31 July 2012

Tracking Failures

As a follow-up to yesterday's "Failing at Tactics," I moved more slowly through today's training session on Chess Tempo. With each failed problem, I wrote an explanation of the cause of my error.

1. With fresh coffee in the cup, although still groggy-eyed due to working until nearly 10:00 pm, I opened the first problem, CT 78563. Immediately, I saw the checkmate threat, and then within a few seconds saw that White had prevented my threats from going anywhere. Then, I thought to remove the queen's defender. Through simple miscalculation, I failed to see that after my capture of the knight and the exchange of queens, I would be hitting two pieces. My 1...Bg4 was the fourth most popular wrong move, and wholly ineffective.

Cause: gross miscalculation

2. After solving one problem correctly, I missed CT 47952. Laurent's urging (see comments to yesterday's post) that one must ask "what can my opponent do?" led me to reject the first move that I examined. I saw the discovered attack against queen after capture of the bishop that only appears to be en prise. As it happens, that would have been the correct move. A knight fork of king and queen refutes the discovery.

Cause: missing fork

3. My fourth problem, CT 57540, was my third failure. This time, however, I failed on the second move rather than the first. I found and executed the correct idea, but executed it badly. After the forcing check by the rook, I parried the checkmate threat with a discovery on the threatening rook. But, I moved my knight to a square where it was vulnerable to capture.

White to move

Instead of gaining a clear and decisive advantage, I put myself in a rook and pawn ending with the advantage of one pawn.

Cause: hasty failure to calculate alternative moves

4. Although I correctly solved CT 57744 and CT 48156, I made moves that were "not the computer's first choice." In 57744, I missed seeing the full mobility of my queen, finding a win of material but not the checkmate. In 48156, my second move was to check with the bishop rather than the queen. Again, I was winning material but not finding checkmate.

Cause: shallow calculation

So far today, 4/7 correct, but errors in five of seven problems. Yesterday, I had a terrible run of 31 problems in which only six were solved correctly, but then finished the day with seven correct. Starting today with 4/7 correct suggests that slowing down between problems might lead to greater success. Instead of frantic solving one problem after another, a few moments to reflect on my thinking processes after each problem might be the prescription for yesterday's malady.

5. In CT 49766, I chased illusions.* When my initial move was rejected as "not the computer's top choice," I attempted to drive the Black queen to a square where it no longer threatened my bishop. That my own queen was en prise failed to lead me to calculate variations.

White to move

It is interesting that the eye instantly catches the check on f7, and almost as instantly rejects it due to the knight on d8. Yet, in this idea is the kernel of the double attack that wins.

Cause: gross miscalculation, inflexibility

6. CT 91892 put me under 50% for the day so far.

White to move

Winning the exchange is easy, but it is important to look for more. I correctly identified White's threats along the a3-f8 diagonal, but failed to use the b-file. Instead, I sought to bring both queen and rook to the d-file.

Cause: shallow calculation

I managed to finish the day's ten problems at 50% because CT 59114 offered the resource that I missed in CT 47952. Perhaps slowly working through problems, writing down the cause of each failure, is a practice more akin to deliberate practice than trying to solve as many problems as possible in the allotted time. More likely, there is good reason to do both sorts of solving sessions.

*There was a break in my Chess Tempo session in which I took care of some morning business. During this break, I worked four problems on the Shredder iPad app. The problems in this app often call for simpler resolution than problems at the level where I'm working on CT. Could an easy problem set lead to failure when moving to harder problems? I am reminded of something that Valeri Beim wrote in Paul Morphy: A Modern Perspective (see "Beware of Weak Opponents").

30 July 2012

Failing at Tactics

Pattern recognition in attack proves insufficient when one's own king is vulnerable. Two weeks ago, I observed my own failure to check the security of my king as the cause of failing a tactics problem. I failed Chess Tempo problem 63593 this morning for the same reason.

White to move

The first move was easy, but I played the wrong second move because I missed 2...Rxb2+ and 3...Qd2+ with checkmate to follow. My own checkmate threat was parried by a more immediate threat against my own king.

On the previous problem (CT 43197), I observed the vulnerability of my own king, but missed a simple defense of the critical d1 square and made an empty threat that I knew offered no advantage by swinging my rook to e1.

White to move

Both problems seem simple in retrospect. Why did I fail? How do I find the patterns in my errors and create exercises to address them?

29 July 2012

Training Log

This past week, my non-chess work has been requiring attention. My steady pace of working a few tactics problems every day continued, but other training was limited. I had planned to annotate game three from the Spokane City Championship, but instead elected to work on a game that I had played on ChessWorld. A few recent games on ChessWorld and RedHotPawn have been decided in the endgame, and hence I have worked hard on a few positions. My post "Staunton Gambit vs. the Dutch Defense" features a game that almost made it to a pawn ending in which I would have had a clear and decisive advantage. My opponent opted to resign instead.

Early in that game, I spent a bit of time researching lines in databases, and examined the handful of relevant lines in the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings. I liked the play and results for White that seemed the norm, and thus played the same opening in an over-the-board game in the Spokane Contenders tournament. My approach to opening study begins from a completed or in-progress game. I look at data for several moves in ChessBase 11, and usually examine the lines in ECO. Then, I play through several, often dozens, of grandmaster games looking for general patterns. If I like what I see, I will study a few games in more detail. Sometimes I will use an engine to examine key opening positions, but never use such a tool if the study proceeds from an in-progress game.

During the past two weeks, through 15 0 games on FICS, I have been testing a particular idea, a deviation from my established practice in an opening that I have played many years. Naturally, the position does not crop up every game, but it does crop up occasionally.

My tactics training this past week employed Chess Tempo, accessed via the web on my notebook computer and occasionally via the iPad. I also solved problems through two iPad apps: Tactic Trainer and Chess-wise Pro. I have completed 201 of the 300 exercises in Chess-wise. Number 192 was familiar: it is one that I use with my students as part of the Bishop Award Checkmates and Tactics problem set.

Black to move
r3k3/ppp2Npp/4Bn2/2b5/1n1pp3/N4P2/PPP3qP/R2QKR2 b Qq - 0 16

The position is from Barnes -- Morphy, London 1858

Morphy's position required less than five seconds for me to solve.

On Chess Tempo, I attempted more than fifty problems (enough to satisfy my weekly minimum), and had a positive percentage through all four sessions.

Chess Tempo totals

Problems Done: 2368 (Correct: 1261 Failed: 1107)
Percentage correct: 53.25%
Average recent per problem time spent 79 seconds

Hopefully, I will soon find my CT rating less embarrassing and will be able to share it here. It would help if I could get my FIDE estimated rating from CT somewhere near my actual USCF rating. It is currently ~200 lower.

