28 June, 2017

Tactic : Chesstempo

After the psychological disaster of my return to ChessTempo a few weeks ago, I re-appraised how I could use it.

Now, instead of just using the 'Standard' set and allowing a rating to "judge me", I have also created what are call "personal' sets and am training with them.

The statistics on the x-hundred problems I tried initially, gave me two main areas where I was failing, namely what ChessTempo calls "Counting" and "Pins".

So now I have custom sets that I can use, and its not such a major ratings hit if I fail on a problem.

I also created a set of standard problems that I have always failed at, and went through that to ( in fact going through it for the second time, as there are still about 60 problems I have not solved correctly ).

Although this might be viewed as an indirect approach by not being rated via the standard set, it has encouraged me to keep practising tactics on an almost daily basis for 15 -30 minutes, so I would say the end  (improving my tactics skills ) justifies the means employed !

An unexpected bonus with using these personal sets is that most errors are usually associated with not looking over the entire board, ie missing a threat, rather than with the problem motif itself. Somehow, I think that points to the probable root cause of most missed tactics or blunders !

Here's a neat problem taken from one of my personal sets. It is so simple once you see the motif, but was very satisfying to solve.

21...Bf6  White to Play

The ChesssTempo link ( with solution )  is here.

21 June, 2017

Black to play : best move ?

What is Black's  best move ?

22. Nf5  Black to play

Top of the class for [ 22... Qf6 ], but second place for [ 22...Qxd3 23. Nxe7+ Kh8  ]

15 June, 2017

Tactic: Black to Play 2

Black to play and win

Black to Play

Full marks for [ 22.... Qxc1 23. Rxc1 Rxc1 a very neat win ]

In the game Black ( nor I, as White ) saw this, instead continuing [ 22...Ng5 ]

08 June, 2017

Tactic : Black to Play

From a recent game. 

Black to play. 

Black to play

I almost found the correct line, but under time pressure missed the killer move, and faded into an advantage for Black, rather than a win.

Fully correct is [27...Re3 28. Qg4 Ne5 29. Nd2 Nxd3 30. Kg1 Qxf4 31. Qxf4 Nxf4 32. Rf1 Nd3

I played [ 27...Re3 28. Q5 Qxg5 29. Bxg5 Rxd3 30. b4 cb 31.ab a6 32.b5 Nb4 33. Bd2 ] where I could still have been much better, but I wasn't :)

Highlight between the brackets to see the moves...

31 May, 2017

A French Defence

After a long time of not using Chesstempo ( the tactics site ), recently I tried to pick up from where I left off in January.

A terrible experience, to be honest. 

I managed to miss simple mates, easy tactics, and plainly obvious combinations, and felt very useless, to be honest.

Switching to something else and returning later, seemed to make it worse, and by the time I tried 'a last one' just before bed, and missed a simple bishop capture and fork I realised that this just was not good.

As a result I stopped chesstempo ( after losing about 100+ rating points ) and next time around played a couple of 15-minute games, one of which I enjoyed, and then spent about an hour annotating afterwards, mainly without an engine, just switching it on at the end.

Anyway, here's the game I played and annotated.  

I think the chessbase widget works, but it does seem not to show the buttons under the board fully. I will leave this post up while I tweak. Click on the move in the text on the right, and use the arrow keys to move works for me. 

Feedback ( game or widget use ) welcome.


