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I’ve been an enthusiastic chess player ever since my last days of high school, when my oldest brother taught me how to play and to appreciate this wonderful game of ours.
Despite temporary gaps in activity from that time to now, I have always maintained my passion for the game, but until recently I have never been fully motivated to take myself to the next level and enter real-life competition.
As a member of chess.com since 2008, and of various other chess sites on the internet prior to this, I’ve been content to confine myself to internet chess, with modest success in terms of wins and results. I’ve never had the desire to enter the physical world of chess tournaments and club play. That is until this year; when I moved to Australia’s capital city, Canberra, and decided to not only start our family’s new life here, but also to renew my chess playing hobby by finally daring to compete over the board.
Let me make it perfectly clear at the start – the only Patzer in these articles is me as I stumble through my journey as an enthusiastic, yet very imperfect, chess amateur. I want to document not only my lessons learnt in order to analyse and encourage my own development and improvement, but to possibly share information and what I found to work and what failed with others around my own level – the average player wanting to improve their game. Even if I serve as an example of what not to do, at least I have provided some entertainment value.
As an amateur, I will aim to provide an overview limited by my knowledge level – I lack the sophistication of a titled player and don’t pretend to be in that league. I am interested in being able to strive for improvement in my game and progress as far as I can. I am also keen to see what practical steps can be adopted to improve my real-world chess performance, whilst meeting my real-world obligations. I am a regular guy with a nine-to-five job, a wife, two children and real world study commitments to fulfill. As a result, I have a busy schedule, and my chess play and studies will be limited by the ongoing timetable I need to maintain. This means my plans and goals will be brutally simple by necessity.
To open my campaign I need some kind of basic goals to aim for. My crude working plan for 2012 is as follows:
· To play enough standard time-control games to earn an official chess rating, and to get into the 1300-1400 Australian Chess Federation (ACF) ratings bracket (USCF equivalent category is a Class D player) as a platform to build on.
· Settle on 2-3 consistent openings for both white and black, and make serious effort to learn these openings extremely well.
· To play in at least 5 rated tournaments, in order to test my ongoing ability.
· To score at least half of the available points in theses tournaments (e.g. 4 out of 8) as a basic performance goal to aim for.
I’ll update you all on my progress against these goals in later posts as my misadventures unfold, and post key games to illustrate some important principles...
As a placeholder for some over the board action, I’ll leave you with a quick sample of my best play on Chess.com. This game was the second and final game of Round 4 in the “Chess Assassins” Chess.com tournament in late 2011 against Filithekid.
After winning the first of the two game final, I only needed to draw to secure my first ever tournament win. Fili had different ideas, and came out all guns blazing for a victory which, if successful, would see us split the gold medal. I chose the Nadjorf variation of the Sicillian Defence due to its solid reputation and high win/draw percentage. My thanks go to Filithekid for making the resulting game worthy of a tournament final.
All comments/feedback welcome.
Next Time: Fist-Fight in London-Town
If you really want to improve, you might want a coach. I can be that coach :)
I may very well consider this, depending if I crash and burn horribly!
Well I have helped people get to 1500 in less than 3 months and I can do the same for you :)
8. Bxe6 or 9. Bxe6 is strong for white.
I don't like 17... d5 it blocks your LSB, although it does open lines for your other pieces.
I'm not sure if your pawn queening is unpreventable, but two rooks for a queen is generally good. The only problem is that you've also lost a knight for a few pawns.
shepi13 - thanks for the additional analysis and comments!
Your right Bxe6 creates strong compensation for the Sac - I missed this, and lucky Fili did too! (Mental note - remember this sac next game as White vs Sicillian!)
I guess my phobia of defending d6 in the Najdorf was too strong to overcome , and I pushed to d5. I thought it was ok in the position as it defended my strong e4 knight in the board centre. Then again, my record with the Sicillian is variable at best.. :)
I did mention in the game notes I thought the passed pawn could either queen OR cause winning positional problems for White - I was happy either way, as the 1 point result for me was still the same :)
Being a patzer myself, count me in amongst those who will benefit from your experiences. I'm looking forward to reading about your misadventures; you're a very engaging writer. And, that game was beautiful!
No, you should usually try to achieve the d5 push in the najdorf as it frees your position, I just thought that in that current position I would rather improve my bishop and push d5 later. Also, without a pawn on e4 it is difficult and almost impossible for white to prevent d5, so there's no reason to rush. In a normal najdorf position you should push d5 if you get the chance because the possibility happens at most once a game.
dinosaurhunter8 - Thanks for the positive feedback. If I can entertain and inform, I've done my job.