I attempted a higher, but unknown number of problems on Tactic Trainer. My rating continued a steady climb begun last week up to 1955, and then began crashing Friday afternoon. It dropped to about 1860. It seems that I would solve two or three problems, gaining two points for each, and then miss one or two, losing six points for each. That problems do not all offer the same gain or loss reveals that Tactic Trainer employs a system similar to Chess Tempo, Chess Tactics Server, and other resources in which both problems and solvers have ratings. However, Tactic Trainer discloses less information, and do not know whether my failure causes easy problems to gain ELO.

It is almost embarrassing to present this problem that I missed.

White to move
1r4k1/4pp1p/2p3p1/2P3P1/rP6/pRQ1PP2/q6P/5RK1 w - - 0 1

27 July 2012

Staunton Gambit vs. the Dutch Defense

Three weeks ago, I posted "Staunton Gambit," describing a variation of the Staunton Gambit against the Dutch Defense in which White does not actually gambit a pawn. That assertion, however, was not entirely accurate. The way I decided to play this line in two games--one correspondence, one over-the-board,--Black has the option of snatching a pawn. In my correspondence game, my opponent did so. Nonetheless, I quickly won back the pawn, and then due to an error on his part, gained another.

Stripes,James (2089) -- Opponent (2248) [A83]
www.ChessWorld.net 2012

1.d4 f5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Bg5 e6 4.e4 fxe4 5.Nxe4 Be7 6.Bxf6 Bxf6 7.Qh5+

Part of what I found attractive about this variation was its relative simplicity, combined with a strong scoring percentage for White.* In my two initial efforts with this idea, I maintained a lasting initiative. Errors were made by my opponents, and by me, but I was never worse in either game. Computer analysis has me always a minimum of 1/3 pawn ahead (even when materially down a pawn).

CB 11 data on games between players over 2000
7...g6 8.Qh6

Black to move

Here Black has the option of snatching the pawn on d4. My opponent did so. It has been a rare choice in the database, although a superficial glance would suggest the move has merits. White's initiative and less vulnerable king more than compensate for the pawn.

8...Bxd4 9.0–0–0 Bf6 10.h4 Nc6

Hiarcs 12 prefers 10...Qe7, which was played in Krouzel -- Fiala, Czechia 2000.

White to move


The immediate 11.h5 maintains the clear advantage. 11...Qe7 12.Nxf6+ Qxf6 13.hxg6.

11...Qxf6 12.h5 Ne7 13.Bd3

Black to move

White has considerable pressure against g6. When I first explored this line by looking through some games, I noticed a few where White won an endgame due to a kingside pawn majority. Black usually gains a queenside majority, but without any passed pawns. That's an opening that can excite me: immediate pressure via surprising opening moves, lasting initiative, and endgame advantage.


Black's move is a clear error, but perhaps the best move is not so easy to find. 13...Rg8 maintains equality.


White has a strong position, and objectively a decisive advantage. Nevertheless, there remains much play in the position. Continuing to find accurate moves will lead to victory, but errors may let Black back into the game.

14...Qxh6+ 15.Rxh6 0–0 16.gxh7+

16.Rxh7 is slightly better.

16...Kh8 17.Nh3 b6

White to move


I might have started the g-pawn thrust here, but was playing too cautiously.

18...Bb7 19.f3 Nf5 20.Rg6

My long-term plan was to keep Black's rooks tied down to defense of his king, and to prevent the promotion of my h-pawn. Meanwhile, Black had to move something. Eventually, I thought, Black would be forced to make weakening moves.


20...Nh4 disrupts White's plans slightly.

21.Ng5 Rg7 22.Rxg7 Kxg7

White to move


I failed to see the tactical shot 23.Nf7!

23...Nh6 24.Rh3 Rf8 25.Kd2 e5 26.Ne4 Bd5 27.c4 Bf7 28.g5 Nf5 29.Nf6 Be6

White to move

White has an excellent position. Black's pieces are all tied down to defense, while White can choose his targets. The pawn on h7 is a constant reminder to Black that he must defend accurately.


I overlooked the necessary defensive resource. Better was 30.Bxf5 Bxf5 31.Rh6.

30..Kh8 31.g6 Ng7 32.Rg3 Bxg8 33.hxg8Q+ Kxg8

White to move

My pawn promoted, but the queen was quickly lost. I no longer have a material advantage, and my positional advantage is no longer overwhelming. Black remains in a difficult position. Defending against a constant attack can make errors more likely. Indeed, Black erred under the pressure just as he was nearing equality.

34.Be4 c6?!

Just the sort of weakening move that I anticipated would come. 34...Ne6, or Ne8 would have offered more stubborn defense. Sometimes it is best to sit and wait, to let the opponent prove that he has a means of breaking through. In this position, it is not altogether clear that White can make things happen.

35.Rg1 Nf5 36.Rg5 Nd4?!

36...Nd6 was better.

37.Ke3 Kg7?

37...d6 was necessary.

White to move


Again, White has a clear and decisive advantage.

38...Ne6 39.Rh5 Nc5 40.Rh7+ Kf6 41.Bc2 a5 42.f4

Black to move

42...d5 43.cxd5 cxd5 44.f5 Ne4 45.Rf7+ 1–0

*See "Playing with Databases" for a discussion of some strategies for using such data in correspondence chess.

26 July 2012

A Familiar Pattern

Legall's Checkmate

Legall's checkmate, or Legall's pseudo-sacrifice, takes its name from a game played in Paris 1750. The moves in this historic game are uncertain, but the conclusion is not. Georges Renaud and Victor Kahn, in their classic text The Art of the Checkmate (1953), explain that they use the term pseudo-sacrifice "because it is rather more an attacking maneuver than an actual mate" (11).

De Legall,François Antoine -- St Brié [C41]
Cafe de la Regence, Paris 1750

1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 d6 3.Nf3 Bg4 4.Nc3 g6 5.Nxe5

5...Bxd1 6.Bxf7+ Ke7 7.Nd5#

The version of the game that I present here is published in the online encyclopedia Heritage des Echecs Francais: Dominique Thimognier, "DE LEGALL François Antoine (sire de Kermeur)" http://heritageechecsfra.free.fr/legall.htm. Thimognier located the baptismal records for Legall, which are reproduced in the article, and also offers comments regarding the many spellings of his surname. For other variations, see Variations of Legall -- St Brié below.

