Chess and Early Bishop Check

It is surorising in Chess the things that will be discovered. For example, moving the Bishop down to check the King during the opening. It seems like a powerful move. The bishop is out there, and the enemy King is checked within the first ten or so moves. Who is the best player now?

What is not so obvious until it becomes obvious is the downside of doing this. At the very least your Bishop gets threatened by a pawn and has to move back somewhere. Moving back to a good square for the Bishop is best. However you suddenly realise the enemy is now ahead of you in development.

Move your Bishop to the side and within a few moves you may end up losing your Bishop to an aggressive pawn or spiteful knight. Now you realize you wasted two or three moves from your own development only to lose your Bishop. Suddenly your game does not look so good and you work on a fix.

Seems like a good move, until you learn it is not.

Seems like a good move, until you learn it is not.

Growing beyond being cocky with my Bishop I now find one of my Knights being picked off and I can not retaliate because my Knight was hanging. That’s what happens from fixing my Bishop dilemma. Fix one weakness and almost immediately find another weakness to replace it with.

This reminds me of watching children who are just learning to play chess. They know the end goal is to attack the enemy King. The get a piece free from the back rank and charge down the board attacking the King. And they lose their piece.

Undaunted, they move out another piece from the back rank and repeat the process. Or worse for them, their enemy has sent a lone assassin down the board attacking their King. Now they have to figure out how to stop the piece from mating the King.

Some games, I feel like one of these children. For every puzzle or problem solved another rears its ugly head. Of course I do not know it exists until it happens in the moment. Sometime it is too strong a mistake to overcome in the moment.

I put up a good fight, but I am not usually strong enough to make up for the mistake I have discovered. Those few times the enemy across the board makes a move equally poor, and I am able to take advantage of it, we are whisked into the end game.

Of course my end game is not that strong either. It is hard to become experienced with the end game when I am pummeled in the middle game and never really see an end game. I understand now why serious players study the end game so much. Eventually the end game arrives for all of us.

I imagine chess players like more puzzles than just chess. Or perhaps, chess players are satisfied mainly with chess and play other puzzle games as a small diversion. No matter how strong you become there is always another problem to be solved. To make it even more interesting the stronger one becomes, the more complex the newly discovered problem becomes.

It is an easy matter to not send out your Bishop to make a silly check on the enemy King. When a player is much stronger, and an unknown in the moment problem arises, a player may have to rethink their whole game. Their tried and tested old standby approach has suddenly revealed some serious flaws. Someone has unceremoniously torn their game apart as they watch. Until the problem is no longer solvable within ones time and ability.

If this time ever happens for me, I hope people still enjoy Chess for what it provides.

Improve Your Chess Play

Not a lot of meat to this post. I was playing chess engines on the net the other day, and this happened. I beat Stockfish which was set at default level 1, 1350 elo. I am leaning my chess is improving despite my lack of any interest of serious study through books, etc. I want chess to be fun. I have enough other serious parts of my life.

It was a rather silly game. I was fully expecting to get trashed as usual, when I noticed Stockfish made a rather poor tactical play and left its Queen unguarded in the middle of the board.

I pretended to start an attack down the left (A,1) side of the chess board, and took the Queen with a Knight, which I lost, but who cares? In that moment when I noticed the Queen was left unprotected for more than one move, I thought to myself, ‘I have a chance to win this game. It’s not playing as hard as I thought.’

If you have been following my chess exploits, or lack thereof, you know my goal was to break 1000 elo. I was about 850 elo at the time, so it seemed a daunting task. I am happy with what I have achieved. Especially as I only have limited time to play, and less time to study.

One thing I have learned however, is to quit thinking about whether any one move is the ‘right move’. I have been instead trying to find the move that seems to be the strongest and does something. Something may be development, protect another pawn or piece, or poses a new potential threat to the enemy.

Don’t you be afraid to make non standard moves. As long as they are not weak moves, they may prove to turn the tide in a game you are in. If the move does not work, hopefully you understand why your move did not work as planned. Modify your move, and try it again.

If you are starting out in chess, and are sitting at 800 or 900 elo, don’t get frustrated and give up. You only know what you know, and you can only play within your scope of knowledge. While I am far from being able to say I play chess well, I certainly play better than when I started to learn how to play properly. You too will play better chess in time.

Of course this is another far from pretty checkmate, but I’ll take it.

Never thought I would see this result!

Never thought I would see this result!

Beating Gnome Chess?

Since my previous post about my chess ability or lack thereof, I have not until now felt the need to post anything on chess. I had decided that I did not have the time or inclination to achieve anything higher than beginning chess.

Since that time I have been playing for fun and only chess against whatever program is on whatever electronics I have near. Nothing serious, just casual play. I started to take Hold’em much more serious as Hold’em is where the money is. I feel that I am short of time to devote to playing chess well. Well enough to actually earn any money from chess. To be truthful, Hold’em is a lot easier – for me at least.

