Thursday, March 19, 2015

Yusupov Fundamentals - Book 1, Final Exam

I originally intended to take the final this past Sunday, but didn't feel like it.  I probably should've broken it up into two days because it's a little exhausting to do 24 of his problems at once.  It took me about 3 hours total.  About half I was able to do from the book and the other half I setup on the board.  And just like other times, I suddenly was able to see ideas instantly that I missed before.  I scored 34/47 for a bronze, missing silver by 2 points.

Here's the breakdown of problems:
Tactics: 13/24
Endgame: 5/24
Strategy: 3/24
Calculating Variations: 2/24
Positional Play: 1/24

And here's my final scores for each theme:
Tactics: 18/24 - 75%
Endgame: 10/10 - 100%
Strategy: 3/6 - 50%
Calculating Variations: 1/5 - 20%
Positional Play: 2/2 - 100%

Overall, not too bad.  Towards the end I was just happy to be done as I was getting a little worn out having done this after work.   I did much better on strategy than I did in the modules and I was happy to have gotten my one positional play question correct.  I would've liked a second question for that theme.  I think I could've gotten the 3rd strategy question had I been a little fresher.

Five of the points I missed on tactics came from the chapter on pawn combinations.  The three pointer was doable.  I kept sniffing around the edges of the right solution, seeing some of the ideas but ultimately missed out.  A nice problem that came from one of Yusupov's games.

And that's a wrap for Build Up Your Chess: The Fundamentals!  I downloaded the Tarrasch book to my Kindle and I've been reading through the chapters.  I skipped over the chapter on "The Elements" as it's very basic material on learning to play chess.  Also skipped most of the endgame material as it was generally beginner level as well.  I did stop on a few if the diagrams caught my eye.

I'm glad to finally be done with this.  I'll take a short break before the next book as I try to work on the weaknesses that were revealed from doing the first book and to keep up with my other training.  I also intend to ramp up my OTB play.  Looking at my calendar, I should be able to get in a good 15-20 games by mid April.  Perhaps a new milestone will be reached.  Stay tuned!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Yusupov Fundamentals - Book 1, Week 6

Normally I've been doing these updates on Sunday, but I wanted to do an update for finishing the 24 modules.  I'll do an update for the final exam on Sunday.

Chapter 23 - Smothered Mate is the 11th and final module on tactics.  The timing couldn't have been better as I saw someone pull off Philidor's Legacy at one of my chess club two days before.  About 1/3 of the exercises are studies.  This chapter wasn't super difficult, but there were a few challenging ones.  I think that's been par for the course for the tactics modules though.  There were only two that I couldn't solve from the book in five minutes and I had to setup on the board.  I've noticed several times throughout this training that there will be problems that I can't get for the life of me, then as soon as I set them up on the board I see the winning idea right away.   I scored 18/19 for a gold rating.

Chapter 24 - Gambits is the second module on the opening.   Chapter 3 was the first module on the opening, and despite having eight! 3-star problems, I just missed getting bronze by one point.  So not my weakest area, but still something to work on.  The opening modules are about initiative, activity and calculation more than anything else.  I could tell this was a little more difficult for me as I had to go to the board for about half of them.  And one by one I started finding what I thought were good ideas for the position.  Final result was 15/21 for a silver rating!

And lastly, some stats:
Fail: 5/24 = 20.8%
Bronze: 4/24 = 16.6%
Silver: 8/24 = 33.3%
Gold: 7/24 = 29.1%

I got a silver rating or better for 62.5% of the modules.

Fail: 1/11 = 9%
Bronze: 0/11 = 0%
Silver: 4/11 = 36.3%
Gold: 6/11 = 54.5%

Total score: 168/200 = 84%

This should come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog.  6/7 of my gold ratings were in tactics.

Fail: 0/4 = 0%
Bronze: 1/4 = 25%
Silver: 3/4 = 75%
Gold: 0/4 = 0%

Total score: 77/102 = 75%

Not quite as good as tactics, but clearly not a weakness.  Probably the most surprising part is that I haven't studied endgames all that much.  I did six repetitions of Pandolfini's book, and completed through class C of Silman's book but that was at the very beginning of my training.  I haven't done much of any endgame study since I first began.