This game is well-known, and may be the oldest recorded instance of the checkmate pattern that now bears the player's name. Knowing this motif made it possible to resist my first impulse to capture the queen in this tactics problem that came up in Tactic Trainer yesterday.

White to move

Variations of Legall -- St Brié

a) Renaud and Kahn offer:

Kermur de Legal -- N.N.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bc4 Bg4 4.Nc3 g6 5.Nxe5 Bxd1 6.Bxf7+ Ke7 7.Nd5#

They give White's name at De Kermur, Sire de Legal, and do not offer Black's name.

b) George Walker published this version:

Legalle -- M. de St. B***

1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 d6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.Nc3 Bg4 5.Nxe5 Bxd1 6.Bxf7+ Ke7 7.Nd5#

Walker gives White's name as Monsieur de Legalle, and Black's as M. de St. B***, evidently knowing but omitting the identity of the victim. Walker's text is A Selection of Games at Chess (London: Gilbert and Rivington, 1835), 91. Google offers a digitized version of Walker. See Edward Winter, Chess Notes 5720 (18 August 2008) for a discussion of variations and an image taken from a page of Walker's book. C.N. 5734 (29 August 2008) offers additional information.

c) Hooper and Whyld offer:

Legall -- St Brie
Paris 1750

1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 d6 3.Nf3 Bg4 4.Nc3 g6 5.Nxe5 Bxd1 6.Bxf7+ Ke7 7.Nd5#

In correspondence with Edward Winter, they explained how they determined the spelling of Legall's name. See C.N. 5720. David Hooper and Kenneth Whyld, The Oxford Companion to Chess (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 221.

d) ChessBase Big Database 2011 has:

De Kemur, Sire de Legal -- Saint Brie
Cafe de la Regence, Paris 1750

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bc4 Bg4 4.Nc3 g6 5.Nxe5 Bxd1 6.Bxf7+ Ke7 7.Nd5#

ChessBase databases do not offer documentation and are known to be full of errors.

22 July 2012

Back to the Mines: Training Log

Assessing Weaknesses

My play in the City Championship match with John Julian revealed a weakness in my openings. In each game, I played either a dubious or a risky move early on. Each time, I found myself in a difficult position and then felt that I played well. The third game might be an exception insofar as post-game computer analysis suggest that my position may have been better than it seemed to me while playing.

For many years, I have been one who cautions others against obsession with studying opening theory at the expense of tactics and endgame training.* However, now that I am a solid A Class player with ambitions to climb into Expert Class, opening preparation needs to occupy a far larger share of my preparation. Thity-five years ago, I studied openings and played through master games, but did not work tactics problems, nor spend any significant time on endgames. My opponents rarely played book lines beyond the third or fourth move, but I was able to win often enough to feed my illusions that opening preparation gave me an edge.

When I returned to chess after some ten years away, I immediately started into opening study. I quickly established a C Class USCF Rating. Only when tactics training and endgame work became part of my regimen did I rise out of C Class and begin the climb to my current level. Even so, I have continued to work on openings, albeit mostly through database use during correspondence games. That practical opening study focuses on specific lines before me. It differs substantially from developing in-depth understanding of particular opening systems. Nevertheless, through years of play and limited study, I have become proficient at a modest level in certain openings.

It is time to do more.

Developing a strong opening repertoire for specific systems, however, creates a problem for the blogger who publicizes his ongoing training efforts. Too much information shared makes it easier for my opponents to prepare a surprise that I must confront over the board with the clock running. I prefer that my opening preparation be revealed only in the course of play.

Training Regimen

Much of the past week was invested in analysis of my three games with John Julian. Game one was completed Monday and posted Tuesday morning. Game two took longer, but posted Saturday morning. Expect to see game three sometime this next week.

In "New Year's Resolutions" and "Training Log: Mid-Year Report," I outlined three key training activities for 2012. In "Training Log" (25 March), I added a fourth element. Consistent efforts to solve more than fifty problems per week have been successful. Some weeks I have solved many more. The process of moving from relatively easy problems to harder ones has been less consistent, but not wholly unsuccessful. My endgame work needs improvement, as does work adding whole games to memory.

1. Tactics

The Shredder iPad app has been getting less use since starting to use the Tactic Trainer app. Nevertheless, I intend to complete the second cycle of its one thousand problems by early fall. At that point, I will reset the statistics and begin anew. Presently I have a 78% success rate after 1712 puzzles. On the third cycle, I will aim for 85%.

The past couple of weeks, I have split my tactics training time between Tactic Trainer and Chess Tempo. Active use of Lev Alburt, Chess Training Pocket Book II and Paata Gaprindashvili, Imagination in Chess remain unrealized goals.

2. Endings

One of the advantages of creating flash cards for important endgame positions is that they are portable. This past week, I have had my pawn endings flash cards with me more often. While enjoying the summer evening with some fine Bridge Press Cellars Rosé on the deck, I flipped through the cards studying them.

In game three, John and I played a nice endgame with bishop versus knight. His additional pawn helped him prevail. He told me after the game that he had been studying this type of endgame a few months ago because he is working through Irving Chernev, Capablanca's Best Chess Endings (1978). As it happens, Dill Books was set up to sell chess materials at the Spokane Falls Open, and had everything on discount. I accepted John's advice and bought a copy of Chernev's text.

3. Openings

Studying openings and memorizing games goes hand in hand. After spending some time learning Carlsen -- Wang Hao 2011, I started using Carlsen's set-up against the Caro-Kann in blitz play. As I work more seriously to develop my opening repertoire, selecting key games in that repertoire to commit to memory seems worthwhile.

I have a shelf full of opening monographs, print and electronic versions of the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings (ECO), an old copy of Modern Chess Openings, a handful of New in Chess Yearbooks, ChessBase 11, and other opening resources. This past week, I have been reviewing some of my games over the past year and identifying sections of ECO to study.

*Once this week I was browsing the chess books listed by an online bookseller. Some 90% of these books were opening monographs. Most of these books are of limited value to most players, yet they buy them in droves. When they wonder why they do not improve, I say because they are wasting their time studying the wrong things. On the other hand, opening books remain scarce that do a good job of explaining general principles for several opening systems (Reuben Fine, The Ideas Behind the Chess Openings) or for specific openings (Everyman Chess "Starting Out" series).

