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Saturday, December 31, 2011

NAO 2011 Report Three: The Last Day

Well, the tourney sure ended with a bang. GM Pons won the even clear with 6.0 of 7 rounds, two of which were draws. That guy is a monster at chess! In the last round, he offered a draw to GM Akobian, who said ‘he’d think about it’. GM Pons got up and wandered around for about five minutes, and when he came back GM Akobian stuck out his hand. The game was drawn, and Pons had won $10,000; not a bad Las Vegas trip, if I do say so, myself.

You can see the final standings for the Open Section here: http://chesstournamentservices.com/cca/2011/12/north-american-open-2011-standings-open-section/

Was there excitement during the last round? Only over the board excitement, really; it’s hard to find a boring GM or IM game to watch, especially when there’s this much money at stake. There was a lot of fighting chess, and several games were very thrilling. So, when did the good stuff happen? The good stuff came about when the blitz tournament commenced. It was really something, let me tell you.

In between the main event and the blitz tournament, GMs could be seen downstairs at the Nosh restaurant and generally wandering around, talking to each other. How many times a year does one get to see that? Needless to say, it was super cool.

I registered early for the blitz tournament because I know how long the line gets about 30 minutes beforehand. I figured if I was going to throw away $40, I might as well do it comfortably, right? That allowed me time to snack on a donut and a Mountain Dew while I watched the other participants registering. I met quite a few people while I waited, and everyone I talked to was really, really nice. The chess community, as a whole, is a very friendly bunch.

Okay, let’s get to the blitz tournament.

In the first round, I was paired with a guy who beat me badly twice in a row (we were playing two games with each opponent, 5 rounds) with a beer in his hand. I forgot to check his rating but trust me, he didn’t play like an Under 1900. People were complaining after a few rounds that a 2180 and a 2400 had somehow made it into the U1900 category. I’d be real curious to see if my first opponent wasn’t one of these entries, because I was playing a strong game, I had a clear advantage out of each opening, and this cat found mating nets out of nowhere. The rest of my games were so-so, and that’s to be expected for after-midnight blitz.

At first, we were upstairs from the main tourney hall in a small room, boards all set up and ready to go. Each year the event is held in that room, but this year there were too many players for it to hold. So, we were all herded back downstairs to Pacific Ballroom where the main event was held each day. I never got an official count, but if I were to estimate, I’d say 150 entries would be in the ballpark.

Once we finally got settled and playing, it was much later than originally scheduled. I was fortunate enough not to have played in the main event or I would have been brutally tired. As it was, I was full, caffeinated, awake and ready to thump some pieces around. I’m garbage at blitz but I enjoy it from time to time, so I was ready for some battles.

Now for the fun stuff.

The place was so packed that the pairing sheets were hard to get near enough to see. I finally muscled my way close enough to read one of them for the second-round pairings, but it was upside down on a table. I managed my way to the playing tables, set up my board, pieces, and clock, and waited for the TD to announce game start. I noticed that the poor girl adjacent to me had no opponent; it was late, so I figured he or she may have just taken off.

Finally, we could start. My opponent and I were well out of the opening and trying to figure out middle game plans when the TD showed up behind me and asked if I was Derek Odom. I answered yes, and he pointed at the opponent-less girl and said that I was supposed to be playing her. So, I thought, *that’s* why she was sitting alone! *I* was her opponent! I apologized and moved over, played my staple 1. Nf3 and the game was afoot. I won the first one and lost the second on time – she was pretty good!

It was something like 3 A.M. when a large crowd gathered around a certain game. Pieces were banging loudly and the clock was clearly being abused. Two IMs were in extreme time trouble and trying desperately to flag each other without getting mated in the process. One of their bishops got knocked over when it was moved, and was actually laying on its side, off the chess mat.

Thinking he was being nice, the other IM picked the bishop up and placed it back on the board. The other IM informed him, loudly, that the bishop wasn’t on that square. Yes it was, said the other. They went on like this for a few seconds before the first IM picked the bishop up and threw it at his opponent. Luckily, the TD was right there and so no fistfight ensued. I couldn’t help but think of the story where Alekhine threw his king at his opponent after losing. Chess players definitely get weird about their games, sometimes.

Near the 4 A.M. mark, there was another noisy dispute, this time between much lower rated players. I lost my final game on time and quickly got up to see what the commotion was. Apparently, there was a brand new player in the event who was not aware that an upside-down rook was a queen, and he neglected to move out of check. He hit the clock, and the dispute was on.

The TD explained to him that he was to continue from the position where he was checked, and the player refused; he wanted to continue from the position *before* the check. The TD insisted, and the player got a little louder. The TD informed him that if he said another word the game would be a loss, and the player said another few words.

“Fine, you forfeit this game, then!” yelled the TD.

After another couple of loud exchanges, the TD told the player that if he kept it up, he’d forfeit the next game, as well (it was his first game of two with that opponent). The guy told the TD no, it wouldn’t be, and the TD announced a double-loss. By then the crowd was so big around them that I don’t know what happened in the end, but it probably wasn’t good for the unrated player. I have to agree with the TD on this one: it’s up to registrants to know the rules if they enter a competition. I believe the TD did nothing wrong. Also, he was an older gentleman and it was four in the morning; I’m convinced he was in no mood for tom-foolery.

The girlfriend and I didn’t wait around to see who won. I believe the last round was scheduled for 1:15 in the morning or so, and the event didn’t end until 4:00; who knows how long it took to decide the winners of each category and cut the checks? We ended up giving a ride to a really nice guy I met at the tournament (we used to work together online) and then heading back to our hotel. I had a quick snack and laid down, dreading the alarm I would hear five short hours later. We live four hours from Las Vegas, which turns into six hours with holiday traffic.

I had a wonderful time, though, in spite of the abuse I put my poor body through. You can bet your bishops I’ll be back next year. Heck, I may even play. Having the freedom to move about and keep an eye on the GM games is really neat, though; maybe I’ll just cover the event and lose the blitz tourney once more.

Until next year, kind readers. :)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

NAO 2011 Report Two - Dec 29th

Well, folks, Day Three ended as exciting as anything chess-related can end. Before I get into that, though, allow me to try and convey how it feels to be in the playing hall at any given moment.

A chess tournament of this size is quite possibly one of the only events in the world where a couple thousand people can be in the same room and yet the only sounds are the occasional cough, and clothes reporting as people walk. One doesn’t realize how much noise clothes make when we move until one is in a setting like that; it’s really intriguing. It made me realize why Ninja wear tight suits.

I noticed this year that there are very, very few analog clocks being used. Just about everyone has moved on to digital. While that is kind of sad in a way, it’s also a sign of the times; digital clocks are far more accurate and they allow for multiple time controls and increments, so they are hard to argue with. Most of the clocks here are either the Chronos variety (touch-sensitive, mostly – push-buttons have all but gone the way of the dodo) or the blue Saitek plastic jobs. Both are very nice.

Okay, on to the good stuff.

So, I’m sitting and watching a game in which two 1940s USCF players are battling it out in an endgame. One player was a male, and had a lot more time on his clock than his female opponent, who had an easily won game. Making sense? I am not very caffeinated yet this morning.

Anyhow, it was king and pawn vs. queen and king – it’s not hard to win that, but it’s technical, and the lady’s opponent was giving her every bit of grief he possibly could. Stalemate threats were all over the place, so she had to be careful with each and every move. She was making a few inaccuracies due to being low on time, but she was generally doing well. Suddenly her cell phone, which was in her handbag on the table, began ringing very loudly. At first I thought it was me, but I’m very careful about muting mine.

She finally got her hands on it and it stopped going off, but it was far too late. The TD came over and announced that she would suffer a ten-minute loss because of the offense.

He picked the clock up, messed with it a bit, placed it back on the table and said, “You now have four minutes instead of fourteen. Good luck.” It was ruthless but again, big props to Continental Chess for sticking to their guns and enforcing the rules. Needless to say, she wasn’t happy but she kept going, neglecting to continue writing moves down due to being very low on time.

Ten minutes later, her phone went off again. None of us could believe it.

She pointed at her purse and continued to look for the correct move on the board because she had almost no time left. I reached in, pulled the offending phone out, and desperately searched for the button that would shut it up. I didn’t find it and after she made her move and hit the clock, she took it from me and fuddled with it. The problem was, she didn’t know how to shut it off, either. Uh-oh.

While this was going on, two IMs were battling in an extremely technical endgame, and they were both terribly low on time. That made for a bad combination, as it’s never a good idea to disturb an IM in any portion of the game, but especially when low on time.

The TD came back over and announced that the second offense was an automatic loss, and stopped the clock. The girl was very upset, and began pleading with him, loudly. One IM stood up and yelled for everyone to go outside. The voices quieted, but not by much. It’s tough to find chess-drama but when you do, it’s highly entertaining.

That’s when something weird and very touching happened.

The female said to her opponent that since she was in such an easily won position, they should have forced a draw instead of a loss – it just wasn’t fair. Her opponent, who had just won the game by forfeit and had the full point, told her he’d take a draw, but he wasn’t sure the TDs would allow it. She brought one over, they discussed it, and the game was drawn. That was definitely one of the coolest, most selfless maneuvers I have seen in a long time.

Once that debate was settled, I went to watch the IMs play, which was the only game still going on. These IMs are very, very young; one of them doesn’t look a day over sixteen and the other maybe eighteen. One IM is just under the 2500 Elo mark, the other just above. These are not patzers. I took a gander at the position and decided that I had no clue how I would proceed, and these poor guys each had less than six minutes on their clocks in which to do so. Oh, boy. I snapped a few silent pictures off as they struggled, which I think turned out real, real good.

