Monday, November 10, 2008

2002 On Red Hot Pawn

Finally made it, don't feel any different. It took a little over three years, but to be honest I've been mostly lazing up the last one. Have turned into a slightly more well rounded player though, due to the endgame training, which has opened up my understanding of the other phases of the game as well. Although the slowly cumulating experience probably didn't hurt either.

My openings still suck, as do my middlegame. My calculation is abysmal, and I'm really not even remotely satisfied with my tactics either. A lot of work needs to be done to cover even the basics of endgame, which I've only scratched so far. If anything, I see more holes in my game than I saw a year ago. But I guess that's positive, to know at least some of what needs fixing.

If this is 2000, I'm not impressed. I still feel like a beginner, blindly fumbling his way through the ropes. I'm turning 34 in two months, started at thirty, and getting here wasn't really that difficult (in the sense that everything's been simple repetitive training, instead of complex deep & mystical secrets). Only laborous.

Right now I'm quite confident that anybody can reach 2200, regardless of age. Probably more. There's so many simple basic things yet to learn that it isn't even funny. When those simple things are exhausted, that's the first possible 'ceiling' for an adult. Until that it's just going through those things one by one, training them until you can't get them wrong. Train more, read less.

RHP: 2002, 307 games, +212, =17, -78. 2097, 15 games, +14, =0, -1.
CTS: 1632, 107832 problems, 80.0%.

Monday, August 04, 2008

KQ vs. KR Mating Tutorial, Part 1 - Philidor's Position

I think the time has come to try putting it all into a tutorial. Or a series of posts, as the ground to cover is just too much for a single post. It would no doubt fill a small book, and I'm not gonna go that deep into it. Just the essentials which will allow you to figure the rest out, just like I did.

The amount of different types of positions you need to be able to play is quite extensive, so I can't possibly cover all of them, nor even know all of them thoroughly. But I'll go through the essential positions, trying to point out what I found to be important and practical. The rest you'll need to fill in by yourself, by training these positions over and over and over against an engine. The reason is because, even if I managed to write it all down, it wouldn't be much use to anyone. KQkr mate is not something you can learn by reading some kind of directions, no matter how complete, it's far too complicated for that. Instead you need to get your hands dirty, work on the typical procedures until you know them like the back of your hands. Build up intuition for what kind of candidates to look for, as well as pattern recognition for the various little tricks there are, and become able to jump from technique to another without missing a beat. Which is very typical for this mate, as you'll always need no jump between 3, 5 or more different techniques to get where you want to.

This is not an easy mate, and will require quite a lot of effort to learn. But I firmly believe anyone can learn KQkr mate, it just takes time & elbow grease. It took me 3-4 weeks to get to this point, and a few hundred repetitions mating from the essential positions. It's not gonna happen quickly, and you'll need to rehash everything multiple times.

So why should you do all this work? It's not like you'll run into KQkr mate on regular bases, far from it. - Well. Just like KNB mate, it's the side-effects that count, not the mate itself. The journey is more important than the destination. - It teaches you a lot of piece coordination, how to really operate the mighty queen, and how to defend with the rook. During these weeks the constant KQkr drilling has made a tremendous impact on my board vision, as the drills require you to be aware of the whole board, diagonals, individual squares and the colour of them. It's been like a veil had been lifted from my eyes, I can see a lot more in open positions than I used to. It's definitely worth it, from the practical point of view.

