Tournament Experiments

The K-12 Grade levels tournament is concluding as I type these words. Kids from all over the country flew to Orlando for the festival.

Many of the players prepared days, weeks or even months for the tournament, and as the popularity of chess increases, the number of local events has also increased.

In this post, I will discuss my views on tournament experimentation.

In major chess hubs like New York and California, there are multiple scholastic tournaments per week.

For the causal players, I’d suggest participate once per month, and as the student’s interest increases or decreases, the number of tournaments should be adjusted accordingly.

For the more ambitious group who are trying to reach USCF 1000 within 3-6 months and then 2000 before end of the elementary school, playing in 1 or even 2 tournaments a week to prepare for national events is not unheard of.

How should we use the local tournaments to prepare for the big events (nationals, or big open tourneys such as World Open)?

Chess improvement is a marathon, and every strong player has gone thru periods of ups and downs. However, the stronger players knows how to use small tournaments effectively to prepare for bigger ones.

They have their eyes on the prize.

At local tournaments, it’d be good to test out playing up a section, or at another to try out new openings. Since the goal is to make adjustments and getting ready for the big events.

Thru the experiments, they will find what they are comfortable with, and prepare further arsenals both from chess as well as psychological point of view.

The experiments in low-stake environment (local tourneys) does not have to be successful all the time, it is more important to learn more about oneself.

Once the big event comes along, they will be ready to use the tools they’ve crafted from prior training instead of improvise on the go.


Now the grade level is wrapping up, the next scholastic tournament season will be in the spring.

Start plan out what experiments you’d like to try out in local tournaments to help you get the maximum energy for the big tourney!

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The [Rating] Battle Rages On

After more than holding his own during the classical portion of the World Championship match against Carlsen, Caruana suffered a beatdown in the rapid tiebreaks.  He lost three in a row, thereby allowing Carlsen to secure the World Champion title yet again.  Going into the match, many people believed that if Caruana was to win the match, he’d have to do it in the classical portion as he’s never been one of the top players in rapid and blitz time controls.  This was proven when Carlsen, one of the best rapid and blitz players in the world, convincingly beat Caruana.

However, other than the title of World Champion, the main focus of the match was on the classical ratings of Carlsen and Caruana.  Prior to the match, only three points separated the two – Carlsen was at 2835.0 and Caruana was 2832.0.  But, after drawing all twelve games of the classical section, neither player’s rating changed.  Caruana had the chance to change that narrative at the London Chess Classic, the tiebreaker tournament for the Grand Chess Tour between Caruana, Nakamura, Aronian, and MVL.  Yet, through his first three classical games – two against Nakamura and one against Aronian – he’s drawn all of them, actually losing 3.3 points according to 2700chess.com.  Meanwhile, he’s continued to struggle in rapid and blitz games, going 0.5/2 in rapid games and 1/4 in blitz games.

More likely than not, Caruana is frustrated with his recent performance in quicker time controls, so we’ll have to see how he fares the rest of this tournament.  He still has two more rapid and four more blitz games to potentially right the ship.  But, Caruana only has one more classical game left in this tournament in Aronian, and even if he wins, he’ll still be a couple points short of Carlsen’s mark.  This means that we’ll have to wait until at least the next major tournament, likely the Tata Steel Masters in late January of 2019, for more action on that rating front.  Until then, Carlsen remains at the top of the rating lists.

U16 Olympiad: the Second Half & Final Thoughts

Before the rest day, everything was good. We had miraculously defeated the top seed Uzbekistan and were tied for first with 9/10 match points. The day after the rest day, however, was absolutely brutal. I mean really brutal.

In the morning, we played Ukraine. After some adventures on the lower boards, the score was 1.5-1.5. Yours truly, after being marginally better for the entire game, lost control over the position and overreacted by blundering in an endgame that was, in reality, a fairly easy draw.

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When you lose this kind of position with white…

It was a setback, but we were still tied for 4th. Then we got to play Iran. I lost perhaps the worst game I’ve played this year. Pretty quickly after my defeat, things went downhill on the other boards too. Long story short, we got crushed 3.5-0.5.

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Before the start of round 7 against Iran. Unfortunately, this mood didn’t last very long…

 

 

We had lost 2 matches in one day. To top it off, I personally had lost 3 games in a row, which is rare and never fun. Looking at the standings at the evening team meeting, we thought we’d get an easy pairing next round. Instead, we got Armenia, which was the 6th seed. Talk about a bad end of a horrible day.

That was the final nail in our coffin when it came to our medal chances. I managed not to lose a 4th game in a row (yay!)—I actually had very good winning chances, but I didn’t play it the best way, and it ended in a draw. Board 2 was also a draw (after some wild adventures), but we unfortunately lost on both boards 3 and 4 and lost the match 3-1.

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An accurate summary of the second half of the tournament…

In the last round, we got to play Hungary. We won the match 3-1. I finally won a game, despite blowing a very large advantage and even getting worse in the process.

Overall, we finished 10th. Uzbekistan didn’t let their loss to us stop them from winning the rest of their matches and deservedly winning gold. India won silver, and the massively underrated Chinese team won bronze. Our board 2 IM Hans Niemann finished with 7.5/9 and won a bronze medal for board 2—a medal which he forgot in his hotel room 12 hours later. Looking back at the final crosstable, we ended up playing 5 out of the 7 top teams, beating the overall winners, drawing the 4th place team, and losing to the 5th, 6th, and 7th teams.

