Taking A Break

I started playing chess when I was around 4 years old in China, once I picked up the game, it became a continuity.

After coming to the U.S. around 11 years old, the intensity increased, and more tournaments in the U.S. meant more chess as well.

Before college, I decided to take some time off from chess. And that time off really did not stop, as I never got back into the game competitively since then.

Looking back, I would have preferred more strategic breaks between 4-17 years old Xiao. Breaks to clear thoughts, and to realign next steps of the journey.


I’ve enjoyed the journey with Chess^Summit team over the past year, and read many thoughtful posts from the team myself.

After a year or so of writing, it’s time for me to take a step back from Chess^Summit. What that means for my chess content creation is still an unknown, but the adventure of producing chess content on the internet is only the beginning.

Thanks to Isaac and the team for the opportunity, and thanks especially to the readers.

Until next time: Make moves with a purpose.

Twitter: simplerxiao

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Calculation

You often hear sport commentators say ‘this is a chess match between the two teams’, what they mean is that each team is trying to out calculate the other.

As a chess player, we want to take pride in our calculation skills. Let’s work on it together in this post.

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Here are the topics we will discuss

1) Calculating 2 moves

2) Breadth versus Depth when calculating moves

3) Pawns promotion race – an intense calculation exercise

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Calculating 2 or more moves

The thinking process of a young beginner chess player is often, ‘hey, this looks like a cool move. I’ll move my queen up’. Then very impatiently wait for the opponent to make a move. Once the opponent makes a move, the young player will look for another cool move and repeat the process.

The problem with this thinking process is you are not looking at your opponent’s response, and thus not calculating more than 1 move.

To become a stronger chess player, the first step is to learn and practice calculating 2 or more moves in any given position.

Let’s look at an example.

Here white has the opportunity to win a piece on the spot. Answers at the bottom of this page.

Breadth versus Depth when calculating moves

As an experienced chess player, I’ve often heard the question ‘How many moves can you calculate’? Well, like many other questions, the answer is ‘it depends’. And in chess, it depends on the situation of a position.

In some positions, I’ll calculate 5-10 moves in a row, to make sure everything works in my favor.

In other positions, I’ll just calculate 2 moves, but search through 3-5 different variations.

Examples

Depth

In this position, white uses a combination that takes 6 moves, but every move is forced.

Breadth

Here, white’s combination also decides the game, but there are a few different responses by black.

Pawns promotion race – an intense calculation exercise

When a pawn reaches to the other side of the board, it can promote to a queen or any other piece besides the king or pawn.

In many endgames, the result will come down to who can promote first, and then he can use the queen to stop opponent’s promotion.

In this type of situations, it is crucial to calculate clearly, because if you missed one move, the result could change fast

It’s time to count and race the pawns.

Answers the puzzles above (ordered from top to bottom)

Puzzle 1. 1.Qxb6 axb6 2.Rd8+ checkmate

Puzzle 2. 1.Qxf4 Qxf4 2. Nd7+ Kg8 3. Rxe8+ Kh7 4. Nf8+ Kh8 5. Ng6+ (discovery check) Kh7 6. Nxf4 wins back the queen plus all the interest (rook and knight)

Puzzle 3. 1. Qxd7 Kxd7 (if Kf8 2.Qxe7+ checkmate) 2. Bf5 Ke8 (if Kc6 3. Bd7+ checkmate) 3.Bd7+ Kf8 4. Bxe7+ checkmate

Puzzle 4. 1. h4 a5 2. h5 a4 3. h6 a3 4. h7 a2 5. h8(promote to queen) stops black from promote the a-pawn.

Energy Level

Or Domino Effects.  

When I had a good week of chess training sessions, the following week felt like a walk in the park.  

Easy to get up, excited to set-up the board, energized to do more. 

In a different week, I kept saying I’ll wait until tomorrow, after that next activity, or next week – to get started.  

Even at that new point, I felt lazy, not feeling like doing anything. 

The domino effect, and my energy level follows the same pattern.  


We’re wrapping up 2018 and getting ready for a exciting new year.

There is no way of knowing which week will be tough and which smooth.

But let’s tip the scale a bit more to the active mode, and favor towards motion forward.


Be Active. Play More. Let the domino fall in an energetic way! 

Happy New Year!

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!

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.

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.

Chaos and Uncertainty

This position looks unclear. Every experienced chess players have heard that phrase at least a few times in their career.

Like many other things in life, chess is a complicated game. There are different approaches to different situations.

But that is what makes the game fun and interesting. By constantly looking at a convoluted puzzle, we will subconsciously find new ideas over time.

Four-time U.S. Champion Hikaru Nakamura is someone who loves to create complex positions out of nowhere and then constantly cause new problems for his opponents until they lose the thread.

I was watching the game Holt – Nakamura at the 2015 U.S. championship. Computers kept saying white’s position was much better, but by looking at Conrad’s body language, he never felt that way.

Rather it was Naka, who continued to show his confidence. Even though objectively he had a worse position, he kept putting more pressure and later on, Conrad blundered in time trouble.

Get used to the un-comfort zone – Make decisions to take chances

When I was playing, I often would search for clear paths, rather than to complicate the positions. I had the habit of looking for familiar patterns, and make decisions based on what I already knew.

I looked at the position objectively too often. I would forget that my opponent sitting across me is having just as many trouble accessing the position.

Now I know if I play chess again, I will be searching for chaos and unclear positions.

We tend to avoid chaos, but sometimes we should embrace uncertainties. That’s where the opportunities are.

Learn to dance in the rain. Thrive in chaos.