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!

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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.

What do I do Now?

This is a question I hear often from students when opening is finished and there are no clear tactical moves.

Let’s take a moment to think about this scenario.

The reason we often get stuck is because we’re looking prematurely for the final punch, even though there are plenty of game to be played.

Instead of thinking to finish the game, let’s take a step back, and make small improvement moves for our positions.

There are two questions we can ask

  1. How to activate my pieces
  2. How to stop my opponent’s plans

Activate My Pieces

what_to_do_1

Black to Move

All the minor pieces are developed for both side, now black should consider to bring rooks to the center and find ways to open up the files for the rooks.

Re8 or Qd7 are two good choices here. These moves does not win the game or have any immediate threat, but we are ‘waking up’ our heavy pieces.

Stopping Opponent’s Plans

what_to_do_2

White to Move

Similar to the previous position, white’s minor pieces are developed. Rb1 is a good idea to control the b-file, however, we can make this move later as well.

More importantly, what is black’s plan here. Where should black develop the light square bishop?

Once we ask this question, we can see g4 is the ideal square to pin white’s knight and queen. Based on this h3 would be a good prophylaxis move.


Chess can be a fast and furious game, but it can also be strategic in nature.

When the next time you don’t see clear cut moves, make sure to search for small improvements that will help you in the long haul.

How to win in Winning Positions

The experience to lose half-point or even the full point here and there adds up, and it starts to rattle your head.

Whether it’s up a piece for the U1000 crowd or having small advantage for the sub-1500 players, it takes experience to develop winning techniques to finish games cleanly.

How can we practice to improve our technique?

Winning Games (1)

Before we get to the answer, let’s drill in the number one focus to win a winning position.

SIMPLIFY

  1. Trade Pieces
  2. Reduce noise

Trade Pieces

For my U1000 students, trading pieces when up in material is a lesson we repeat a few times until it becomes second nature.

The reason is to avoid counter attacks and mistakes from our side to give back the ‘gift’.

In the position below what is the easiest way to trade the dark-square bishop?

U1000_trade

Reduce Noise

For the more experienced players, trading pieces has become a second nature, and we’ll start to working more complicated positions.

We may not be winning, but rather tiny bit better in the position.

If we are defending when up in material, it is important to reduce the attack from our opponent.U1500_simplify

In the position above, if white retreats the knight to f3, then black will play Ne4 trapping the rook and getting ready to attack on f2 as well.

There are lots of noise in the position, so white needs to reduce all of the problems on the king side.

The best move is to swing the rook to b3, attacking black’s queen and then retreat knight to f3.

After Rb3, the rook will be much safer than it is on g3, and then white can start to develop the rest of the pieces and march forward with the two extra pawns.


Simplify is always the strategy when you are winning, and the way to do that is to trade more pieces and reduce noises.

Now you’ve learn the concept of simplify, it’s time to practice.

Setup a better position and try to play a computer level that is a bit more stronger than you, and see if you can simplify the position to get the full point!