Strong move after strong move was made, and a ton of rook checks and double-exclam pawn pushes, all very quickly. I hate to use the term, but this was pure chess porn. I’m a total nerd, and so I’m literally getting chills writing about it and revisiting the moment in my head.

Finally, the lower-rated IM made a fatal mistake and dropped one of his pawns. He had another pawn that would be captured easily and with mate to follow, so he stopped the clock and offered his hand, which his opponent gladly shook. They did a little post-game rehash and got up to wander back to their rooms. It was 12:30 in the morning and the huge ballroom was almost completely empty. There’s nothing like watching a hard-fought game. It really was awesome.

I snapped a picture of the chess clock just before they shut it down: the losing player had 4 seconds left, the winner 7.

That’s chess, ladies and gentlemen, at the highest and most brutal level.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 NAO Report One - Dec 28th

Well, I’m here in Vegas at the NAO (North American Open), held at Bally’s hotel and casino. Is there action? You bet. I have been standing for twelve or more hours each day, bouncing around from strong game to strong game, trying to guess the moves, smiling at people, and wishing I were playing. There aren’t as many well-known players as there was last year, it seems, but there are definitely some powerhouses in attendance.

GM Francisco Vallejo Pons (his friends call him Paco) is batting his opponents around like they aren’t there. I really enjoy watching him because not only are his games extremely strong (he is listed on the tourney roster as 2778 Elo – not a fish), but he dresses the part, too, always looking well-groomed and wearing a suit. There is something I have always enjoyed about titled players wearing suits to play chess; it gives the impression that they respect the game, they care about appearance, and they honor the masters of old, who always wore suits to professional tournaments.

He is tied with GM Ivan Sokolov, both at 3.0 points out of three rounds. When they meet and push wood, it’s going to be a fabulous game. As I type, GM Pons is in a *very* interesting position with GM Ivan Sokolov on the white side of a Reti turned QGD. I’m no GM, of course, but it’s very hard to say how this one will turn out. Pons is super strong, though, and it seems his specialty is coming up with last-minute knockouts. He’s seriously good, and a blast to watch.

The air in the tournament hall is nothing short of electric. Other than the occasional cough or throat-clearing, it’s silent as the tomb. Yes, the occasional idiot’s cell phone goes off loudly, but the directors are extremely vigilant about chasing them out. I’m thoroughly impressed with how well such a big tournament is being run. So far, I have witnessed zero issues. Kudos to Continental Chess and Randy Hough. Major kudos, in fact.

Other strong folks in attendance are GM Var Akobian, GM Josh Friedel, GM Alexander Shabalov, WIM Iryna Zenyuk, and IM Adam Hunt, just to name a few. Needless to say, it’s awe-inspiring being in the same room with these people. At least, it is for me; when a 2778 passes me in the hallway, it may as well be Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt for everyone else. My eyes go wide, I get a chill or two, and I wonder how their mind works, and what’s wrong with mine that I suck so hard at the same game in which they excel.

Anyhow, I slept in a little (a lot) this morning because I burned the midnight oil (the 4 A.M. oil, as it were), so I’m off to the tourney now. I’ll get there in time to see the conclusion of the first round and to grab a snack before getting back to being a professional gawker. Life, as they say, is good.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Chess and Writing: They are Very Similar

I relate everything to chess; I always have. Those of you as obsessed with the game as I am understand such an oddity. Bobby Fischer once said, “Chess is life,” and while that may sound insane to someone who isn’t addicted to the game, it sounds perfectly clear to me; in fact, it sounds reasonable. I suppose that’s a tad scary, but we’ll leave that dog lie for another blog post.

Lately, I have noticed a strong correlation between chess and writing, especially when it comes to fiction. I do write articles and other web content, but fiction is my passion as well as, of course, chess. The two seem to walk hand-in-hand like lovers on a moonlit beach. I’ll try to explain what I mean.

In a chess game, we can make quick and ‘obvious’ moves that may or may not be blunders, may or may not better our position, and may or may not be winning or losing. They are just moves that bounce out of the board to us immediately. Many times, we act on our first-sight moves in blitz, or rapid, chess. That is why it isn’t good to play blitz exclusively; we’ll ever learn much or improve if we always make the first move that jumps out at us. That’s a fact.

It’s much the same with writing. The first draft of our stories can be related to blitz chess: there are glaring errors, it isn’t organized well, people in the story do things that are way out of character, etcetera. Ernest Hemmingway literally said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” I have always liked and respected that sentence. It’s so simple, and yet says so much – like a good chess move.

As a general rule, we get better at something the more we learn about and practice it; chess and writing are no different. However, in order to learn about them, to really learn about them, we have to put in the work. Chess requires many hours of hard study and play if you wish to be competitive, and writing requires hard-core, honest editing and rewriting if you want the story to be excellent, and not just good. A good story is easy to tell, but an excellent one takes work. That’s just the way it is.

What if, in a chess game that we lost, we were able to slowly review each move we made and change any and all moves that we wished? Well, we would win a lot of games, wouldn’t we? So, why not completely review and then rewrite a story that you’ve written? It can only be beneficial, both to you and the reader. Chess and writing are not things that should be cheapened. They are arts in their own right, and should be treated as such.

In the past, I had only heavily edited stories, not rewritten them completely. However, my most recent piece felt disjointed and scattered, like trying to find Waldo in a crowd. Characters were acting in ways they would not, some of the settings weren’t at all what I wanted, and I didn’t shape the personalities and relationships of the people well enough. Oh, sure, it was still a good story, I think, but it wasn’t great. If I’m going to put the time and effort forth to write a tale, I want it to be great, not good.

So, I embarked in a total rewrite. I first made a chronological timeline of events as they should happen, I made character sketches, and I wrote down small reminders of things that I wanted to strengthen or that I had missed completely, and then I opened a blank document. The second time around is a ton more fun than the first, I’m finding. Not only do I get to visit all my characters again, but in a much more personal, real way. I’m doing them justice. The writing is stronger. The flow is nicer. The story itself is much more believable and the ending will be far more intense.

Blitz chess is shit, and first drafts are shit. If you are a chess player or a writer, do yourself a favor and put a little time into your passion; you won’t believe the rewards.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

FIDE Titles for Women

I’d like to talk a little bit about chess titles for men and women. There is a large, gaping disparity between them at the FIDE level, and I have never been a big fan of that. Chess is a single game, and it’s the same for everyone. Women play with the exact same number of pawns and pieces as a man does. Therefore, the ratings for titles should be the same for everyone. Or, should they?

For a male chess player, 2500 Elo marks grandmaster territory, and yet I just saw a WGM today in a ChessBase article who carries a 2214 rating. Really? 2200? Now, don’t get me wrong, here, reaching 2200 is a wonderful feat in chess, and an extremely low number of players ever get close to approaching it. However, 2200 marks the minimum level in which a male chess player can carry a master title, per USCF, and 2300 per FIDE. So, what gives? Do women become masters at 1900, then?

Let’s take Jennifer Shahade, for instance. She is an awesome woman and a great player who has done a ton for both the chess community in general and especially women in chess, and she’s a WGM. Her rating, as of this writing, is 2322. Again, please don’t misunderstand: 2300 is an extremely high rating. However, it isn’t a GM rating. It’s a low FM rating per FIDE, unless you happen to be female. Do you think that is fair? Do you think it’s degrading to women? Do you think it matters?

Jen’s FIDE card: http://ratings.fide.com/card.phtml?event=2011905

I would think such handicaps would be extremely degrading to a woman, especially in this day and age of equality. There are some actual female GMs, such as the Polgar sisters and Hou Yifan, China’s rising star. Hou is knocking on 2600’s door, which puts her in a far different league than the average WGM. She’s an actual GM, who worked her way up the classical FIDE ranks, just as any male has to.

So, do you think that it’s insulting that women get their own title categories, and yet are still able to achieve classic FIDE titles, should they earn them? Do you feel that all chess players, regardless of sex, age, race, or religion, should have to reach 2300 to become an FM, 2400 to become an IM, and 2500 to reach GM?

Chess is largely a male-dominated game, but there is no tangible reason for it; that’s just the way it is. There are many theories as to why, as a whole, women aren’t as good at the game as men are, but that’s neither here nor there: the fact is that we are all people, and we all have the exact same chances at a win because we are all playing the exact same game. I’m not known for being very politically correct, and I think that a title is a title; if you can’t earn the numbers, you don’t get to call yourself a master.

Let it be known, as well, that I do not feel that the women’s title system is unfair to men; quite the opposite, really. I feel that it’s extremely unfair to women. I could very possibly play tournament chess for ten more years and not earn a 2200 rating, which would only be a National Master here in the United States. That’s a neat title, but comparatively, it’s only master. GM is still worlds and worlds away. The fact that a woman can carry a 2200 rating and be a WGM is just silly. It cheapens the title.

It’s kind of like when the sheriff pins a plastic golden star on a child, making him an honorary deputy: that’s cool and all, for kids, but in reality it’s meaningless other than to encourage the youth and make him or her feel good. Is that what women’s FIDE titles are meant to do?

