31 December 2015

Year in Review 2015

Late in 2014, I initiated a study regimen intended to carry me through 2015. The regimen collapsed in the spring. In "To Know a Position," I described the plan and my ambivalence concerning New Year's resolutions.
How far into 2015 this current interest will carry me is unknown. I suspect that at some point other training interests or non-chess priorities will intervene and break me from this path. That is what always happens.
"To Know a Position" (29 December 2014)
Focus began to wane in April during the busy weeks leading up to the Washington State Elementary Chess Championship, an event with nearly one thousand competitors for which I served as tournament director. With the arrival of Chess Informant 124 in early July, it ended almost completely.

Studying classic games via the positions in GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Knowledge by Rashid Ziyatdinov was both enjoyable and productive. Time invested in these games improved the depth and breadth of my chess knowledge.

On the other hand, this work also spawned in an ironic sort of way an opening adventure that led to my worst tournament game in the past several years (see "Knowing Better").

Tournament Performance

My USCF chess rating is slightly higher today than one year ago, but it remains below my peak rating three years ago. Did my play in 2015 produce evidence of improvement? The evidence is mixed.

I competed in four USCF rated events, playing four games in each. The first, the Collyer Memorial at the end of February, lifted my rating from 1872 to 1877 with three wins and one loss. The player who beat me tied for first in the event. After a few opening moves, I attacked recklessly and self-destructed. My opponent happily facilitated this process with accurate defense. I was exhausted after the previous round when my game lasted over four hours (the time control was game in two hours plus a five second delay).

My second event was Spokane's annual Inland Empire Open in May. All four of my opponents were lower rated. I won two and lost two. On Saturday, I lost to an underrated high school student (his rating in 2015 rose from 1526 to 1838). Sunday brought my quick loss to an old friend, the first time he beat me in a tournament game. We played for the first time eighteen years ago. My rating plummeted to 1847.

Every game in the Spokane Falls Open went long for me, and none were easy. I played over two hundred moves through the course of four rounds in this mid-August event. I also won every game, finished in first place, and pushed my rating back over 1900 (see "Winning an Open"). This victory qualified me for the Spokane Contenders Tournament that will be played in June and July. The winner of the Contenders Tournament plays our City Champion in a four game match during the same weekend as the Spokane Falls Open. I won the Contenders in 2008, tied for first in 2010 (second on tie-breaks), and won again in 2012. I played in the event in 2014, finishing near the bottom.

Playing well in the Contenders Tournament in 2016 is one obvious goal for the new year.

One month after the Spokane Falls Open, I played in my fourth weekend Swiss for the year, the Eastern Washington Open. I lost a tough game to another underrated teenager, the former Idaho State Girls Co-Champion. My other three games were victories. My rating slid from 1902 to 1886.

In 2015, my tournament record was 12-0-4 against thirteen players rated below my strength and three above. I scored 67% against those rated above me and 77% against those below.

I will have stronger opponents in 2016, at least in the Contenders. In weekend Swisses, winning on Saturdays leads to stronger pairings on Sundays. Without these stronger pairings, I do not play those rated higher than me.

Training 2015

Through the course of 2015, I solved well over one thousand tactics problems, spent many productive hours studying endgames, and played through many hundreds of master games.

Using online correspondence chess to guide some opening study serves me well (see "Applied Study"). For one of the games that concluded in February, I went through approximately 150 master games--every game published in Informant that had reached a position that I was facing. I won that game when my opponent timed out, although it was headed for a draw. Late in 2014, I drew one and lost one in a match against an International Master. In early 2015, I scored 1.5/2 against a National Master. My draw against the IM, my win on time against the untitled player, and my win against the NM were all with the French Defense.

Two weaknesses in my play of the French Defense had become apparent. I was faltering repeatedly in the same manner against the Alekhine-Chatard Attack. I corrected this error through some opening study. Through the last half of 2015, I won most of my games in this line.

The other weak area, identified after a draw with an underrated youth player in August 2014, is the Steinitz variation. My win against the NM came after correcting the error that I played in in 2014. Since acquiring Chess Informant's Paramount Database in November, I have been working through every Steinitz variation game ever published in Informant. There are 588 games through Informant 123. As of this morning, I have gone through the first 285. I intend to transform this weakness into a strength.

Towards the New Year

GM-RAM continues to call me. In 2016, I plan to review the work done in 2014 and 2015. I created training cards for the first 48 middlegame positions. Reviewing these cards will reveal which of the first 31 games need further work. Then, I expect to renew this regimen and proceed through the remaining games, but perhaps at a slower pace. My aim is to balance study of the classics with an effort to make good use of my Informant subscription.

Mihai Marin's Informant column emphasizes the persistent relevance of classic games to modern GM play. I have read several of his columns. I intend to catch up on those that I missed.

I have neglected the endgame positions in GM-RAM, instead working through portions of Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual and other works. Ziyatdinov's more limited selection offers an excellent opportunity to identify gaps in my knowledge. I plan to work through this part of GM-RAM in 2016.


  1. Nice review and considerations, James. Happy New Year.

    1. Thanks David. All the best to you and yours in 2016.