Okay, enough babbling, let's get down and dirty. The first position to learn is Philidor's position, which is a forced mate from as early as 1777:

This is what you're aiming for, and also where you'll end up if you opponent plays the best defence. - What's noteworthy in this position, is that if it's black to move, he's in zugzwang and will drop a rook (I'll get back to that in a minute). But, if it's white to move, as it often happens, you need to lose a tempo. The way to do that is to triangulate with checks 1.Qe5+ (extremely typical check in other KQkr positions as well, get used to looking for these), 1...Ka7 2.Qa1+ Kb8 3.Qa5 (1...Ka8 2.Qa1+ Ra7 gets mated with typical 3.Qh8#). Now it's the same exact position, but black to move.

black's options: 3...Kc8 loses directly to 4.Qa6 pinning the rook and mating. So only rook moves are possible, but every single one of them drops the rook and gets black mated. Let's see how:

3...Re7 4.Qd8+ forks the rook.
3...Rf7 4.Qe5+ Ka7 5.Qe3+ Kb8 (Black king has to return or get mated at once, another typical check from centre) 6.Qd8+ forks the rook.
3...Rg7 4.Qe5+ forks the rook.
3...Rh7 4.Qe5+ Ka8 5.Qa1+ Kb8 6.Qb1+ forks the rook. (This is the main way to move the queen from wrong colored diagonal to right one. Learn it, you'll be using it a lot.)

That took care of the 7th rank, now let's see the other escape direction, the b-file:

3...Rb3 4.Qe5+ Ka7 5.Qg7+ (the good ol' diagonal swap) Ka8 6.Qg8+ forks the rook, or mates if black tries Rb8 to interpose.
3...Rb2 4.Qe5+ forks the rook
3...Rb1, the best defence, falls to diagonal swap, what else. 4.Qe5+ Ka7 5.Qd4+ (work out why that was needed) Ka8 6.Qh8+ Ka7 7.Qh7+ Kb8 8.Qxb1+ Kc8 9.Qb7+ Kd8 10.Qd7#

That's it, black has no other sane moves, Game Over.

The things to take home from the Philidor's position, are the importance of the typical check from the centre and the diagonal swap. Drill these lines against Fritz until you can blitz them as fast as you can move your mouse, to the point where you'll be constantly visualizing several moves ahead, and your hand just goes through the motions. Notice that in none of black's tries the king escapes, instead you can always mate directly after winning the rook. So if you're forced to mate the lone king by chasing it accross the board, you're doing something wrong. In a real game you'll likely need most of the 50 moves available, so it's important that you can mate efficiently.

I hope I didn't screw up the notation, and that the diagram actually shows.

RHP: 1988, 298 games, +204, =17, -77. 1985, 7 games +7, =0 , -0.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Mating with KQ vs. KR

During the last weeks I've been training the intimidating Q vs. R mate, and yes, it's every bit as hard as it's said to be. Maybe even more so.

So why is it so hard? Well, to begin with, there isn't any clear cut single technique to it like in the KNB for example, which btw. seems like a walk in the park in comparison. Instead you need to learn a bunch of typical positions, learn the ins & outs of them, then recognize similarities on the board and jump from one technique to another, in a way which seems quite random. And with a bit of luck, you'll manage to fumble your way into a forced winning of the rook.

Basically, you'll need to drill it over and over with fritz, build up a huge repository of typical maneuvers, and sort of feel your way through it. I think I've got it down fairly well now, as I can win it from random positions against tablebase most of the times. But I still don't know half of the time how I got into a 'familiar position', or why I suddenly dropped off from the beaten path. I just make moves which seem 'reasonable', and somehow end into some recognizable position eventually. So there's still lots of ground to cover, but I'm starting to get there. In slow games I think I can pull it off, but blitz is still out of the question, at least against tablebase. Agains fritz without tablebase I can blitz it, but mostly because fritz plays it very similarly every time.

I'll try to write some kind of a real tutorial at some point, but there's so much material to cover it'll take some time. And also my knowledge about it isn't really focused enough to put it into words yet either.