21 July 2012

City Championship, Game Two

All opening innovations by Category I players should be looked upon as errors until the Candidate Master cannot prove otherwise.
Alex Dunne, How to Become a Candidate Master (1986)
After a draw in the first game, despite some errors, I stood to do well in the 2012 Spokane City Championship match against John Julian. Prior to the match, I had intended to review some games in the symmetrical English as preparation, but did not make this work a high enough priority. My choice of a suboptimal move six led me precisely into the sort of position that I sought to avoid with my first move. Even so, the position was not unplayable, despite giving Black easy equality. Subsequent errors gave Black an advantage.

Stripes,James (1982) - Julian,John (2053) [A30]
Spokane City Championship Spokane (2), 14.07.2012


This move has the merits of flexibility, but also leaves Black's choices wide open. For the player of the English Opening, however, it prevents 1...e5, the reversed Sicilian.

1...c5 2.c4 Nf6 3.g3

I have played 1.g3 on several occasions, but was frustrated with myself for making this move in haste. Firing off moves in mere seconds caused me to play positions in this match somewhat different than planned. This move is White's second most common choice, although played less than half as frequently as 3.Nc3.

3...Nc6 4.Bg2 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5

White to move


Objectively, this move may not be an error. It may be dubious. It is certainly passive. Both 6.d4 and 6.Nc3 keep alive White's hope for an advantage. For me, however, without adequate preparation to play a reversed Sicilian Dragon, Maroczy Bind, it was an error to go into this line. It is a rare move. The resulting position occurs a handful of times, mostly via transposition, and among players the strongest of whom was barely over 2100. As Alex Dunne suggests, my opponent considered the move an error.

6...e5 7.Nbd2

Again, 7.Nc3 might have been preferred.


White to move


This move is a tactical and positional blunder. The pawn on e5 is not vulnerable. Fantasies of provoking an exploitable weakness along the a2-g8 diagonal are illusions. A better plan, albeit slow, might have been to transfer the knight to a better square, Ne4 with the idea of Nc3. Also worth considering was 8.b3.

I also might have castled, reaching the position from Karlsson -- Tal, Skara 1980, which Tal lost (see Chess Informant 29/74). Lars Karlsson adopted a hedgehog formation with the white pieces. My approach was inferior.

Black has a clear advantage. But, how does he convert an advantage into a win? Are there clear weaknesses in White's position?

In How to Become a Candidate Master, Alex Dunne puts the reader in the Expert's seat, playing against an A Class opponent. He encourages the reader to begin thinking as the player he or she wishes to become. How do Experts win these sorts of positions against A Class players? Sometimes, the A Class players lack understanding of the demands of the position. Sometimes they self-destruct.

8...f6 9.a3 Rb8 10.0–0 Nc7

According to Hiarcs 12, this move lets White back into the game. 10...Be6 or 10...O-O maintain the edge. However, engines should not be relied upon too strongly. The maneuver Nd5-c7-e6-d4 is a reasonable idea. It is hard to see how White can do much to deter Black's plans.

White to move


11.Nh4! is Hiarcs' idea. Indeed, I considered this move during the game. However, I did not see where the knight might be headed, and the idea of trading my light-squared bishop for the c6 knight was not particularly alluring. I failed to see 11...Bd7 12.f4! O-O 13.fxe5 b5 14.e6! In this line, White gets some play too.

11...Bd7 12.Rc1 Ne6 13.Ncd2

13.Nh4 is still possible, although less effective than two moves ago. Black has been methodically preparing his pieces for battle. Soon, he will occupy the d4 outpost with one of his knights.

13...0–0 14.Nb3 Ncd4 

White to move


I thought for six minutes, and rejected 15.Nfxd4 cxd4 16.Bd2 Ba4, because I did not see the merits of 17.Qc2. Here, 17...Qb6 can be met with 18.Bd5 Kh8 19.Bxe6 Qxe6 20.Nc5.

15...cxd4 16.Nbd2 b5

Black begins his expansion on the queenside. Was it possible for White to hold this passive position? White has very few squares for his pieces.


Perhaps 17.Bh3 made sense. If White could swap pieces, he might find the lack of space less suffocating. On the other hand, is it wise to swap the light-squared bishop for a knight? If Black's light-squared bishop could be taken in the trade, would the light squares around the Black king remain secure?

Hiarcs 12 finds three candidate moves: b4, Bh3, Qb3. The other two are favored slightly over the one played. The engine sees Black's advantage as roughly 3/4 of a pawn. It felt much worse during the game.

17...a5 18.Qb3 Kh8

White to move

19.Ne4 Qb6 20.Rc2 Rbc8 21.Rfc1 Rxc2 22.Rxc2 axb4 23.axb4

Black to move

White swapped off a pair of rooks, and one of pawns. Is his position less cramped than before? How does Black continue the pressure?


Simple and effective. The rook threatens Ra4 where Black can muster more attackers on the b4 pawn than White can find defenders. The rook also threatens White's back rank.


24.h4 was better, providing a square for the king.

24...Ra1+ 25.Bf1 Qa7

White to move


26.Nd6 leaves Black in the driver's seat, but at least does not chart the course for him.

26...Nxc5 27.bxc5 Bh3 28.Nd2 Qa5 29.Qf7

Black to move

Black has one move that maintains the clear advantage. It is easy to find, and then the rest is easy. Even so, White plays on a few moves in this hopeless position looking for a chance at perpetual. Black does not let down his guard, permitting White's nefarious schemes to snatch a draw from hopelessness. With several ways to finish off the pretender, the City Champion considered his move 33 for five minutes.

29...h6 30.Qh5 Qxd2 31.Qxh3 Qxc2 32.Qc8+ Kh7 33.c6 Rc1 34.Qf5+ Kg8 0–1

20 July 2012


Anatomy of a Failure

In Elements of Positional Evaluation: How the Pieces Get Their Power (2010), Dan Heisman defines flexibility as one of seven positional concepts. Zwischenzug (an in-between move) often reveals flexibility in action. I failed a tactics problem by overlooking a zwischenzug. First, examining one plan that failed, I rejected it and found another plan. The second plan was correct, but a part of the first plan remained valuable. My wholesale rejection of the failed plan led to inflexibility in my thought process. This inflexibilty, when faced with an unexpected response, was the source of a blunder.

Black to move
Problem 77164 on Chess Tempo

Instantly, the check 1...Rc1+ bears examination. This move leads nowhere and must be rejected. Chasing pawns seems futile as well, but the knight is trapped.

I found the line 1...Re8 2.Nxd4 Rd8 when White wins a piece.

Playing 1...Re8, CT then confronted me with the unexpected 2.Rxd4. I proceeded with the original plan to win the knight and blundered. This game losing blunder (and tactics training failure) took me five seconds. Even 2...Rxd4 3.Nxd4 Rxe5 was superior too my horrid 2...Re6??