Now, I know some of you are reading this and seething, so I’ll offer the other side of the coin, here. USA does not, I repeat, does not, have specialized titles for women. Chess players are either Expert, or they are not; chess players are either Master, or they are not. However, the USA is a *free* country, meaning women have the exact same opportunities in life than men do. They are getting educated, they have choices, they have power. Hell, they can walk into a book store and pick up Silman’s “Reassess your Chess” if they like.

Not so in other countries, and that may affect things greatly.

In some countries, women are still thought of as chattel; they are nothing more than property, like a cow or a dog would be here in the U.S. Now, how can we expect a woman to come from an environment like that and soar to high chess heights? They can’t browse the Internet and watch lectures, they can’t hire a titled tutor, they can’t go down to Central Park and play a few casual games to brush up on their Sicilian Najdorf. They just can’t.

I have big respect and awe for a woman coming out of an oppressed country and playing chess successfully. It must be extremely hard for some of them to do so, and then to blast past 2200 FIDE on top of that is absolutely amazing. Are these particular women, the ones who earn a WGM title at 2200, justified in doing so? Are they the reason FIDE incorporated the title separations in the first place? Is that ever going to change?

You tell me.

Friday, December 16, 2011

North American Open 2011

Gang, it is official: I’m going to Vegas this year again to check out the North American Open chess tournament! I’m giddy.

Last year was a blast, and this year will be even better, because I have a higher-quality camera and the specific intent to do an in-depth write up on my experience. Last year, I took a bunch of pictures with a cheaper camera, and you can’t even tell who the people in them are unless you are really, really in the know; they definitely aren’t worth publishing. I think I got one clear picture of Var Akobian, and another of Irina Krush’s back as she examined a game with a male IM. Weee...

Anyhow, our room is booked and I have butterflies in my stomach. I guess my nerd status goes up considerably when I am excited to go to Vegas for chess instead of women, booze, and gambling. I am definitely an addict and lover of this game. Just the thought of watching a strong GM reach out for a piece gets me excited.

I may have to buy some new shoes this year because last year, my feet were killing me by the second day. I’m just too much of a die-hard to watch something so thrilling from a chair. So, I stand.

Okay, that’s about it. Carry on.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Antichess: Bullet Strategy

Wait, is antichess even a word? Nope. Well, kind of, but you will not have heard it unless you are a nerd like me. Antichess is actually a strategy used in bullet (1-minute) games, and usually by patzers in the 1500-1600 range – at least in the opening stages. But, what is it, exactly?

Antichess literally means playing horrible or extremely questionable moves in a bullet game, hoping your opponent pre-moves something else or doesn’t notice your move, allowing you a cheap-shot win.

For instance, moving a bishop to threaten your opponent’s queen when the bishop is completely unguarded. It can just be taken. However, because your opponent is either pre-moving the opening, or maybe he/she is really low on time, they have another move in mind and make it immediately. You then take the queen, sometimes for free, and their blood pressure spikes. It really is maddening, unless you are the one playing antichess.

I see a lot of this in the opening. For instance, some mook will fianchetto a bishop on g6, and then crash it into your pawn on b2 for no reason. Because we did not expect such a funky move, we ignore it and play something else, usually a developing move, immediately, and lose a rook clean. Welcome to antichess.

Another good antichess strategy are unexpected and dubious checks. If your opponent has one second or less left on his clock and you have more, simply crash the queen or another piece into whatever you can, causing check. Sometimes, knights are good for this because the escape route isn’t always so clear when a player is all keyed up. Your opponent will not have expected such a move, and will have pre-moved something else, which causes his flag to fall while he desperately tries to figure out why his move didn’t work. It’s because he’s in check. It works like a charm, even on high-rated players.

I mentioned earlier that (mostly) only patzers play this stuff, at least in the opening. Why is it only 1500-1600 players who attempt this junk? Two reasons: One, because they have absolutely no clue how to properly formulate a plan in chess, and so they go for the cheapos to win. Two, you simply cannot advance much past the 1600s using only antichess strategies in the opening. A player may fall for that crap a couple few times, but once they get your number, you’ll lose every single game.

Even GMs and other titled players play a bit of antichess when low on time, but they cannot get away with that crud in the opening or middle game, because their titled opponents will simply crush them like a flies. But, we are all human, and when we have less than a second on the clock, things get dicey. That’s when I recommend throwing your checks, pushing your pawns, sacrificing pieces without reason. Antichess works, if you do it right.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Improving Your Chess for Free!

Lots of beginners ask what books or software they should buy, who they should take lessons from, or what other commercial materials might help their game. The truth is, nothing replaces cold, hard, studying, and there are infinite ways to study for no money.

Game databases. Want to know how to play your openings correctly? Download a pgn base of masters who play the openings, and go through the games meticulously. Find out what they do, and compare that to what you do. There are a ton of free databases online that feature GM games, opening principles, and famous matches. That’s the cream of the crop, there.

Download free software. Programs like Arena, ChessBase Light, Winboard, and SCID all allow you to study games with a very powerful engines, input your own games, create pgn bases and more. There’s no need to invest in Rybka or Fritz or anything else until you become a strong club player and even then, it really isn’t a hard rule. Free engines have been playing at the 2500 level or above for years and years; you really don’t need a 3300 rated engine to tell you that you made a beginner’s blunder. Trust me on that.

Analyze your own games. This one is a biggie. Without knowing what you, specifically, are doing wrong, there is little chance of improvement. We all start out by emulating our favorite masters but until we find our own groove, we are going to suffer many embarrassing losses. That’s just the way it is.

Play long games. I say this over and over, and I stand firm that it’s the best way to improve. Blitz and bullet are fun, but they simply cannot replace sitting for ten minutes analyzing all sorts of variations and plans in your head. Improving at long chess improves your quick chess, not the other way around. It hurts more to lose a game you’ve invested two hours in, believe me; it makes you want to improve. If the losses don’t hurt, then the wins don’t mean much, either. Right?

Isolate a complicated position and analyze the hell out of it. This is a lot of fun with a buddy in real life, but of course it can be done alone or online, as well. Play out every single variation you can come up with, and eventually you will completely understand the position and all its nuances. Then, you can move onto another position and do the same. Before you know it, your board vision and tactical eye will increase on its own through these exercises.

Finally, study tactics. There are myriad places online in which to do this, and paperback books which will greatly aid in this area can be purchased extremely cheaply. I recommend any of Fred Reinfeld’s books, as they can be taken anywhere and studied whenever you get a few free moments. While they are not technically “free”, they pay for themselves in short order, and so I’m including them in the category.

Putting in the work and the time on your own will improve your game much more thoroughly than simply purchasing materials and passively going through them. It’s easy to fall into the “Well, if I buy the chess stuff it has to be better than the free materials,” state of mind, but it simply isn’t true, not at the beginner to intermediate level. Just as studying the works of great painters can give you ideas, reading though other people’s chess materials and recommendations is more of a guide; in the end, it’s you who has to create your own chess self.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I want it NOW!

I am very highly involved in the chess community. From forums to game sites to news to local clubs and tourneys – I’ve been there, done that. In my years of chess pupilage, I have found a strange phenomenon to be true: Most newcomers to the game don’t actually want to learn it. They want to be handed knowledge and instantly become titled.

I suppose it’s the same with any facet of life, really. Novice welders want to work for the Union and make big money; a kid who just chucked his training wheels yesterday wants to race on the BMX track; the guy who graduates with a computer tech degree wants $100k a year immediately. No messing around. No blood, sweat, and tears. Just gimmie dat.

Well, it doesn’t work like that, friends and neighbors. If I had a nickel for every 1100-rated player who I’ve seen ask what it takes to become GM, I would have several thousand dollars by now. If I had a nickel for every 1100-rated player who has asked what books they should buy, I could probably retire. Are either of those questions bad, necessarily? Nope. The problem is that while it’s okay to dream and have a goal and wonder if we are studying the game properly, more important is to simply act. Do it.

Folks, there IS no magic formula to move you from complete novice to chess master in a few months. There is no secret lineup of specific books and videos you can watch that will improve your rating and skill level overnight. As a beginner, it’s far more important to soak up anything you can get your hands on about the game. Do you risk buying books that don’t specifically work for you? Yes. Do you run that same risk if five masters tell you the books they most love and recommend? Of course. What works for one may not work for another.

In our society of instant gratification, I see that chess is no different. Of course, I’m not saying that EVERY low-rated player who wonders what books to buy has the same attitude, because many of them don’t. For those of you who are actually, truly wondering how to improve, here are a few tried-and-true methods:

· PLAY. Not blitz, either; play chess. Play nice, long games, and then *really* go over them afterward. Losing or winning a game that you didn’t quite understand, and then just moving onto the next game, will not help you in the least. It won’t. Figure out WHY you won or lost. Figure out which blunder(s) were made during the game that conceded it to the other player. Do folks want to do this? Not many of them. Every time you play a game, whether you win or lose, you write a little part of a chess book: your own. Study it.
· Hire a chess coach. Hey, I know that “free” sounds better than spending money, but it’s one of the fastest ways to improve. Just about every IM and above has had some sort of coaching along the way. Probably most 2200s, too. You can read all the books and ask all the questions online you want, but without knowing what YOU, specifically, are doing right and wrong, improvement comes slow and hard.
· Read, read, read. Osmosis isn’t for people. Simply buying chess books, reading the first five pages of them, and then plopping them on the shelf isn’t going to do you any good. Read the damn things. Over and over, if you have to. I personally have no secret desire or expectation of becoming a master, so I’m not in the same position as the new players who want to dominate the world. I enjoy playing the game and picking up bits of information here and there which may improve it. Chess is still fun for me.
· Finally, *listen* to stronger players who try to help you. If you are a 1400 player and get free advice from a 2000 that you do not agree with, simply thank him for his time and move on. But that guy isn’t 2000 for no reason; he may know a thing or two about studying, preparation, openings, endings, and tactics. If you aren’t even willing to listen to answers, it may be best not to ask the question in the first place. Really.

