Sep 052011
This attractive pile of fruit and vegitables appears to have nothing
whatsoever to do with chess.
Welcome everyone to the September edition of the Chess Improvement Carnival! Hebden Bridge Chess Club are delighted to have been offered the opportunity to host this months feast of chess delicacies. 

For this month’s theme (as we approach the time of year here in the UK) I have chosen the “Harvest Festival” and, in the best traditions of this event, chess bloggers from around the world have brought forth the very best of their produce to share with the community.

There has been a bumper crop of material submitted this month so I’ve tried to divide it into sub-catagories for easier consumption. So without further ado, lets cast our eye over the pick of the bunch.

Training and Development
  • On the “Path to Chess Mastery” blog our host explains his methodology for analysing his own games and how this is helping him to improve his play.
  • Over at the “Empirical Rabbit” blog Bright Knight provides readers with the latest news on his tactical development programme and considers his future plans.
  • Back at the beginning of August I took part in the British Chess Championships for only the second time in my 18 year career as a player. It was a lot of fun, a fantastic development opportunity and also very hard work! I feel I learned something about the level of intensity required to be successful in tournament play. I posted a range of material about my preparations, lessons learned and (I’m afraid!) the games themselves. Anyone who is interested in this narrative can find them in amongst the August archive of this blog.

  • The ever interesting and thought provoking Mark Weeks digs deeper into the contents of a YouTube video he linked to recently, distilling some of its lessons as he goes.
  • Seasoned chess blogger, Robert Pearson reviews Andrew Soltis’s book “Studying Chess Made Easy” and concludes that it’s well worth recommending. Prompted by reader feedback Robert then expands further on his review in this second post.
  • Robert also points out to us an interesting article and illustrative game on Grand Master Nigel Davies’s “The Chess Improver” blog in which GM Davies gives an insightful view on “unfashionable” chess openings. This one is a must for anyone who plays Philidor’s Defence.
  • Anyone looking for a decent chess engine for Playstation 3? If so then GersFan1982 seems to think that the new Fritz 3 package may be the answer to your prayers.

Games and Problems
Our thanks to “Chess Improvement Carnival” originator Blue Devil Knight who furnished me with a wonderful sweep of his favourite posts from the blogs on the website.
  • If you thought that game was interesting then you need to check out this one as Fide Master CharlyAZ continues the “Steel King” theme with a crazy game in the Poisoned Pawn Variation of the Sicilian Defence. CharlyAZ goes on to give several more examples of this phenomena including the Short vs. Timman game given above. An entertaining read! (On a similar theme, one of my favorite games by Alexei Shirov involves White launching an attack on the enemy king whilst his own monarch is perched precariously on d3!)
  • If it’s tests and puzzles you’re after then CharlyAZ provides another classic game for our education and enjoyment. This time readers are invited to participate and try to predict the moves played by Vladimir Kramnik against Garry Kasparov. It’s a challenging example of a “positional” sacrifice theme to test yourself with.  
  • There is another nice tactical problem to solve in this post by mis3u where you’ll have the chance to improve on the play of a Georgian Grandmaster. Double rook endgames are notoriously difficult to handle and this post shows that even GMs can mess up sometimes.
  • IM Daniel Rensch houses his own blog on the site and in this post he reviews his performance at a recent tournament. There are three interesting games to look at too.

  • Jonny at “Smartblog” considers how playing chess can help boost your IQ and considers the intellectual benefits that players can derive from the game

That’s all for this month. See you all in a month’s time on another host site from October the 4th!

General Interest

May 042011

The Jedi Knight School Edition

Yoda and Obi-Wan practice their over-the-board
psych-out technique regularly
Welcome to the fifth edition of the Chess Improvement Carnival where (today being Star Wars day) we are deeply honoured to welcome two very special guests to host and introduce this month’s content. That’s right. Two of the finest tutors a chess improver could wish for, legendary Jedi Masters Yoda and Obi-Wan-Kenobi are here.

