Experts described it as “chess blindness” , in simple words it can be described as seeing something that isn’t there or missing something that is there. A trick that the mind plays in making us believe that the move we are about the make is a good move and not seeing it for what it is. Similar games can be found here

Following from the above , players can deduce that no explanation is needed for some blunders. Learning this lesson , will allow players to work on their game , rather than going down a list of reasons for blundering , like this one , gone are the words of self doubt and anger on the occassion that an event like game 6 happens in their chess career. However even more can be learned from this game.

This lesson is that no matter how many tactics are done in training , the odd one still goes unseen. Compared to most players , Anand and Carlsen are entire Encylopedia’s of chess knowledge , while the average player can be compared to a single chapter. Tactical traing greatly improves the game in a short time , but even this does not fix chess blindness and blundering from time to time. However , it does help players to minimize missing important moves and therefore should not be neglected.

Just like tactics should not be neglected , opening , middle game and engame strategy should also not be neglected. From the game one can see that Carlsen had an opening advantage , that he exploited after both players missed the all important move on move 26. Anand’s pieces were placed oddly , an incorrect middlegame strategy , which led to him losing the game in the end. This middlegame set up was the result of a superior opening position set up by Carlsen. Once again one can see that even the most knowledgeable players make strategic mistakes from time to time.

This game also lead to major discussions , which gave chess a lot of exposure ,as people who would normally just look at the end result a reason to look at the games played , be it only at game 6. The Fischer-Spassky Champsionship , is likely still the match with the biggest media exposure in terms of public interest , but all things considered , this game gave the championship considerable exposure in the modern era.

Lastly this game also showed the world , that it is time for younger players who are still reaching the peak of their playing ability to step up to the plate and challenge the established chess elite , for these reasons , this is the most important game of 2014.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

What is needed to become a professional chess player?

What is needed to become a professional chess player? Most likely a questioned every young and upcoming chess player asks at some time. Even in the modern age of the internet , little information can be found on this topic, as chess is not a “mainstream sport”… Most of the articles that can be found usually contain some information , but these articles are rarely comprehensive. Here is another attempt at listing the specifics of what a person need to become a professional chess player.

  • A passion for chess , without this you will get tired of the game at some point in time , even if you are the most talented player the world has seen. So if you do not have a passion for chess , stop reading now.
  •        A natural talent for chess , talent is not everything  , if you have passion you can come a long way , but without talent and passion , you are likely destined to be a weekend warrior and will not be able to make a living from playing chess. However there are other avenues in chess a person with passion can pursue.
  •      Self-discipline , chess is a sport where solitude and long hours of silently sitting behind a chessboard with no distractions is a requirement. It does not mean that you will not be able to do anything else , but without discipline , you will not be able to make the needed sacrifices to become a better player. As the old adage goes , “there is a time for work and time for play”…
  •     Initial financial support , it is unlikely that you will be able to live from your chess earnings right away , you need someone to invest in you coaching and living quarters while you are still working your way up. You can talk to you parents about it if you are still living at home or try to find sponsors if you are already an established player on a local or national level , although finding sponsors is tough , as chess is once again not a “mainstream sport”
  •       Basic public speaking skills ,you do not have to be able to entertain an audience like a politician , but being able to deal with people can come in handy , especially if you start becoming a well-recognised chess “celebrity”  as sponsors will expect that you appear at events and you can host simul-events (simultaneous playing sessions) for some extra income. This will more likely happen once you attain a FIDE title , like Fide-Master , International-Master or the much coveted Grand Master. (I did not name Candidate master , as you won’t play at the strength to maintain a living if you don’t reach at least a  2350 elo) *This is not a necessity , but can really come in handy.
  •  A passion for chess and natural talent , this point is the most important , so much so that it         had to be reiterated

This is just a list of personal capabilities that a person has to posses to become a professional player , how a player achieves this is up to the player , as the ways of reaching this goal vary dramatically in different demographics

If you have anything to add , please comment.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

How to win at chess?

A lot of articles have been written on how to win at chess , however a lot of these articles are short sighted and detrimental to the development of chess. Usually these articles start out with some cheap opening trap or tactic , followed by some assurance that you will beat your "uncle" or "father" next time you play.

