Archive for the ‘Chess’ Category

So I started playing chess …

February 3, 2021

With a different set-up for my various computers and a change in the schedule for what shows I watch, I found some time to try playing chess at  I figured out how to set the times so that the game wouldn’t end before I could make more than 10 moves, and started playing it at the default level of level 2.

And got continually slaughtered.

This was for a few reasons, most of which made me feel frustrated and disappointed with the experience.  First, the computer played very aggressively, building almost no defense at all and instead pushing forward constantly.  This meant that I didn’t have any time to build any strategy, but instead had to deal with the attacks the computer was making.  Since my weakest area was strategy and since that’s what I wanted to learn from reading “My System” I didn’t really feel that it was helping me at all.

Second, I was making a lot of stupid mistakes.  I think there were three reasons for this.  First, I was rusty, and needed to get back into the habit of playing chess and watching every move to make sure that I wasn’t just giving things away.  Second, I was actually fairly weak at that when I was playing more regularly anyway.  And third, my visualization skills are quite poor, and on the computer you get the top-down view of the board (like you see in chess problems) and not the physical board that I was used to.  Not only is that a different view than I was used to, it actually makes it impossible to do the relatively standard approach of moving a piece, looking around to see if there’s anything you missed, and only when it seems clear releasing the piece and making the move.

So the computer was aggressive and I wasn’t playing all that well.  This was pretty frustrating for me, and so I pondered dropping it down a level, but wanted to see if I could raise my game to that level.  Finally, since few of the games were actually in any way competitive, I dropped down to level 1 and … it was worse.  Yes, I lasted longer and even got into an endgame, but the computer wasn’t changing its strategy in any way, but instead was just ignoring my stupid mistakes more often.  But since _I_ could see my stupid mistakes, all that meant was that I felt like I wasn’t playing well or learning anything, but also that the computer wasn’t really playing well either.  The games were only close because the computer was ignoring my idiocy.  That’s not a good way to get better.

So I was on the verge of giving up and looking for another option, but then tried a game at level 2 again and had a good game, where I made less mistakes, got into an endgame, and ended up with a draw in a game that I probably should have won if I hadn’t screwed up a few times and had planned better.  This is thus pretty much what I wanted from the games in the first place, giving me hope that maybe I was advancing enough to make it work.

At the time of writing this, though, I haven’t played it again.

The pros of playing it this way is that it’s easy to slot into my schedule.  The cons is that I’m not sure it works for me learning and developing as a chess player.  I’ll have to see what happens when I get back to the times when playing chess works for my schedule,

Thoughts on “My System”

December 16, 2020

So it was … sheesh, over a year and a half ago that I started thinking about getting into chess again (where in the world does the time go?).  I haven’t actually played a game of it.  I have still watched, on occasion, some games on, but about the only thing I actually did was work through the book I bought from the board game store dedicated to things like chess (and that donates its profits to groups to promote it) called “My System” by Aron Nimzowitsch.  I had learned chess simply by playing it, as we had tournaments in the area where I grew up and the school was small enough that if there was any kind of tournament all of the kids played in it no matter what.  So what I was looking for were things like openings and the like because I had never really learned any of them, and I was given to believe that doing that and being able to recognize all of them was really important.  The guy behind the counter said that it wasn’t all that important, but then recommended “My System” to me as a book to learn about the theory of chess.  So I bought it and over the next several months — I’m not kidding — I worked my way through it.

The reason it took so long was not because it was a bad book, or a dull book, or overly technical.  It wasn’t.  In fact, it was actually really entertaining.  The problem was that it was a technical book rather than fiction, and so it ran into my most common two problems.  First, I’ve been really, really busy for quite a while, and so had to find some time to fit it in.  Second, for anything that I really want to pay attention to I need to read it at a time when nothing else is distracting me or when I want to concentrate on something else, so I couldn’t watch it while watching a TV show, for example, that I wanted to talk about as well.  That left little time for it.  I ended up trying to fit it in, I think, one day a week in an evening (Sunday, I think?) and that kinda worked.

Anyway, what makes the book is that Nimzowitsch has a pretty entertaining writing style.  He has a sort of dry sense of humour that I really liked, and he “personalizes” a lot of the discussion by talking about the pieces as, well, people with goals, ambitions and fears.  This takes it away from a dry discussion of technical moves and into something that is both entertainment and teaching.  So when I did read it, I enjoyed reading it.

The problem is that outside of some of the obvious things — and some seemingly absolute rules that I disagreed were absolute — I didn’t really learn much about chess itself from the book.  Sure, I learned enough that when watching the games on I could see some of the principles being invoked, but I don’t think I learned much that I could apply to my own game.  The biggest reason for this is that I was hit by one simple fact:  I cannot read chess notation very much at all.  This meant that the example games — which would have worked best for me to learn how to apply the techniques — were useless to me and thus boring, and thus were mostly skipped.  And on reflection, I realized that even if I did learn chess notation, it wouldn’t help me much anyway, since my visualization skills are so bad and chess books focus on using the notation to allow them to avoid showing an image of the board after each move, so I’d have to be able to picture the board in my head.  And I am … unlikely to be able to do that.  So that sort of thing isn’t really going to work.

