Man de la Maza

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Mr. Davis' Revenge

I was not the world's most committed student. My preparation for exams throughout high school and college was always rushed and incomplete. As a direct result of this, I have a virtual PHD in test taking ability. I am exceedingly good at figuring out clues in a testing environment that give away the answer. Much to the chagrin of Mr. Davis, my high school physics teacher, I could often deduce the correct formula to problem 3 by something he said in problem 7 . (Perversely enough, this has turned out to be a much more useful life skill than anything I ever learned in physics.)

I noticed last night that I am starting to probe the CT Art problems in this manner. Though I was happy to subvert Mr. Davis' attempts to get me to learn about thermodynamics, I really don't want to subvert my own efforts to learn about chess. I thought I got the last laugh when I passed the AP physics exam without doing any homework after Christmas break. Perhaps he will laugh best after all.

For example, the first thing I do when I look at a problem now is to see whether my own king is threatened with mate. Granted, this is a healthy habit. But the reason I do it is that if I am threatened with mate in 1, I have to either a) deliver a check or b) threaten in such a way that deflects the mate threat. Usually this means delivering a check which gives a big hint about the ultimate combination that I need to play. Rather than looking at the position and allowing the combination to flow out the weakness in my opponent's position, I am using the test to figure out the first move of the combination. Not sure if that is part of what makes these "level 20" problems or whether I'm cheating.

Oh and Mr. Davis, just in case you're laughing too hard, it was me who put the Ben Gay in your jock strap before the student-teacher soccer game.

5 weeks down, 17 to go
244 probs down, 965 to go in Circle One

Monday, October 25, 2004

Are you ready for Level 2, Mr. Bond?

Finished the level 10 problems over the weekend and am now in level 20. Noticeable jump up in difficulty. I am glad that the number of problems will be dropping down to 29 come Wednesday. 34 probs is taking me all of 2 hours and I'm only getting 85% right.

I have noticed that sometimes I just don't "have it" when I go to work on the problems. I sat down yesterday morning and slogged through 6 problems before powering down the laptop in disgust. When I went back to it in the evening, it was much easier. Might have been because the kids were running about in the morning, but I don't think so. I tune that stuff out pretty well. (A little too well actually. Sometimes I have to get creative when the Empress de la Maza asks relatively simple questions like "Where are the kids?") It is pretty easy to get sucked into "this is too hard ... I'll never be able to do this" when you hit a few bad ones. When you are tired, have 14 problems to go, and are looking at a postion that is so whacked that it is hard to remember which color you are, it is hard not to listen to the little devil who says, "Go to bed patzer. You suck." There's even a little unreasoned fear that you are breaking a chess taboo by attempting problems over your head. Perhaps the chess authorities will burst through the door and arrest you for "impersonating an class A player", a crime punishable by 10-15 years imprisonment AND a two minute deduction from your clock.

Still, it might be true that I will soon be in over my head. Only one way to find out, I guess.

Digging Ditches
This Saturday I played in my first tournament in a year. Just a little 4 rounder. I was not expecting much as I am just getting into the program. I was viewing it as a baseline which it was since I performed precisely as a class C player should.

Anyway, come Sunday, I was definitely out of spousal points and had to knock a few things off the "honey do" list. Top of the list was installing the drain pipe for the sump pump. Earlier in the fall, hurricaine season turned my basement into an indoor swimming pool, so I installed a sump pump. Ok, I had someone else install I a pump, but I told them I would install the drain to run the water away from the house.

Over the past week and a half I have been to Lowes 47 times to try to get the proper piping to extend the pipe coming out of my basement to the other side of my driveway. I believe I have exchanged the entire pvc inventory twice. Yesterday morning, I decided to bring my six year old daughter along with me. She had a drainage system built in the aisle inside 10 mintues. Finally. I went home, assembled it, buried it and took my daughter next door to play with her friend.

My next door neighboor is a contractor. He politely asked about my drainage system as one might ask a kindergartner about his latest paper mache project. He noted that I seeemed to have dug the ditch several times. With a self-effacing chuckle, I explained that I had a few problems but now that my daughter had bought the right stuff, I was all set.

He paused. He had a question but was hesitating ... "You glued the pipes, didn't you?"

  • Option 1 -- he's pulling my leg. He just wants me to dig up the whole damm thing (again) ... Nope, not his style. He's really too much of a nice guy for that.
  • Option 2 -- Say Yes. Exhume the drainage system under cover of darkeness and glue the pipes. .. No, I don't know what kind of glue to use. Might as well come clean.

"Do I need to?"

[Pause. Neighbor turning over this lovely sarcasm opportunity in his head. Such golden opportunites are rare. One must pull out something that Ocar Wilde himself would have been proud of. But as I said, he's a really nice guy so he simply says...]

