Wednesday, March 30, 2005

An Amazing Endgame Studies Resource

I just Noticed that the Chess Reviews website reviewed _EG_, a wonderful magazine about endgame studies. The review mentioned that an archive of the first 150 issues of _EG_ is available on the web.

Wow. That's just amazing. I had no idea. Besides being beautiful, studies are often recommended as a way to improve your tactics. Der Alter Goniff says, check it out.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Book Review: _Chess Exam and Training Guide_ by IM Igor Khmelnitsky

This is a great book. It presents a hundred problems of all sorts--tactics, positional play, openings, endgames, everything-- and it's very good just as a problem book, although the price would be steep for a 200-question puzzle book. (100 diagrams, 2 questions per diagram.)

But it's not just a puzzle book--it contains a complicated scoring key, where you enter your results for each problem, and it scores you in a dozen categories based on your answers (every problem counts for several categories).

Here's an example (from the introduction):

White to play.

1. Evaluate the position
A. White is winning
B. White is significantly better
C. White is slightly better
D. Nearly Equal
2. Where should the White King go?
A. 1. Kd6
B. 1. Kf6
C. 1. Kf4
D. No significant difference.

Stop here if you want to work out the answer. Coach K recommends taking up to 20 minutes on each problem.

OK, the answers are 1. A and 2. B. Those are worth 5 points. Also, 1. B. is worth 1 point; but 1. D. is so bad you lose a point. (You can have negative scores; this is part of a strategy to make guessing unprofitable.) According to Khmelnitsky, 60% of players below 1000 rating got part 1 correct; 75% of players from 1000 to 1800; 80% of A players and Experts; and all the masters. On part 2, 20% of novices were right; 29% of 1000 to 1400-rated players; 45% of the class C and B players; 62% of A players and Experts; 82% of 2200-2400 players, and all the players above 2400. Khlemnitsky also gives breakdowns for each of the wrong answers.

This problem would score in four categories: Endgame, Attack, Tactics, and Sacrifice. After the probloems are tables where you take your percentage score in each category and find your rating for that category. Now, doing ratings estimation in a puzzle book is nothing very new--Nunn does it, Emms does it, everybody's doing it--and I'm sure that trying to break the results down by position type has been done somewhere as well. The difference is that Khmelnitsky has tried the problems out on a variety of players of varying strengths over the past few years, so when he says that 82% of masters got this problem right, but less than half the players below class A, he's got _data_.

Now, I have no way of knowing for sure the quality of his data, but I've never seen a problem book give an estimate anywhere near my actual rating. _Chess Exam_, however, told me that I'm 2200. My current rating is in the 2150s (both USCF and FIDE) and my peak before my hiatus was about 2250, so I'd call that pretty much on the nose.

Between the detailed answers to the puzzles, the carefully-described methodology, and the very accurate overall estimate, I've got a great deal of confidence in K's other estimates. And in the final part of the book, Coah K gives advice: what books to study and what methods to use, for each categry, based on your score.

So you get a puzzle book, a rating estimator, an assessment of your weaknesses, and an improvment program, all for $24.95. That's a great value. Anyone from Class E to Master will get a lot out of this book, and there are not a lot of chess books you can say that about.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Annals of a Swindler

This is the kind of game Nick was talking about in the story two posts back. My opponent thought we were playing a nice normal Scheviningen, and then...

The moral of the story is: when you're down in material, try to keep active and wait for a break.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

How I got here, the short version

I started playing chess seriously a year or so before the Fischer boom. I got my first rating, 1419, in scholastic tournaments run by Bill Goichberg. He was a local New York City organizer back then. I made Expert when I was 20, at the 1980 Pan American Collegiate Team tournament in Altanta. My rating bounced around 2100 for several years, until I finally started seriously analysing my own games at the end of 1986. I got my National Master title seven months later.

After I turned 30 in 1990 with my rating still stuck in the low 2200s, I stopped playing for a decade. Finally, I started again by playing email correspondence games. Then, it seemed a shame to have a tounament like the New York Masters nearby and not play in it, so I came back to over-the-board tournaments in 2003. My rating has only dropped a hundred points since then, and I'm even hoping to build it back up. How I'm going to do that, I'll write about later. So there I am.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Why I am "Der Alter Goniff"

Back in the day, someone--probably Nick Conticello--called me that after watching me pull a win out of a hopeless position. Several times, in one weekend tournament. "Ah, der alter goniff hat wieder geschwindlet", he said after the last one; back then, if you were a New York chessplayer, you knew at least a few phrases of Yiddish, mostly insulting. "The old thief swindled one again."

Anyway, a lot of my games used to be like that--ugly wins from obscure (and usually bad) positions. I don't think anyone else has ever called me an alter goniff, but it's how I think of myself as a chessplayer.

I'm still a swindler at heart; although I'm older and slower and my tactics are not sharp, I've found other ways of winning ugly. Here's a game from just this weekend:

The morals of the story are: 1) Don't be afraid to play a simple balanced position against a lower-rated opponent. Chess is deep. 2) It's usually right to keep the tension in a position unless resolving it is obviously favorable.

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