Kings vs. Princes: A Stats Driven Analysis

NM Flicflac
Sep 19, 2016, 8:19 PM |


Welcome to my first blog post! After a long period of sporadic play after getting my master title, I have decided to make a return to serious chess. I know, I know, how many times have you heard people say that and never follow through on it? Sealed

I'm being pretty serious about it, as the thought of my play stagnating in the 2100-2200 range for the rest of my life makes me very sad. It's not like I'm an old man, I still think I have lots of room for growth as a player. Also after pushing hard to get my master title, I went on a hiatus after achieving my childhood goal, but this has lead to a decline in my play. I don't want to have a master title because I achieved a 2200+ rating once, I want to have it because I consistently play at a master level.

As a result, I have started going to chess tournaments more regularly and will publish my analysis on this blog. I see this blog as more of a discussion, so I welcome any criticism, analysis, and questions and will do my best to respond to them!

In August the Seattle Chess Club ran a 5 day event called Kings vs. Princes, where 9 Kings (adults) play 9 Princes (u18 players) in a round robin. Since the field was fairly strong for both teams, (I think the average rating of both was around 2200), I grabbed this opportunity to play masters almost every round. Since it was a 5 day event, I also had to take two days off work to play, although I really wish Josh Sinanan can avoid this in the future, either with fewer rounds, shorter time controls, or over 3/4 day weekends. As you can probably guess, the Kings got destroyed, and the Princes essentially won the tournament with 2 rounds to spare. I don't think the Kings have ever won one of these KvP series ever before.

Overall I scored 4.5/9 against average rating opposition of around 2200, so I guess I can't be too disappointed as I basically scored par. I also managed to pick up some rating points too, but overall I was not happy with the way I played except maybe in my two games against Naomi Bashkansky and Anthony He. However, I was glad to have the opportunity to play in such a strong round robin, and being dealt 3 losses, and 3 draws in one tournament gave me a lot of material to work with.

I won't give a full report on each game I played in the tournament, because this post would be way too long. I do want to talk about some of my mistakes and how I intend to approach my chess development going forward.

I firmly believe that if you want to improve something, the first thing you should try to do is measure it. Ratings for example, are the bottom line metric of improvement, but by itself it does not indicate what the weaknesses and strengths of a player are, and gives little guidance as to what needs to be improved. In basketball for example, just seeing a W-L record or how many points a person scores doesn't show much, that is why they track more individual specific metrics, such as rebounds, assists, steals, turnovers, etc so they get a more accurate picture of the player.

As part of this stats driven improvement, I decided to collect statistics on every single mistaken move I played in this 9 round tournament, and categorize them. For some of the moves I may have counted that move in multiple categories if it was a mistake in multiple ways (for example, a positional mistake that was a result of a poor understanding of the opening would be counted in both). The result was very revealing:

*Lazy chess/bad automatic moves: 6

Calculation/tactical mistakes: 5

Poor evaluation/comparison of variations: 3

Positional Mistakes: 3

Poor opening play: 3

Bad waiting moves: 1

(*Lazy chess refers to the bad habit of not calculating when the position demands it, often due to laziness. It also refers to playing "automatic" moves without really considering why it is automatic and if it was necessary or not)

According to these metrics then, lazy chess and bad automatic moves accounted for 6/21 of my mistakes, almost a third of all my bad moves! If we combine lazy chess + calculation together since they are closely related, that means 11/21 or 53% of my bad moves were calculative mishaps!

And since lazy chess is at the top of these statistical mistakes, I wanted to analyze what exactly these lazy moves were, why I played these lazy moves, and how I intend on fixing these mistakes. If I can cut 30% of my mistakes down, that would constitute a significant improval in my play.

So the first game I want to show you guys is in round 5 against a Canadian high schooler, Joshua Doknjas. I think it is probably one of the worst games I've played in recent memory. 

This game was a good demonstration of my laziness as we had multiple key positions (after 9. b5, after 19. Bxb3) and both moves were clearly critical positions that required calculation, yet I played essentially on intuition in a tactical melee. Definite laziness on my part.

A second example of lazy chess was my game against his brother John Doknjas. I made a bunch of mistakes, many of them from a lack of understanding of the h3 King's Indian which is more forgiveable, but one move I am really banging my head against the wall is in the following position:

Now that we've analyzed how I play so lazily, what can I do to eliminate these kinds of mistakes in the future?

I think the most important solution to solve this is before I play a move, I should always ask myself, "Do I REALLY have to play this move?" cxd5 is a serious positional error and in no way forced at all, as the tension favors black, not white. g5? against Doknjas, not forced at all either. This single question could have stopped at least 3 of those mistakes in these two games.

Another aspect of this lazy chess is root caused from a weak understanding of when calculation is required. Part of the reason why I calculated so little against Joshua was I felt like this was still the opening so I could still play by intuition. WRONG!!!! His early b5 had already gotten me out of prep, and I can't continue relying on intuition to get me through this. I find that the moment I am out of prep is also a good time to treat as a critical position and slow down to assess what has happened in the opening and prepare my plan for the middlegame. Furthermore, the fact that this is a pawn race between g5 and b4 demands calculation, you can't just play these pawn races "by feel." 19...Bxb3 is another example because it presents a multiple choice problem, I can either recapture axb3 or cxb3. Multiple choice chess positions like this should always be treated as a critical position and calculated a couple moves in, and against Joshua I failed to rise to the occasion.

I think another aspect is also revealing of a problem in my calculative thought process, which is I will calculate a bunch of lines, without really assigning an evaluation to the final position. This evaluation step is very important, as it allows you to compare different variations and play the one that has the most favorable evaluation. Against Joshua, I had actually calculated this whole line with g5, b4, gf, bc, fg, Bxg7 and bc yet I played straight into this! Had I stopped to evaluate, I would have noticed that the insertion of Rc8 versus b5 faster makes a difference, as in my prep the rook on a8 defends the a6 pawn after b4, a key difference that changes the evaluation of the position, at which point I would realize that g5 is clearly mistaken, and I should start looking at other candidate moves.

Now that I have criticized myself enough, I thought I'd end this post by showing one of my wins in this tournament against NM Anthony He. I always felt like opening preparation was very important, because it was the one phase of the game where you can play like a Grandmaster for 20+ moves straight if you know all the right moves. And my preparation worked, as one move out of prep, he made a mistake, allowing for an 8-move combo that ends the game.

I intend on collecting more of these kinds of categorized mistakes statistics in the future for my big tournaments. It will be especially interesting to see how these categories shift over time, and I certainly hope we will see a disappearance of laziness as a source of my mistakes in the future.

Until next time,