Anyhow, I see I’m going on and on here, but I felt the issue needed to be addressed. Trust me, here, if you aren’t willing to put in a TON of work and time, chess greatness isn’t in your future. It just isn’t. If you want to play casual blitz, then do so! Just admit that freely, and accept it. There is nothing in the world wrong with doing so. But don’t play exclusively five-minute chess and then ask a strong player how to improve. He’ll simply tell you that you are doing it wrong, and that riles people up. Just blitz it, baby!

Also, gather all the information you can on which books are best to study, and then don’t buy any of them. That is what probably happens nine of ten times, anyhow. Taking time away from strong players who are willing to help, and then not acting on any of the advice, seems to be the new trend. Go for it!

Also, ask questions in forums like, “Who was better, Fischer or Kasparov?” which will net you some really valuable information. Another one that can really help you is, “Who was the best player of all time?” That one always produces nice, calm replies that can really help your game.

See where I’m going with this? Do it or don’t, it’s completely up to you.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Grandmaster vs. Super GM

Recently, there was a discussion on a chess forum I’m part of about GMs versus Super GMs. One beginner thought that a GM was a GM, and they were all pretty much equal. They aren’t, and that’s a fact. Sure, a GM might be able to score a draw or even a win against a Super GM here and there, but in a match, the “regular” 2500 GM stands no chance. None whatsoever. But why?

You may say to yourself, “It’s only 200 points difference, and I’ve seen 1400s beat 1600s, so the 2500 definitely has chances. Right?” Well, let me put it like this: To rise from 1400 to 1600, all it takes is practice, a little opening and endgame knowledge, and some tactics training. Those 200 points aren’t very difficult to gain for most average players.

At the top level though, rising from 2500 to 2700 is a ridiculously long trip. Consider this: The 2500 GM is a [I]grand master[/I] at the game of chess. He knows everything there is to know about the game, he’s seen every type of attack and defense come and go, and he is part of the chess elite. So, how come he can’t beat 2700s? If I knew that, I’d be rated higher than I am.

I read an interview once with a GM (I can’t remember which one, and it irks me, but he was in the 2650 Elo range) where he was asked what separated him from a 2300 rated FIDE master. His answer? “2300s do not understand chess.”

What? That statement hit me pretty hard at the time, for two reasons: Firstly, I cannot imagine being rated 2300 in the first place, much less 2600. Second, and most important, was that the GM was probably telling the truth. If that isn’t awe-inspiring, I don’t know what is.

So, in the same light, might the 2700 GM say the same thing about a 2500 GM? Maybe. Board vision, calculation ability, sheer experience – all these things come into play at the top level. I do not believe that just anyone can train hard and become a GM, much less a Super GM. I think you either have it, or you don’t. I imagine that most everyone who loves playing the piano would also love to become a famous concert pianist. However, it just isn’t in the cards for everyone. On top of hard work, dedication, and love for what you do, an exceptional amount of talent must be present. That’s what I believe, anyhow.

Those of you who are members of the ICC and have watched Hikaru Nakamura blow other GMs off the board in one-minute chess, over and over, know what I mean. If study time alone could bring that kind of power, his opponents would have it all over him because he’s just a kid. It isn’t just study and dedication, though; not all of it. That kid is talented, and there is no doubt in my mind about that.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Three things beginners do wrong

I have heard it asked thousands of times, both in forums and on gaming sites, “What should I study? My game never improves!” Well, it might not be an issue of study or lack thereof at all. It might just be bad habits rearing their ugly heads, time and again.

Moving too fast

So many times I see beginners just pounding out opening moves, not taking more than a second to ponder what they are doing each turn. How do they wish to improve their game if they don’t even care where they place their pieces during one of the most crucial parts? Stay away from bullet chess. It creates bad habits in long games. Also, don’t just emulate the moves of strong players. They make those moves for a reason, and they know them. If you are just copying their setups, then you don’t know the reasons. Think good and hard before each move, no matter what stage of the game. Chess is about calculation. If you want fast-paced action, play Doom.

No plan

If you reach a certain part of the game and just move your pieces around aimlessly, you are doing it wrong. Each and every move, formulate a plan, even if it’s a bad one. At least *know* why you are making your moves. If the game is lost and you are playing on, you should still try and find the best moves available to you. Many a comeback has been had in just that manner. Know which squares you control, keep your eye out for tactics, and try not to blunder too badly. That’s the name of the game.

Playing lines with tons of theory

This may seem like a silly one, but I believe it to be true. Take this, for instance: A 1300 is playing a 1900 in a long, standard game. The 1900 starts the game with 1. e4, and the 1300 replies with 1...c5, or the Sicilian Defense. It is a sure bet that the 1900 knows the Sicilian better than the 1300, and will soon outplay him. I feel it’s better to choose lines that keep things basic and playable, like 1..e5 against 1. e4. I recommend getting a good feel for chess itself before deciding to take up openings that have fifty-billion strings of theory to them.

Of course, there are more, but these are the general topics that I have had on my mind lately. I will likely add another post in the future with a few other things that beginners miss, but this should suffice for now. Play slower, formulate a plan, and play as simply as possible. There is plenty of time to get cute and risky once you hit 1600.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Abusive Internet Chess Players

If you play chess online, you know the type I mean. Nasty comments, hate-sitting, requesting draw offers over and over in a lost position, disconnecting instead of resigning, cheating – heck, the list goes on and on. So, what do we do when we encounter these people? Nothing, that’s what. Ignoring and reporting them is the best solution.

If someone calls us a name or laughs at us after an embarrassing loss and we react, they get the satisfaction of knowing they upset us. If we say nothing to these jerks, however, they are left empty-handed and might even become irritated themselves.

What about someone who has several minutes left on their clock and simply let their time run down instead of resigning? This is commonly called hate-sitting. While it is very annoying, there isn’t much to do besides reporting the player. Just turn the speaker volume up so you can hear the unlikely event of them making a move, and surf the web or something. Again, do not react because the hate-sitting player will be pleased with himself.

Potty-mouths are everywhere, but the anonymity of the Internet brings out the worst in some people. If someone curses at you or uses other abusive language, simply save the chat and report them. There is absolutely no sense in getting into a typing war with a moron over a chess game. Keep your blood pressure down and move on to the next opponent.

Anyone who knows me knows that I hate a cheater. Yes, hate is a strong word, but it is the most appropriate one I can think of. Why it’s any fun at all to fire up a chess engine and rob someone of hard-earned rating points is beyond me, but it happens. If you feel that your opponent cheated you, report the game so the proper administrators can have a look-see and determine if software usage was present. Don’t tell everyone on the site that so-and-so cheats, don’t call them a cheater, and don’t fire up an engine yourself so that you can win the next game against them. Ignore the player and find another opponent.

People love to do things to get us going, especially after a loss. If you play chess on the Net, you simply must accept this as part of the deal. Reacting to them stokes the fire instead of putting it out. Would you be upset if a child stuck his tongue out at you? Internet idiots use basically the same tactic. Don’t allow it to anger you, or the abuser gets what he wants.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Chess theory at the class or club level

Most of us chess players fall into the class or club player level, meaning we aren’t experts or titled players. On that same note, most of us have not been playing serious, competitive chess since we were four, or seven, or even ten. The large majority of us, even if we do actively play in tournaments, play for the fun and love of the game. Sure, we love improving, but is GM really in our future?

So, what is all the talk about this line or that line being refuted, busted or archaic? Those phrases affect the FM, IM and GM most, because their understanding of the game is so deep. It’s their job to keep up on and memorize theory so they can remain competitive.

I’m going to assume that most of the folks reading this blog entry do not have a chess title of any sort, and lose games regularly due to silly mistakes. I know I do. So, if we botch tactics, screw up the move order in openings and thoroughly rot at endgames, what the heck does it matter that we are playing archaic lines that have been thrown out at the highest level? It doesn’t. Really, it is that simple.

This is especially true, in my opinion, when we get to openings like the Sicilian. Each Sicilian variation carries with it tons of theory and sharp lines. If your rating is 1450 and you like playing c5 against e4, I say, “Go for it!” Just don’t expect to get the results that a 2500 rated player will. 1...c5 may be theoretically the most powerful response to 1. e4, but it doesn’t win on its own. You also have to be a good player. Get the basic move order down, pick a variation you like and keep playing it. Don’t listen when some 1700 comes along and tells you that the Najdorf options have all been exhausted and so it isn’t worth playing. It is simply and completely untrue.

I don’t like learning a lot of theory, so I enjoy lines like 1. f4 or 1. Nf3 right off the bat, which turn into “chess” almost immediately instead of rote, memorized lines that anyone can bang out in a few seconds. If you want to learn theory, pick up the QGD or play 1. e4 and study like mad. The point is, that whichever line you decide to play, archaic or not, is going to be competitive at “our” level. If you are 12 years old and have a 2300 FIDE rating, of course it’s going to be different for you. However, if you are somewhere at mid-class level with the rest of us and dream of breaking 1800 some day, play whatever the heck you like. The theory means exactly zip.