Still, I did like the book and it’s possible that I’ll read it again at some point just for enjoyment.  That’s a win even if it didn’t turn out to be the teaching tool that I’d hoped it would be.

More Chess Observations

December 4, 2019

I’m going to turn this into a chess blog!

No, not really. But the reason for a chess post today is the same reason I had a hockey post last week: stuff I’d want to write is long and work and other things are getting in the way of me spending significant amounts of time writing blog posts. So, since I still occasionally watch some of the live chess games while waiting for things, I decided to note some of the other things I’ve noticed while doing so. Of course, none of these will be novel to seasoned chess players but they were interesting to me.

So, last week I talked about how it seemed important to keep your opponent reacting to you and not give them a chance to implement their own plans. I then almost immediately came across the case where not only is that not important, it’s actually important to get them to react first. The case is when you have a threatened piece that is getting defended and threatened by multiple other pieces. In that case, the player who attacks first is the one who is going to lose the exchange battle, as at some point you’ll end up with only one undefended attacking piece per side, and unless the attacker manages to outnumber the defender the defender is going to have the last piece that can attack but not be directly attacked in response, meaning that they would win the exchange battle. Typically, situations like this come from either pawn attacks or a case where you have two pieces that can attack each other but are defending on the same line. So this was an interesting contrast to what I’d seen previously.

Also, I found out something about the Threefold repetition rule. When I learned this back in grade school, it was presented as being the case where if a player was forced into making the same move three times then it would be a draw. But as I was watching games, I saw a couple of cases where the best move from each player would result in this sort of repetition, and then thought that it would be good to have this trigger a draw as well since either the players would get caught in an infinite loop of the same moves, or else one of them would have to accept a weaker — and potentially disastrous — move to break the deadlock. So, I looked up the actual rule, and wouldn’t you know that that is, effectively, the rule as stated: a player can claim a draw if the board will return to the exact same position for the third time. It doesn’t even have to be three consecutive moves. This, then, makes a lot more sense: if players maneuver themselves into a situation where the best moves always repeat, then smart players will always make those moves and so the game will be deadlocked. And a player who has the advantage and thinks that they can win then has incentive to take a weaker position knowing that their advantage should carry on regardless.

I still haven’t played chess since starting watching those games, but I do feel like I’m learning things and getting better at the game nevertheless. I’ll see if I do anything with chess in the New Year.

Reacting …

November 20, 2019

So, I’m still occasionally watching chess games while compiling and installing and the like. And another thing that I’ve noticed is how important it is to keep your opponent reacting to what you’re doing and not allow them to force you to react to what they’re doing. So putting their king in check is an obvious one, but even targeting pieces again forces them to make decisions and to make a move in response to what you’re doing. This stops them from targeting your pieces and implementing their own strategy. Of course, there will always be times when you need to stop and make a set-up move, but these are probably the most risky moves in the game, especially once you’re in the mid- or end-game, and even if you’re dominating the game at that point giving them a move where they don’t need to immediately react to you gives them a chance to grab the momentum by forcing you to react to them.

Or, even, a chance to win the game. In the last game of my undefeated tournament run (and, yes, I’m going to milk this for content in my chess posts because it’s the most meaningful chess event I’ve had in my life), my opponent was pressing me hard at the end of the game. I had a queen and maybe a couple of pawns, and he had a queen, something else, and then at least three more pawns because his king was buried behind them after an early castling attempt. I kept defending like crazy but never interspersing my queen, because my queen was in a position to pin his king behind that block and ultimately win the game. I was hanging on and hanging on and hoping that he’d give me just one move free to win the game. Eventually, he did … much to the chagrin of his teammate right beside us who was hoping that his teammate would beat me so that he would end up in a tie with me for top spot if he beat my teammate.

It may seem like there’s no room for momentum in chess, but there is. Or, at least, for the notion of momentum as a chain of forcing your opponent to react to your moves and having no real ability to implement a strategy that you need to react to.

Watching …

November 12, 2019

As my vacation approaches and my big pseudo-New-Year’s-Resolution thing of taking New Year’s Day to reassess and reorganize my schedule and priorities starts to loom large, I’m reminded that one of the things that I want to do is start playing chess again with an eye to actually learning the strategies as opposed to the ad hoc experience I have. I’ve also been pondering the advice/admonishment of an old professor of mine (Jim Davies) and so have been looking for things to do that are more productive while waiting for things like compiles, installs and people to scream for help that aren’t blog posts (you would be surprised at home many blogs posts in the last few months have been written in somewhat slack times at work as opposed to my every dwindling free time at home). And one of the more obvious things to do is to find a way to play chess against the computer and get some experience in, especially since at times I already have been making my Battlestar Galactica board games in those times at work. So I discovered a site called (which is a promising name) and mused about setting up a game there to play against the computer. I haven’t done that yet. However, they also have a feature where on the main site they pick an active game and display it live, so you can watch a game without playing one. Here’s what I’ve learned from doing that:

1) I’ve noticed a number of cases where at least one player in the game seems to be missing moves that I would have made. Sometimes, when the next two or three moves are made I see how their move worked out better for them than my move, but a lot of the time they really end up in a worse position than I would have been in. I’ve especially noted a few instances where I saw a checkmate move and they didn’t, or at least didn’t right away. This makes me feel better about my chess abilities. I don’t know how good the players are in each game — they don’t seem to say who’s playing — but that there are some players that I find I’m better than suggests that I am at least an okay player. Playing against the computer — with other programs — I’ve tended to find myself overwhelmed at times which makes me think that I’m terrible, so this helps me think that I’m not quite that bad.

2) One thing that I never really considered important but that turns out to be really important in those games is pawn management. I’ve seen lots of games where pawns are targeted in the mid to end game and where lots of pieces are exchanged to leave pawns around, which the players then try to push into promotions to win the game. So pawn preservation is crucial, but so is pawn positioning, setting things up with support for each other and support from what few major pieces remain to have the best chance of getting a promotion and having the only pawns left that can reasonably do so. There haven’t been many games that have ended before that point, and in those games its usually only because one player dominated the each (or was sneaky, which is my usual forte). This is something that I used to do, but never really thought about, and so am certainly less skilled at it than I’d need to be. Something to consider.

I have no idea when I’m going to actually get into playing chess again, even against a computer. But so far watching the games on has been an interesting distraction while I’m waiting for other things to happen and have nothing better to do.

One more thing added to my long list …

June 10, 2019

I didn’t know that this was from an actual musical about chess — or that there actually was a musical about chess — until I did some googling around about it and discovered that. Before that, it was just a song I liked. (I’ve also tried doing embedding for the first time. I hope it works properly!).

Anyway, I’m trying to pick up and maybe even do some semi-formal training in chess. I learned to play as a kid because there was a chess tournament for the entire area when I was in grade school, and with the size of the classes pretty much any actual tournament meant that anyone in the upper two grades was pretty much automatically on the team. I was probably about average as a chess player.

I ended up joining the chess club in high school as well, as was about average there or a little above average: there were two players that could consistently beat me, but I could consistently beat everyone else in the club (which was about four more people or so; again, not a very big school). Anyway, we actually also had a tournament, and due to various circumstances we were the only other high school to show up, which meant that we had two teams of three players from each school and we were fighting it out to see who was the best team and had the best player. I was essentially the third on our top team, which also had those two people who consistently beat me (and the funny thing about it is that there were links from both of them to where my father worked, as the one ended up running it and the other’s father ran a machine that I actually worked on for a while when I worked there in the summers).

The other school’s team was weaker. They had one really good player — as good as or better than our top player — and one player who was at about my level, and the rest were relatively weak. To put it in perspective, I beat two of them with ye olde four move checkmate. One I think was a better player than that, but just didn’t expect anyone to try it, but the other one had no idea how it worked and we played a number of games until he figured it out. I always tried it just in case it would work and because I tended to be an aggressive player, and it let me get my pieces out and onto the attack which worked out fine for me.

At any rate, their top player beat the second best player on the team and was looking to run the table and take the top player spot, and we played each other in the second-last round with both of us having won all of our games. He was also a pretty aggressive player, and he had me hemmed in early in the game. I made an off-hand comment, though, that I should probably play for a tie. He replied that that would mean that my other teammate, who was also undefeated, could win the top player spot, to which I replied with essentially “So?”. I think this helped me, since it probably made him be even more aggressive and eventually after swarming me I managed to pull off the win.

This left everything to the last round. If I lost the last round to the player who was about my equal and he managed to beat our best player, he still had a shot at at least a tie for the best player (I’m not sure how they would settle ties). And at the end that player had me in some trouble and was pressing hard. However, he had left his king buried behind cover while he attacked, which left me an opening. I kept defending and defending and defending hoping for a chance to make that one move. Eventually, he had to make a move for positioning and I pounced, moving my queen to the back row where he was hemmed in and winning the game. Their best player was sitting beside me and made an exclamation in disgust, and eventually just settled for a draw with our best player.

And so despite being the third best player on my team and a worse player than at least three other players, I managed to win the best player award at the tournament by winning every single game I played. That was the highlight of my chess career and, sadly, about the point where I stopped playing.

So, I’m going to pick it up again. Right now, I have a book on the subject and am looking around for chess programs — or online chess sites — where I can play against the computer. Right now, I only have Battle Chess and Combat Chess on my system, which would be okay to start — and kinda fun to watch — but I’d like something more formal or that could teach a little. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to be able to get the Chessmaster series anywhere, although I admit that I didn’t look that hard.