My Path to FM - Week 7

My Path to FM - Week 7

NM ih8sens
Mar 11, 2016, 12:17 PM |

Already on week 7! Crazy eh? For those who want to review "The Plan" feel free to click here. 

And for those who have been reading a little more closely, you'll know that I've taken a small break from tactical problems and opening books and I've tried to play a few more games.  Honestly, I don't think tactics or calculation are issues with my game.  So again, this week was all about practical chess, but this blog will be a lot more interesting (I hope!).


So I did something I really don't like to do too often.  I went over some of my old games.  I hate doing this because right after you've played a game that you were emotionally invested in, it's easy to justify "slightly inferior" moves based on some plan you had at the time.  Once the smoke clears and you look over the game a few months later, it's not hard to see that I was just missing stuff or using the wrong plans or whatever.  


I went over some of my older games to see why my practical results haven't really improved all that much.  Since I got the NM title back in 2013, my Chesstempo Tactics rating has reached new all-time highs.  My opening repertoire, while no deeper, has become much wider and my experience in resulting middlegames has benefited greatly, and yet somehow my practical results are more or less the same.  My ICC 15 minute rating is basically where it was 3 years ago, and my real rating is only up about 50 points, which is a minimal gain compared to how quickly I improved in the past. 


It was a strange, and very annoying problem that I think I finally solved this week.  Everybody I train with says I've gotten a lot stronger, but I'm basically in the same place.  It's like somebody who goes to the gym every day but never tries heavier weights.  Yes I'm still playing fairly well, and I'm still beating most other CM's and/or NM's I play.  Actually, much like a weight lifter, I'm finding my games against these players are becoming easier.  But when I move up a class and start facing strong FM's or IM's, I still get beat up on.  Don't get me wrong, I haven't really trained enough in the past three years to expect to suddenly be an IM, but I noticed something looking through my old games that I think will put me on the right path.


You see, recently I've been getting positions like these:


Of course, black is fine here, but white has a super easy plan of holding the center and playing for a4-a5 and black is going to have to try to trade a bunch of pawns and make a draw.  This completely sucks, because against weaker players I'm forced to risk overpressing, and sometimes I manage to lose, and against higher rated players I'm in the exact position you want to avoid against stronger opposition: one where your opponent is able to only play for 2 results. 
Three years ago I was getting positions like this:
And while I went on to draw this game, and you might not even really see a difference, for me it's clear.  White doesn't have a risk free plan.  To get anything he has to come at my king and leave targets.  Black, on the other hand, can advance on the queenside.  These two positions are both equal, but in the second one three results are possible, even if the reality is that GM's would draw this 90% of the time.  
There are a couple reasons why I'm getting different positions.  For one, theory has changed a little bit in the openings that I play most often, and I haven't taken the time to find more interesting lines.  But the bigger difference (I think) is my rating!  I've gone from a 2100 who had a reputation in Ontario as being exceedingly well prepared, to a 2300+ who most of my opponents are happy to use the same theoretical lines to make a draw.  Simply: In the past my opponents were giving me winning chances by 'leaving book' early.  More recently my opponents are happy to go into some quiet line and I'm getting "tilted" looking for a win.
So now it's my turn to be the player who leaves book to play for wins with either colour.  But unlike the players I beat to get the NM, I can use my existing opening knowledge to find or create challenging ideas.  
Here's a game I played this week where I did just that.  It was only a 15 minute game so be gentle.
It looks like my opponent played terribly (and they kind of did), but had I walked right into whatever pet Dutch line they have prepared, I probably would have had a much harder time.
It's a subtle difference, but it immediately started paying off.  In the past 20 games I've played on ICC this week I've won 17, drawn 2, and lost 1 - and the loss was most certainly to an engine.
Anyway that's all for now.  I think my next project will be to move from 15 minute ICC games to 25+10.  Of course, I'm always open to play real (90+30 or longer) training games against any other titled player.
See you all next week!
Oh I forgot, I wanted to post my opinion about Agon trying to monopolize the Candidates and WC games.  I'm all for it!  If companies can start making money by hosting chess events, then chess players can start making real money by being good at chess!  Yeah isn't the least bit mobile friendly, and yes the commentary is kind of terrible, but I completely respect the idea.  Heck, when was the last time you saw a BMW ad during a chess game?  I was actually excited to watch it! Compare chess to poker.  Both fall into that debatable category of "sports", and both are games of skill that can be quite exciting to experienced players, but Poker has become heavily sponsored and televised.  Now this is just speculation, but let's presume I'm in the top... 10,000 in the world at present.  Between coaching and tournament winnings I've probably made slightly more than I've spent to actually travel to these things.  If I was in the top 10,000 in the world at Texas Hold 'Em, I'm nearly certain I would be able to call myself a professional.  I don't expect chess to take off in the same way, but I really do support any organization that tries to turn chess into a profitable business.  I'll be watching the Candidates on quite happily.