The correct move was 2...Rc1+, the first move that I examined, but played one move later. Such bull-headed pursuit of one idea when new unexamined circumstances appear on the board have been the cause of more than one failure in tournament play. The antidote to this failure is to create a problem set of zwischenzug problems on CT and spend several hours of deliberate practice solving them.

19 July 2012

Thursday Tactic

Enjoying the warm summer evening with my bride, sangria, and a cheese plate, I opened the Chess Informant Solver's Kit and chose a random set of problems. On the first, I failed until the third try. The correct answer, once discovered, is remarkably simple and potent.

White to move
6k1/5ppp/pB6/3br3/Pp6/5QPq/1P3P1P/2R3K1 w

From Lutskovsky -- Gridnev, correspondence 1976.

17 July 2012

City Championship, Game One

In my first game of the 2012 Spokane City Championship, a best of four game match with the reigning City Champion, I made some positional errors in the opening but then defended well tactically.

Julian,John (2053) - Stripes,James (1982) [D03]
Spokane City Championship Spokane (1), 14.07.2012

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3.Bg5

It would have been difficult to anticipate the Torre Attack during match preparation. John told me after the game that he had never played it before. Even so, I was prepared for him to play something unexpected.


3...e6 is the main line, while my move is second most popular.


Black to move


Perhaps 4...e6 is not dubious, but 4...c5 is a much better try for equality. By immediately putting pressure upon White's center, Black's pieces can develop harmoniously. Murshed -- Kaidanov, Kolkata 1988 continued 4...c5 5.e3 Qb6 6.Qc1 cxd4 7.exd4 Nc6 8.c3 Bf5 9.Be2 Rc8 10.Nbd2 e6 11.O-O Be7 and is given in a note in Encyclopedia of Chess Openings with the evaluation that Black has equality.

5.e3 c5 6.c3 Bd6

White to move

Via a different move order, a position much like this one, but with White's dark-square bishop on g3, was reached in the Tata Steel B Group in Wijk aan Zee in 2012. That game, Harikrishan -- Reinderman continued 7.Bxd6 Qxd6, which I was aiming at. John refused to cooperate with my plans, providing me opportunities to err.

7.Bd3 Bxf4 8.exf4 Nf6?

This loss of time and refusal to stake a claim in the center led to a difficult game. Soon, the immobility of Black's queenside made the game unpleasant for me. 8...f5 and Black is fine. Fritz 11 gives the position 0.00, a rare evaluation when there is no draw by repetition or other clear resource.

9.0–0 0–0 10.Nbd2 Qb6 11.dxc5

Black to move


11...Qxc5 was more sensible. Having rejected easy equality at move eight because I did not care for the resulting pawn structure, I sought to create disharmony in White's pawn structure. I stepped willingly into a forcing line that brought another pawn beside the doubled c-pawns. John chose this line. As a result, his more active pieces and mobile pawns came down upon me before I could get my forces into the battle.

12.Qb3 Qxb3 13.axb3 Rd8

13...Nc6 was more accurate.

14.Nd4+/- Nbd7 15.c6 Nc5 16.Bc2 Rd6 17.b4 Na6

White to move


18.b5 Nc5 19.Rfb1 improves White's advantage

18...Nb8 19.Nb5?

19.cxb7 Bxb7 20.N2b3+/-


White has some sharp tactics to press for the advantage, but with reasonably accurate play, Black should survive.

20.Nb3 Bd7

John told me after the game that he underestimated this move.

21.N3d4 Rc8 22.Rfc1 Bxb5

I was happy to trade my bad bishop for a troublesome horse.

White to move

23.Nxb5 Nc6 24.Nd6 Rc7 25.b5 Ne7 26.b6

Black to move


Fritz 11 prefers 26...Rd7 slightly. I chose the forcing line, as that makes calculation easier.

27.Rxa7 Rb8 28.Rxb7 Rxb7 29.Nxb7 Rxb6 30.Ra1 g6 31.Na5

Black to move


I might have tried 31...Rb2, when White must defend lest Black gain an advantage. However, I was comfortable in my sense that I was no longer in danger of losing. I had won the coin toss for colors and opted for Black in games one and three, so that I could have White in games two and four. Alas, my opening disaster in game two, and my failure to draw game three meant there would be no game four.

32.Nxc6 Rxc6 33.Ra3 Nd7 34.Kf1 Nc5 35.Bc2 Nb7 36.Bd3 ½–½

16 July 2012

Glossary of Tactics: Zugzwang

The term Zugzwang means compulsion to move. It refers to positions that arise in which the player to move must weaken his or her position. If it were possible to pass in chess, the position might remain secure. But every available move creates vulnerabilities.

Zugzwang is a common theme in endings, and is easy to understand in certain pawn endgames. In these two illustrative positions, the player to move must lose a pawn. In the first, loss of this pawn loses the game. In the second, the game remains drawn with correct play.

These theoretical patterns occur in real games, such as in one of my recent tournament games. Black resigned because after the moves 38...a4 39.a3, his king must abandon his e-pawn, losing it and the f-pawn.

Black to move

Zugzwang can appear in endgames with other pieces.

White to move

Black's rook guards the pawn, but can be attacked on its present square by the white king moving to e7. The rook's only escape from the king is d5.

White wins by triangulation.

1.Ke8! Rd5 2.Ke7

Black is now in zugzwang. The rook cannot return to d6 and so must abandon the pawn. 2...Rd1 loses more quickly to 3.Qb3+, forking king and rook.

Endings of rook versus minor piece are often drawn unless the player with the rook can put the other in zugzwang. It is easier to force such positions against the knight than against the bishop.

Black to move

Black must give up defense of the knight. If it were White to move, the rook slides over one square in either direction, maintaining the pin and transferring the move to Black. Giving up a tempo is often how one player places the other in zugzwang.

15 July 2012

Training Log: Championship Week

The Context

The Spokane City Championship was revived as an annual event in 2001. The title has been held by Curt Collyer, David Sprenkle, and John Julian. In 2008, I was the lowest-rated player ever to play in the match. I was 1738 and played FM Sprenkle, who was 2257 at the time.* My rating has climbed almost 250 Elo since then. As in 2008, I went into the event as the underdog. But, while I was rated over 500 below Sprenkle, the gap between John Julian and me is closer to 1/10 of that figure (2053 to 1982).