Friday, June 24, 2011

What's your favorite chess set?

My first chess set was bought from the friend of a dead Master (no kidding) for $15. It had a fancy-ish but well-used green roll-up vinyl board, an ugly green bag and those yellow and black, really heavy pieces you sometimes see at the chess club. I loved it. I used it for years and it just kept going.

Eventually, I took each piece apart and re-seated the lead weights with clear RTV so they wouldn’t rattle anymore. A few thousand 5/0 games had taken their toll on the innards, especially the rooks. This both made them a tad heavier and much, much more solid sounding. If you were pick up one of my rooks, and set it down with authority, it sounded like a small gun had gone off. *BAM!* The things are really wicked.

Anyhow, I ended up moving on to more expensive, Staunton style plastic double-weighted sets (as opposed to the triple-weight of the first set) from House of Jocques, I believe. Anyhow, I got two identical sets in different colors so that I could have a bunch of sets, depending on my mood. I got a red/tan set and a black/white set, so I could bring white/red, black/red, tan/white, black/tan – well, you get the idea. It went over well, and folks liked the red pieces, especially. Well, *most* folks did, but I’ll save the one who didn’t for another entry.

Then I purchased a really nice wooden set – the kind where you can SEE the grains; I love that stuff. It’s my serious tournament set to this day, but is it my favorite set? I don’t believe so. I get a lot of compliments on it and all, but really, it’s hard to beat the weight and ruggedness of my first set.

So, my favorite set is still the yellow/black “Thumper” set, as I affectionately call it. The only drawback to the set is that it’s old and the pieces aren’t exactly new looking, and it only has one queen per color, whereas the rest of my sets came with four queens. But, they can be ordered cheaply enough and I’m considering doing that!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Bobby Fischer: Leave him Alone.

So, I watched the Fischer documentary that HBO put out a couple of nights ago, and it got me thinking about how I’m tired of all the anti-Fischer zealots that seem to be everywhere. Even folks that aren’t in the chess world think of him as a raving lunatic, and that is in large part thanks to mass media, in my opinion. I’m not here to dispel any myths or to prove anything about the man and I’m not a psychologist. I wish only to offer another point of view into the Fischer saga that everyone seems to have an opinion about.

First off, Fischer lived with chess and chess only from a very young age, right on up into adulthood. The documentary mentioned this and even Fischer admitted that he might be a tad more well-rounded had he led a more normal life during childhood. Nobody can be expected to turn out “normal” with only chess as a companion during the formative years. That’s weird in and of itself. I’m not saying it’s what made Fischer “insane,” but I’m sure it didn’t help.

Fischer was off the charts with his I.Q., literally – at least that’s the way I read it somewhere. They told his mother that he was above 200 and had an exceptional memory. You know the whole, “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes” thing? Well, it’s pretty obvious that the large majority of us do not have a 200 I.Q. So, maybe we should keep our non-extreme-genius opinions to ourselves until we see the world the same way Fischer did.

He won the world championship for the USA in 1972 against Russia during the Cold War, a period in which such a win was very important. Later, the USA cast him out as a fugitive and jailed him because he played chess, the same game which put us on the map so many years ago. I might harbor a little disdain for the country, as well. He should be a hero in this community, no matter what his personal views are. Just saying.

He was Jewish and hated Jews. So what? I’ll bet if we dig around in each of our heads a little we’ll find quite a few weird things that would put us in the “weird” or even “insane” category. He didn’t like women either, and especially women chess players. Again, so what? The man surely has a right to his opinions, and if they don’t match the rest of ours or aren’t “politically correct,” it’s neither here nor there. Let’s appreciate him for his chess prowess and let his games live in infamy instead of attacking the oddball side of him all the time. Sports figures abuse drugs, rape women, kill dogs and trash hotel rooms on a regular basis, and yet the public at large is willing to let those inadequacies go as long as they keep scoring goals. That’s way more insane than admitting you like Fischer, who did nothing more than harbor hateful opinions. Get real, folks.

I could go on and on, and likely will, in future blog posts. The point is that the way in which the media portrayed Fischer, the way in which we as individuals or a whole chess community think we understand Fischer and the way Fischer actually was inside are likely all very, very different. Alekhine was dubbed a drunk and an anti-Semite, Morphy was said to have lost it at the end and Steinitz as well, and I personally have yet to meet a chess player (not someone who knows how to play chess, mind you, but a chess player) who seems completely well-adjusted and 100% sane.

We chess addicts are all a bit weird, and it’s completely believable that the better we are at the game, the more outside the normal box we live. Again, I ask, “So what?” There is more to life and chess than roasting a man for this or that, or judging him for off-the-board qualities that may or may not actually be possessed. Just as a sports fan can so easily overlook the egregious errors of his or her favorite jock, we too should be able to look past the person and appreciate them for the part we love: their chess games. That’s my two cents, and I’m sticking by it.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Are you “Booked Up?”

For several years, I’ve been touting about opening knowledge, and how it’s so important. I mean, what good is starting a chess game if you are going to lose the thing in the first ten moves anyhow? However, I also believe that *too* much opening study is wrong. It’s good to know the ideas behind each opening, and maybe a couple zaps and traps, but you should always be *playing* chess, instead of pounding out pre-determined lines.

Why, though? Because, if you just slap out the first ten moves of the opening you know so well, without thinking, you may miss slight errors or even blunders from the opposing camp. Instead, think about the chess game from move one, and you’ll find you win a lot more games, even if the moves you choose aren’t “book” lines. Many times, the book moves will be correct anyhow, but decide for yourself *why* they are correct, and you’ll have a much deeper understanding of each opening and the way they work.

Of course, if you are a big 1-minute fan, this credo may not work so well because you don’t have as much time to ponder each position. But in a long game, or even a blitz game, simply insta-moving pieces because it’s the way the opening is supposed to look could be a big mistake. After all, the name of the game is winning, and if you can win in the first few moves because of a blunder the other side makes, you’ve got to take advantage of that.

The first, and most important, thing for you to do is decide which opening formations fit best with your style. If you like long, positional grinds then gambit openings may not be best suited for you. But if you are an attacking player who likes sharp, unclear positions, you may find that positional openings may prove a little too boring for your particular tastes.

Second, you must determine the *ideas* behind the openings. Believe it or not, GMs are thinking about the endgame while they make their first ten moves. Moving certain pawns or developing certain pieces to different squares greatly affects how the endgame will turn out, and so they can steer toward openings that favor their entire game style, and not just play for cheapos to win a pawn by move twelve. Sometimes, pawns are more expensive than they seem to be at first.

My advice is to pick an opening and play it in slower games for a while. Lose a hell of a lot of battles with it, and note where you went wrong and right. Then, once you get a better feel for them and what their aims are, you can begin to implement them into blitz games or bullet games because there may be less “thinking” involved, and more rote memory while still playing sound, solid chess.

Openings are an important, integral part of the game of chess, but they are not the end-all-be-all. Just as much, if not more, time should be spent on tactics and endgame structures. A well-balanced chess player will be much better equipped to win games than the one who spends all their time on one certain aspect. That’s just the way it is.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Chess and Cheating

I have been an administrator, and not an entry-level one, on a chess site for years and years. I was fortunate enough to be able to work the computer abuse team, which has taught me a great deal about not only how to spot cheaters, but some of their reasons for doing so, as well. People are interesting. I’m a people person, and never just fry someone without getting the story first. I take it from there. As a side note, I actually knew and worked with the guy who used ear buds in the 2006 World Open, and we were all there rooting him on. Sad.

I’m highly schooled when it comes to computer engines, although my fire for them is burning out quickly. That doesn’t change the fact that I know what I’m doing, though, and I can spot a cheated game a mile away with one eye open, at least as long as it’s on the Net. For me, separating a pretty strong player from an engine cheater is almost as easy as looking down to see if my shoes match. No big deal. All day long.

Of course, the players at big tournaments cheat for monetary gain, with rating gain being an included bonus. We don’t really need to speculate much about them then, do we? Their intentions and goals are very clear, and what they do is and should be punishable by law. They are literally stealing. OTB cheaters are after cash – cold, hard, cash. Got it.

Rather, I’m speaking of the 1500-level player on your favorite playing site who begins using an engine. While it may seem obvious to us that he doesn’t want to lose and he wants to gain rating points and so he decides to cheat, that isn’t always the case. Of course, there’s almost always some of that mixed in, but the real, underlying reasons can be severely different from cheater to cheater. Let’s take a few examples.

John plays on chessisgreat.com (fictional site for our purposes) every day, and he studies when he has time, although his college courses and roommates and part-time job make it more than difficult to improve much at the game. And of course, there’s girls. John is rated 1990 on the website, and he knows for sure that were he allowed to buckle down and hit the books proper, he could surpass his goal of 2100. Because he cannot do that, and doesn’t see a time where he will be able to do that in the near future, he breaks out Chessmaster and begins to seek games against higher rated opponents. After a few wins, his rating climbs, and it becomes addicting. He finds that it is much easier to swindle points than it is to trudge through the mire, losing some and winning some, never making real headway.

