Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Blitz games - Part 1

If you only have 5 minutes in which to make all of your moves, chess becomes a different game.

One of the first things that you learn (or not, as in my case) is not to dwell on any single move for too long. In fact this can give rise to a deliberate strategy of playing your opponent into time trouble. Give him/her lots of possible moves to choose from - OK, you can't do this all the time, but you may notice an opportunity now and then. Is it ethical to do this? Yes, though initially you may be a little uncomfortable with the idea.

Whether blitz play has a beneficial effect on your normal game is debatable. I was given to understand that it would help my "chess sight" in the sense of analysing positions at a glance - the gestalt concept. Training yourself to develop your ability to judge positions in this way (before embarking on lengthy analysis of variations) was supposed to carry over into your OTB play. I spent a few years determinedly trying to improve my blitz game - I may not have improved my chess to any great degree - but it was certainly an exciting way to pass the time and I had a lot of fun.

I still play, but, at the time of writing) I don't take it as seriously [that changed as I report a year later in 'Blitz Games - Part 2'). I think you have to be careful about the openings that you choose. It's very easy to get into a rut and play the same opening line over and over again. Do take a minute before you start a blitz game to think about the opening you want to play. Perhaps you should only play a sharp (or sacrificial) line if you're feeling full of energy (conversely, if you're feeling tired, go for positional stuff).

Before I talk about an idea I recommend for OTB blitz play, I will just point out that I recently used blitz games to practise some new opening lines. It's an entertaining way to get some experience of an opening that you have just added to your repertoire under your belt.

Now let's suppose you are playing blitz with a friend. Let's just even up the game and stop things from becoming too one-sided if one of you turns out to be stronger than the other. For the first game, both players have the same amount of time on the clock (could be any number of minutes, not just 5). For the second game the winner of the first has one minute less than they did for the first game - and the loser gets one minute more. If this idea is repeated over a few games, the stronger player eventually finds himself having to play so fast that mistakes begin to creep in. A balance is reached and it becomes difficult to predict the winner.

Good luck with your blitz play - and don't hit the clock button too hard in the excitement!

Now for two, very different, blitz games on YouTube. The first (not so serious) shows how much fun you can have with blitz. Watch it at your own risk! The second (Nakamura vs Carlsen blitz playoff - Aker Chess Challenge) includes comments from the players (courtesy of ChessClub.com) and is followed by the full moves (from Susan Polgar's blog) of the game in an interactive format for you to look over at leisure.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

You know the moves - now what?

So you have learnt how the pieces move and you also know about checkmate. It is of course the next stage which is difficult.

You've put on the roller skates and persuaded your friend to support your first few steps. But there is a moment when you have to step out on your own and you are immediately faced with all sorts of questions about turns, stops, controlling your speed and so on. The end is most definitely not in sight!

In one sense there is too much information available and a lot of it seems contradictory. For example, one page of an opening text will tell you that an isolated pawn can be an advantage, yet a few pages on it shows you a position in which it is a disadvantage. It can be a little bewildering, especially when the author cheerfully suggests that "once you have a little experience, you will be able to see the weaknesses and strengths of a given position more clearly". That's not particularly useful advice, however well-intentioned it is.

In this post I will try to set you on the right path. I believe it to be a question of attitude, of being patient for a while. Crucially you need to be able to hold unresolved thoughts in your mind without getting upset with yourself for not having solved them as quickly as you would like to (or thought you might be able to).

This last point is a huge problem in all areas of education of course. Consider Adult Education, where people try to squash themselves into seats designed for youngsters, full of doubt about their ability to cope with the rigours of a classroom again - they remember their last school day as one of the happiest of their lives. Many do not adapt well, the chief problem is having to admit to a state of ignorance. And, yes, it is uncomfortable for anybody when they feel that they should know something - but they don't.

So you really do have to accept that you cannot learn chess right away, that you cannot, for example, judge the strengths and weaknesses of a position at a glance. And that compared to many others you are a complete novice. There are two things to point out here:

1. Don't compare yourself to others. As is pointed out in the Desiderata prayer, "If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself".

2. If you insist on introducing a competitive element then track your own progress in some way and try to play better this month than you did last week. You may even keep a written record of your progress, perhaps in terms of learning new opening lines and so on. At some stage you will gain a chess rating of some sort and then you can track your progress in a much more quantitative fashion.

So tell yourself that the games you are playing at this stage are merely practise games only. You should avoid any slight tendency to think that your reputation, your credibility is on the line here. You will play better if you can calm the "chattering monkey", if you can play with a clear mind and sweep all the extraneous thoughts about how little you actually know about the game and all the rest of the distracting thoughts that so often prevent us from achieving our true potential.

You need to get playing, step out on your own. By all means read the stuff about controlling the centre, developing your pieces, not moving a piece more than once during the opening and so on. That's fine - but you MUST try out your own ideas without feeling too uneasy about breaking the guidelines. That's really the only way to learn. Be a "rulebreaker".

We can all play this game, even you and me. We can certainly improve our game if we have the time and the inclination. Naturally it helps enormously if you study the game afterwards, especially if you can get a second opinion on the validity of your moves. If you want to show me one or two of your games, perhaps where you cannot see where you went wrong - I would happily look them over. I'm not a very strong player, but that's not the point, is it? You just need a second opinion, someone to bounce ideas off.

So good luck with your chess. I promise you that if you persevere with the game you will have a friend for life. Here is a video which will encourage you to keep trying and to gain confidence in your abilities.

Here are the moves of the game, as well as a photo of the players. A full article from CHESSBASE NEWS about the event at which the game was played is at "She had him on the ropes!". The title is explained by the CHESSBASE introduction which asks "How often have you been a piece up against Garry Kasparov? How often in two separate games? Well, 17-year-old Elisabeth Pähtz did, and had the world's strongest player fighting for survival in two games."


I just discovered a great set of chess learning/training videos at 'The Chess Website', which is now one of my recommended sites listed at the bottom of the page. Enjoy!

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