But anyway, here's an example against the ICC KQkr bot:

[Event "ICC"]
[Date "2008.08.03"]
[White "wormwood"]
[Black "KQkr"]
[Result "1-0"]
[WhiteElo "1329"]
[BlackElo "2200"]
[TimeControl "300+12"]
[FEN "8/7k/8/8/6Q1/8/r1K5/8 w - - 0 1"]

1. Kb3 Ra6 2. Qd7+ Kh6 3. Kc4 Rf6 4. Kd5 Kg5 5. Ke5 Rf2 6. Qg7+ Kh4 7. Qg6 Rf3 8. Ke4 Rf2 9. Qd6 Kg4 10. Qd1+ Kg3 11. Qg1+ Rg2 12. Qe3+ Kh2 13. Kf4 Rg7 14. Qe5 Rg3 15. Qd6 Kh3 16. Qe6+ Kh2 17. Qe5 Rg2 18. Kf3+ Kg1 19. Qa1+ Kh2 20. Qe1 Ra2 21. Qe5+ Kg1 22. Qd4+ Kh1 23. Qh8+ Kg1 24. Qg8+ Kh2 25. Qxa2+ Kh3 26. Qg2+ Kh4 27. Qg4# 1-0

(2008.08.03 - Updated the above example to a new, more streamlined one. This one I managed in a little over a minute against a tablebase. Getting pretty close to being able to blitz it.)

The basic idea is to force the defender in zugzwang, so that he'll have to separate the rook from the king. After which the rook should drop fairly soon. Checks are usually just tools to get into a zugzwang, and the most important (and hardest to see) moves come without a check. Up to a point where you start looking for non-checking moves for candidates rather than those familiar checks. But naturally there are some extremely important checks as well.

I doubt any of this makes much sense without diagrams and specific variations, but hopefully I'll get to that some day.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Rook Endgames, Phase I

I just finished the first round of going through Karsten Müller's DVD 2 on rook endgames, and copying all of the starting positions into a database. That's about 70 positions in total, although some of them are more educational, in the sense that refuting the incorrect tries are much more important than the correct line. But quite a lot of them are also 'trainable' against Fritz as it is, meaning the meat of the positions lie in the correct mainline (along which engines probably step as sparring opponents). Which is exactly what I'm gonna do next.

So now I have all the positions in a chessbase database, even the 'untrainable' ones for completeness' sake. That way it's easy to load them up into Fritz (tools/options/training/endgame training), and use them instead of the pathetic default positions in the endgame training module.

On the first round I also went through the videos with some thought, and feel like I already gained a good familiarity with all the basic principles and techniques. Now the hard part begins, which is drilling the positions over and over, until the philidors, lucenas, vancuras, karstedts, saavedras etc. come as a second nature to me. I want to be able to blitz through all of it on autopilot if/when necessary, no matter how drunk or tired I might be. And at that point I'll attack the more discussional type of examples again, hopefully being able to spot the technical refutations and sidelines a mile away, as I should in a real game.

Quite a lot of the won lines end into a Q vs R endgame though, so maybe I should learn that first (it's on DVD 3, which I have but haven't gone through), in order to drill those positions until the bitter end? Sounds like a practical way to combine two drills, so maybe I'll just do that. it can't be that hard, can it? Although I did try it from the top of my head, and there's absolutely no way I could figure it out on my own. Seems more tricky than the KNB mate, which makes it pretty funny that most people probably resign rather than even think about trading the queen for a rook.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Back To The Drudgery Of Endgame

Once more guys, this time with a feeling.

Yes, I'm back to training elementary endgames, once again. When I stopped doing tactics, the idea was to focus on endgames. But as usual, it didn't last very long, and in the end my endgame training has been sporadic at best. I certainly have done much more tactics than endgames during the last year, which isn't that much either.

So a while ago I got into it again. I started from the first Karsten Müller DVD, and went systematically through all the examples. I also trained many of them against fritz, to get it all down cold, and quick enough for blitz. I'm hoping it'll help my games, as I lose a fair portion of my blitz games from a 'won' position in the endgame. I simply lack the technique, and succumb to either braindead blunders or use too much time.