John Julian has been my second most frequent opponent. Including quick chess, we have played 26 rated games prior to this year's City Championship. John won 19 of those. My three wins and four draws have come in recent years. We played one quick-rated game in 2011: John won. In 2010, we played four games. He won the quick game. In our three standard-rated games, I won one and the other two were drawn. Prior to our draw in the Spokane Chess Club's Winter Championship, February 2010, all of our regular-rated games were wins for John. Since then, things look much better for me.

John is close to the age of my oldest son. When he was in high school, and we both were C Class players, we had some hard-fought games that he won. Then, he improved rapidly. He broke into Expert Class (rated 2004) in the 2005 Spokane Chess Club Fall Championship. In that same event, I finally broke out of C Class, rising from 1550 to 1601.

Although one game remained to be played when this week began, I was reasonably confident that I would have my chance to play John in the championship. With a one point lead, I had draw odds and good preparation for my only remaining opponent, Michael Cambareri. We played on Monday. After he made strong efforts to break down my defenses in the French, he offered a draw, putting me in the City Championship.

If I win, I might gain enough rating points to barely make it over the 2000 mark. The Expert mark is less important than playing well. Whatever doubts might have lingered concerning my ability to make Expert have been erased by my performance in the Collyer Memorial and Spokane Contenders. In 2012, I have eight wins and one draw against opponents whose average rating is high 1800s. Only three of those nine games have been against opponents below 1900.

There will be setbacks, of course. It may be some time before my rating exceeds 2000, or it may be soon. It is not a theoretical possibility, but an imminent event.

The Training

Through the course of the week, my confidence remained steady that I could do well against John Julian. My training has a sense of purpose in the short run, as well as part of my long-term efforts to make the climb to master.

Each day began with at least thirty minutes on Tactic Trainer (the iPad app). These problems are not timed. I seek accuracy without reference to speed. In thirty minutes, I usually complete two dozen or more.

White has a mate in ten
Sunday. I followed the Tactic Trainer session with thirty minutes on Chess Tempo. In standard mode, the solving time is recorded, but has no influence on the rating. I averaged slightly more than one minute per problem (77 seconds). Problem 95998 (see diagram) took me 4:45. Of 32 problems, I got 17 correct.

Training for chess competition should include diet and exercise. My food portions have become more reasonable since a few months before I turned 50, but there are days when I eat large quantities of bad food. Pizza cravings kill. For more than a decade, regular morning walks have been part of my routine. Sometimes, however, I go many weeks without this exercise. Bad weather, in particular, presents me with a ready-made excuse for laziness. I started this week ten pounds heavier than my lowest weight last summer. In March, I had set the goal of getting back to that low by July, and then losing another ten to reach the weight that I had in 1991. Despite my failure, I started this week with renewed energy.

My usual walk is to a park near my home, and then laps. Never having measured the distance, I estimate it to be roughly 3/4 mile around on the path. A typical 50 minute walk takes me to the park, around five times, and then home. On Sunday, I did nine laps--the most since last summer. I walked perhaps 75-80 minutes.

Sometimes I drive to the Spokane River Centennial Trail and walk there.

Monday. After thirty minutes of Tactic Trainer and review of some of my opening preparation in the French Defense, I took my walk, going six laps around the park. I met Michael at the downtown library for our game. After the game, I celebrated my tournament victory at the Arbor Crest tasting room in Riverpark Square. I drank a glass of 2009 van Loben Sels Cabernet Sauvignon. While enjoying this terrific wine (that will be vastly better in another five years in the bottle, IMHO), I used the little chess set in the tasting room to go through some of my prior games against John (and one loss to Kevin Korsmo which resulted, in part, from John helping him prepare).

Tuesday. After thirty minutes of Tactic Trainer, I spent some time writing the first part of this blog post, which will post at 5:57 am Sunday morning. Breakfast consisted of a protein drink. I played one 15 0 game on FICS, achieving another new peak rating of 1908. These fifteen minute games offer light training, and they serve to keep me away from blitz. After the game, I began anew Alex Dunne, How to Become a Candidate Master (see "Becoming a Candidate Master"). My walk lasted 72 minutes and included eight laps around Friendship Park.

It's funny how we measure our own progress. I did a tactics session on Chess Tempo during the mid-afternoon. I was drowsy, and got up from my chair several times to grab a bite or a drink. My sense was that the session was going poorly. Despite these perceptions, I correctly solved 11 of 19 (a better percentage than Sunday's session) and knocked my average time per problem down two seconds to 75. My rating went up a few points, too.

Another session two hours later was also below my expectations. I solved 11 of 22, and increased my average recent solving time to 81 seconds. In the last attempted problem, I made a correct move while falling asleep.

Wednesday. My thirty minutes with Tactic Trainer ran from 6:30-7:00 am instead of the 5:00-5:30 am that had become a consequence of awaking too early. Time spent in the hot tub Tuesday night proved its value. One of the problems that was wrong reveals a lack of flexibility in king hunts. After three correct moves, including the rook sacrifice that took me a few minutes to find, I snatched the knight instead of the correct move forking queen and mating square. That snatching the knight also exposed my king to danger reveals a problem that also cropped up in my win against Jeremy in the Contenders. Just before he resigned, I was seriously contemplating as my next move a capture that would have given his queen a forced draw by repetition. To have been oblivious to such dangers in a clearly won position highlights an area needing work. ALWAYS CHECK THE SECURITY OF ONE'S OWN KING.

I tried to continue working on opening preparation. However, preparing openings for John is much more difficult than it was preparing for Sprenkle. Sprenkle plays relatively few openings, but plays them well. With John's help and two weeks to prepare, I was able to invest close to twenty-five hours on the Raphael Dutch and another ten to fifteen on a particular line of the French Advance prior to the match with Sprenkle. Ten moves into games two and three, I was still well within my opening preparation. John plays a wider variety of openings, and he loves to use transpositions to steer the game away from his opponent's comfort zone. Of course, I do the same. Games with John, thus, are often interesting struggles from the first moves.

My walk of six blocks around the park led to a late breakfast of oatmeal and fresh strawberries that was eaten while studying Dunne's book. Then, one hour of vigorous yard-work was invested in thinning two large shrubs one foot away from the fence to prepare for power-washing, and then painting. The weather was a relatively humid 80+ degrees.

My forty-five minute Chess Tempo session was humbling, as I scored a mere 38% correct (9 of 24). Average recent time per problem dropped to 78 seconds. Perhaps, longer time per problem would help, as one of those that I missed was a simple Boden's checkmate: Problem 97795.

