27 April 2010

Seeking Failure

For deliberate practice to work, the demands have to be serious and sustained. Simply playing lots of chess or soccer or golf isn't enough. Simply taking lessons from a wonderful teacher is not enough. Simply wanting it badly enough is not enough. Deliberate practice requires a mind-set of never, ever, being satisfied with your current ability. It requires constant self-critique, a pathological restlessness, a passion to aim consistently just beyond one's capability so that daily disappointment and failure is actually desired, and a never-ending resolve to dust oneself off and try again and again.
David Shenk, The Genius in All of Us, 55
David Shenk is known to chessplayers as author of The Immortal Game: A History of Chess (2006). The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ is Wrong (2010) is his new book. It develops further some of the themes in The Immortal Game.

14 April 2010

Karpov for President

The more I learn about Anatoly Karpov, the more I like him. Hence, I am passing on his campaign statement from the ChessBase News site.


*A new direction requires new leadership
International chess needs a new direction and this can only happen under new leadership. Mr Karpov wants to lead a program of unity and positive change. His great experience as a chess champion and UNICEF Ambassador make him the ideal leader to return the sport to prominence on the global stage.

*International support at every level
Mr Karpov’s status and dedication will allow him to be an agent for unity in the chess world. He has already attracted support worldwide as well as a leadership team and advisory panel of unmatched experience and international character.

*Ending the crisis with a return to FIDE’s roots
Chess is in crisis today because FIDE has become disconnected from its foundations: the federations and the players. Mr Karpov believes that support for our new direction must come from below, to benefit the many, not from above to benefit the few.

*Turn chess into a modern, professional sport
Chess has great potential as a commercially viable sport. It has lagged in this development because the current FIDE administration has harmed the reputation of the sport and shown no interest or aptitude for modernization and professionalization. Mr Karpov believes chess requires leadership that understands why professionalization is essential and how to build a team to achieve it.

*The ability to unite and mobilize the community
Chess has limitless potential and great resources among its millions of supporters and players around the world. Mr Karpov has the unique capacity to attract and lead these human resources for the benefit of chess federations and players throughout the world.


*UNITY. The FIDE motto Gens Una Sumus, “We are one family” must be taken seriously. This can be done by providing channels of communication and community among federations and players using modern technology and by keeping the FIDE leadership’s doors wide open to feedback and new ideas. FIDE cannot afford to once again ignore the needs of its members the day after the election.

*TRANSPARENCY AND INTEGRITY. Without these elements there is no trust from potential business partners or from member federations and players. These crucial relationships cannot be built without new leadership at the top in FIDE.

*RESPONSIVENESS. This campaign and Mr Karpov’s administration will emphasize communication and responsiveness with the global chess community we serve. We want to know what the federations and their members want and need from FIDE and to create a continuous and open dialogue.

*COMMERCIALIZATION AND SPONSORSHIP. Art, science, and sport, chess is also a hugely marketable commodity. FIDE’s current administration has failed to exploit this to the benefit of member federations and players. No one knows better than Mr Karpov the great potential for chess as a professional sport. For nearly three decades he battled for the world championship in many of the world’s great capitals. FIDE must professionalize its operations in order to develop mutually beneficial ties with commercial sponsors around the world.

*GRASSROOTS GROWTH AND CONNECTIVITY. The elite events we all enjoy cannot be sustained without growth and support from the grassroots in every corner of the globe. That worldwide involvement is our most precious resource and it has been squandered for too long by FIDE’s administration. The international federation’s resources should be put to work bringing member organizations and members together to better promote the game.

12 April 2010

Understanding Mayet's Thinking

One of several games between Adolph Anderssen, probably the best player after Morphy quit, and Carl Mayet provides the first middlegame position in Rashid Ziyatdinov's GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Knowledge (2000). This position is not that one, but stems from earlier in the game. This position precedes the critical point when Anderssen launched his mating combination.

White to move

Mayet played 5.Bxc6. His move has not become common. Indeed, in the eight other instances I found, five are from youth events. I believe Mayet's move is a positional error. Perhaps he thought removing the knight prepared 6.d4, but the immediate 5.d4 is possible with the idea of meeting 5...exd4 with 6.e5!

What principles explain the assessment that 5.Bxc6 is a positional error? I'm tempted to claim that bishops are superior to knights, but it is too early in the opening to rest on this principle, which becomes dogma in such assertions. In the Spanish Opening, White's light-squared bishop often becomes a critical attacking piece. Even so, White gives it up in the exchange variation, but c2-c3, which Mayet played the previous move, makes less sense in such lines.

I think the move is an error, but I'm not confident in my explanation why.