In hopes of becoming better at Hold’em, I have a few five minute games I play daily to help my visual awareness become stronger. Or at least that is the plan. They are both tile games. One game is Mahjong and the second is a game is named Shisen-Sho, both played with tiles. Mahjong has always been the easier of the two games for me. I have had to work at Shisen-Sho.

In the last year or so, I have cut my puzzle solve time almost forty percent. I attribute this to improved visual awareness. I find matches more quickly. The hope is, improved visual awareness will transfer to Hold’em as I will have better focus at the table.

If you have watched videos of the master chess games, perhaps you appreciate the beauty of their moves. Watching those high level games is like watching a complex choreographed dance. Moves and counter moves flowing over the board. Opponents lose their King to such pretty combinations of play.

I appreciate the same beauty when I play chess engines though they are not as pretty. Every move I make has a more powerful counter move both thwarting my move and creating a stronger position for the chess engine. It makes getting thrashed by an over powerful chess engine less painful and more fun. I provide the dancing clomp-about that spurs the engines power.

I choose for the most part to limit my chess to casual levels where the machine moves are fairly mindless. When I lose, the next game is only a click away. Until last week that is when I became bored with mindless chess moves and wanted to play a stronger opponent. I downloaded a number of boards and chess engines to play against (I use Linux).

Most beat me easily, I almost feel like a spectator in the match. Last night one game was different. I played against the chess engine Fairy-max. I could not find a definite Elo rating, but the few posts I found seem certain Fairy-max is rated around 1800 – 1900.

I beat Fairy-max! It was not pretty. There were no ballet moves and pretty combinations. There was me playing as a barbarian, hacking and slashing whenever there was opportunity, all the while waiting for the ax to fall and the game to be over.

I managed a checkmate before I made a bumbling move or two and lost the game through poor play and decision making. I was really proud of myself. My game was not pretty, and I am sure to someone who really plays chess, my mate is quite ugly. But a win is a win and I will take it.

Then came the sad news. I played Fairy-max through Gnome Chess, which previously has been unbeatable for most people. After my win, I knew something was not right as the game was sloppy on the computers part.

Ugly Checkmate

One ugly checkmate, but I’ll take it

After looking around, I found Gnome Chess now has preferences. There are now three levels of play strength. Gnome Chess defaults to the lowest level. So much for my vastly improved ability….

I am not able to determine what level play the levels really are. I am able to beat Fairy-max in the normal setting, which is the middle level. I have not tried the top difficulty level yet.

I doubt you will ever read a post by me on Chess.com extolling the beauty and strength of a game I played, or seeing a checkmate twelve moves out. I enjoy leaving these things to others. I am grateful for what I have achieved in the moment and that is enough for right now.

I almost forgot to mention, my Hold’em game has improved too!

Visualizing Chess to Improve Your Game

In the time since I last talked about chess, I have learned a little more, mostly about myself. I think the biggest challenge for me to learn is to teach myself how to visualize. One of the ‘tricks’ of chess masters when they go on the road is to play multiple chess games without looking at the board, either blindfolded or having their backs to the boards.

This makes it obvious to me, pattern recognition by itself can only go so far. Looking at the board and searching for a pattern that worked before is not the same as really seeing. Perhaps this is how famous warriors throughout the ages planned their campaigns.

They could see them play out, and analyses different situations easier and with more clarity. Famous generals and chess masters I believe are far better at visualizing than the rest of us. I stare at the board, and I see chess pieces. I move them around in my mind in a certain pattern looking for what has worked for me in the past.

When that pattern in the void of my head is interrupted or otherwise disturbed, I am like a lost little child not knowing which way to turn. It is in this moment that being able to visualize the game in my head would be so beneficial.

Plodding through a single turn, thinking about the consequences of moving this piece or that pawn, how it effects the next move or two, and not seeing the game as a whole is a bog handicap. Being able to visualize, see the game as an animated movie must be far superior. Possibilities and paths for different moves and lines that are played out on the screen that passes for thought.

How slick would that be! Being able to holistically watch the effects of different moves, watching sequences, spotting the flaws. Reforming the chess army, playing out athe whole campaign. Having strong visualization skills, especially in chess has to be a major game changer.

Visualization, and the willingness to really think instead of play remembered patterns work sometime, but fail me at other times. When I talk with players that are stronger than me, they too have their glass ceilings. Mostly they talk about not having enough time to give to the game. How their life gets in the way.

Maybe they too are too concrete too in their thinking, and have not imagined the next plateau. Being able to visualize enough to make a difference. How much our game could improve using the ability to play out a chess puzzle in our head away from the game,  waiting for something, or just relaxing for a few minutes.

This is a skill I think is important to improving at chess, and perhaps other areas of life as well. It is a skill I think I want to cultivate. I too lack the time and inclination to learn fifty different openings and their counter play. I can’t give hours a day to chess puzzles, and other forms of chess learning in order to improve.

What I think I can do is learn to better use those resources I do have, mainly those resources between my ears. Maybe I learn to play a little better and have more fun in the process.