One big surprise found already: It turns out my lone queen endings were crap. I actually had big problems at winning against nasty 1P cases. But thanks to Müller and the help of assistant coach Mr.Fritz, I can now win all winnable Q vs. 1P endings. Although the rook and bishop pawn cases are still a bit hazy as Fritz adamantly refuses to play the best defense and drops the pawn the as soon as getting mated by the queen becomes the longer sequence. Another good example of the stupidity of engines. They're just oblivious to the fact that the few last tricky moves against bishop pawn are far more difficult for a human than the 10-15 move elementary mate with queen. -I guess I should train defending those endings against fritz, and that way get to the core of the best defense. There are some surprisingly difficult cases depending on where on the 'winning zone' the attacking king is.

That'll have to wait for the next iteration though, as I already moved to DVD 2 and rook endings. Which is sort of new territory for me, as although I have scratched them before, I'm really not even close to having even the simplest cases down cold.

So now I'm planning to put the positions into a file, and hopefully learn how to load them into the fritz endgame training module. That way drilling those positions would become extremely practical, especially when I'll no doubt have the need to re-learn all of it from time to time. As the KNB incident has pointed out.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

KNB Blues

Yesterday I finally got a KNB ending in 5/0 blitz, and naturally screwed it up. Didn't see it coming up either, and was happily exchanging everything off as fast as I could. Then of course my opponent sacs his rook for the last pawn, and I'm up against the typical textbook KNB, with the king already near the edge. I had 25 seconds left, and my opponent 1min 10s or so, but I knew I could do it, so I started pushing his king against the edge. I could already taste the sweet taste of "I told ya so" after showing him how wrong he was to even dare to suspect I couldn't mate him with a king, knight and a bishop!

So what happens? It turns out my head is suddenly totally empty of any knowledge on how to push him against the edge. So, painfully aware of the ticking clock, I start to move my pieces around rather randomly, hoping he'll accidentally move where I wanted. Because from the edge I could go more or less on autopilot, of that I was quite sure.

Of course it turns out the guy knows his KNB as well, and correctly tries to keep his pesky king in the centre, easily avoiding my futile uncoordinated piece movements. So it takes me twenty moves to even get him against the wall, at which time my clock also runs out. A cold metallic voice mocks me by informing that a draw by timeout & unsufficient mating material is a fact, and flock of birds set of from a nearby tree as a scream of frustration cuts through the air.

1. f4 d5 2. Nf3 c5 3. g3 b6 4. Bg2 Bb7 5. d3 e6 6. O-O g6 7. c3 f5 8. Na3Bg7 9. Ne5 Nd7 10. Nb5 Nxe5 11. fxe5 Bxe5 12. Bf4 Bxf4 13. Rxf4 a6 14. Na3Nf6 15. h3 O-O 16. c4 e5 17. Rf1 Qc7 18. e3 Rad8 19. Qe2 Rfe8 20. Rac1 d421. e4 Bc8 22. Nc2 fxe4 23. Rxf6 exd3 24. Qxd3 Bf5 25. Rxf5 gxf5 26. Qxf5d3 27. Ne3 d2 28. Rd1 Rf8 29. Bd5+ Kh8 30. Qg5 b5 31. Rxd2 bxc4 32. Nxc4 e433. Qe5+ Qg7 34. Qxg7+ Kxg7 35. Bxe4 Rxd2 36. Nxd2 Re8 37. Kg2 c4 38. Kf3Kf6 39. Bxh7 Rh8 40. Bc2 Rxh3 41. Nxc4 Rh2 42. Ne3 a5 43. a3 Rh1 44. b4axb4 45. axb4 Ke5 46. b5 Kd6 47. Ke4 Kc5 48. Bd3 Rg1 49. g4 Kb6 50. Kd5 Rg351. Nc4+ Kxb5 52. Ne5+ Kb6 53. Ke4 Kc7 54. Kf5 Kd8 55. g5 Ke7 56. g6 Kf857. Bc4 Rg1 58. Kf6 Rf1+ 59. Ke6 Kg7 60. Bd3 Rf6+ 61. Kd5 Rxg6 62. Nxg6 Kf663. Nf4 Kg5 64. Ne2 Kf6 65. Ke4 Ke6 66. Ng3 Kd6 67. Kd4 Ke6 68. Ne2 Kf6 69.Ke4 Kg5 70. Kf3 Kf6 71. Nd4 Ke5 72. Ke3 Kd5 73. Nc2 Kc5 74. Ke4 Kd6 75. Kd4Kc6 76. Ne3 Kd6 77. Bc4 Kc6 78. Nf5 Kd7 79. Kd5 Kc7 80. Nd4 Kb6 81. Kd6 Ka582. Kc5 Ka4 83. Nc2 Ka5{wormstar ran out of time and LuckyAsterix has no material to mate} 1/2-1/2

