Review – June and July 2016

Two bits of news for the two months of June and July.

Firstly, the July 2016 ECF ratings list is out and I now have my highest rating yet, of 111 (1533 Elo). Nothing special, but at least I have arrested the slide I suffered at the end of 2015. The next phase is to break out of this range of about 105 to 110 I’ve been in for the past 18 months.

Secondly, the simplification of my study plan continues. I’ve had a go at all sorts of methods this year, including measuring days active, using four or five different tactics trainers, using various methods (flashcards, databases, opening trainers) to study openings, and jumping from book to book across all topics. I started out this year simplifying how I study, and every month since January I’ve tinkered more and more.

In February I dropped Chessity, flashcards, ChessBase opening printouts, Fritz endgame training and Chess Position Trainer. I started using Chessable and expanded my ChessTempo use to include endgame training. I hinted at not adding new skills, which turned out to be a bug which I finally cornered in July – more on this later.

In April and May I added Capablanca’s best endings for endgame study and started watching endgame videos from Tiger Chess every day. I also added Kotov exercises, but dropped memorising games and chess.com’s tactics trainer.

Now back to the bug. What itched at the time has become more clear since. I enjoy structure and progression. Give me the option between a series of 10 videos on a subject (such as John Bartholomew’s Climbing the Rating Ladder series) and 10 random videos (such and John and others’ exploits in Lichess blitz tournaments) and the choice makes itself – I want the progressive, structured series. Tiger Chess offers this to some extent, in that GM Davies offers courses as part of the £5 per month fee, including strategy, endgames, analysis and members clinics. The first two certainly are progressive. However, although they are fantastic value and content, they entail mostly passive training (watching rather than doing).

To address the itch and to balance the passive training element with an active element, I’ve decided to work through Artur Yusupov’s chess course. This means my study plan now looks like this:

Daily:

  • Anki cards – work through whichever are due. I keep adding to them from my coaching session and other patterns and ideas I think are worth seeing regularly. Current size is 54 cards.
  • ChessTempo – around 50 problems from my bespoke sets.
  • Openings – review in ChessBase to learn lines and plans. On recommendation from a study friend, I now use Perfect Chess Trainer for learning lines while on the move. Great app.
  • Yusupov – work through the book and pass 4 tests per month (24 in a book).

Mon, Thu and Sat are endgame days:

  • ChessTempo – 5 problems in practice mode.
  • Tiger Chess – watch a set of videos.
  • Books – study from progressively difficult books. Currently on Pandolfini’s Endgame Course, up to topic 100 of 239.

Sun, Tue and Fri:

  • Manual of Chess Combinations – around 20 to 50 problems. Still on book 1a at the moment, up to problem 222 of 719.
  • Openings – get my ChessBase notes on the Tiger Chess “Building an Opening Repertoire” in order. I have done it for White and for Black against e4 and will do Black against non-e4 this month. Once that is done I will only do the daily learning and practice to ensure I ingrain the lines and plans and expand on the base knowledge.
  • I will then use this extra time on these days for more Yusupov study.

Here is an undertaking: other than the change explained in the last two bullets, I will not change this study plan again this year (at least). It covers everything it needs to, is spread well across openings, endgames, tactics and general, progressive improvement. I use the Yusupov books in the way he prescribes, by setting out every position on a real chessboard and not moving the pieces until I have no other option. This therefore also contributes to my chess vision, calculation and visualisation; it is proper deliberate practice.

Finally, an update on OTB play in June and July. I played six games in June, including four games in a congress where I scored -1 =2 +1 in the U145 (1788) section. In July I played eleven games, including two congresses. In one I played in the U175 (2000) section and predictably didn’t score well (-2 =2). In the other I played in the U140 (1750) section and scored 2.5/5 (-2 =1 +2) to win the grading prize.

The club season doesn’t resume until October, but I will get a few games in from two congresses in September.

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Current Chess Study Plan – June 2016

Here is my current study plan:

study plan

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Review – May 2016

I somehow missed out giving an update at the end of April, so this will be a double.

I mentioned in February and March that I had simplified my study plan. In April and May I made further refinements and that the plan now looks like this:

study plan

I feel this gives me balance between the various phases of the games and different media. In terms of activity and results, here is a recap of April and May.

PLAYING OTB rated games

  • April 10 and May 3 for a total 27 YTD (target 50 for the year).
  • Some indifferent results; not my best two months.

TACTICS

  • I’ve started tracking how much I do, so I can be more accurate now.
  • April: ~1,300 tactics, mainly on ChessTempo.
  • May: ~2,200 tactics, again mainly ChessTempo.
  • My Tactics Trainer rating remains over 1600, but only just at the moment. I had peaked in the 1670s.