01 April 2010


I collect diagrams of chess positions. Once collected, I print these diagrams on cards for review. My cards of pawn endgame positions from Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual (2003) has been aiding my review of the instruction in that text, and has proven popular with some of my pupils. Sometimes in a chess lesson, I pull out the cards and fan them across the chessboard upside down. The student picks one, we set it up on the board, then he or she solves it. There are a few in that set that I do not yet play with full confidence. When I have mastered those, it will be time to create another set from Dvoretsky's book.

Meanwhile, I'm collecting middlegame positions. I have several sets of cards that I created years ago. The oldest are index cards upon which I stamped diagrams, and laboriously stamped each piece with red or blue ink on the appropriate square. When I look at these old cards, I am reminded of time I spent reviewing them between rounds at the Dave Collyer Memorial tournament the last time Gary Younker ran it. Gary died in 2001, and shortly after his death we created a foundation to honor his memory and continue his work. The 2001 Collyer was a good event for me. I started the event rated 1400 and had an even score against three B Class opponents. My run of success started late Saturday night when I discovered a practical chance in this hopeless position.

White to move

I'm down two pawns, and there's no stopping my opponent's d-pawn. In a final desperate ploy, I played 31.Rf1! Keith Brownlee had several ways to counter my threat, but instead played 31...d3?? I sacked a rook to force a draw by repetition. After the game, my opponent told me that he only examined my checkmate threats, of which there were none, but not my drawing combination. He also stated that this game was the first time he failed to win against the King's Gambit.

On Sunday morning I beat a B Class player in a game that summoned more tactical courage from me than was my custom. Flash cards contributed to my confidence. Within the next year, I bought some software that facilitated creating professional looking printable diagrams, and my index card collection went into storage. I collected dozens of positions from Lazlo Polgar's Chess in 5334 Positions (1994) and several databases. I printed these positions on cards with a diagram on one side and the best moves on the other.

My initial non-provisional USCF rating was in the low 1400s, but before it was published I played in an event that pushed it up to 1495. That was in 1996, but in 2000 I was back down to 1400. My success in the 2001 Collyer rocketed me up to 1450, and in 2002 I climbed over 1500. I faltered briefly in 2004, dropping to 1487 before rising to 1600 in 2005. I made it over 1700 for the second time in 2008, and kept climbing over 1800 in 2009. If I am to cross over 1900 in 2010, my training must step up a notch.

Ziyatdinov's Method

Rashid Ziyatdinov advocates learning entire games thoroughly. In GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Knowledge (2000), he lays out a plan for improvement based on 300 key positions. Half of these are endgame positions--most are pawn endgames and rook endgames--and the others stem from classic games. His fifty-nine games from which the middlegame positions arise span less than a century from a few 1851 victories of Adolph Anderssen to Mikhail Botvinnik's 1936 defeat of Saviely Tartakower.

I find myself drawn to certain aspects of Ziyatdinov's method. My cards from Dvoretsky's text lack the answers on the back, for example. I'm also working on memorizing games, including those in Ziyatdinov's fifty-nine. His most compelling idea is the notion that key diagrams function as fingerprints of whole games. Most collections of diagrams highlight tactical motifs. There are certainly quite a few tactical shots in Ziyatdinov's collection. But memorizing, studying, and knowing thoroughly a limited set of games--the plans that led to what happened over the board, and what might have happened--goes beyond tactical patterns. The 120 middlegame positions in GM-RAM "are like the fingerprint of the games--from this fingerprint, the associated game can be identified" (77).

Karpov's Best Games

Although I share with Ziyatdinov the conviction that nineteenth and early twentieth century games merit our attention, I am unwilling to limit my study to these old games. I may end up with more than the legendary 300 positions as I pursue Ziyatdinov's regimen (he expects the reader to supply nearly four dozen of the 300). As I am going through the best one hundred games of Anatoly Karpov that were published in Chess Informant (see "Coincidence?"), I am collecting diagrams. These diagrams are fingerprints for games worth knowing as thoroughly as Anderssen's "Evergreen Game".

Some of the positions from Karpov's games feature tactical shots. In this position from 1973, Karpov's tactical shot provoked Spassky's resignation.

White to move

The following year, in the ninth game of the World Championship Candidate's Match, another tactical shot by Karpov provoked another resignation by Spassky.

White to move

Then, in 1977 at Las Palmas, A. Martin Gonzalez perceived the futility of further resistance when Karpov's move threatened a clever mating net.

White to move

Such tactical shots are the bread and butter of chess training. But, it seems to me that if I can comprehend the thought processes that went into finding the move that Karpov played against Vlastimil Hort from this position in 1971, it might become part of the knowledge that can elevate me to expert class.

White to move

Hort played on for another eleven moves as Karpov increased the pressure. This diagram is the fingerprint of the earliest of Chess Informant's list of Karpov's 100 best. It is a positional masterpiece, Karpov's signature. As I collect these diagrams, I aim to learn the games from which they stem.