Aaron, on the other hand, is a fifteen year-old latch-key-kid who loves chess, but is unsupervised from the hours of 3pm, when he gets home from school, to 7pm, when his parents return home from work. He also spends his afternoons on chessisgreat.com, and would love to improve but he has severe A.D.D., and reading books is super difficult for him, although he has a deep love for playing. He sees the games the Masters play and he wants to play just like them, but he just can’t seem to find it in him to do things the right way. So, out comes Fritz and off he goes, right to the top. He knows he isn’t learning anything and maybe he even knows he’ll be caught someday, but it’s worth seeing that 2,000+ rating behind his name. It makes him feel good on the Internet, which is basically his world because, well, because he’s fifteen and spends time playing chess. Some nice girl will like him, someday, but for now, it’s all about his kingdom, which lies just beyond the monitor that’s slowly rotting his brain and stealing his morals.

Bruce signs on to chessisgreat.com to play a specific buddy, whom he knows from the local chess club. Bruce cannot beat his buddy, and knows damn well that it’ll be a month of Sundays before he does. When the hammer hits the iron, he’s just simply tired of losing. So, he fires up Arena and uses an engine in a few of their battles. Hearing his friend tell him how much he’s improving and that he’s doing great is well worth the lie he has decided to live. When he gets beat badly at the club by that same friend, he can just say that he’s tired, or having an off day. Oh, what tangled lives we lead, when once we practice...

I have been busting people for cheating on the Net longer than I care to admit, and the fictitious cheaters above are just THREE examples as to reasons why someone would choose to not play their own games. Trust me, there are fifty-eleven others, and more waiting to come out of the woodwork. Just when I think I’ve heard them all, someone comes along with a new one.

The point to my long-winded post is that we simply do not know, not all the time, why someone does the things they do. That is, unless money is involved, and then pinpointing their motivations becomes a tad easier. Of course, some folks just want to cheat for the sake of cheating. Some of them actually enjoy maliciously taking the hard-earned points of others, and watching them become upset over it. Some folks want a big rating and they don’t care how they get it, and other people actually want to get caught, for one reason or another. Nothing is ever as it seems – trust me on that one.

I feel very strongly about cheating and chess. I loathe a cheater, and will never do so myself. Never have I, and never will I, cheat in a game of chess. You might find me with an ace up my sleeve at a family poker game, for kicks and giggles, but I’ll never shortchange the most beautiful game to ever grace the rock we call Earth. That you can bet on. Also, I will continue to bust players on the Internet who use software assistance, for as long as I’m able to spot their cheating asses. Will it solve anything? Nope. Cheating is here to stay, but I can play a small role in the prevention of it, maybe, and that’s what we all should do.

Here are some broad, very general tips on things to watch out for if you suspect your opponent is cheating on your favorite chess playing site:

1. big slow-game rating, tiny bullet or blitz rating. Not always a dead giveaway, but definitely an arrow pointing in that direction. Normal variations are 300 points or less. So, a 1500 bullet player with a standard rating of 1800 isn’t necessarily cause for alarm. However, an 1100 touting a 2300 standard rating should be looked into. Quickly. There are always exceptions. I see titled players regularly on the ICC with 1300 bullet ratings. Some people just don’t think that quickly, or operate well under time pressure. Needless to say, if that IM had more than 1-minute, he’d likely be able to outplay his opponents, and badly.
2. odd king shifts, when there doesn’t appear to be any attack on it. Engines love odd king shifts. For instance, if the engine wants to prepare, as white, for an f4 shove but sees that a queen or bishop could come out and harass it with a check, it may move its king to h1, just in case, whereas very few 1600 players on the Net are going to see that and prepare so thoroughly. Most players attack, not pre-defend. Watch those odd king shifts.
3. really strong, out of place looking pawn pushes, *especially* if they are sacrifices. Now, I’m not one to bad-mouth any chess player, as I feel we are all a part of a very cool thing, but really, what 1300 is going to sacrifice their d-pawn to make clearance for a brutal N outpost? Very, very few. An engine will, though. You betcha. Watch for really super slick pawn pushes, particularly in the middle and end game.
4. finally, and this one is very loose, watch for kingside pawn storms, especially when both players have castled on the same side. The reason being that an engine, even a weak one, will be able to see accurately over ten moves deep, and know if it’s safe to start shoving g and h pawns down its opponent’s throat. We as human players, however, have been (mostly) conditioned to *not* push pawns that are in front of our kings. It doesn’t feel natural, it feels risky and uncomfortable. Now, a real-life Expert or above player will surely launch pawn storms, but a 1400 isn’t going to if he or she wants to survive. Like I said, it’s a semi-weak sign but a sign nonetheless.

There are a ton of other things, but entire seminars can and are held on the subject of chess cheating. I feel that no matter what your motivations, if you cheat at a chess game, it says something about you as a person. If you’ll steal a dime, you’ll steal a quarter, type thing. Likely, there are other issues in that person’s life that will lead them to cheating at a chess game.

One of the best ways to keep the game of chess honest is just not to cheat. Don’t do it, under any circumstances, even if it’s a friendly sparring match with a good friend. Play the game, or else it starts to play you, and what fun is that? There is no “good feeling” or sense of accomplishment when we defeat a player using an engine. There just isn’t. As chess players, we win and lose and draw. That’s just the way it is. In order to truly improve however, we have to obey the rules. Nothing is gained by cheating, not in chess and not in anything else.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Will I Ever be a GM?

If you frequent chess forums and/or chess playing sites with any regularity, I’m sure you have heard this question asked a million times. Heck, maybe you’ve asked it yourself. The funny thing is, I’m not sure why it’s ever asked, really. The answer is almost always a resounding NO.

How do I know that those folks won’t ever become Grandmasters? It’s simple. If your actual chess rating is 2300 or 2400 (2500+ is GM level chess) and you have an actual shot at the Grandmaster title, you will not be on a forum asking how to gain 100 points. You’ll be studying and playing at tournaments. Instead, it’s always the 1100-1600 crowd that seems to ask questions like those. Of course, I’m not saying that every 1100 who has ever asked if he could become a Grandmaster hasn’t actually become one, but it’s like winning the lottery – your chances are really, really low.

The average USCF rating is 1391. *Average*. That means that a good portion of actual tournament players fall below that mark. It’s really intriguing to walk around some of the big tournaments that have hundreds of competitors. In Las Vegas, for instance, the tournaments are held in huge ballrooms, inside one of the big hotels. You walk past row after row after row of people who are intensely into their games. They are all playing the exact same game, which is chess. However, only the last five or six rows feature any players who are worth a damn. 90% of the room is filled with patzers, trying hard to make their way to one of those front rows.

A rating of 2,000 USCF makes you an official chess Expert. That alone is an awesome feat that very, very few chess players ever achieve. And yet, Experts still have 200 hard-to-earn points before they become a “lowly” Master with a 2,200 rating. The Master then has 300 points to climb through if he wants to get near a Grandmaster title. See what I’m getting at here? The 9th grade kid who finds he loves chess and has set himself a Grandmaster goal is going to find things out the hard way.

Of course, setting goals is never a bad thing. Don’t get me wrong here, I feel that goal-setting is very healthy, but only if they are actually attainable. Instead of announcing that you will stop at nothing to earn the Grandmaster title when you are rated 1550, maybe tell folks that 1800 is within view, and see if you can jump that hurdle. Once you crest the 1800 mark, you can start hitting the books and seriously consider shooting for Expert. If you continue to improve from there, Master may not be out of sight. But remember, the higher your rating the harder it is to improve on it, in general.

For example, if a 1400 rated player has taken a whole year off of tournament play to study and improve their chess, it may not be very difficult at all to fly through 300 points and acquire a rating of 1700. However, unless you are a super bright prodigy, improvement after that will prove to be slow and painful. Instead of setting unattainable goals, always bring you’re A-game to tournaments. That way, you are sure to get as far as you personally can. Wherever you plateau, if in fact you do, should be acceptable to you no matter if you secretly want to be a GM or not. We all secretly want to be GMs, it goes with the territory.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Time Management in Chess

So, something has confused me since, well, since I began playing chess, I guess. Why is it that some folks, especially online, play long or “standard” games as if they are 3/0 or less? If I had a quarter for every time I checkmated someone who had ten minutes more on their clock than I did, I would be able to buy a golden chess set. Let’s discuss some of the drawbacks of moving fast in slow games.

No time to plan. Well, I guess it’s no secret that chess involves planning and strategy. In fact, that’s the entire point of the game. So, if we have (for example) twenty-minutes on the clock to begin with, and have only used two of them when we resign or get checkmated, while our opponent has used twelve minutes, we simply must recognize that something is wrong. The average player simply cannot create sound plans, attacks, and defenses when they bang out thirty moves in under three minutes. Not going to happen. In those instances, the player who uses more time almost always wins.

Reduced benefits. Can you imagine if our parents only grounded us for three minutes every time we were caught doing something horrible? Would your lessons be learned, or would the lesson be that it’s really okay to be bad? If you sign up for a longer game, be prepared to use most or all of your time. Losing game after game because we moved too fast isn’t going to teach us anything, and so there is no way to improve. If you get into a bad position, *play* that position. Make it hurt a little. Chances are, you’ll remember it the next time you see it and be more careful. Likewise, if you have the winning position, *look* for the fastest win. Just because you have three pieces and your opponent only has a king doesn’t mean you start giving mindless checks, waiting for the mate. If there is time on your clock, work it out – heck, that’s half the fun, isn’t it?

Rating never changes. Take the average fast-moving 1450 rated standard player on the Internet. He is obviously inferior to a 1900 player, but will he beat that player occasionally, even though he’s moving fast? Sure. It happens. So he’ll gain maybe 40 points for that scalp. But then, he loses the next five because he keeps playing lightning fast, and his 40 points are gone. Then he’ll take out a couple unwitting 1600s and gain them back, only to lose them again in the next four games or so. The *only* way that rating is ever going to climb (or even fall) dramatically is if we take our time and commit ourselves to the game. It’s quite the roller-coaster ride, trust me.