"Yes" [though he can't entirely fight off a smirk].

Back to Lowes. "Hi Sherryl. Yes, I'm back again". Get PVC glue. Dig, dig, dig. Glue, glue, glue. Cover, cover, cover.

All things other things being equal, I think the chess probelms are easier.

33 days down, 122 to go
173 probs down, 1036 to go in Circle One

Friday, October 22, 2004

Perhaps something to this

I did 34 probs yesterday as scheduled. I am little ahead since I am playing in a tournament this weekend.

I am noticing that there is a theme to the problems that I miss. In 84 problems, I have missed maybe 4-5. With the exception of the one where I should have been going for a stalemate they were all "Lack of King defense" themes, almost always involving the queen and a couple of pawns. In each case, I made a strong move that won the exchange or something but missed forced mate. Apparently, I often overlook the knockout punches.

Last night I was playing a rated game at chess club. In reviewing that game later that night I noticed that I missed a mate in 2 towards the end of the game. I opted for a line that won a rook (and the game) but it was unnecessary. Reminds me of a wild game I played against an A player last year where I was pressing and we were in mutual time trouble. There I missed forced mate in 3 and ended up losing the game.

I guess I need to remember to swing for the head.

30 days down, 125 to go
84 probs down, 1125 to go in Circle One

Thursday, October 21, 2004

The Journey of a Thousand Miles ...

began over a burrito at lunch yesterday.

Feel much better after getting started. I had much less problems than I had the day before. I guess I was just not in the proper frame of mind. My schedule for the week called for me to do 40 problems on the first day, but I did 50. They were all pretty easy, though I did miss 2 or 3. In one postion, I just couldn't see a win -- I was a Q +P endgame where I was pawn down, and the other guy had an outside passed pawn. The reason I couldn't see a win was because I was supposed to find a drawing line. Lesson learned.

29 days down, 154 to go
50 problems down, 1159 to go in Circle One

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Ass Whooping Coming My Way

Last night was day 28 of chess vision drills. I went through all of them. I could still use a little more practice on the "all the minimal knight paths from d5" drill. I wouldn't say all those patterns are etched in my brain, but they are getting there.

After I was done, I decided to power up my newly acquired (but really fricking old) laptop. It coughed up some blood but eventually came on, though it did complain loudly about bursitis in its I/O controller. I loaded the CT Art program and did some tweaking to get display, etc. right and then tried a few exercises just for fun.

Perhaps I was not in the proper frame of mind;
perhaps I caught a lot of the harder ones ; OR
perhaps I really suck at tactical problems, but

I was not blowing through these as I had planned. I had thought I would not really have to give my full attention 'till say week 2. While I can't say that the problems were deeply complex, they were challenging enough that I'm a bit afeared of what they might be like when I get to say ... problem 812.

I dunno. Maybe I was having an off night. I did finally give up on one problem only to discover that I was trying to solve it for the wrong side. Perhaps I am just a moron.

Killing Two Birds with One Stone
The other night I tried some chess vsion drills while I was jogging. Thinking about chess was preferable to thinking: "how much further?", "has my kneee always made that sound?" and "what are the warning signs of a heart attack?". While running, I did the first knight sightedrill. I would picture the square I was on and then think of the name of the squares I could move to. I made it through about two and a half ranks in 10 minutes. I looked a little silly because I was pointing to the squares as I muttered them out. This seemed to help, and I can't look any stupider than I already do wearing the bright orange safety vest. Made the end of the run go a bit quicker and couldn't have hurt my chess vision skills either.

Here endeth the first 28 days, 127 days remain

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Taking a trip back to 1998

As Wednesday would soon be upon me and as I am an unrepentant consumer, it was time to buy something. You can't just take up a new adventure without buying something; it's un-American. Our whole gd econonmy is based on people buying cool stuff they don't need. I had to do my part.

I had already bought De la Maza's book and the CT Art 3.0 CD, so I was fresh out of ideas. Perhaps a wall chart to track my progress with a gold-plated marking pen? How about a big fat sand timer that takes 2 hours to drain? Cushy pillow for my ever-expanding butt? How about 2 chocolate chess sets? I could eat a piece after I finished every night.

