Sunday, July 22, 2007

Questionnaire Tag

Amazing how small the digital universe is. I was reading these questionnaire chain letters on the BCC site and wondering how long it would take to come around. Answer: not very long.

Alright, here goes:

1. How long have you been playing chess? Have you played it consistently since you started, or were there lulls in your play? How did these lulls affect your performance?

I have been playing since 1993 according to the uschess site, which would put me at 11 at my first tournament. I knew the rules and had been playing casually for some time before that, let's say since I was about 8, but I didn't take it very seriously until I was about 10. Before that, I had one of those cheesy plastic sets with the red pieces and red and black squared bored. Afterwards, I played at a scholastic club that my father ran. I was top dog there most of the time - there were only two other players who could scalp me occasionally, one of them a much older fellow of about 16 years who had me licked one time and was so doggone happy about it that he just kept on checking me in every which way he could think of without mating me until he finally blundered into doing it. Truth be told, I was a lousy scholastic player - I don't think I ever really had much raw ability for it, and though i did well at the local clubs on the Cape - games weren't rated - I never faired too well in tournament praxis.

My first big hiatus came at the advent of high school. I had been playing a lot of bughouse in middle school - it was sort of a social phenomenon there, with even some of the 'cool' kids playing - but chess was too much along with a high school course load, so I left off until college, at which point I moved to the city and started to play again seriously. In the summer between high school and college I geered up for a return to the game, reading Romanovsky's Chess Middlegame Planning cover to cover and playing out every single position on a board - a really arduous undertaking - and I credit this with pushing me over the hump from a lousy scholastic player to a serviceable competitor.

Since then, I have played steadily for intense periods with occasional lapses of many months when serious distractions have arisen in my life. Most recently, I took off about half a year while working on my book and traveling to do research, but I don't think I could ever let it go for a really long time. I love playing chess.

2. Aside from playing games, what is your primary mode of training?

Most enlightening I find is reading over and studying full games, usually in opening systems that I play. I like to study how the opening becomes the geography of the structure in the middlegame, and I try to comprehend the plans and use this as a basis to understand the openings, middlegames, and even the endings that result. I read over more complete games than anything else, though I also play an absurd amount of blitz chess online, though I have never been very good at it. My blitz rating jumps up and down hundreds and hundreds of points depending on the time of day and how tired I am. I do think that blitz play helps with pattern recognition though, and it definitely hones tactics.

3. What is the single most helpful method of improvement that you have ever used?

Very hard to say. Reading the Romanovsky book occasioned a big jump in rating strength for me, but that might have been more due to the immersion in GM games than to any great merit of the book. I think that playing a lot of rated chess has really helped me to get better. 2006 was my most active year to date - I played 135 games and gained about 240 points. I always go over my games in Fritz, and I tend to study them over time so that I remember what I have played and who I have played, and that helps me to anticipate openings and styles and to minimize the repetition of errors. It's really irritating to lose the same way twice!

4. What is your favorite opening to play as white? As black against e4? As black against d4?

This is a rather goofy question that I see everybody dodging. Favorite openings to play are not necessarily the same as openings frequently played, so I will take this question in the spirit of amusement.

My favorite white opening to play is probably the main line center counter. I have a wonderful score in it and was deep in the midst of a very rich and prolonged discussion in the lines with the two Wamala kids before they stopped playing chess. I find the positions both stimulating and very pleasing to play with the white pieces - the tactics are everywhere, the pieces fly, and somehow, I always have the impression that the black position is just a little bit rotten.

Against e4 I have had the most fun playing the Elephant Gambit. I even played it in a string of rated games at one point, but I think it makes for a better blitz weapon. The structures are reminiscent of the Scotch Gambit, and the piece activity is very dynamic.

Against d4, my first love was the Albin countergambit, an opening that I played exclusively in all formats until I reached the upper echelons of the 1600s, at which point it began to run short of gas. I think that the opening leads to really dynamic positions, and I love the attacking structures that result from the opposite sides castling variations. Its just not stable enough to have as a mainline weapon in a repertoire, and I also found that, as I have lamented in one of my posts, many players seem to go for this really dry liquidating line, and I don't like playing positions as black that have no winning chances. First loves die hard though, and I do look at my Albin games and at my study notes longingly sometimes...

5. Who is your favorite chess player and why?

Tal was a mindblowing talent. I love reading over his games, though I have to say that they are not the best from which to study structural ideas. They are the spirit of the art of the game though. I am also a big fan of Victor Korchnoi, both for his incredible longevity and for his wonderful defensive spirit. As I have gotten stronger, I have found that defending and counterattacking are increasingly important to success. Gaining points is as much about saving lost positions as it is about launching smashing attacks, and I have gained much inspiration from Korchnoi's games.

6. What is your favorite chess book?

I really like Larry Christiansen's books, especially for the collections of games that he includes. I also have a book called Chess Brilliancies that I love to read through. Reading over Beautiful games reminds me always of what I find so fascinating and enriching about the game.

7. What book would you recommend for a friend who knows only the rules of chess?

I think that a basic book on structures and planning is a good place to start. The Romanovsky book, Chess Middlegame Planning was a great basic starter for me. It is basically a collection of several hundred annotated games (sometimes games within games) that show repetitions of planning themes - invasion on the a file, besieging a backward pawn, etc. demonstrated with example after example after example after example. The tedium can be agonizing, but reading over these games gives you a sense of themes and ideas that you just can't get any other way. I was recently reading through Secrets of Positional Chess, which is kind of a lighter and more sophisticated version of the same, and I immediatley went out and found an idea in a game that was precisely like one from the book.

8. Do you play in in-person tournaments? What is your favorite tournament experience?

I think that "in-person" tournaments are really the only way to compete in a truly serious format. Chess is meant to be a battle between two people - it just isn't the same when you can't see the expressions on your opponent's face. I won The Northeast Chess Summer Getaway U1700 section in sole first place one time. It was a really big deal for me at the time. More recently, I had one very nice month where I won the BCC Thursday night monthly open and the MCC Tuesday monthly in my section all at once. Poor Timmy Lung had to suffer through my victories in both events!

9. Please give us a link to what you consider your best two blog posts (on your own blog).

10. What proportion of total chess time should be spent studying openings for someone at your level?

This is another very tricky question. Assuming that one has developed a stable repertoire of some sort, studying openings is really not that important for most improvement. One should continue to review and always seek to learn improvements after playing games, but constant study of openings is a waste of time - you forget. However, if you're trying to improve your repertoire or seeking to expand it in the interest of broadening your exposure to middlegame structures, etc. I think that opening study can be very important. In those instances, maybe 25 percent of the time is useful for someone of my strenght 1800s-1900s. Even then though, I think that it is best to study variations in the context of full games. Planning is more important usually than exactitude. Most of the time your opponents will go out of book before you do.

I tag Steve Eddins to continue the chain.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tag, Joshua - I'll start working on it!

- Steve

5:47 AM  

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