Olymp Final Standings

Despite not playing as well as I had hoped to, I believe I still contributed to the team by facing tough opposition on the first board and helping with my teammates’ preparation. It’s hard to put in words what this tournament meant to me. Just spending a week doing chess, chess, and more chess (with a little bit of schoolwork spiced in) was fun. I got to meet so many people from around the globe, some of them the very best in my age group. Sorry American tournaments, but this is really hard to beat this experience. I really wish I could go next year, but unfortunately I’ll be too old.

Big thanks to my teammates and team coach GM Kudrin!

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Before the closing ceremony. No longer in matching uniforms, back to individual tournaments…

Now I’m back home and have settled back down to boring normal life (yeah, I had too much fun there for my own good). It’s time to relax and enjoy the upcoming holiday season—and study some chess of course. Time to regroup!

Reduce The Problem

Going from a problem to completely solving it often does not take one step.

Let’s look thru two examples from different experience levels

  1. Rook vs Pawn for new players
  2. Trading Pieces for the 1200+ players

Rook vs Pawn 

Many students already know how to checkmate with a king and rook versus a king, which is usually covered during the their early lessons. 

A few weeks later, I would ask if they feel confident in winning the game if they had a king and rook versus king and a pawn. 

This technique opens the door for students to think about reducing the problem. 

  1. Win the pawn first
  2. Then checkmate with the rook, which has become second nature. 

Trading pieces

When do we want to trade pieces and why?

Up in material is a popular answer.

As we trade down, we’ll be more confident that the extra material will lead us to an easier road.  

And trading is especially important in a position when we have more material but have to defend against a strong attack.

To reduce the problem

  1. Aim to trade attacking pieces
  2. Use our extra materials to consolidate.

When contemplating a complex problem, ask the following question: If I can get to a simplified situation, will I be happy?  

If so, then we only need to think about how to get to the reduced problem, and not worry about the details of the next steps afterward. Because we can take care of it. 

Reduce the problem and simplify the chaos.

U16 Olympiad: Free Day after the Storm

The tournament goes on. The smog is gone, the food continues to be good, and we’ve settled into a routine. The English in the hotel continues to provide entertainment. Some of the food translations really give Google Translate a run for its money…

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Who knew ovens tasted so good? I already had a chicken oven, a turkey oven, lamb frying, and many more delicacies that I had never even heard of.

The chess got even more unpredictable than the translations. We scored a massive upset against Uzbekistan, winning 2.5-1.5. At the end of that match, we were leading 2-1, and I was defending an unpleasant endgame, but I held, and we won the match. The following match with Belarus ended in a 2-2 tie after some serious drama. I’m surprised no spectators had heart attacks while watching this match… Yours truly contributed by gambling in a drawn endgame when the team didn’t look so good. Then everything turned 180 degrees, my game included

Today is a rest day. We went for an excursion of Konya. We visited a mosque/museum and a butterfly garden, and in the process we bought souvenirs, trashed talked, socialized with other teams, and just had a good time.

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Not bad!

Tomorrow we’re back to business, another double round day. We’re tied for first with Belarus, and we get to play Ukraine. Onward!

Fingers crossed. Wish us luck.

U16 Olympiad: Hanging in There

The US team arrived in Konya, Turkey, 2 days ago for the U16 Olympiad, and we’ve been quite busy since. The first evening we managed to sneak in an exciting dance performance, courtesy of the organizers. The hotel is nice (except for slow elevators, but taking the stairs provides us with some exercise). The food is good, and the playing hall is literally right next door, so there’s no need to deal with buses. That sure helps relax the schedule. As for jet lag and the smog that hit us and Konya today, well… they’re not as good, but hopefully tomorrow there won’t be any trace of either.

Enough weather, time for chess. We’ve made it through the first three matches and have won them all. Today we survived the first of the two double round days. Currently, I’m at 3 draws (the games were actually much more exciting than the result suggests).

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The Round 1 Scoreboard
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The start of round 1

Tomorrow, we are playing the #1 team, Uzbekistan. Wish us luck!

Onward! Here’s the official website if you want to follow. I’ll be back, internet-permitting.

Connecting the Dots

I learned sequentially, now I try to zig and zag in unknown circles.

In chess, there are openings, middle games, and endgames. For a new player, each phase of the game feels like a complete different culture from the other.

Openings then Endgame

Part of the reason grandmasters understand the game better than I do is that they know how to connect the dots between different concepts.

For example, the queen’s gambit accepted (QGA) is a well-known opening. Many players play this opening, and they put in time to study the move orders or different variations.

The top players use a different approach: they study endgames that arise out of QGA. They ask themselves which pieces should be traded, or how to manage the pawn structure.

After going through this process, they come back to the opening, check variations with computers, and maybe then new ideas or concepts will be born.

Slow Chess to Blitz

There are debates on how much does blitz help slower games. The answer is not straightforward, but the idea is to improve calculation and intuition skills.

When play blitz, there are no time to think, the instant reaction and fast judgement of positions will provide valuable patterns to our minds.

By going thru blitz sessions, we subconsciously connect information that we have used or learned from slower games.


Next time you see two unrelated topics, remember maybe there will be dots to be connected.