Quest For Improvement

Dec 5, 2011, 6:30 AM |

A brief introduction is in order. I was casually introduced to the game about twenty years ago, and had immediately fallen in love with it. Love, by itself, does not give deeper insights; nevertheless, it did inspire me to learn. After understanding the ultimate objective of the game, and learning how pawns and pieces are legally allowed to move, I was pretty much on my own.

Those days, I played oblivious to tactical concepts and strategical concerns, and lost game after casual game with absolutely no clue about how to get better. The first few losses were very bitter; each loss would nibble off a bit of my self-esteem, and as many as four losses in a row would leave me utterly disheartened and unwilling to play again. However, after a brief pause, a fresh wave of inspiration would carry me back to the board with a revived desire to improve.

 I have come a long way since. As I write these lines, I am already 37. I consider my current playing strength to be (subjectively) 1350. While I think that is fair reward for the time life had allowed me to spare for chess, and for the efforts I had been able to put in, I know that I can do much better. I can use all the constructive criticism/help/advice in this direction from better players. Hence this post.

First of all, I must summarize where I stand. I have tried to be as unbiased as possible in my self-evaluation:

 1. Opening Theory:
    Not my immediate concern. There was a time when I had tried memorizing a few moves of certain openings. That was when I had entertained the mistaken belief that doing so would help me improve. That ended, in one word, badly. I shall not waste another moment studying opening lines, but shall simply respect the basic opening principles.

2. Strategy
    My positional understanding is better today than it was twenty years ago, and I believe it will only improve with time if I keep playing slow games with higher rated opponents (humans and computer personalities). Have read "How to reassess..." by Silman once. Currently not actively working on this.

3. Tactics
    My immediate concern. Am currently working on this. Have started out with the book "303 Tactical Puzzles" by Fred Wilson and Bruce Albertson. Finished the first 100 puzzles meant for beginners. Scored a decent 90. I shall work on the next 100 puzzles meant for intermediate players, and return to rework on  both sets before I go to the last 100 puzzles meant for tournament players. I shall then work through the last set again. Currently Flipkart does not have "5334 Problems, Combinations and Games". Shall order it as soon as I receive the intimation mail from them. In the mean time, I plan to complete my work with the book I currently own.

4. End-game
    Have read some bits about basic end games somewhere on the Internet. Currently not actively working on this.


These days, I've been constantly playing against the Reckless Dave personality of NagaSkaki. 

The personality configuration is as follows:

I usually play G/30 games, allowing the personality to ponder (think on my time). The hash size I maintain in 32 MB.

Initially when I played White against Dave, I used to open with 1. Nf3, and then play either 2. g3 3. Bf2, or 2. d4 depending on Dave's response. One of the reasons I chose to use that opening was because I had read an interesting article about it, and clearly understood the underlying concepts: the Fianchetto -- letting one (or both) Bishops control the longest diagonal(s) -- along with the possibilty of swaying into a Queen side attack after castling short. Moreover, the opening seemed as playable by Black as by White, which was quite an attractive reason to try it out.

As I played and analyzed several of my games, I realized that some of the positions resembled the ones I had read about a long time ago, before I had completely given up trying to memorize opening moves. It was then that I understood what transposition meant. Some openings could transpose into others with a different move order, and understanding the concepts underlying one could easily help understand the others. When I was consistently able to beat Dave with the above opening (playing White or Black), I decided to try my hand at what, once upon a time, used to scare the living daylights out of me: the Queen's Gambit.

The Queen's Gambit was one opening that used to make me very nervous when I played Black, and I had never understood how to play it as White. Reading the theory had not helped beyond giving me a headache or a complex. And yet, here I was, after all these years, returning to play the Queen's Gambit as White with a newfound confidence and nothing but the general opening principles. Surprisingly, it no more seemed so baffling. I was not nervous and, though I lost my first game against Dave, I was smiling because I knew exactly what mistakes I had committed that had cost me the game. And a few games later, I was actually winning. Then I switched sides and got Dave to play the Queen's Gambit against me (it can be done by manipulating the opening book used by the application). I was playing my worst fear, but for some reason, I was no more afraid!

Am presenting here one such game I recently played. Though I won it, I believe better rated players can still teach me something valuable after looking at it. I have added comments to most moves, so that readers may know my thoughts during the game. All constructive criticism/help/advice regarding the game is welcome, as is any help in the direction of refining my thought process.

I now see two ways to go forward: either start playing the next personality (one level higher) of NagaSkaki with whatever understanding I have earned thus far, or try experimenting with another challenging opening at the same level and gain some more experience. I am really not sure which would be better. Left to myself, I plan to walk the second path, and try playing with and against the King's Gambit. Hope I am doing right. Suggestions from more experienced players are welcome.

Many thanks.

Many thanks.