Some friendly rivalry is indeed good for chess , but the problem with these types of articles are , that they give beginners the impression that chess is a shallow game , a game which can be mastered by just learning a few tricks. This illusion of developing into a great player overnight is shattered once players leave their homes and start playing against stronger opposition. Suddenly , it seems like a hopeless position and players quit , long before reaching their full potential. At some level , the "new trick" , better known in chess circles as cheap tactics are not offered on a silver platter , but opportunities can still be created.

Within the last sentence lies the answer as to how one wins at chess...One creates opportunities , or in chess terms an advantage. These advantages can be marginal and in some cases can not be exploited. So the key of winning at chess is creating and advantage and exploiting that advantage , to gain a winning advantage.

So how does one gain an advantage? The answer is simple really , you master your openings , spend years on understanding the middle game and just as much time on mastering the end game and while you are doing all of this , you find some time to work on your tactics and tournament/game technique.

After doing all of this , you will be well prepared and be able to outwit your opponents from time to time. It is in outwitting your opponents that you gain this advantage , which you can then try to exploit to create a win.

As you can see , the answer is simple , but the execution is hard. It takes a lot of discipline to become a well rounded chess player , a chess player that wins more games than he/she loses. Oh but do not be fooled , even if you are able to master all of this , you will still lose games , you will still get that hopeless feeling sometimes , the only reward is that it doesn't happen as often as it had in the past.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

The problem with youth coaching

We all have to start somewhere. Be it learning to play from a friend or family member or taking a liking to chess at a young age and finding a coach. Most coaches are players themselves and although they do what is best for the student ,their best might not always be the best for the student.

It might sound like I am brash in this assumption , but a simple example is that a first grade math teacher , can not give seventh grade math if they are not qualified to do so. The same goes for chess coaches. In my youth I had a coach , he had a 1400 elo , but a real passion and understanding of the game. He coached at a national level for some years. He really taught me a lot about the game , especially openings and tactics , which at that stage seemed like the best strategy as at a youth level players rarely go through a game without some early tactic or blunder. However when I hit under 12 , it seemed like all was lost. I just couldn't perform as I had in the past , result wise.

We had a talk and I got a new coach in the end. He was a sucessful business person and weekend chess player. He realised that there were serious issues with my middle game and even opening to middle game transition stages. Once again I learned new openings , with little variations , or forced variations , so once again I achieved results. I went to him for three to four years until my chess stagnated. He also couldn't coach due to personal reasons and hence I was once again in search of a coach.

I found a new coach in the form of the person who at that stage was coaching my high school team. He was a player of repute and had he had the opportunities , he would've become an IM. I still remember my first session , he said so we are going to start at the endgame and go from there. It was also the first time that I actually had to analyse my own games and had some schedule as to how we were going to fix the wide variety of issues in my play. In one year I raised my rating with 200 points , but at the same time my limited opening repetoire remained , and as the years went by , he moved to another town and hence my coaching ceased. Quite some years on , I still have issues with my game , as a result of a limited opening repetoire. So what does my personal experience have to do with the title?

Well , if I had gone to my last coach at a much younger age , he would've suggested a complete overhaul of my game , instead of temporary fixes. Yes , I would've struggled for a year or two , but in the long run , I would have been a much stronger , well rounded player than I am today. My openings are very passive and lead to drawish middle games , as opposed to the more agressive , theoretical openings which takes years to master. As I am now a recreational player , I am slowly fixing these issues , but had I known what I know now , at that time , I could've been 200-300 elo points higher in my playing abilities than I am now.

My parents do not play chess , and hence did not know how to best guide the development of a young chess player. In conclusion  , that is the issue , coaches usually deliver what they promise , but sometimes they do not take the long term effects of today's quick fix to push for a National team in my case into consideration.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

The art of the blunder #1

We all know that feeling , that exciting feeling paired with an elevated heart rate , paired with the thought this move is winning!! Picking up the piece with bravado and putting it down on the board with a little more determination than you usually would've. This is one of the best feelings in the world , but sometimes it is followed by a sinking feeling , when you realise you missed a line.....