OPENING

  • Spaced repetition training on chessable.com (I have just completed a 100-day streak!).
  • Working with Chessbase, a few books and the Tiger course to consolidate my opening repertoire. Focus now is on documenting and understanding the pawn structures the lines normally lead to and the plans which flow from those. Once I have that in place (it will take a while) I will reduce opening study to say every other day.

ENDGAME

OTHER

  • A lesson with my GM coach around once a month.
  • Memorise relevant games: I have now memorised 4 games relevant to my opening repertoire, so I am behind my target of 12 for the year.
  • Book study: I have worked through Tune Your Chess Tactics Antenna, skimmed through Kotov’s Think Like a Grandmaster (to learn about his training method, not for the analysis tree) and am working through the hefty Chess Strategy for Club Players by Grooten.

I have signed up for a few tournaments over the summer, but am hoping to put in the hours on study to help get me off my current ratings plateau over the next twelve months.

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Chess Sets

Through an online training group I belong to, I discovered that in the USA players have to take their own chess equipment to tournaments. This is different from the UK, where clubs or congress organisers supply equipment.

I don’t like the idea of taking my personal set for others to put their grimy hands on. It is not a special set by any means – mahogany and maple board with 50mm squares (around £30), with super weighted wooden Staunton pieces (about £15) – but it is akin to sharing cutlery with strangers in my mind.

So what would I buy if I had to play in the US? Well, the site Best Chess Sets provides some interesting inspiration. Apparently younger players are pervasive in US tournaments, so maybe the LEGO set? Sicilian Dragon players have an obvious option.

One thing is obvious from the photographs of these exotic sets though; the sellers (not the site owner, he just links to others’ sites) are often quite clearly not chess players. Just on the front page, at least four sets are set up incorrectly. It may be five, but who knows which of blue and yellow is light in Springfield?

I’ll leave you with Bobby Fischer enjoying his Dubrovnik set.

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Review – March 2016

March felt like a slow chess month. I only played two rated OTB games and stagnated a bit on training. However, I feel comfortable with the simplified study plan I introduced last month and just need to tweak around the edges, especially in terms of time spent on each part of my daily training plan. Here is what the plan looks like at the moment:

TACTICS

  • Around 20 problems, alternating between ChessTempo and Chessimo.
  • 5 problems on chess.com’s Tactics Trainer.

OPENING

  • Spaced repetition training on chessable.com
  • Working with Chessbase, Chesstempo, a couple of books and the Tiger course to fill gaps in my repertoire.

ENDGAME

  • 5 problems on ChessTempo Practice mode.
  • 5 problems on Chessimo.
  • Tiger Chess course video couple of times a week.

OTHER

My Tactics Trainer rating took a hit over the last week or so. After starting the month at 1588 and spending most of the month at around 1630, I peaked at 1646 on 27 March before hitting a dry spell and ending the month on 1578. It doesn’t make a pretty picture…

TT

On a positive note, I had my best OTB win ever, beating a player rated ECF 161 (Elo 1908).

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Review – February 2016

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight
‘Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Joseph Brackett – Simple Gifts

Despite simplifying my study plan and following it in January and earlier this month, I found myself enjoying chess less and less. I felt as if I was spending too much time planning what to do and recording what I did, and studying felt like a chore. So I’ve simplified even more.

For TACTICS, I’ve dropped Chessity in favour of Chess Tempo. The reason is that I can create specific training sets in Chess Tempo. Since my aim at the moment is to drill in all the basic mating patterns and other motifs, I created mate in 1 and mate in 2 sets. I plan to do these in volume over time, so that the patterns become second nature. I will add simple tactical motif sets over time too. I still use Chessimo, as I love the way it uses increased difficulty and spaced repetition, serving the same aim. So my daily tactics training now consists of:

  • either Chess Tempo or Chessimo for a few minutes;
  • then the 5 free chess.com Tactics Trainer problems.

My Tactics Trainer rating went from 1518 to 1588 in February, after a short peak at 1627.

For OPENINGS, I dropped the flash cards and ChessBase printouts I produced. My focus has to be on the simplest and most effective way to memorise my repertoire. For most of the month I used old favourite Chess Position Trainer (CPT), but since the launch of chessable.com, I have moved to it. CPT has been playing up a bit, for example jumping between different positions, and chessable is backed by the IM behind my favourite YouTube channel, John Bartholomew. The product was only launched a week ago, so there are some teething problems, but David, the programmer, has been excellent in responding to feedback. I will write a longer review in a month or so, once David and John have had an opportunity to work through initial ideas for improvement.