It just doesn’t make sense. If you want to use two minutes to make thirty moves, why aren’t you playing three-minute chess? Although it’s kinda funny and seems to be obvious, I’m being quite serious. If instant-moving and “game after game” is your goal, why aren’t you playing bullet or very fast blitz games? Honestly, you have a better chance of rating increases at those time limits if instant-moving is your preference. Because a good standard player is going to scalp you 9 of 10 games. That’s just the way it is. Nobody who has reached expert-level ratings (2000 or above) ever got there by moving instantly in any portion of the game. They may also be good blitz or bullet players, but a real Expert will take his or her time in a long game. Take my word on that.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Blitz Tie-Breaks

I’d like to talk a bit about the current setup of some of the major tournaments. I’m talking about the big ones where the field is all 2600+ Grandmasters competing. While they definitely provide great competition and some pretty intense games, I’m specifically having a problem with some of the tie-breaks. Let me clarify.

Imagine a tournament with a field of ten GMs. The time control is longer, say game in two hours with a sudden-death of sixty-minutes after time control is reached. That means that if both players use a lot of time and approach 0:00 on the clocks, the game could end up being a grueling six-hour slug fest. That’s real chess, not this 15-minute “standard” crap that is so popular on the Internet. But I digress.

So, after days and days of battling, two of the GMs tie for first. The rules of the tournament say that any ties will be dealt with using a tie-break system. Sounds fair enough, right? Maybe not. The problem with the “tie-break” is that it is sometimes done using BLITZ games! Now, if this makes sense to you please, leave a comment, because it surely doesn’t make much to me.

I regularly see IMs and even GMs on the ICC who are rated 1400 or below in bullet and not much higher in their blitz ratings. Why? Some folks, even if they are past Master level by a few hundred points, just simply aren’t good at the fast games. After all, they didn’t get their titles playing 1-minute chess. They achieved them in the grueling six-hour slug fests mentioned earlier. Of course, some reach insane rating levels, even at one-minute chess, but others don’t work well under that kind of time pressure.

So, my question is this: How in the world is it fair to have two very prominent GMs tie in a quality, long time-controlled tournament and then have the whole shebang decided with five-minute chess? That’s like having a tie at a NASCAR race decided by each vehicle’s 60-foot launch times. It isn’t a drag race, it’s a long and dangerous battle of stamina. So the 60-foot launch times mean literally nothing in that genre. It’s the same, I believe, between classic time controls and blitz chess. No difference.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you feel that’s a fair and competent way to decide a classical time-controlled tournament? How would *you* feel if you had to do the same? In my opinion, blitz chess has no place in a tournament like that. A blitz tournament is fine, and that’s a whole other animal. I bet contestants who share first at the end of a 5-minute tournament aren’t made to play a 90-minute game to break the tie. I’m just sayin’.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Universal Bullet Chess Openings

I know many of us “chess” players are vehemently against using the premove function on Internet chess sites because technically, it goes against everything we have ever learned about the game. Think, take note of all threats and checks, form a plan, move only when you are sure, etcetera etcetera. However, in bullet (1-minute chess), premove is not only an option but a way of survival. Sure, there are probably some extremely quick and accurate players out there who don’t use it, but for the rest of us, it’s an essential part of wicked-fast chess.

*What is premove?*
Premove is when it isn’t your turn, but you make a move on the board anyhow. The server acknowledges that you’d like the selected move to be your choice, no matter what the opponent does. So, after your opponent makes his or her move, the server interjects your move instantaneously, regardless of position or safety. So, as you can see, the risk involved is huge, but sometimes it pays off. Other times, you drop big material or get mated in one. That’s the adrenaline rush of bullet or lightning chess.

I was speaking with GM Nigel Davies the other day about a line for black that he feels is good in any circumstance. In short, he likes ...e6...d5...c5 – no matter what white plays! Yes, it’s a universal line that is virtually impossible to go wrong with. Because it can be played against anything white opens with and the positions reached are largely similar, I believe it is a great bullet opening for black to “premove” with. As you get more and more comfortable with it, the lines will become second nature and you’ll find you are winning a lot more games than you are losing.

If white plays 1. e4 of course, the line becomes a French Defense. If they play 1. d4, the line becomes a QGD more often than not. If white goes 1. c4, the position is likely to become the same as if he’d played 1. d4. If he goes hypermodern and plays 1. Nf3 or 1. b3, for instance, black is totally safe and is already off to a good start.

*Can white do the same?*
In short – yes. He can mirror those moves by playing 1. e3 2. d4 3. c4 (Van’t Kruijs opening) and likely have a very good game. Although it isn’t the most aggressive opening available, it is sure to keep white safe from cheapos and such right out of the opening. Do I employ these lines myself? Yes. Not every time, but many times I do. It always leads to a fun game where I’m slightly ahead on the clock by the fifth move alone, which is a huge plus in bullet chess. After that, as the BeeGees said, it’s just “Stayin’ Alive”.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Trashy Chess Sets

Some of you readers surely play at the local chess club. Maybe you play at two or three. Or maybe you play at tournaments, be them great or small. Either way, you have seen the guy I’m going to describe in this post. Or maybe, you *are* the guy in this post. Whatever the case, this needs to be said.

I take pride in my chess stuff. It’s just something I do. I don’t expect everyone to do the same, but that still does not make me understand it when they don’t. To me, chess is a beautiful and romantic game, full of history and charm. I am honored to call myself a chess player, and moving a solid, weighted rook across a roll-up mat and then thumping it down slightly on a square thrills me. It’s just full of cool.

Then there’s that guy. You know the one. He’s usually middle-aged or older and has zero pride in his equipment. If he brings a clock at all, it’s a ten-dollar analog job that saw its best days in the ‘80s somewhere. His vinyl mat is either rolled-up backward so that the ends and sides curl up, or he has literally folded into fours, causing pieces and pawns along the center ranks and files to list badly and sometimes even fall over. The mat is usually very dirty, and the pieces are the cheap non-weighted plastic ones that can be picked up for a couple of bucks almost anywhere. The kind with a hollow bottom and no felt. And the whole shebang is brought into the club inside a handy grocery bag. What? Really?

The gentleman has obviously been playing chess for years and years, and yet he has never felt the urge to upgrade his equipment, or even to take care of the gear he has. This boggles me, and always has. I simply cannot believe that a lover of the game would even own chess equipment like that, much less showcase it for anyone and everyone to see. It really isn’t hard to acquire a decent setup.

My first set was bought used, from a gentleman at the club for $15.00. It consisted of the big, heavy yellow and white pieces with a roll-up vinyl mat and a green carrying bag. It was very simple, but it worked. I got a Chronos digital clock for my birthday and my ensemble was complete. Chronos clocks are very expensive, but competitive models can be found for much less. $30-$40 can get you a fine digital clock, depending on where you look.

Each week before I went to the club I’d spread out my board and give it a once-over with a damp cloth, as well as inspect my pieces and make sure my clock had good batteries. Many times we’d play in restaurants and naturally, the board would become dirty or sticky. Although my mat and pieces were old, they looked very presentable. I really didn’t see it as a choice; the set was well-taken-care-of, no matter what.

Over the years I have acquired a lot more chess equipment, but I have never paid much for any of it. A few years ago I bought a couple plastic sets that look really nice. Not as heavy as my first set, but weighted all the same. One set had black and tan pieces, and the other were red and white, both identical make and model. I found that I could mix and match them and go for weeks without playing with the same variation twice. It made for good conversation and they were fun to play with.

Then I went looking for a nice wooden set that I could take to tournaments. I finally found one online for a steal. I believe I paid $18.00 for the set, and it normally sold for around $70.00. I snatched that up in a heartbeat and they look just gorgeous. Every set I have purchased after my first one has had four queens, a feature I really like. They make five-minute blitz games at the club a lot easier.

So, let’s just assume, for argument’s sake, that I had gone with a $40.00 clock instead of the Chronos. Amazon has the exact same triple-weighted yellow and black chess set that I have for $26.95, and it comes with a brand-new green and white mat. Shipping is free. Add in the clock and we have a grand total of $56.95 for a really solid, great-looking chess set that can be used for a lifetime.

If I decided to purchase that setup, I would only have to set aside a tad over $14.00 a month for four months. Take out the clock and it’s $10.00 a month for three months. Now, money is tight for everyone and I understand that, but there is no way I can be convinced that in the last ten years these cats couldn’t have saved ten or fifteen bucks a month for a few months and puarchaed a quality set they can be proud of.

And so, week after week and year after year, they bring their sorry-looking, filthy and dilapidated beginner sets and analog clocks that keep questionable time at best. They may as well not even bring their clocks, because they are shortly replaced by someone’s digital unit anyhow. In fact, at tournaments, someone with a digital clock can force it to be used over an analog. Can’t beat that accuracy.

In my opinion, if you are going to actively play chess, whether it’s in a club or a tournament scenario, you should think about getting a set and clock that is both nice to look at and that folks want to play on. Even if your income is severely limited, you could still buy quality gear inside of a year. A game with so much rich history and possibilities really deserves better than a grungy, crooked, featherweight children’s set carried around in a grocery bag. If the set is nostalgic and has sentimental value to you, at least take some cleaning solution and a rag to it. I’m just sayin’.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Resigning a Lost Position

This particular topic has been of interest to chess players of all levels for quite some time, and always will be. When should we resign a game? When *we* know it’s lost? When we are sure our *opponent* knows it’s lost? When we are sure even a complete beginner could find the correct continuation? When?