[Event "unrated blitz match"] [Site "FICS"] [Date "2017.5.27"] [Round ""] [White "guestALAN"] [Black "signalman"] [Result "0-1"] [Eco "C01"] [Annotator ""] [Source ""] {I have just returned to using chesstempo ( the tactics site) and am experiencing a bad time, showing up my months away from regular practise. After missing a simple combination tactic, and feeling like I was completely useless, I decided to stop the tactics session, play one blitz game, and try to think rather than react.} 1.e4 e6 2.Nf3 {I don't know why this variation, with a very early Nf3, is so popular with white. It reaches a standard French Exchange position, but invariably as Black I manage to get a decent position. I understand that Nf3 is the way that Kasparov played this variation, so maybe that is the reason. Additionally, if Black doesn't follow up with d5, I would guess that White feels good that the French Defence is avoided.} ( 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Nf3 {This is the standard way to a French Exchange} ) d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.d4 Bd6 {This is the most popular move and the way I prefer to play, but Nc6 has much better results in Team League ( ie Amateur chess). I prefer Bd6 as it ensures that both Bishop and Knight will be developed aloows quick castling, and gives options on c6. The move Nc6 allows Bb5 to pin the knight. Not much to worry about, but I'd rather not play that way.} ( 4...Nc6 5.Bb5 Bd6 ) 5.Bd3 Ne7 6.Bg5 {I'm never clear why this is played. The riposte of f6 is so simple and obvious, and white loses a tempo.} ( 6.O-O O-O ( 6...Nbc6 7.c3 Bg4 8.Re1 ) 7.Bg5 f6 8.Bh4 ) f6 7.Bh4 O-O 8.O-O Bf5 9.c4 {I remember when I first started playing the Frence Defence and saw this move, I was surprised. However, I have since learned that it is a good, challenging move against the centre, plus an early c4 in the French is recommended by John Watson ( not Sherlock's sidekick, but the Chess theorist !). However in this position, it is way down the list of moves played} ( 9.Bg3 {The most popular} ) ( 9.Re1 {The most succesfull} ) Bxd3 {I want to get rid of my light-bishop, and also reduce White's attacking threats.} 10.Qxd3 c6 {d-pawn is secured.} 11.Re1 {With this move, as far as I can tell, we leave "theory" if that means anything much at amateur blitz level} ( 11.Nc3 ) ( 11.c5 ) Nd7 {A developing move. I wanted to play Bb4 immediately, but resisted.} 12.Nbd2 {A good move. Linking rooks and self-protecting the knights} Bb4 {Pinning the knight, and intending to exchange pieces.} 13.a3 {I considered this a wasted move by White , since I intended to capture anyway : hence no need to attack the Bishop.} Bxd2 14.Nxd2 {A good move and the likely response, since the knights were protectuing each other, plus the Queen still points at h7.} Re8 {I am planning Ng6, followed by Nf4, so want to dispute the e-file} 15.Nf3 Qc7 {Part of the Ng6-Nf4 plan.} 16.Re6 {Not expected, but I assume to double Rooks on the e-file.} ( 16.Bg3 {This is surely better than Re6 ?} ) Ng6 17.Rxe8+ {Bg3 is better as it forces the Queen to move and Black loses a tempo.} ( 17.Bg3 Qc8 ) ( 17.Rae1 Rxe6 18.Rxe6 Nxh4 19.Nxh4 ) Rxe8 18.Bg3 {Now Bg3 is forced, but Nf4 blocks the danger} ( 18.Re1 {Not a good idea !} Rxe1+ 19.Nxe1 Nxh4 ) Nf4 {As planned, but White actually has the advantage now after Bxf4.} 19.Qf5 {A complete surprise. Not even considered in my plans, and not quite sure why it's played. It does keep the Black Queen protecting Nd7, but gives Black an attack. I guess he missed Ne2+.} ( 19.Bxf4 Qxf4 20.cxd5 cxd5 21.Qb5 Qc7 22.Qxd5+ {I didn't see this line at all.} ) Ne2+ {! ..but equally, I see this move, and the following moves that break up the white pawn protection and give white doubled pawns. It must be a good thing !} 20.Kf1 Nxg3+ 21.fxg3 ( 21.hxg3 {This is probably better as it gives more centre protection from the f-pawn} ) dxc4 {A pawn up ! I almost missed this ( believe it or not ) but taking extra time and looking around the board, it was spotted and checked for any traps, which I did not find.