Calculating Variations:
Fail: 0/2 = 0%
Bronze: 1/2 = 50%
Silver: 0/2 = 0%
Gold: 1/2= 50%

Total score: 27/35 = 77.1%

There's my other gold.  Not too surprising that it was here since calculating forcing variations isn't much different than calculating a tactic.

Positional Play:
Fail: 2/3 = 66.6%
Bronze: 1/3 = 23.3%
Silver: 0/3 = 75%
Gold: 0/3 = 0%

Total score:  25/64 = 39%.

Here's where the major weaknesses start to appear.  Hey, at least I didn't fail them all.  Yusupov recommends Tarrasch for this, so Tarrasch it will be.

Fail: 1/2 = 50%
Bronze: 1/2 = 50%
Silver: 0/2 = 0%
Gold: 0/2 = 0%

Total score: 14/47 = 29.7%

Weakness #2.

Fail: 1/2 = 50%
Bronze: 0/2 = 0%
Silver: 1/2 = 50%
Gold: 0/2 = 0%

Total score:  29/52 = 55.7%

Mixed result.  I wonder how I would've done had these two modules been last in the book.  Would I have done better on the module I failed?  If I had done chapter 24 1st, would I have failed that one?

One final note... despite my stated disdain for studies, I feel like I might want to do some more mate in 2 studies like chapter 9.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Yusupov Fundamentals - Book 1, Weeks 4&5

I didn't update my blog last week as work and my biological need for sleep kept me occupied.  I only had time to do one chapter in week 4, so I figured I'd do one update for the two weeks.

Chapter 18 - Forced variations is the 2nd and final on "Calculating Variations".  Chapter 9 (Mate in 2) was the other chapter on this theme.  Whereas that chapter was all compositions, this is mostly practical combinations from real games.  It seems closer to chapter 15 (Combinations) than the mate in 2 chapter.  Since I did this two weeks ago, I don't exactly remember how difficult I found the exercises, but I finished with 20/23 for a gold rating getting full credit on all three 3-star exercises.

Chapter 19 - Combinations involving promotion is another tactics chapter.  It's exactly what it sounds like.  A couple familiar faces here.  I've seen the Spassky combo several times in a variety of tactics books.  I finished with 17/20 for a silver rating.

Chapter 20 - Weak points is the 3rd on "Positional Play" with the previous chapters being 6 and 13.  I bombed chapter 6 and just squeaked by on chapter 13.  What would be in store for me here?   The main theme of this chapter is using your pawns to take control of weak points to make advanced outposts for your pieces.  The idea of giving up squares that are hard to exploit to get to your target is covered as well.  Long story short, I bombed the exercises here as well scoring only 9/23 points.

Chapter 21 - Pawn combinations is the 10th on tactics and an extension of chapter 19.  All of the problems feature promotion or checkmate.  If you did well on chapter 19, I'd expect you to do well here.  This is another of those chapters where the exercises are generally straight-forward, with a couple of challenging but doable exercises.  I scored 15/19 for a silver rating.

Chapter 22 - The wrong bishop is the 4th and last chapter on endgames.  I hated this chapter.  I don't find it very practical and trying to come up with the right ideas is tiring.  Unlike any of the other chapters, the examples in this one get quite detailed with alternate variations.  My eyes were glazed over at one point.   While going through the chapter exercises, I decided if I failed I wasn't going to go back over this chapter like I had all of the other ones.    Oh, did I mention every exercise is a composition?  What, you couldn't find a single example from a game where this mattered? Once again, the Pandolfini endgame book was a nice primer for this.  I finished with 17/25 points for a bronze rating, missing silver by just 1 point which I chalked up to aggravation and not doing my best towards the end.   So I guess it wasn't terribly difficult, but I went kicking and screaming.

So that leaves only 2 chapters left, plus a final exam of 24 exercises.  One of the remaining chapters is tactics, so that shouldn't be too difficult.  The other chapter is the 2nd on Openings.  I failed the previous chapter of that type.  My plan is to knock out the final 2 chapters during the week, do some review of the harder chapters then take on the final exam during the weekend.