I'm really happy you got something out of this - I am quite proud of this game, and is one of best I have evidence of playing (under the pressure of a tournament final as well).
shepi13 - Thanks for the info. I still like the Najdorf, but I have changed to the Accelerated Dragon variation of the Sicillian simply to go straight to d5 now without d6 first.
Interesting game. I was going to mention 9.Bxe6, but I see that someone beat me to it. It's a common sacrificial idea in the Najdorf, so it's worth studying a little. On your 9th move, I prefer 9...h6. If 10>Bxf6 Bxf6 11.Qd2 Qc7, you have a nice game and the two bishops. And on 10.Bh4 you could try 10...g5!? 11.fxg5 hxg5 12.Bxg5 Ne5. This pawn sacrifice, to obtain a great outpost of e5, is also a common theme in the Najdorf.
Instead of "targeting" the e-pawn with 10...Nc5, why not win it with 10...b4 instead? 14...b4 also looks very good. You should always keep the b4 pawn thrust in mind. It's not always good, but it's part of your arsenal as Black in the Najdorf. Never mind! I see you finally got it in. Good move, but it would have been more effective earlier
18...e5 isn't your best choice. The idea behind it is good, but I think you missed 19.Nf5, which would have put White right back in the game. Every pawn push gives up control of squares! So you need to include that in your calculations too. Qc7 and Bd6, targeting the trailing f-pawn, would have been stronger.
White missed the strong, but hard to see, 22.Rg4. After 22...Bh6, he can take advantage of the pin on the d-pawn and play 23.Rxe4 with at least an equal game. This wasn't that easy to see!
Whit'es 22.Rxe4 was a losing blunder. The Queen is worth a lot, but it's value isn't infinite! In fact, Trading your Queen for two Rooks is often a very good deal. And you're threatening mate! When the smoke clears, you have two rooks for a queen, two beautiful bishops, and a monster passed pawn. Looks like a win to me! And you finished him off in nice style!
This was a nice game. There were a few spots where you could have played better--but that's true in my games too! If you're going to continue to play the Najdorf--and why shouldn't you?--you might want to go over a few thematic ideas: 1) The Bxe6 sacrifice is often a possibility for White. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it isn't, but you need to keep it in mind when you play Nbd7, cutting off the protection of the Bc8. 2) The pawn sacrifice with g5!, diverting the f-pawn and giving you a powerful, eternal knight outpost on e5, is often worth thinking about. Don't be afraid to trade a pawn for a great square. 3) You're allowed to push your b-pawn to b4 and unseat his knight. And you're allowed to snatch the e-pawn, although you need to be careful. Still, I would advise you to be aggressive and grab the pawn, unless you can see a specific refutation. If you grab the pawn and get clobbered, you'll learn a valuable lesson! Never be afraid to lose. Good luck!
BruceBenedict - Ironically, all three of these books are my my next round of chess book purchases, along with a good Catalan or Reti book. Kudos for the tips though!
PaulGottlieb - Thanks for the kind words of encouragement and additional positional insights - wow - makes me realise I'm on a steep learning curve with the Najdorf!
the greet book book on the accelerated dragon is great
avoid the London and stonewall. They lead to closed positions and will result in stagnation. Sorry its a fact I watched literally dozens of young scholasic players trying to eek out some small advantage in the London and just give up chess.
My advice play a classical system, e4 the italian game or scotch
if you have time to stick with the najdorf fine its ticky OTB when you cannt reference books to remember all the critical theory. I prefer the accelerated dragon or taimanov.
As Black against d4 I might suggest the new Tarrasch book on the opening it is dynamic (and if you play d4 helps build some nice pattern recognition in a reversed format) and sound enough for Gms
the slav is another easy to learn choice
Tony H - Thanks for the advice. Stonewall Dutch is a keeper I'm afraid, too many players aren't prepared for it, it's more solid than people think (most times if played correctly) and it's a good shock weapon if you know an opponent's game well enough that they won't pull out the usual hack attacks.
I'm interested in the London System, and have seen some interesting games with it, although I grant you it can get very stale if both sides want to lock up a position.
That looked a top game...very fluid...was it a lot of book there that created the kind of end structure?
Stonewall is fine as an opening. Botvinnik played it. The thing is that at your level development in open play is more important. No opening is going to surprise people especially as you play stronger opposition players are ready for it.