Everything is lost , you either play out the game or resign and go somewhere quite , with no ambitions of post game analysis. This is the blunder...

Whilst your emotions are in turmoil , the question remains... How did I miss that? I'm sure my position was better. Maybe I should just quit! However you pick yourself up , dust yourself off and go to get seated for the next round....

So what causes the blunder?

Well it is not an exact science , but here are a few things that I have found in my game.

1. One of the most obvious causes of blundering is time pressure , those few moments just before time control or a complicated position with limited time to analyse the position.

2.On the other hand on the odd ocassion , one party's time trouble , disturbs the other players playing rythm and causes the player with the time on the clock to blunder

3. Nutrition...I always found that I had to eat atleast an hour and a half before playing , hence I rarely play tournaments with more than three rounds on one day. I also don't eat any sugary treats , but other players do. Finding what works for you , is the best. As too high or too low blood sugar causes concentration to dwindle and hence blunders follow.

4. Fatigue , this can be the result of numerous factors , be it illness , lack of sleep or a long demanding game in a previous round. I remember being on 5/5 in an 11 round continental tournament , illness struck and I ended on 6.5/11 , I played well , but just didn't have the edge to concentrate when the games passed the 2.5 hour mark. Although fatigue can be caused by unforseen events , propper sleep can be achieved with planning. Fatigue also causes a lack of concentration or a lack of tenacity for finding the best lines , i.e. lazy calculation...

5. Lack of knowledge , some blunders happen , because you just didn't know any better at the time. In hindsight the mistake might look silly. For example , you might place you king on the wrong square in an endgame and go from winnign to losing , but you might not have known the theory of tiangulation or the opposition at that time. This happens more to novice players than amateurs or 2000+ players , but it might still happen from time to time. The fix for this is to go through theory and play through endgame and middle game books. No quick fix here , only time and effort will help.

6. Only looking at your own plan , many a time players are so blinded by their three move mate or tactic , that they miss their opponents obvious tactic which can be much faster or block the player from following through with their tactic.

I will follow this post up with another one later on. I really hope this helps , as these were the reasons most prevelant in my own game. Feel free to add comments as to what causes you too blunder

Monday, 10 February 2014

A guide to buying chess books

A key to improving your chess game , is to read chess literature and learn from the mistakes of others. However , you only improve if the literature you are using is up do date and free of mistakes. So how do you choose which book to buy when faced with a choice?

1. Look at books that other chess players have recommended

2. Look up the author(s) , you can look up their elo on Fide or see which other books they have written
    Note that a high elo does not mean that it will be a good book. As some GM's are still actively playing  , they might withold some key information on certain lines/positions

3. Consider what you want to learn , if you want to study endgames buy an endgame manual. On that point , Dvoretsky's Endgame manual is a must have.

4. Consider the notation ,  especially when buying second hand books as older books are not written in Algebraic notation

5. Consider other media , nothing beats cracking open a book and reading , but in modern times , more might be gained from watching a dvd or going through the games in an annotated database

6. If you have bought a book , do not accept everything the author has written as truthful , mistakes do slip in , even in books written by great players. This is especially true for opening books , tactics and some middle game positions

7. Read the reviews , there are numerous sites that have detailed reviews , in which they do point out errors in the book and or wether or not the book achieves the goal it sets out to achieve in the description

8. When buying a Best Games Collection , see wheter or not the games are in a database and wheter or not the games in the book are annotated to a suitable level , otherwise you are better of just using the database instead of squandering money on something you all ready own ( this point can be considered the same as 5 , but thought it worth a seperate mention)

9. The age of the literature , as chess is a continually evolving game , older books might contain outdated lines which have been refuted or lines which at that time were the main lines. It is good to study , but this should be taken into account , as you might actually be handicapping yourself by using this material. Once again this is mainly true for opening books

10. Compare prices , once you have found a suitable book , shop around a bit. Prices vary dramatically from site to site or shop to shop. E-books can also be considered and usually costs a lot less than a hard cover , however nothing beats the crisp feel of paper whilst sitting infront of a chessboard

Goodluck with your future purchases , I hope this clears up some grey areas