} 22.Rd1 {Not sure why. I had little time left to explore why...} g6 {Short of time, I attack the Queen.} 23.Qg4 f5 {..and again. I am gaining clock-time.} 24.Qh4 {I can see what is coming ( vs h7 ) but have time to defend.} Qd6 {I think intending Qf6 to prompt an exchange, or more likely Nf6 to defend h7. Also making the Queen more active.} 25.Ng5 Re7 {Defending h7} 26.Re1 Rxe1+ {Simplifying} 27.Kxe1 Qe7+ {Defending h7, and pinning the knight, as well as check and gaining time!} 28.Kf2 Nf6 {Further h7 defence, and perhaps Ne5 , for an exchange and a passed centre pawn.} 29.Nf3 Nd5 {Offering a Queen exchange, but also quick as I am short on time.} 30.Qxe7 Nxe7 31.Ne5 {Now white will go after my pawns.} Kg7 {Activate king, but I miss a crucial move that puts us equal on material !} ( 31...b5 {! So much better, but I had less than 30 seconds on the clock.} ) 32.Nxc4 Nd5 33.Nd6 b6 {This will secure all Queen-side pawns.} 34.Nc8 a5 35.Nd6 {All things considered these white knight moves were wasted. I'm sure activating the king woudl be better, but given I was short of time, and white wasn't, I guess he was relying on me making a mistake and losing a pawn.} Kf6 {Going for the centre} 36.Nc4 Ke6 {I offered a draw at this point, but as White had about three minutes to my 45 seconds, he declined.} ( 36...a4 {Even now, this should be played. Why do I not see this as essential for such a long time ?} ) 37.Ke2 Kf6 38.Kf3 g5 {I should have been thinking a4 now, and for the next few moves.} 39.h3 h6 {In retrospect h5 is better, but I played h6 to allow a second move of the pawn, and more time.} 40.g4 f4 {Blocking the position, or so I felt. I offered a draw again, which was refused. In fact, engine analysis gives an advantage to white. The move to play was a4 !} 41.Ke2 {I can understand this move, as it gets the king moving to the queen-side, but I would probably have played Ke4 myself. Engine analysis gives Ne5 and a4 as the best for white, but these both edge to a draw. Equally, the engine gives Black an advantage now, but I didn't feel it at the time.} ( 41.Ke4 ) ( 41.Ne5 ) ( 41.a4 ) Ke6 42.Kd3 {Again, I understand why, but the engine wants to play a4.} a4 {Finally, I play it !} 43.Ke4 {This now looked bad for me, as I believed White was heading through to the king-side pawns. I was thinking about Ne3 a lot at this point. Surprisingly, engine analysis gives a significant Black advantage now. How come, I didn't realise that ?} ( 43.Ne5 ) b5 {The only move and an obvious attack on the knight, which allows Ne3} 44.Nd2 Ne3 ( 44...Nf6+ {This is the suggestion from the engine, which I see now a s a good move, but I was short on time and fixated on a plan of Ne3} 45.Kd3 {þ`0`0 `0} Nd7 {þ`0`0 `0} 46.Ke4 {þ`0`0 `0} Nb6 {þ`0`0 `0} 47.Kd3 {þ`0`0 `0} Nc8 {þ`0`0 `0} 48.b3 {þ`0`0 `0} Nb6 {þ`0`0 `0} 49.bxa4 {þ`0`0 `0} Nxa4 {þ`0`0 `0} 50.Ke4 {þ`0`0 `0} Nc3+ {þ`0`0 `0} 51.Kd3 {þ`0`0 `0} Nd1 {þ`0`0 `0} 52.Ne4 {þ`0`0 `0} Ne3 {þ`0`0 `0} 53.g3 {þ`0`0 `0} Ng2 {þ`0`0 `0} 54.Kc3 {þ`0`0 `0} fxg3 {þ`0`0 `0} 55.Nxg3 {þ`0`0 `0} Nf4 {þ`0`0 `0} 56.Nf5 {þ`0`0 `0} Nxh3 {þ`0`0 `0} 57.Nxh6 {þ`0`0 `0} Nf2 {þ`0`0 `0} 58.Kb4 {þ`0`0 `0} Kd5 {þ`0`0 `0} 59.Kc3 {þ`0`0 `0} Nd1+ {þ`0`0 `0} 60.Kc2 {þ`0`0 `0} Ne3+ {þ`0`0 `0} 61.Kd3 {þ`0`0 `0} Nc4 {þ`0`0 `0} 62.Nf7 {þ`0`0 `0} Nxa3 {þ`0`0 `0} 63.Nxg5 {þ`0`0 `0} Nc4 {þ`0`0 `0} 64.Nh3 {þ`0`0 `0} Nb2+ {þ`0`0 `0} 65.Ke3 {þ`0`0 `0} Kc4 {An example of what an analysis engine would do, not that I envisaged it ! þ`0`0 `0`;`0} ) 45.Kf3 {?? Not a good time to make a mistake....} ( 45.g3 Nd5 46.gxf4 Nxf4 {This was much better, and is a draw.} ) Kd5 {Black will win a pawn !} 46.Ne4 {White cannot protect the d- or b-pawn, and will take too long to threaten Black's queen-sdie pawns. The game is over.} Kxd4 ( 46...Kc4 {This is probably much better, as it threatens a lot more and keeps the pawn-capture available} ) 47.Nf6 Nd1 {After this, Black will gain another pawn, and I doubt if even I could lose the game now ! guestALAN resigns} 0-1