Obi-Wan: Welcome to “Jedi Knight School” my Padawans. We will begin our studies by considering the works of a great Jedi master, Dr Emanuel Lasker. Padawan Blunderprone has studied the career of Dr Lasker and shares his thoughts across a most excellent series of four posts. In his first article “The Beginnings of the double sacrifice” Blunderprone illustrates that this legendary Master was even prepared to make a double-Jedi-Knight sacrifice in order to achieve victory. During his win over Mieses he sacrifices one knight to trap the enemy king in the centre and then a second to gain the time he needs to bring his second rook into the attack. Exemplary!

Yoda: Yeesssssss, very strong in that one, the Force was. Master Lasker was it who said: “When you see a good move, for a better one look”. As in his writings Padawan Intermezzo shows, for alert Jedi students these wise words still hold their truth. Awww.

Obi-Wan: Sadly all Jedi Masters, even the greatest, must one day meet their nemesis. Dr Lasker met his when he fought the Sith Lord Capablanca in 1921. Padawan Mark Weeks has spent long days studying their great battle and extracting interesting lessons for all of us to consider.

Yoda: With the help of analysis by the great Jedi Kasparov even, complete understanding of the endgame position he his studying Padawan Weeks struggles to find. Mmmmmmm.

Obi-Wan: Young pupils, we must continue to consider and learn from the wise writings of the great Jedi Masters which every student knows to play a most important part in improving their skills. This month we have included presentations from two experienced Jedi scholars who advocate slightly different approaches to their learning.

Yoda: Awww. Most diligent and thoughtful a student, Padawan Bright night is. Begun a new training regime he has. Call it “The Woolum Experiment” he does. Using Al Woolum’s “Chess Tactics Workbook” a methodical approach he takes. Helped him achieve significant progress it has. Herh herh herh.

Jedi Master John Nunn ponders and teaches

Obi-Wan: In addition, Padawan Chess Tiger reminds us of the significant literary contributions made by Jedi Master John Nunn and asks us to look at them afresh. He reminds us that what can at first seem to be indigestible and remote transpires to be of infinite value on closer inspection. Padawan Chess Tiger goes even further and explains how he has incorporated Master Nunn’s teachings into his daily contemplations and gives some useful practical examples.

Yoda: Difficult and arduous task can learning to teach young Jedis be, but also very rewarding it is. Doubly so is this when the student in question your own child be. About a critical lesson every young Jedi must learn Padawan A Chess Dad writes. “Part of the cycle of continuous learning and improvement” he explains failure is, and to a most useful resource reinforcing his point he directs us.

Obi-Wan: From a distant and troubled world The Closet Jedimaster still finds the time to contemplate the abundant ruminations that he finds on the web and illuminate them for us so that we can increase our own understanding.

Yoda: Been pondering the lessons we can learn from the little ones, he too has. Explain in his post he does how “ignorance virtue is” when considering creativity. Mmmmmm.

Star Wars Chess (Flickr/origamiguy1971)

Obi-Wan: Be mindful of what you see my Padawans for every true master knows that having sight of the board and pieces can be both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes looking at the things you can see can prevent you from perceiving the things you can’t.

Yoda: Learn to visualise the board and play the game in his mind, a young Jedi should. He free himself from the disability of sight and find the true path, only by doing this can. Herh herh herh.

Obi-Wan: In his “Don’t look now” post Padawan Intermezzo considers the benefits of learning to play without seeing and illustrates his point using examples from the works of two great Jedi masters, Tal and Ivanchuk.

Yoda: To the delirious ramblings of Padawan HeinzK, at last we now come. To a new Dutch word this month he introduces us all: “geestverruimend”. Awww. For the mind the same thing as psychedelic drugs, he goes on to suggest that chess playing does. Taking drugs himself I think he has been! Agree with these methods I do not, yet to provide us with great entertainment and instruction his games of online blitz chess continue. Hmmmmmm.

Obi-Wan: So ends our Jedi Knight class for today Padawans. All that remains is for me to bid you farewell and say “May the 4th be with you!”

Yoda: Next time see you we will. Herh herh herh.

