Saturday, January 17, 2009

If you aren't struggling, then you aren't learning

When studying becomes easy

If studying is easy for me, then I must be getting better, right?

Well, when there is a choice between repeatedly doing something hard, or repeatedly doing something easy, we all end up repeatedly doing something easy. We may have good intentions at first, but in the end, the result is the same.

A few months ago, I bought Imagination in Chess by Paata Gaprindashvili. It is quite possibly the most difficult chess book I've ever tried to work through. I tried the first 30 or so problems, and got only 1 correct, but even then I did not analyze all of the possible sidelines. Remembering how difficult my first tactics book was when I was 12, Combination Challenge, I challenged myself to work through this book and try not to be discouraged. I worked a few more pages, but I haven't seriously looked at the book in about a month.

Now, my "study" time has consisted of G/15 on ICC followed by "fixing" my openings. I rationalized this by saying that I've been playing chess and then analyzing the game, but it is really just studying openings in disguise. I was more interested in fixing my opening than in fixing my chess. Also, at night, I have been casually playing over games from 500 Master Games of Chess, but not really paying much attention, hoping to learn from osmosis.

I felt pretty good about my playing results, and I felt well-equipped with some new opening tricks. It seemed like I was finally "getting somewhere" with my studies, because it felt pretty easy: just play G/15, fix the opening, go over some lightly annotated games, rinse and repeat!

Staring blankly into space

This semester, I enrolled in a Psychology class at a local college. I arrived late for class on the first day and slid into a back row seat, hoping not to be noticed. The instructor was still taking roll, but she definitely noted my arrival. Then she asked me to introduce myself to the class, and I think I said something clever but nobody laughed. She was probably 5 feet tall at best, hunched over, and in her late 60's or early 70's. I was not looking forward to a boring Psychology class, and I felt resentful because I thought I got shafted by the college again, paying quite a bit of money for a fluff class, and not even getting a decent instructor. She looked like she could topple over at any minute. When she couldn't figure out how to turn on the projector, I put my head in my hands and quietly groaned.

I expected that I would be languishing for 90 minutes, staring at the blackboard just above her face, and occasionally nodding to feign interest. Then she began lecturing. To my surprise, it was immediately clear that she was intellectually sharp and had a vibrant personality. I was actually enjoying the class that I held in disdain.

During the lecture, she made one pithy statement that immediately had a profound impact on me: "If you aren't struggling, you aren't learning." I realized that all the time I have been spending "going over games" and "working on my tactics" has largely been a wasted effort.

Why am I not a GM yet?

It felt too easy, and it was: I was not struggling, and I was not learning. If studying makes you better, and studying is easy, then chess must be easy. So why am I not a GM yet? Why am I still dropping pawns on move 8 to people 600 points beneath me?

When I got back home, I picked up Imagination in Chess again. Now I'm struggling through the problems, hoping that somewhere along the way, I'm learning something new. These problems are hard for a reason: my analytic ability sucks and I need to improve it. While I don't expect to get the same results as when I was 12, I am hoping something will click. I just want to crack 2200. I just want another 120 points!

And flipping through those great games? What a waste, if you do not spend the time to analyze them or appreciate them! Please, do not fool yourself and claim you are studying, if you never leave your chess comfort zone. Do not sit down to study unless you are ready to struggle, or you will be wasting your time.

I am hoping that my renewed motivation will last longer than a few weeks. Hopefully this blog will keep me on track!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Alex Lenderman escapes me

Today I played IM Alex Lenderman (manest) in the ICC 15-minute pool.