These closed openings with a simple strategical plan and straight foward moves against almost anything your opponent plays has a certain seducive allure. Players know where the pieces go, Everything gets developed to reasonable squares and sraight foward plan-in-a-box is provided for the middlegame. These 'safe' openings provide a sense of security and ease that sets players up in the long run. They work because of tactics and straight foward plans building confidence and then the mental trap is set. Players learn to play moves without really understanding why they are making them, and most importantly considering what their opponent is doing. Players play them and survive for 30 - 40 moves against strong opposition and are happy because they didnt lose quickly, they beat weaker opposition and get to play with out much mental effort for the first few developing moves. It is really hard to change these habits later.
Players try to switch to a more open game and fall for flash attacks, surprising tactical shots and more, a lot more, tactical oversights resulting in quick losses. A big change from games lasting 30-40 moves that is mentally hard to deal with. Players then point at how they did 'better' when they played their other closed, safe system.
Don't confuse a game lasting a long time with playing a good game. keep the opening around and work on the others but my advice is switch it out in a year once you get the other systems in place.
TonyH - I agree you shouldn't have a "shake and bake" opening plan, but any disciple of an opening who really enjoys the positions will (if they are serious about continuous improvement) be playing a lot of games and learning it's strengths and weaknesses. This also means learning alternate ways of developing their position when an opponent shuts down a main line or does something not in book (sacrifices on key squares, alternate move sequence etc).
I take your point, though, about players having a period of success with a simple plan that is obvious, then taking that game into higher grade matches and wondering why they got smashed. That doesn't necessarily say the opening is inferior, however - but it does say a lot about the player and their planning abilities.
Class D is the USCF category for players in 1300-1400 rating range. I'm using it as a loose point of comparison with ACF ratings, as I'm not even aware of any categories for ACF.
No relation to any famous politicians - makes for some intersting conversations though!
I'm still an opening journeyman, and the system openings are useful shock weapons, but I'll have other options as mainstays.
Good game and good improvement plan. The OTB tournament part is the touchstone, so don't miss it !
As for the opening repertoire you've outlined (London as white and Najdorf/Stonewall as black), it's nice because although these opening systems are very different in nature, they balance each other rather well, so you should be able to get a taste of everything till you understand what your preferences are/what works for you.
Be warned though that playing Najdorf OTB is a whole different experience than in the comfort of your home with books/game explorer at hand, but that shouldn't deter you from this path
You point of alternate ways of developing is exactly what I am getting at. so a knowledge base should start with open or semi open positions and work back to closed ones. the thing is that you need to have exposure to a large variety of open structures.. 2 v2 pawns, 1 vs 1 , 1 vs 2 , 2 vs 1, no central pawns. For instance. In the siclian players are used to an imbalanced mobile pawn structure and a pawn majority. Black is behind in development and as the game goes on usually gains the initative in the center. BUT the Alpin positions can transpose into a french opening, something strategically different than the siclian. The reverse is also true. French players have a harder time in open positions because they are used to a different tempo and plans. If your experience and learning is based on 1 type of position your knowledge base is skewed, you will end up misassessing and misplaying positions due to the lack of knowledge and attempting to force the position into something where a player has more knowledge and is more comfortable. My theory is that its better to understand open structures more than closed structures since all positons open up at some point blocked positions are hard to maintain blocked forever. The more experience the better. focused study leads to stagnation because at somepoint the positions just require a different approach than can be learned in 1 opening structure. ALL structures are equally important for proper development. the question I guess is to what extent does one decide that you have learned enough about a particular structure? Thats a hard question. I think once one feels comfortable with playing it against equal opposition is your score + against people your rating then its probably time to move on. This is just my feeling but it seems to work well in practical terms. You learn the basic plans, the opening traps and tricks. typical main plan and move on.
losingmove - thanks and sorry for the late response - I lost your comment in the mix. No book beyond the first 8 moves - I had some awareness of potentially strong squares and played to what I though was my positional strengths. Despite the many legitimate flaws, I am quite proud of this game.
hicetnunc - I played in some OTB Rapids, and my Najdorf was hacked to shreds, so I got to experience your warnings firsthand. Some local players also commented that they found Najdorf tricky to master. If I can find a way to manage my own preferences in playstyle, I'll return to it.
Tony H - interesting ideas - ones that may warrant further exploration in a future article. Open vs closed opening discussions in the context of best beginner development ideas seem to generate a lot of heat as advocates for either path seek to debunk the other. I personally think that whatever is most comfortable for a player is valid, however I would suggest that dogmatically sticking to one system exclusively as a blanket response without exploration of alternative strategies would appear to restrict a players long term technical development.
5/23/2013 - The Long Road Home
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