Thursday. After my thirty minutes on Tactic Trainer, I wrote "Importance of Feedback," then did another ten minutes. I walked 91 minutes (ten or eleven laps--going in circles, it is easy to lose count), and then had a breakfast of yogurt with a banana, some strawberries, and a sprinkling of granola.

My day's chores included some hot tub maintenance and power-washing the fence, as well as a medical visit. In the doctor's office, I had a long wait, and used the time to solve 39 problems in the Chess-wise iPad app. Number 188 vexed me. I instantly saw the key, but in working out the verification believed that I had found a refutation. Hence, I searched for other ideas. What I failed to see was that the second move was double check. Seeking a particular checkmate pattern that I thought was latent in the position, I overlooked one that was much easier.

White to move and win
My plans to spend an hour on pawn endgames were foiled by a bad motivator, and a mere half-hour was invested in the enterprise. I successfully worked out the correct idea in a Ladislav Prokeš study that I picked up while helping the Northwest Christian coach with his chess camp on Wednesday afternoon. When I played it against the computer, however, the resulting queen vs. rook ending was a tad more than I felt like tackling that afternoon. On the one hand, mastering this difficult theoretical win could give me confidence going into the weekend. On the other hand, frustration borne upon the failure to master the technique could produce unnecessary doubts.

Friday. Planned as a lighter day with a short tactics session in the morning, forty-five minutes of too many errors in Tactic Trainer provoked questions. Was it wise to step up training during this championship week? Would a day of fishing do more to prepare me for the match of my life than steady work on chess skills?

My breakfast of yogurt and blueberries followed a 65 minute walk on the Centennial Trail from The Islands to Mirabeau Falls and back (slightly less than five miles).

An hour long Chess Tempo session brought up the same questions provoked earlier in the morning. Nineteen of forty correct, average recent time per problem still at 78 seconds. Then, the day ended with a more relaxing afternoon and evening at Market Place Wine Bar. First, I met a man who hired me for some chess training that included correspondence games. Then, my wife joined me so we could enjoy the music provided by our friend Maxie Ray Mills.

Saturday: Game Day. Tactic Trainer session was a light fifteen minutes, intended as warm-up for the match. I calculate better when I am calm and focused. The session was not without errors, but after bouncing between 1850 and 1885 all week, I pushed my TT rating back over 1900.

I did some Facebooking, including posting today's planned status: "pet the tiger." I get that phrase from a friend who coaches cross country at my alma mater, where he coached my youngest son and two of my nephews. He urges the young runners to bravely dare to greatness, to achieve what seems just out of reach. His teams have made several trips to Nike Cross Nationals, one of the few national championships for high school competitors. They won the championship in 2008, and may have a shot again in 2012. The phrase seems apt for the biggest chess match of my life.

I went head-to-head with a FIDE Master in the city championship in 2008. That was big, but my chances of winning were slim to non-existent. This year, I have a chance. If I play the best chess that my skills permit, John should find it very difficult to beat me.

My slower than normal six-lap walk around the park (55 minutes) was followed by a breakfast of bacon and eggs. I packed a lunch that included a wrap made with some of the sockeye salmon that I smoked on Thursday.

In game one, I made a few positional errors and found myself in a very difficult position with most of my pieces immobile. John could have crushed me positionally, but chose to try doing so tactically. I defended well and we agreed to a draw.

In game two, I had White and played the English badly. John gained the initiative early on, and he went on to win.

Score after one day: Julian 1 1/2, Stripes 1/2

*USCF match guidelines state that a more than 400 point rating difference renders such a match ineligible for rating. Somehow we managed to get an exception to this guideline, and I gained 10 points as a result of my 2 1/2 - 1/2 loss to Sprenkle. He lost six rating points.

12 July 2012

Importance of Feedback

Tactic Trainer vs. Chess Tempo

My former student and friend recommended Tactic Trainer for my iPad, and I have been using it steadily the past few weeks. It is simple to use. Not mentioned in my review posted last week, however, is the occasional frustration when I get a problem wrong. Using the arrows below the board, I can play through the correct solution. It is up to me to comprehend why my answer is wrong. Often a moment's study looking at my solution in light of the correct sequence of moves reveals my oversight, but not always.

This morning I erred in this position.

White to move

1.d6 Rc4

I found as much, but then rejected 2.d7 in light of 2...Bf6 3.d8Q+ Bxd8 4.Rxd8+ Kg7 and I missed that 5.Rd1 gets my rook back in time to stop Black's c-pawn. Eyeing c8 as a better square for my rook, I played


I thought Black would play 2...Ra4, but putting the position into Fritz 11 reveals two superior ideas 2...Rc5 and 2...Rb4.

It is a useful problem, but Tactic Trainer needed supplementation in order to complete the lesson. Contrast that need with Chess Tempo. In Chess Tempo, there are comments left by other users that explain certain wrong answers. For paying members, there is even more: the full game score and source, the top several computer lines, and the option of playing the position against the computer.

Moreover, Chess Tempo works great in Safari on the iPad. Tactic Trainer costs $2.99 once. Unlocking the full resources of Chess Tempo costs more, which can be paid monthly ($3.00 to $4.00, depending on level) or annually ($20.00 to $35.00). Chess Tempo also requires a web connection, while Tactic Trainer is fully resident on the iPad.

I have been paying for CT monthly, but plan to renew for the full year soon. Meanwhile, I will continue using Tactic Trainer as well. CT is a much stronger resource, but Tactic Trainer has its merits.

11 July 2012

Becoming a Candidate Master

Alex Dunne's How to Become a Candidate Master, 2nd ed. (Davenport, IA: Thinker's Press, 1986) is dated and contains slight flaws. Both of these weaknesses are easy to overlook in this novel text that has the advantage of aiming precisely at players at my present skill (rating) level. The term Candidate Master has been used in different times and places with slightly different meanings. For Dunne, the term refers to US Chess Federation ratings 2000-2199.

Since the publication of this text nearly two decades age, the USCF has implemented a title system. They "award permanent titles based on sustained performances at particular rating levels" (USCF Ratings Committee, "The USCF Title System," October 2011). It is possible to become a Candidate Master in the sense Dunne used the term, but not achieve the USCF norm-based title. For instance, due to my infrequent events and relatively rapid rise through recent events, my rating is strong A Class, but my title is 2nd Category (B Class level). My aim is to achieve both Expert Class (Dunne's meaning) and the USCF Candidate Master title. Thus, even though an Expert rating is not out of reach this weekend, the title remains at least one year away. There is plenty of time for thorough study of Dunne's text.