I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but this book has really shown me how weak I am in non-tactical situations.  I figured with all of the annotated master games I've done I'd be stronger in that area.  After I finish this book, I don't intend to move right on to the next book.  Book 2 appears to have the exact same breakdown of themes as book 1 and I'd like to show improvement between them.  Yusupov gives a list of book recommendations for each area of focus.  As I struggled most with the opening, strategy and positional play, here are his recommendations:

The opening:
Yakov Neishadt - Catastrophe in the Opening (out of print)

Positional play:
Tarrasch - The Game of Chess

Lasker - Lasker's Manual of Chess
Reti - Masters of the Chessboard (Laurent will be thrilled to see this)
Nimzowitsch - My System (A well known classic)

Pretty well known books by well known masters.  The Reti book is one I own and it's an annotated games collection to boot.

Khmelnitsky doesn't have the same breakdown of positional play vs strategy, but here are his recommended books as well.

Class B/C
Nimzowitsch - My System
Emms - Simple Chess

Nimzowitsch recommended again, and the Emms book is an annotated games collection.

Class A/Expert
Bronstein - Zurich 1953
Yermolinski - Road to Chess Improvement (I've read good things about this)

I've seen the Bronstein book recommended by just about everyone.  It's another annotated games collection I already intend to read this year.

Dvoretsky - Positional Play
Dvoretsky - Attack and Defense

Class B/C
Chernev - Logical Chess: Move by Move
Silman - Reassess Your Chess

Class A/Expert
Alburt - Strategy for the Tournament Player
Baburin - Winning Pawn Structures (IQP)

Dvoretsky - Positional Play
Shereshevsky - Endgame Strategy

He recommends the Shereshevsky book for master endgame training as well.  I've frequently seem that book mentioned as one of the best for that topic, but this is the first time I've seen it recommended for such a high level.

Class A/Expert
Spielmann - The Art of Sacrifice
MacDonald - Positional Sacrifices

I believe the Spielmann book is an annotated games collection as well and it's been on my list for a while as well.  MacDonald is a favorite author of mine and this also appears to be a games collection.  Hard to go wrong there.

Angus Dunnington - Understanding the Sacrifice

Sacrifice isn't a theme in Yusupov, but I felt like that idea is contained in several chapters and a better handle on those would've helped.

So based on this, here's a rough draft of what my next few books might be:
Tarrasch - The Game of Chess
Lars Bo Hansen - Improve Your Chess By Learning From the Champions
Reti - Masters of the Chessboard
Nimzowitsch - My System
Emms - Simple Chess
Spielmann - The Art of Sacrifice
Bronstein - Zurich 1953

At the risk of this blog post being excessively long, I'd like to cover one more thing... Where did my year 1 training go wrong?  Clearly I test well on tactics and endgames.  I did a lot of tactical training and relatively little endgame training.  The Pandolfini book and the first couple chapters of the Silman endgame book were clearly enough.  That's good to know going forward when giving recommendations to others.

Starting with the premise that I overemphasized my tactical training, where could I have improved?  I spent a lot of time reading over annotated master games.  Should I have read 2000 instead of 1000?  That was an achievable goal had I cut my tactics training short by a few books, or even cut down on the number of repetitions.  The Bain book was essential and I feel like I got good use out of Heisman, Polgar and Ivaschenko as well.  But maybe 6 repetitions per book is a bit much.   If I had more time for "non-tactics" were there specific books that I could've emphasized like my tactical training to improve my positional play?  Maybe I could've read My System six times? :)

One regret I have is not playing more open, tactical games when I first started.  It was a practical choice to cut down on theory, but I have to admit I was a little afraid of playing the Open Games as Black.  If I could do it all over, I'd play e5 as black and focus more on reading games by Morphy, Spielmann and Chigorin.  Well maybe not Chigorin because there's no annotated games collection dedicated to him.  But Bronstein and Tal would be good additions as well.

Well there IS this book about Chigorin:

No reviews, so I guess I'll have to be the guinea pig.