For ENDGAME study I now do 5 Chessimo problems and 5 Chess Tempo Practice mode problems every day. Then two or three times a week I watch a Tiger Chess endgame course video and make notes in ChessBase if required. I’ve dropped training in Fritz, as I feel I get enough with Chessimo and Chess Tempo. There is also of course more variety in these problems. My Chess Tempo endgame practice mode rating went from 1509 at the end of January to 1600 today.

To address my goal of memorising a relevant master game per month, I used ChessBase until chessable was launched. In ChessBase, I would just play through the game, or open a new board, replay the game from memory, then compare it with the database. With chessable, I still have the option of playing through the game, but its spaced repetition method then feeds me with reminder tests at appropriate intervals. So far I have memorised Colle-Delvaux, Gand-Ternuezen 1929 and  Alekhine-Davies, Hong Kong 1933.

It may not sound much of a change, but being more laissez-faire has meant that I enjoy what I do and I do it in less time. This leaves more time for something that I have added. Yes, I know, that seems to contradict the approach, but there is some logic. I think a reason that the only rating that matters (until I start playing FIDE rated games), my OTB ECF rating, has stalled, is that I don’t learn enough new things. Doing tactics, remembering my opening repertoire and studying basic endgames of course add some knowledge, but in the main it is just sharpening the same tools, not adding new ones. So I see those areas of study, those 30 to 45 minutes a day, as the starting point for real study. And that real study is using the many chess books I have. I have undertaken to study my chess books one by one from front to back. I started with Tune Your Chess Tactics Antenna by Emmanuel Neiman, a recommendation by IM John Bartholomew.

Of course playing is still the key. I played four games in February, all against players rated higher than my 1473. I managed a win against a 1560, a loss against a 1640, and draws against a 1615 and a 1660.

But most important of all, I am enjoying chess again.

I’ll leave you with Jewel doing her version of Brackett’s Simple Gifts.

 

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Review – January 2016

Following a fairly dismal second half of 2015 (especially the last quarter) I was downgraded on the ECF’s December ratings update to 103 (1473 Elo), a drop of around 37 Elo points. Not a disaster, but a hiccup in my progress to date.

In response to this, I have simplified my goals and study plan for 2016. January was a month of bedding in the practicalities of the new goals and I made some adjustments to what I do and how much of it, during the month. Here is a round-up of how I got on.

TACTICS: My goal is simply to get better at tactics.

  • I do 15-25 problems on Chessimo (I’ve done units 1-7);
  • 27 problems on Chessity (weird number due to sets of 9);
  • 5 problems on chess.com’s Tactics Trainer.

This takes about 30 minutes a day. I was active on 96% of available days. My Chessity rating went from around 1500 at the turn of the year to 1640 today; on Tactics Trainer my rating improved from 1459 to 1518.

OPENINGS: My goal is to know my repertoire (from Tiger Chess’s Build and Opening Repertoire course) inside out.

I was active (30 minutes study or more) for 64% of available days.

  • 10 minutes reviewing ‘flashcards’; I made cards of the main lines (picture of key position; main line and key variations);
  • 10 minutes memorising lines using ChessPositionTrainer.
  • Then I use my detailed ChessBase notes to learn the ideas and plans on my real board.

ENDGAME: My goal is to have the endgame knowledge of an 1800-rated player.

  • I start with 5 Chessimo problems (I’ve done units 1 and 2);
  • Then I do a position or two from the Tiger Chess course on Fritz;
  • A couple of times a week I watch a Tiger Chess video or two, making notes if required.
  • I will add using ChessTempo Practice mode this month, as this is more difficult than the current level of Chessimo and provides good practical examples.

I only hit 58% of my target, doing 280 minutes in the month against a target of 480 (2 hours/week). That has to improve.

PLAYING: I want to play 50 OTB games in 2016.

  • I played 8 this month, mainly due to 5 during a congress.
  • I did not review all of them in detail, instead focusing on a few and then using those for my 1 lesson with my coach (another monthly target).
  • For this month’s lesson, I reviewed the games again before sending them to my coach, then asked a couple of specific questions on each. After the lesson I made comprehensive notes of the key lessons. I have about 5 or 6 key positions for each of the 3 games we reviewed, with the key lesson against each position. I plan to review these from time to time, hopefully weekly.

OTHER: I want to memorise 12 games this year.

I have have chosen the 12  games; they all come from openings that fit my repertoire. The first one (Colle-Delvaux Gand-Terneuzen 1929) is in the bank.

OVERALL: I did not spend as much time studying as I wanted to, mainly due to work commitments, but some just laziness. I need to fix that. My year over the board has kicked off fairly well. I’m at 5/8 against opponents with an average rating of 1495 (or 4/7 against average 1570 if you exclude a win against a player rated 947), with a best win against a 1623.

Onwards and upwards.

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