So what went wrong? I did have enough time, I did know what to do basically, and I had done it dozens or maybe even hundreds of times before. But the thing was, I had never really formed any concrete mental guidelines for driving the king against the wall, and was trying to do it ad hoc. With obviously weakened knight vision compared to when I had trained KNB extensively. The controlled squares did not pop up, I failed to keep the pieces behind my king rather than in front (where they'll obstruct my king and act as a shield for the defending king), and I didn't even remember immediately which corner to head for.

So today I've been drilling KNB quite a lot, and focusing especially on systematic ways to drive the defender against the wall. Trying to visualize the squares I'm controlling, find patterns to aim for etc. And it has helped. I see more now, have more strategic guidelines developed, and of course the actual mating sequence starting from the wrong corned I can do pretty much as fast as the mouse allows. But I want to get as fast on the cattle drive part as well, so there's still work to be done.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Blitz Going Well

I've been playing 5 0 blitz on FICS and ICC pretty much daily now, and it seems like it's starting to work out for me. I'm currently 1447 on FICS and 1431 on ICC 5-minute, and feel quite solid. Naturally there's the occasional dive below 1400, but it always bounces back.

So, what's changed? It's not easy to say, but suddenly it feels like my opponents are just throwing the games away. The same thing happened when I started getting better at slow chess, so now I already know it's real instead of imaginary progress. The things that once were hard, begin to seem easy after you internalize them.

I think I'm just more used to the positions I get, so that I don't miss the usual dangers that often anymore. I can also find the plans faster, and even win endgames. -It's been extremely satisfying to win the occasional pawn endgame by zugzwang, something I just always missed in fast games before. I think blitz has taught me to be more aware of what's on the board in general. The dangers, the possibilities, the weaknesses, the potential.

I've also gotten better at making reasonable moves instead of best moves, which has translated into better time managment and less tactical mistakes. Prophylactic moves are another new thing, which I almost never thought of in slow games before. Take a certain square away, and you sweep off a whole bunch of nasty problems which could or could not work for you. Very handy in blitz.

Another thing I've learned is to not force attacks when there isn't one. Just do a sane move instead, and let the opponent use his time on the position. Do something constructive instead: Remove a weakness, build an attack, activate. Those things usually require very little thinking time, but will give you better statistical chances later in the game.

"Experience can't be bought or read from a book, the only way is to live through it." -Can't remember where I heard that, but it seems to describe chess improvement the way I see it quite well.

FICS br: 1447, 1155 games, +561 -579 =15.
ICC 5-minute: 1431, 812 games, +386 -416 =10.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

100,000 Problems On CTS

Today I finally reached the 100K mark on CTS. Once again I haven't slept well, so both the the rating and success rate have been less than perfect for a while. Not unlike my blitz, which has pretty much crashed through the floor for the same reason. But then again, I haven't really been focusing on tactics for almost a full year, so I'm not that worried about it.

Somehow it doesn't really seem like that much, so I'll just keep going. There's still a huge ground to cover in vertical direction, and I feel like I've only scratched the surface of the problem set.

CTS: 1638, 10068 tries, 79.3%
Master games: 5