A big “Thank you” to all those bloggers and surfers out there who contributed material for this edition of the Carnival. Keep your ears to the ground for information on next month’s edition.

Apr 122011

Vassily Ivanchuk looks at anything but the board!

Q – How do we know that Neanderthal Man played blindfold chess?
A – Because in excavations of their sites no chessboards or pieces have been found.”

It’s an old and rather cheesy joke but don’t let that hide the essential truth that it exploits. The physical manifestation of the game of chess (the board and pieces) only exists to help us players visualise the moves. Once you have learned chess notation and grasped of the rules you can play the game in your head. That virtually none of us practice this is an indication of how difficult it is to do. If you’ve never tried it I recommend you give it a go. It is mind bogglingly difficult! However, one skill that, throughout history, sets aside the very best chess players from us mere mortals is their ability to do this very thing.

I recently came across a very interesting and very comprehensive post by HeinzK on his Chess Plaza blog called “The big comparison” in which he associates this game we play with lots and lots of other aspects of life. It is a post which is by turns funny, philosophical, insightful and poetic. It is also full of links to other related blog posts and stories and I followed one about super Grand Master Vassily Ivanchuk which looked interesting. I ended up reading a very nice little interview conducted with him shortly after he had won the Gibraltar Chess Festival in February of this year. One answer he gave tickled me in particular and it was also the answer that had grabbed HeinzK’s attention. Ivanchuk was asked how much time he spent on chess (aside from playing in tournaments) and he answered:

It’s hard to say, because chess and the way you train for it, is quite unusual. For example it’s not even obligatory to sit at a computer, or even a chess board. I can also walk in the park and analyse some important position in my head. Moreover, it’s by no means certain that working using such a method will have any less effect than if I sit at a computer. It depends much more on getting into a mental state that allows you to discover new ideas.”

“I can walk in the park and analyse some important position in my head.”  Woah! Ivanchuk has a reputation for being a “genius” and also for being, shall we say, one of the game’s more colourful characters. This statement certainly seems to bare that out. So next time you take your dog for a walk and spot a dishevelled looking fellow doing laps of the park and muttering to himself as he gazes somewhere into the far distance, don’t worry, he might appear to be a lunatic but it is probably just Vassily analysing an opening novelty.

The real point I guess, is that this extraordinary ability to visualise games and positions is both a blessing and a curse for the chess professional. On the one hand it helps them develop their astounding powers of calculation and concentration, on the other it means that their minds can never truly be free of the game that dominates their lives. The truth that Ivanchuk reveals by being unable to provide an answer to the interviewer’s question is that lots of his chess is played in his head and so it is impossible to keep track of how much time he spends on it.

I’ve seen it mentioned in several sources that Ivanchuk (and some other players) frequently sit at the board and calculate variations without spending much time actually looking at the pieces themselves. On his blog, Tim Krabbé suggests that this is actually quite a logical way to visualise future positions because “the mental pieces are often on different squares than their wooden counterparts.”

To illustrate this point (in a post that is interestingly titled “The handicap of sight” – scroll down to post number 86) Krabbé references an incident involving Mikhail Tal which is taken from Psychology in Chess”by Nikolai Krogius. You can see the critical position and notes in the game viewer at the end of this post.

I’d like to end this post on a slightly lighter note. As I read the interview with Vassily Ivanchuk I also remembered that our old friend, Colonel Walter Polhill (RTD), had written an article for The Independent on Sunday in which he referred directly to Ivanchuk’s ability to find brilliant ideas without looking at the board. I am willing to risk prosecution to bring you that article (and the illustrative game which is also in the viewer below) for your amusement.

You can tell great players by their eye movements. An average club player’s eyes dart about hopelessly, never knowing quite where to look for the best move. A Grand Master focuses rapidly on the critical area of the board. It is a rare genius that looks, as Vassily Ivanchuk does for much of the game, at the ceiling. And when he is not perusing the ceiling, he often stares blankly at the audience. His 24th move in this game however, surely came from the ceiling.”