My 2014 in Chessrospective

Dec 31, 2014, 4:04 PM |

My 2014 in Chessrospective

2014 was the year I started taking chess 'seriously'. By which I mean, I started putting effort into improving my game. I'm one of those adults who learned how to play as a kid, but never played competitively, and before last year I had barely touched a chess set in 15 years. Seeing as it's the new year, I thought I'd chart some of my progress, with a 2014 chess-focused retrospective, or 'chessrospective', if you will. I've definitely made progress, but there's a long way to go yet...

Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Statistics may be one of the three types of lies, but they are also the easiest way to show that I'm making some kind of progress.

  • Online - I gained over 500 rating points for online/correspondence in 2014. This has been the type of chess I've taken most seriously, partly because it can be made to fit around my job. The following chart is my Online rating over the last 12 months:

  • Live standard - as you can see from the next chart, I've played less live chess at longer time controls over the course of the year. That which I have played has mostly been at 15|10. The general upward trend is still there, but it's much less pronounced. In 2015 I want to play a lot more live chess at longer time controls.

  • Tactics trainer - I became a premium member in 2014, which meant I could do as many tactics problems as I wanted. I recently passed the 1600 mark, a good 400 points above where I started the year, so the line goes up, as all good lines should:


  • Blitz and bullet - I played too much bullet chess, mostly at 2|1, and mostly unproductively. The chart for that is here, but I'll leave it out of this. Besides, like Nigel Short says, blitz rots the brain. 

What I've improved

  • I'm gradually cutting out major beginner-type blunders, i.e. hanging pieces. Some of my frustrations were laid bare in blogs throughout the year, all aptly named: my disastrous moves; throwing away a winning advantage; chess-induced apoplexy; how to lose at chess; throwing it away; and when lapses of concentration cost dearly. I've found that writing blogs in general helps with analysing games. I had more time in the first half of the year than the second, and hope I'll have more time to analyse my games properly in 2015.
  • My tactical vision is improving, as evidenced by the increase in my rating on the tactics trainer. But more importantly, I'm beginning to be able to connect up positional ideas with tactical ones. For instance, from a 15|10 game I played just the other day:


  • My positional understanding has improved, from a starting point of essentially zero positional understanding. Various things have helped with this, not least of all just reading chess books and articles. Particularly helpful have been Silman's 'The Amateur's Mind', various Dan Heisman articles from the Novice Nook, and videos on, particularly where IMs and GMs commentate on their own games.
  • I'm gradually accumulating knowledge of more openings. I've found playing a lot of Online chess really useful for this, for two reasons. (1) allows you to send out a seek from a particular starting position, so you can focus on that opening, and (2) you have more time to think about the underlying rationale for certain moves. I started the year playing 1.e4 as white pretty much exclusively, so most of what I've learned on the white side has been Ruy Lopez and various Sicilians (e.g. Yugoslav attack against the dragon, English attack against the Najdorf), while with the black pieces I've played Sicilians against 1.e4, and generally gone for the Nimzo-Indian against 1.d4. But in the last month or two I've begun to play 1.d4, and am learning particularly about the Queen's Gambit for both sides. Turns out I actually like 1.d4 openings.

Favourites moves/checkmates etc.

Some of my favourite moments from my games this year:

Favourite move of the year - so pleased was I with this one that I've provided it in puzzle form: 

 Favourite checkmate  - well, I like all checkmates, but some are just more interesting than others. Consider: 

Favourite way to win a won game - I wanted to include this because I found it aesthetically pleasing. I was up a piece, and then up two pieces, but I enjoyed the way in which the win actually came about, with black forced to bring about his own checkmate:


What I still need to work on

I'm pretty clear about what I need to do to improve - to combine (1) better calculation with (2) better board visualisation and (3) better positional analysis. I recently found two Danny Rensch videos on board awareness which I found extremely helpful - Achieving Full Board Awareness and Achieving Full Board Nirvana. As he says in the video, the idea isn't just to be able to do 'I go here, he goes there, I go here, he goes there...' ad infinitum, but to be able to do that and keep track of the position, so that at any given point you can determine whether either side actually stands better. The components each in turn:

  1. Brute force calculating ability - this is something I need to improve. Tactics trainer helps, but I think it enables you to be a little lazy sometimes, because you can often go one forcing move at a time, without necessarily having seen how to deliver the final mate (or whatever the tactic is intended to achieve). So I'm supplementing tactics trainer with static puzzle diagrams, where you can't be lazy in the same way. Playing correspondence games also enables a certain degree of tactical laziness, because you can calculate to your heart's content with a board (although this also clearly has an upside, in that it improves positional understanding).
  2. Board visualisation - this is something I definitely need to improve. Again, while tactics trainer definitely helps, it is all about forcing lines which lead to some clear advantage. More difficult for me is to picture an unclear position after some series of hypothetical moves and still understand where the different threats are, which pieces are still defended, etc.
  3. Positional analysis - neither of the previous two are worth all that much unless you can actually determine whether one side or the other stands better. I've laid some reasonable foundations in 2014, but I have a lot more work to do. I want to be able to more accurately assess more subtle positions as +/-/= or whatever, and articulate the reasons why. It's one thing to notice when white is up a whole rook, or has a passed pawn, but it's a whole other ball game to understand earlier on in the game that you have the type of position in which white's plan is to create that passed pawn, and assess how difficult of a job black will have in stopping it.

So there you have it, chess improvement in three easy steps...

2015 - what's in store?

Well hopefully I will have time to play a lot of chess. But more specifically, I hope to have time for the following:

  • Going to the new Casual Chess Cafe  which is supposed to be setting up in London in early 2015 (Facebook page here)
  • Going to an actual chess club and playing competent chess players OTB
  • Playing more games at a longer time control, i.e. at least 45 minutes per player

And who knows, maybe even...entering into an actual competitive chess tournament?