I was just about to give up hope when I happened upon something that I might actually need -- a laptop computer. Yes, I know. I already have a computer, but the problem is that the Empress de la Maza often needs to use it for her work in the evenings. The Empress is lovely beyond compare, but she has little appreciation for the fundamental importance of chess training over ... well, everything. As such, I saw 4 months ahead of me of discussions about who's turn it was to use the computer. Avoiding (losing) these arguments was worth somewhere inthe neighborhood of $350 in my estimation. As such, I pulled out the CT Art CD to see the system requirements --

Pentium PC -- 75MHZ+, 24 Meg RAM, 4 Meg disk space, SVGA color monitor 800x600

Such a laptop of course no longer exists new. The last time these were being made new President Clinton was still denying ever having had sex with Monica Lewinsky; Internet stocks were still on the way up; and Windows 98 had just about to come out. I checked for models like this on eBay and found that you could get one easily for less than $200. In fact, if you are patient, you can probably get one for less than $100. I asked a hardware geek friend about 1998 laptops. His recommndation was to get a Toshiba or a Compaq. He said to stay away from Dells (they were new to laptops back then) and that an IBM ThinkPad would probably be OK in a pinch. He also pointed me to a local source where I'm going to get a PII Compaq Armada for $70. Hell, that's cheaper than the chocolate chess sets.

So if you want a laptop computer for CT Art only, stick with a Toshiba or a Compaq made sometime near the end of the prior millennium

Did exercises last night.

27 down, 128 to go.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Resting Up for the Big Day

It was a quiet weekend. I can't say I approached my exercises with vim and vigor, but I did manage to spend some time with them every day. The minimal path exercise is quite challenging. With the exception of the squares f3, f6, b3, and b6, I do all the minimal paths from d5. The other four squares have 54 (perhaps less on b6) possible paths, and well, I 'm just not that committed.

This coming Wednesday is that big day when I start the 7 cirlces exercises. I must say I'm ready to dive into the practical tactical. I must also admit that I'm doubtful that I'll be able to find the time to keep up the schedule. I've been putting in about an hour a night; I'll have to double that. It is a lot of time away from family activity and responsibilties. I'd still say I'm a pretty big longshot to make it -- 10-1 against. A good test will be the holiday season which will hit right when I think the problems will start to get really hard, late November, early December. If I make it through the first circle, I might think the odds would go down to 5-1.

Spent some time yesterday morning looking over the Leko-Kramnik rook endgame from game 13. I was reminded of Dr. Tarrasch's comment that "Chess has the power to make men happy" because I had a lot of fun. It is partially the acquisitive joy of squirreling away knowledge for use against an unsuspecting opponent, and it is partially the joy of working through a puzzle.

26 down, 129 to go

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Knight Map

Worked a bit yeterday on filling in the map of all possbile minimal paths from d5 to each square. 14 different patterns (more or less). Working on creating a 15x15 map. If such a map could be memorized, then one would instantly know the minimal path from any two squares by mentally shifting the map.

I should like to post the maps. Does anyone know of a free/cheap place to store online images?

22 down, 133 to go.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Back on track

Did exercises last night. Have fallen ito routine of doing one lap of concentric squares for each piece, two times through the first knight site drill and then calculating minimal path to each square from d5 with knight. At the end last night, I made a diagram of how many moves it took to move to each square and then color coded it (just in case you had any doubts about whether I am a first class geek). Patterns are a bit easier to see and the inter-relation becomes obvious.

3 weeks down, 19 to go

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

A Knight's Penance

OK, I missed a day.

Did my exercises Sunday night, but Monday night I went to bed early. I did do the first rank of the Knight sight drill in my head. This was slow going but it did bring about sleep perhaps even earlier. If I had made it all the way across the board, I could have rationalized that the blindfold nature of the exercise could count as a full day's exercise, but one rank is ... well ... missing a day.

In order to purify myself of this sin, I have decided to take the day off and go into the mountains to meditate. Wait, that sounds way better than going to work, so it can't count for penance. I will say 15 chess rosaries ("knight on the rim is dim ... bishops of opposite colors is a draw ... don't take that e5 pawn, you don't know where it's been ... 54 ways to move a knight from d5 to f3 ... the pawn is the soul if chess ...) and drink decaf coffee all day. At lunch I wil ponder the inpenetrable mysteries of USCF rulebook like

  • What is the difference between "insufficent material to win", "insufficient losing chances" and "insufficient material to lose on time"?

  • Can you claim a draw base on opponent's "insufficient familiarity with basic hygiene"? How about "insufficient chances to mate with member of opposite sex"?

  • What type of opponnent cannot keep score for religious reasons? I am a Hasidic, Luddite Baptist. We believe that Karl Schlecter was the Messiah, chess notation is the word of God, and Lasker had a two game winning condition in his match with our Lord ...

  • What mystical purpose was there for writing the rulebook in cross-referenced stream of consciousness style prose?

Surely such travails will return me the path to righteousness.

20 down(after penance), 135 to go

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Welcome Sancho!

Sancho Pawnza had jumped in with both feet. His adventures can be followed at It makes me especially proud that I have convinced someone else to waste an otherwise productive life by drilling chess tactics. Thanks to all who send in words of encouragement. Fun to receive replies from familiar places like North Carloina to spots as far off as Austria.

