16 April 2012

Dealing with Frustration

In "Getting Angry" I mentioned the effort to transform anger into a productive resource. That post was intended to end on a positive note as I achieved the day's objective that had been set after initial unsuccessful efforts with Chess Tempo tactics training. Instead, the day ended not with the tactics rating goal met, but seventy points below (some twenty-five Elo lower than I had begun the day). Initial frustration gave way to despair as I realized that my skill is far below my self-assessment.

Sunday morning's tactics session began much as Saturday's: I missed five of the first ten problems. As a result my tactics rating went from -52.2 (relative to Saturday's goal) to -52.3.* I went back through the problems that I had missed, including a few from Saturday. Then, I created a new database in ChessBase 11: Chess Tempo Fails. When I fail a problem, I do not immediately move on to the next, but save the position into this database. After missing five of the first ten, my results improved. After thirty problems, I had missed ten total. My rating improved to -23.7.

I felt robbed on my forty-second problem. I found the first two moves easily, and then had an elementary checkmate in three. Fail! It was checkmate in two. Rating drops to -18.9. The Chess Tempo Fails database now contains fifteen positions for review later.

Black to move

I played 3...Bg2+, seeing 4.Kg1 Bf3+ 5.Kf1 Qg2#

The correct answer was 3...Qh3+ 4.Ke2 Qd3#. It is an elegant checkmate.

After fifty problems, my rating has risen to -9.3. I remain short of Saturday's goal, but cannot deem the day a failure. The vertical gray bar on the graph to the right marks the beginning of Sunday's set of fifty problems.

*I am too embarrassed to mention my actual Chess Tempo rating not only because the number is far below my USCF rating, but because the percentile score places me well below a level that I judge to be in the class of skilled chess players. Of course, only serious chess enthusiasts use Chess Tempo with any consistency, and it is not inconceivable that the overall pool may reflect a subset of the upper percentiles of other rating pools. It is not reasonable to comparing ratings on one site to those on another, nor to official ratings achieved through tournament play.


  1. Hello James,

    I've been using ChessTempo for over a year now, and as I find it to be an amazing training tool, I wanted to share some thoughts :

    - first, the overall level at ChessTempo is quite high, certainly higher than average US club level, so don't feel ashamed if your ChessTempo rating is under your current USCF. And people solving sets at chessTempo are usually pretty serious about their work, making the standard problem pool quite challenging ! (some people may spend 20' or more on a problem to make sure they solve it !)

    - it's very surprising that ChessTempo counted your mate in 3 as a fail, as it should have been counted as an alt ; if you can access your history (in my stats) and check the problem #, I'd like to report this bug to Richard (the site owner)

    - you don't need to build a database of failed problems ; it's already available in chessTempo (in options/problem selection/unrated) ; besides you can also select the difficulty of the problem sets in the options (easy/medium/hard)

    Good luck with ChessTempo : it really helped me improve my tactical skills over time !

    1. Thanks, Laurent. Those are helpful comments. AFAIK, the unrated problem sets are not available to basic members. However, I've upgraded my level to Gold on a trial basis, and can now easily create sets of previously missed problems, and also see my stats by problem theme. These features are well worth the $4 for one month, and might prove worth $35 per year. I have no lack of training resources, but Chess Tempo does seem a particularly potent tool. I failed because my solution was a one move longer mate on Problems 74243 (2.Qf6+) and 71282 (3...Bg2+). In the latter, several comments mentioned the longer mate.

  2. Richard confirmed that if you find a mate in 3 instead of mate in 2, you receive a 'try again' message and your answer isn't considered as a fail.

    He gave a detailed answer here :

    Hope that helps,

    1. Many thanks, Laurent. After reading the comments there, I discovered that my Stats summary tells me the wrong move, information that Richard refers to there. I must admit that after several alt moves on one problem, I stopped calculating and just made random moves. I don't recall that frustration with the two problems in question, but it is possible.

      I have bought a one-month Gold membership. See "Hanging Pieces" for one immediate beneficial consequence.

  3. A longer time ago, it was a fault at CT if you did not accept that many alts as now. There are still "old problems". I put a coment at these problems, so they can be updated.
    To put your faults in a chessbase database is a good idea. CT does have a duplicate rating adjustment. As more often you solve a problem at CT, as less reward you get, if you solve the problem again.

    1. When I go back to Basic membership level, the labor to create my own database may become necessary. With paid membership at Chess Tempo, the website has terrific features to reduce the labor designing problem sets for Deliberate Practice.

  4. Qh3+ 4.Ke2 Qd3# cannot be correct. Re2 blocks Qd3 check.

    It looks like 3 move forced mate. Bg2+ Kg1; Bh3+ Kh1; Qg2#

    1. It is not possible to play Re2 after playing Ke2.

      After 3...Qh3+, White has two replies:

      4.Kg1 falls to Qg2#
      4.Ke2 as given in the solution, leads to Qd3#. It is the dovetail checkmate pattern.

  5. Hi, James.

    I wouldn't worry about the chesstempo rating. I have had different troubles with the rationales of different servers. I've only recently started getting my act together on chess.com's TT, for example. Each one has its quirk. The reasoning behind the example you gave (Qh3+) for your answer being wrong is nothing more than the number of moves it took to solve the problem. I think these sorts of forcing lines should all be considered correct, at the very least. My problem with TT has been that solutions have to be found very, very quickly, in most cases, and there are normally multiple winning lines --snagging a Q, when mate is forcible, is "wrong."

    My TT rating still lags 300 pts behind my other server and software ratings, so I would just look at the at number, independent of the percentile, as a challenge that it per se presents, and nothing more than that. I do understand the frustration, though.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement. milliern. Sometimes I think that I should just abandon my ambitions and play chess for fun. OTOH, this quest for self-improvement is fun even if my sense of "fun" looks a little skewed at times during bad days.