27 November, 2016

Tactics with ChessTempo

It seems almost strange to be typing out a post, more than two months since the last one.

Not that I haven't considered posting something during that time, just that thoughts haven't wanted to coalesce around anything in particular.

Maybe, with life going on in fits and starts, writing and posting has probably just not appealed, after all, the summer has lingered on for quite a while in some form or other this year....

Work is not helping at all, since, at this point,  it is slouching along to the end of a long project and, following a recent hitch, I am having to play at politics rather than get things done.  In fact, I can't get things done as I am relying on others completely for the last step ! 

So, maybe I have enjoyed life a bit more, and perhaps also avoided chess (as a game) quite consciously.

In fact my last chess action was when I visited the UK in the Summer and played a few games with a friend in London. Most enjoyable, even in the pub where we went. It got a bit lively ( the atmosphere near us, to be honest, not the games ! ) so as the (ridiculous) UK closing time approached, we finished up with a last beer and just chatting : also very enjoyable !  Catching the last tube back to the centre was an experience, since the tube I intended (the penultimate one ) failed to show : a concerning 20 minute wait for the next one !

So what I have done since September in terms of progress in chess ? 

The only active thing was to sign up to the tactics site ChessTempo 

I have consciously avoided sites like these in the past, and I have no real idea why. Maybe this was just the right point to start ?

So far ( 25 online hours and 621 problems into it ) its immensely enjoyable, as it is a well organised site, an interesting mix of problems and has a great interface too.

Lots of options to allow you to choose what you do and how you do it, and many notifications and achievements to keep the interest going.

Its also an active site, with comments on the problems, voting on the problem 'tags' and a forum as well, with discussions on all chess topics. 

I know new problems are added regularly, since the problem I just solved was from the European individual chess championship from Gjakova in May, 2016, meaning this isn't a re-presentation of tactics from classic, or old, games : a major plus point.

I opted for solving problems with a 'standard' rating rather than 'blitz'. The only difference that I can see being the assessment and scoring of the problem, since 'standard' has no time restrictions and 'blitz' does ( understandably)...

Today, I reached 1600 rating. Technically, I've returned to 1600, since that appeared to be the starting point for a new joiner.

Not knowing exactly what I was doing for the first few problems dropped me right down to a rating of 1350 or so ( yes, I failed the first few, probably through a combination of moving too quickly, and frustration at failure) and I've spent the rest of the time crawling back up.

To give you an idea of what the problems are like, below are some, more-or-less random positions from the last 100 I have encountered, with a few notes, but no solutions given : you can find those on ChessTempo  , and I give the link to each underneath the diagram.!

To start off, here's the problem I solved to nudge over 1600....

This was rated as 1352, and I took less than the average time of 1:30 to solve it : a nice epaulette mate !

White to Play :problem 17727

Solution to above

This next one, I failed. Actually, very frustrating, since I saw the key idea, but not the correct sequence. Losing points this way is not good, since the gain per problem is relatively small ( 0.5 - 1.5 points in general, I think, with a larger gain if your own rating versus the problem rating is a large difference ). The loss on this problem was -6.1, so you can see that failing a few in sequence gives yout rating a distinct hit ! 

Black to Play 103226

Solution to above

The next ( below) was a very satisfying problem. There are a few options on moves here. If I played this in blitz, I would have failed, but here, I came up with the correct solution, and was very happy with it !

Problem rating was 1562, and a I took a bit longer than the average 3:58, but it was worth it.

Black to Play 74580

Solution to above

Following is an example of a "non-mate" problem, despite its tempting 'mate-like' appearance. 

This is one of the good points of ChessTempo in my opinion. Not every problem is a mate, some seem an obvious gain of material, but tempered by the fact that there are a few alternatives available, so you are prompted to think things through before playing. Some are even finding the correct defence, which can be challenging. The key point is that you do not know what the tactic is, so you have to assess and work it out, and then play what you have confidence in.

Here, the first move needs to be checked as perhaps it isn't what you would think to be the natural one. But after solving that, you also come up against a second problem, and have to resolve that before the full points are brought home.

White to Play 105285
Solution to above

The below problem was the one that took the longest time amongst the last 100. The surprise for me here was that the continuation was actually very few moves compared to the effort I put in to ensure I was happy with my initial move. 

This  could be seen as an issue at times, since, if you feel confident enough, you could just play a move at a time ( without working out a full solution ) and get the points.

There have been a few problems like that, the given solution stopping way before your calculations, assuming that you know fully why a move has been played.

Black to Play 147548

Solution to above

Lastly, here's the problem I solved the quickest, an enormous 32 seconds !

Yes, some are this easy, but even so, there is still a 'wrong' solution available.

This can sometimes be a drawback of the site. I think the majority ( maybe even all ) of the problems are selected automatically by engine analysis, so sometimes what would evidently win in over the board, is a fail, even though in a real game it would be more than good enough.

The solution you need to find is the exact one. However , the site does allow you to 'make a mistake' where there are plainly a number of good moves, but one clearly better move.

White to Play 3527
Solution to above

Overall, I can say that I am thoroughly enjoying the site and hopefully improving my tactics at the same time.

If you want a shot at solving thousands of problems, mainly tactical , but also some specifically endgame, its worth trying it, after all its free !