2016 Midyear Check

NM blitzcopter
May 8, 2016, 9:02 PM |

Now that I've finished final exams, cleaning, and moving out, it's time to fill the gap in my tournament schedule by checking on my progress for the year. I've mentioned making master (the big goal) but some other components deserve mention.

0. Summer Chess Schedule

This summer I'm doing some front-end work for the CMU Center for Machine Learning/Health here, which limits my ability to take off for a few days at a time as most weekend Swisses are timed for people who can attend on demand (e.g. drive or live there). Also probably not wise to blow hundreds of dollars every weekend playing chess (so no World Open). Still I have time for some good events.

I'll be playing in the 3-day Open at the Cherry Blossom Classic in Dulles, VA for Memorial Day Weekend (possibly excluding the first round if my flight is too late). It will be my first time playing with the 30-second increment and my first FIDE event (hopefully with 7 rounds I get a few FIDE games).

Other than that, I'm almost certainly playing the Cleveland Open and might go to Ohio once more during the summer, but for the most part I'm playing in Pittsburgh. I might consider another short section if I can fund it with unexpected prizes though.

1. National Master

So my post-expert trajectory has been interesting:

  • August 2015: 2022
  • October 2015: 2048
  • January 2016: 2026
  • March 2016: 2037
  • May 2016: 2125

Not knowing much, I didn't set goals in 2014, but 1800 seemed like a magic number so I was glad to get there. In 2015, I figured it was mostly consistency and tactics under pressure which set me apart from 2100s, so I went for that, and broke expert in August.

The path from there has been much tougher than I expected. Despite being 2000, I was still relatively inexperienced and it showed every time I made up inexplicable, spontaneous practical decisions at the board. The milestone made me overconfident for the first time, which showed when I lost to Class B players despite holding all non-experts for a year. I was also slightly burnt out from school, which probably didn't help much.

By the end of the year, I was seriously consider taking 4-6 months off in favor of a fresh start later. This proved not to be necessary; after a restful winter break, everything (chess or not) was back on track. Since March (the real turnaround), I've gained over 80 points, having only lost to two non-masters.

I'm not sure how everything turned around so fast, but it's good to be on a streak again. Of course, 2125 to 2200 is a different beast than 2037 to 2125, so I've committed to playing a little more for the rest of the year to push that through.

2. Make better practical decisions.

This was really important to my recent success. Last year against another expert, I lost handily by playing into the exact same line as our previous meeting, knowing he had an excellent improvement. Against the same expert as Black, I played into a crazy Panov line because my Caro-Kann book said it was good, and was lucky to live. I got crushed by a 1900 at Amateur Team East by playing (1. d4 Nf6 2. Bg5 Ne4 3. Bf4 c5 4. f3 Nf6 5. d5) 5...b5?? because I was terrified that the position vaguely resembled a Benoni.

On the other hand, changing this wasn't that difficult once I actually committed to doing it. I just had to revisit the same soundness mindset got me to 2000 in the first place. It was a sign of overconfidence that I started believing in the weird stuff. Not anymore.

3. Play the board, not the person.

In normal terms, lack of confidence against higher-rated opponents, but this is what I called it last time. It's a little hard to describe examples, but for the most part I've been consistent on following my own plans and avoiding "phantom threats." My losses against higher-rated players have been mostly due to tactics in otherwise good positions, while I've beaten a 2298 and reversed the trend of bad games against players who I've had trouble with in the past.

4. Get a FIDE rating.

Since the time is ripe to prove myself to the non-American masses.

From what I understand, I need to score at least 1 in at least 3 games* in a FIDE event, then play a few more games*. With 6 long rounds in Cherry Blossom, I should be able to make some progress this summer. I'm also fairly likely to play the National Chess Congress in November, which might be enough.

* naturally, against FIDE-rated players

5. Get better chess work ethic.

I don't consider myself particularly lazy in general, but formally studying chess hasn't proven intuitive for me in comparison to questionable habits like bullet marathons and guessing on Tactics Trainer in my sleep (now abolished). Most of my attempts are with openings, since I haven't thought enough about how to study games (what I would like to be doing).

Of course, there is always hope, so in my free time in the next 3 weeks, I'll be studying that-opening-that-everyone-thinks-I-know-but-don't and opening-with-a-few-scary-lines-I've-been-lucky-to-avoid. For right now though, my chess work ethic is still awful so it's slightly amazing how I got this far (not intended to sound prideful, as I definitely respect others' hard work in chess more over more natural ability).

6. Follow professional chess more.

Related to #5, this has also failed to materialize, since as I mentioned, it's hard to know what I should emphasize when studying games. If I had to pick, I'd favor Carlsen because he is known for the same pragmatism and soundness I try to emphasize, but I barely know anything about the modern players.

Addressing soundness again, many people don't realize that the top players (in chess, and probably in most sports) are more similar than they think since they are extremely good at the major aspects of the game with complete games relative to, say, someone like me. Unfortunately, I suspect there aren't many correct moves in most interesting positions. While in this mindset and without knowing how to judge moves (usually coming from extensive commentary) from top players, it's harder to enjoy the intrinsic value of the game.

It would probably help to address #5 first, but it's a little difficult to know where to start.

7. Open my non-opening chess books.

A subgoal of #5. In the last two years, I've acquired Bronstein's book on Zurich 1953 as well as Mastering the Closed Game and Practical Middlegame Tips by the late Edmar Mednis. For the most part, these have not been used, though I brought one back with me so I will have an opportunity to reverse the trend.

8. Get on a USCF Top Player's List.

I made the USCF Age 18 list for two months after breaking 1900. As long as I make master, I'll be pretty satisfied but I thought it would be nice to be slightly famous again before turning 50.

U21 Regular looks to be the least accessible given the current 2274 cutoff and my performance ratings around 100 below that. U21 Quick looks marginally better (cutoff 2081), although it would still require me to gain almost 200 points and I'm not going to specifically play quick events. Theoretically though, I could surprise myself a lot.

#100 on the U21 Blitz is 2134. I could totally gain 100 if I had a few good blitz events and this summer I have chances to gain at Cherry Blossom and Cleveland. Seems worth trying.