White: manest(IM) 2172
Black: Alex Steger 2046
15 0

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Be7 4. cxd5 exd5 5. Nf3 c6 6. Bf4 Bf5 7. e3 Nf6 8. Bd3 Bxd3 9. Qxd3 Nbd7 10. O-O O-O 11. h3 Re8 12. Rab1 Nb6 13. Rfc1 Bd6 14. Ne5 Qe7 15. a3 Nfd7 16. Nxd7 Qxd7 17. Bxd6 Qxd6 18. b4 Nc4 19. a4 a6 20. b5 axb5 21. axb5 Ra3 22. bxc6 bxc6 23. Ra1 Rea8 24. Rxa3 Qxa3 25. Qc2 g6 26. e4 Rb8 27. exd5 Rb2 28. Qd1 cxd5 29. Nxd5 Qa2 30. Qf3 Rb1 31. Rxb1 Qxb1+ 32. Kh2 Nd2 33. Nf6+ Kg7 34. Nh5+ gxh5 35. Qg3+ Qg6 36. Qe5+ Qf6 37. Qxf6+ Kxf6 38. Kg3 Ne4+ 39. Kf3 Nd6 40. Kf4 Nf5 41. Ke4 h6 42. g3 Ne7 43. d5 Nc8 44. Kd4 Nd6 45. g4 hxg4 46. hxg4 Ne8 47. f3 Nd6 48. Kc5 Ke7 49. Kc6 Ne8 50. f4 Nd6 51. f5 Ne8 52. Kc5 Kd7 53. Kd4 Kd6 54. Ke4 Nf6+ 55. Kf4 Nxd5+ 56. Kg3 Nf6 57. Kh4 Nh7 58. g5 hxg5+ 59. Kh5 f6 60. Kg6 Ke5 61. Kxh7 g4 62. Kg6 g3 63. Kf7 g2 64. Ke7 g1=Q 65. Kd7 Qc5 66. Kd8 Qd6+ 67. Kc8 Kd5 68. Kb7 Qc6+ 69. Ka7 Qd6 70. Kb7 Kc5 71. Kc8 Qf8+ 72. Kd7 Qf7+ 73. Kd8 Qd5+ 74. Kc8 Qxf5+ 75. Kd8 Qe6 76. Kc7 f5 77. Kb7 f4 78. Kc7 f3 79. Kd8 f2 80. Kc7 f1=Q 81. Kd8 Qff7

{White stalemated} 1/2-1/2

I had 1.5s on my clock, to his 22s. I would like to say that Qf7 was a mouse slip, but it wasn't. Better luck next time, I guess!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I was wrong

In an earlier post, I said that I would probably never beat an IM in a real game. Well, it happened.

IM Danilo Canda(2318)-Alex Steger(1997)
2008 Louisiana State Championship, Round 3

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bb5 Bb4 5. O-O O-O 6. d3 d6 7. Bg5 Bxc3 8.bxc3 Qe7 9. Re1 Nd8 10. d4 Ne6 11. Bc1 c5 12. Bf1 Qc7

12... Rd8 is a smoother way to defend--the knight can go to f8 and g6. Now the knight is passive forthe rest of the game.

13. d5 Nd8 14. c4 Ne8 15. Nh4 g6 16. g3 Qe7 17. a4 Ng7 18. Ra3 Bd7 19. a5 f6

I am reluctant to open the position with f5 since I have no dark squared bishop to oppose Bb2. 19... f5 20. f4 Nf7 21. exf5 Nxf5 22. Nxf5 Bxf5 23. fxe5 Nxe5 24. Bb2 +=

20. f4 Nf7 21. Nf3 Rae8 22. Bg2 Bc8 23. Bb2 Qd8 24. Qd2 Re7 25. Rae3 Rfe8 26. Bc3 Nh5 27. R3e2 Bg4 28. Qe3 Qd7

28... exf4 29. gxf4 Qd7 30. Bd2 Rxe4 31. Qxe4 Rxe4 32. Rxe4 Qa4 -+ according to Fritz 9, but this still looks unclear to me. I didn't even consider this possibility during the game.

29. fxe5 Nxe5 30. Nxe5 fxe5 31. Rf2 Rf7 32. Ref1 Ref8 33. Rxf7 Rxf7 34. Rxf7 Qxf7 35. h3 Bd7 36. Be1 Qe7 37. Kh2 Qd8 38. Qb3 Qc8 39. Bd2 Qc7 40. Bg5 Bc8 41. Qc3 Qf7 42. Qd2 Qf8 43. Bh6 Qf7 44. Qe3 Qf6 45. Bf3 Ng7 46. Kg2 Ne8

The position is closed and I have the "right" bishop, but my pieces have no good squares. White is better, but there appears to be no way to penetrate.

47. Bg4 Bxg4 48. hxg4 Ng7 49. Qb3 g5

Here we enter time trouble, with black having 5 minutes, and white having 10.

50. Qxb7 Qxh6 51. Qxa7 Qf6 52. Qb7 h5 53. gxh5 Nxh5 54. Qc8?+

54. a6 Nxg3 (54... g4 55. Qc8+ Kh7 56. Qf5+ loses) 55. a7 Qf1+ draws.

54... Kg7 55. Qf5 Qd8 56. Qe6 Nf6 57. a6 g4 58. a7 Qh8 59. Qxd6?

...and it happens. 59. Kg1 Qh6 60. Qe7+ Kg6 61. a8=Q Qc1+ draws.

59... Qh3+ 60. Kf2 Nxe4+ 61. Ke1 Qxg3+ 62. Ke2 Qf2+ 63. Kd3 Qd4+ 64. Ke2 Qd2+ 65. Kf1 Qf2#

After this game, I went on to win the tournament, and with it, the title of 2008 Louisiana State Champion. My performance rating was 2569. I am proud of my accomplishment.