In his brief Introduction, Dunne explains the concept of the book. It consists of fifty games, most of which are between Candidate Masters (2000-2199) and Category I players (1800-1999). A few pit the CM against weaker players, or against masters. The book is dated because it contains only "recent" games from tournament play. Recent, then, was 1982. These games are ancient now. Even so, the approach remains fresh. With today's databases, it is a simple matter to update the games using the same criteria.

While going through the first game in Dunne's text yesterday, I found another game with a similar opening. In this more recent game, the Category I player did not miss an opportunity that had been missed by the Category I player in Dunne's game 1 (see Black's moves 9-14 in the game score below). Even so, the CM prevailed. Looking through the game in ChessBase 11, I quickly identified the key tactical error, Black's 27th move.

Vesely,Libor (2084) - Tretina,Zdenek (1893) [B88]
Ostrava SME op Ostrava (2), 01.05.2005

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bc4 e6 7.Bb3 Qc7 8.0–0 Nc6 9.f4 Nxd4 10.Qxd4 d5 11.Kh1 Bc5 12.Qd3 dxe4 13.Nxe4 Nxe4 14.Qxe4 Bd7 15.f5 Bc6 16.Qg4 0–0–0 17.fxe6 fxe6 18.Bxe6+ Kb8 19.b4 Rd4 20.Qh3 Bxb4 21.Rb1 Bd6 22.Be3 Rb4 23.Rxb4 Bxb4 24.Qg4 Bc3 25.Qf5 Bb4 26.Qg4 Bc3 27.Qc4

Black to move


Swinging the undeveloped rook to a central file would have maintained equality. Black opted for a skewer. Did he miss the deflection, or did he reason that he could give up the queen for gain of rook and bishop?

28.Ba7+ Kxa7 29.Qxc7 Bxf1 30.Bd5 Rb8 31.Qxc3 Rd8 32.Qd4+ Ka8 33.c4 Kb8 34.Qc5 Rd7 35.Qf8+ Ka7 36.Qxf1 1–0

The text focuses upon how CMs beat A Class players. Through such study, the Class A player may identify and correct his or her own weaknesses, while honing the ability to exploit these weaknesses in others. The game above reinforces my recognition, revealed in post-game analysis with Tim Moroney  (who has the USCF CM title), that Experts analyze positions deeper than I have been doing.

Dunne asks the reader to begin thinking of him- or herself as a Candidate Master, and hence to examine the book's games from that side of the board. The most apparent flaw in the book's structure is the failure of each chapter to indicate at the outset which side that is. For that information, the reader must turn to the Table of Contents. It's a minor flaw that is easy to work around.

I am not yet in a position to comment on the quality of the analysis offered by Dunne in the text. First, I have fifty games to go through. I also must reach my goal. Then, and only then, will I be able to assess the usefulness of this book in helping me along that quest.

10 July 2012

Eleven Consecutive Wins!

The streak is over. My streak of wins in USCF tournament play ended yesterday with a draw. The run of wins was beginning to defy belief and I felt a sense of relief when my opponent offered a draw in the only remaining game in the 2012 Spokane City Championship Contenders tournament. I do not play enough tournaments, and so my run of wins extends back to November 2011.

In October 2011, I played in the Eastern Washington Open, scoring 3.5/5. I took a draw in round three, and then lost in round five to the second place finisher, Mark J. Erickson, who was rated 2189. That was my last loss in tournament play. Moreover, that loss was the last game that I did not win until yesterday.

In November, I participated in the annual Turkey Quads at the Spokane Chess Club. I should have played in Quad A as the fourth highest rated player in the event, but due to a schedule conflict the first night, I was placed in a quad made up of late registrants. I was rated 1850, while my opponents averaged 1705. My play was less than stellar, but it was enough better than that of my opponents that I won all three games. Perhaps my best game in that event was my win against Kevin Korsmo, who had beaten me during the Taxing Quads in April 2011. I posted a key position from my Turkey Quad game with him in "Press the Attack".

My streak of wins that ended after eleven includes only standard rated games. In December I played in a quick event. If I counted that event, which I won with a perfect 3-0, then my runs of wins extends to fourteen games, including a win against the player whom I drew yesterday.

Black to move
My next event at standard time controls was the 20th Annual Dave Collyer Memorial Tournament at the end of February. Placing second in that event by winning against Expert Tim Moroney in the last round gave me arguably my best tournament result ever. I went in to that event at 1879. My opponents averaged 1774, ranging from my 1420 first round opponent to Tim's 2069. Chess Skills has entries regarding my progress in that tournament in "Goals," "Pawn Wars," "Breaking Through 1900," and "Playing for a Draw." Probably my worst position in the event came in round two. After twelve moves with White, my opponent already had a better position and the initiative (see diagram). He misplayed it, and I went on to finish Saturday with two wins and my one-half point bye.

I woke up at 3:00 am the next morning due to some back pain, and told everyone at the tournament that I had my excuses lined up if I collapsed and played awful. In round four, I defended the French against Michael Cambareri's onslaught. After refusing my draw offer in a complex position, where postgame computer analysis reveals that I was better, my opponent stepped into a checkmate in three. I found the mate. In the final round, I played to simplify. My higher rated opponent succeeded in complicating matters, but it turned out that the resulting pawn endgame was winning for my side despite initial assessments as we attempted to look ahead with other pieces on the board. My rating jumped to 1933.

After missing the next few club tournaments, it became clear that I would be able to play in the Spokane Falls Open this coming weekend. Then, I found that my SCC Grand Prix standings had me a fraction of a point above another player, and I was seeded into the Spokane Contenders tournament. The average rating of the six players in this round robin tournament was 1893, but only one player was below that figure. Dave Griffin, the organizer of the Contenders, the City Championship, and many other Spokane chess events was rated 1611. Tim Moroney was 2075, and the rest of us were in the low 1900s.

I like events such as the Contenders where there are no easy games. It is possible to play reasonable chess and lose every game. Even the lowest rated player this year was not scoreless, as he drew the highest rated player. Winning the event is a great feeling!

Some of the games in this event are mentioned in "The Good, the Bad, the Ugly," "A Better Novelty," and "Staunton Gambit." Yesterday, I again found myself defending the French against Michael. After he lost an exchange, but was about to gain a pawn, he offered a draw in a position where I may have been slightly better. The draw gave me victory in the event with 4.5/5. Michael placed second with 4.0/5. It also ended a string of wins going back more than eight months. Through these three events, my rating rose a bit over 100 points (135 according to the USCF Rating Estimator).

Because I won the event, I will not be playing in the Spokane Falls Open. Rather, I have a four game match with current Spokane City Champion, Expert John Julian.