I believe many factors come into the equation, and it isn’t as simple as it may sound. Sure, the game might be technically and completely lost, but there is no guarantee your opponent knows it. I mean, if you outright drop a queen for no compensation, you may want to resign just to save yourself fifteen more frustrating moves. But if you drop a piece on accident and in return receive a couple pawns, you never know. Play it out. Folks on the winning end of a chess game sometimes relax, which is an open window for you to jump right back in the thick of things.

The time control plays a huge role in game-resigning decisions, as well. For instance, in 1-minute chess, literally almost anything can happen so I always recommend playing on no matter what the position. 15-minute games are a little more difficult to win in a lost position, but it’s really just glorified blitz and so of course possible. Now, a grueling six-hour match in a real tournament situation is a whole different ball game. In almost all instances, the time remaining in the game and the strength of your opponent should be taken into consideration. If you are really low on time *and* losing on the board, maybe it’s time to wave the white flag. But if your opponent has a huge advantage but only a few minutes on the clock, maybe stick it out.

I have heard it said that playing on in certain lost positions is “insulting” to the other player. It is? Why? Both players agreed at the outset of the chess game that the thing could last a given amount of minutes, and so for one player to use those minutes thinking, even in a lost position, is perfectly acceptable. I don’t care if one player is 2000+ and the opponent is a 1300s player, if both sides are relatively equal or if both players are completely unrated: If the game is a fifteen-minute battle, then both players agreed at the start that the game could take very near a half-hour to complete, no matter what positions are or are not on the board. It is perfectly within each player’s rights to keep playing no matter what. Period.

A lion cannot simply bite the hind legs of its prey and then expect it to give up because “things aren’t looking so good”. No, if the animal keeps running then the lion is forced to give further chase and *prove* to the other beast that it is superior in that setting. Why would it be different on the chess board? Simply because your opponent has taken a bite out of you does not, by any stretch of the imagination, mean that he or she will accurately move in for the kill. Stay in the game. You may still end up in the lion’s stomach, but you may as well make him really hungry before you do so.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Preparing for a Tournament

Have you ever been nervous about an upcoming tournament or big game? What did you do to prepare? Did you over-prepare? Maybe you didn’t feel prepared enough. I think it can be likened to a college student cramming before exam day. Just about every professor in the world will tell you not to do that, and yet it is the preferred study style for so many. Don’t do it. It will hurt you.

If you entered the tournament or agreed to the competitive game, it’s because you felt you were at a place in chess where you had a chance. Don’t freak out as the time nears. Don’t change your study habits, and for goodness sake don’t study more. In fact, many top players simply do nothing before a tournament. They go fishing, they go to the races, they relax with a loved one on the couch for a good movie. Anything but chess. In my opinion, starting the game or tournament with a fresh outlook is best.

Of course, we all have different ways of learning and preparing. Maybe watching four hours of video lectures and going over a thousand GM games the night before a tournament helps you. It doesn’t help me, though, and I’d be willing to bet many (if not most) of you out there are the same. Over-preparing is just as bad as not preparing at all.

What a strong player does before a tournament may differ significantly from what a weak or beginning player might do. I would advise to find an Expert or above chess player and ask what his or her study habits are, especially before a tournament. I’ll bet it’s far less than what you think. Sure, they read books, do tactical problems and watch GM games and lectures the same as you do, but they may not be quite as “freaked out” as you are when it comes to the big game or tournament.

For a couple days before a big tournament, just relax a little. Go for a drive, take in the sights, breathe in the fresh air. Your brain knows a tournament is coming, and it won’t let you down. Similar to what happens when we dream, our subconscious takes over and it is working for us, trust me. You won’t believe how fresh and ready for chess you are after a three or four day hiatus. As I said, it may not work for you but it sure does work for me. Good luck in your games!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

To Bullet or Not to Bullet

Have you, as an Internet chess player, found that some days you can think fast and play bullet, and other days it just doesn’t happen? I do, and when I don’t have time for the nice long games that I like it gets very frustrating losing quick match after quick match. So, what should we do about that? Can we do anything at all?

On the Internet chess site where I normally play bullet I have been into the 1900s, but even on a real good day I’m not worth much more than that. However, it’s the days where I’m playing like a 1400 that bug me. I don’t mind dropping a game here or there to 1600s or 1700s and fluctuating from the high 1700s to the low 1900s. I really don’t. What I do mind is dropping three or four games in a row to beginners. It hurts both the rating and the ego.

Some sites like the ICC (Internet Chess Club) feature players who frequently if not exclusively engage in 1-minute chess and do very well. Many are titled. You can really tell when they have an off day, because they drop a few hundred points, just the same as we do. The trouble is, their “bad days” consist of only playing at the 2200 level, and not the 2500 level they are used to. If I dip from the 1900s into the high 1600s I’m disgusted with myself, so I can only imagine what going from 2512 to 2240 or something must feel. Points are not gained so easily at the high level as they are down here in Patzerville.

If you can “feel” that your game is off, and really bad, I suggest only playing two or three and then leaving it alone for a while. There is no use becoming frustrated and becoming angry over the game. That will only cause further losses in my experience. Go read something, step outside for a bit, maybe talk to someone on the phone; do anything but chess. Then see how you feel in an hour or so. You might be surprised how your game turns around once you give your mind a rest.

If your bullet chess does not improve but you still feel you can play a decent game that day, try 3/0 blitz. I find that if I’m in a bullet slump and go to a slower time control my chess really wakes up. Of course, we don’t always have time for a rewarding standard game (and some of you may not even like standard at all!) but after playing loads of 1-minute chess, a 3/0 can seem like a really long game.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I Just Dropped a Piece!

Last night, something surreal happened to me, and it reminded me of Josh Waitzkin’s lecture in the Chessmaster series where his opponent moved a rook to threaten his queen, and Josh thought for something like 35 minutes about where to move her. Trouble was, the rook was unguarded and completely hanging! Finally, Josh actually moved his queen to another square, and did not realize that he’d missed a rook for the entire game. I thought to myself, Wow, haha, not a chance! What was he thinking? Well, it happened to me and let me tell you, it was weird.

I was playing on World Chess Live (www.worldchesslive.com), competing in their nightly Titanium King Challenge (TKC) tournament, a 4-round 25/0 that sometimes has a pretty strong field. I had done some tactical exercises and watched a video lecture, so I felt ready to go. I managed to beat my arch-rival on the site, a player rated almost exactly what I am, and then got pitted against a 2124, a rating I have yet to achieve. Just play the game, I thought, forget about the rating. Focus.

And focus I did. So much, in fact, that by move ten I had lost a piece and had no clue whatsoever that I had done so! I thought we were even material and my weak tactical maneuver had actually worked. What really happened is I ended up getting both his center pawns for a knight. Had I realized what I’d done I would likely have freaked-out a little and blundered further, sending my game into oblivion.

As it happens, I went on to smoothly and methodically win the game, never realizing at any time that I was down a whole piece. After the game, my opponent told me, “When I played g5 you just hung a piece. Why?” I was baffled, and hadn’t a clue what he was saying. We reviewed the game together, and I had more than a good laugh.

The point? Chess is not only learning, memory, strategy and calculating. It is also attitude. In fact, a big part of it is attitude. I remained “in the zone” after I dropped a piece and played as hard as I could because I didn’t know any better. Mentally and emotionally, I was still in the game, whereas if I’d realized my blunder I might quickly have lost focus. What Josh Waitzkin says in those Chessmaster lectures is absolutely true: Get in the moment. Sink into the position. Try to win, with every move. After all, sometimes the only loser is the one who stops fighting.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hikaru Nakamura: Going for it.

Could Hikaru Nakamura be the next world champion? It sure seems that way.

In the Tata Steel tournament being held in the Netherlands, Hikaru Nakamura is showing he is worth every bit of his 2751 rating. Of course, Magnus Carlsen (2814), who is rated #1 in the world isn’t going to just sit idly and watch Nakamura climb the ranks, and neither will the world champion, Viswanathan Anand, whom Nakamura is tied with in the tournament. I believe some exciting chess is coming our way in 2011.

Now, I’m not one to speculate normally, and 2700+ level chess is so far beyond my comprehension that it may as well be quantum physics, but the new article in the NYT chess blog (http://gambit.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/25/four-tied-for-the-lead-of-tata-steel-chess-tournament)is suggesting that Hikaru Nakamura definitely has what it takes to be a top contender when he sets his mind to it.

On the Internet Chess Club (ICC – www.chessclub.com) Hikaru Nakamura is consistently one of the highest rated players on, batting GMs around in 1/0 while kibitzing his thoughts and playing with his music mix at the same time. In my view, Nakamura is like a baby rattlesnake; although their bite is vicious, they are still a little out of control and need some honing in order to become a full-blown predator.

I think we can expect some very good things from Hikaru Nakamura this year, and that he is quickly becoming more goal-oriented in the overall picture. Sure, he can sit down with the best GMs in the world and give them a game anytime, day or night, but consistency is the key that is going to propel him into a major part of chess history, in my opinion. I have high hopes for him, not only because he is American but because his brutal chess style and unbelievable vision could easily become legendary.