Still working on the knight circuit. Quite a few options. Must say that it is worth going through the first "knight site" drill even though it seems pretty useless. Knight's squares are "popping out" a bit more each time I do them.

Spent a good part of the day watching Peter Leko manage to draw a lost game. His ability to escape with a draw today may be his most impressive feat of the match. GM Pfleger must have been reading my blog because he was not the "Yes Man" of earlier broadcasts. The commentary was actually quite good, and I am well pleased with my 10 euro expenditure. I was however disapointed that the sandwich made no comment.

My oldest daughter is ectastic because she wants Leko to win. I have told her that I think Kasparov stands a better chance against Leko than Kramnik. She has been a fan of the Beast of Baku since the tender age of 6. Go figure.

18 down, 137 to go

Friday, October 08, 2004

54 ways to move your knight

Worked through some concentric square and knight sight drills tonight. Also spent a fair amount of time figuring all the minimum paths from d5 to other squares. I have come up with 5 different pattens (so far). They are:

1) d5-d4 - 3 moves, 12 ways
2) d5-e4 - 2 moves, 2 ways
3) d5-c3 - 1 move, 1 way (pretty sure on this one)
4) d5-d3 - 2 moves, 2 ways
5) d5-f3 - 4 moves, 54 ways

After pattern 5, I decided to call it a night.

Call to other quixotic questers
I have been exchaning a few posts with people on I invite all to join me in my romantic quest for Caissian tactical mastery as Knights Errant of De La Maza. Feel free to post your progress (or lack thereof) in the comments. You can also email me at The first of these questers is a man named PawnBubba who has accepted the alternative moniker Sancho Pawnza. Welcome Sancho! Hope you are sitting at home tapping queens around a hapless king on d5.

17 down, 138 to go

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Go Pita! Go Pita!

My hats off to Peter Leko for playing one hell of a Marshall gambit today. Despite all predictions, I think the match had been very interesting and full of fighting chess. It seems he went way into clock debt to think his way to a winning position -- not the first time Leko has risked losing to win. My compliments also to Kramnik for playing into the Marshall. No doubt he thought he would be fine, but of course, there are safer choices he could have made.

Sadly I did not get to hear the play by play of Jussupov or his sandwich. I imagine if he had a sandwich today, he would have never had a chance to pick it up. Too much calculating.

Went to chess club tonight. Ironically, I do the least amount of exercises on chess club night because I'm actually playing chess. Had a few nice games. Can't say I'm feeling any "new vision", but my play was sharp and had a few nice combos. All in all not a bad night.

16 down, 139 to go

Knight Sight

Last night was the first night of the "Knight Sight" drills. Oh boy, it's gonna be a long two weeks. Not too interesting, but I suppose drills are not supposed to be. Made it through the first exercise where you hit each square the knight can move to. did it three times and had to move on.

After that I went on to trying to figure out all the minimal paths from d5 to other squares. This was more interesting. I spent a fair amount on time calculating all the minmal paths from d5 to d4 (I got 12). Having learned from last time, I wanted to spend more time making sure I got the patterns right up front. From there I continued to move around d5 in the same pattern as the concentric square exercise. Since I'm an idiot, I did this by changing the square I was starting on rather than the one I was moving to. Started on d4, moved to d3; started on e4, moved to e3; etc. It was only later than night that it occurred to me that I should start on d5, move to d4; start on d5 move to e4; etc.

No harm done , but I did have to explain to my half asleep wife why I suddenly went "Doh!" at 11:00 PM. Actually trying to explain it was also a mistake. "You see, it's actually kinda funny because the pattern doesn't shift ... well until you get to the third rank ... well, actually , anything that was three squares from the edge which would include the c file, the f file, and the sixth rank , provided that you are moving in the direction of the edge of the board ...". She got that look I get when she tells about me about felting.

15 down, 140 to go

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Chess commentary of GM Jussupov's sandwich

Well I've already exceeded the time I expected to stick with this by ... oh, I dunno ... eight days. I have completed the first half of the chess vision drills by doing the concentric square exercises for an hour(more or less) with the bishop,rook and knight using the king on d5. I stopped doing the queen as it was too easy. Tonight, rather than watch the vice-presidential debate, I ran through each piece 5 times in less than an hour. I'd say have the patterns prety well down. Time to more on to "knight sight" drills and then start moving the king around a bit. The drills are less boring than they were a week ago. I guess it is more fun to recall a pattern than to think out all possible angles again and again.

GM Jussupov's sandwich
Had the opportunity to watch the Leko-Kramnik game today live. Since it was such a rare privilege, I even ponied up 10 euros to listen to the live commentary GM Pfleger, GM Jussupov, and GM Jussupov's sandwich (presumably at least a FM). I think it is a mistake to have more than one GM commenting live on a game. It gets to be like one of those post-game analysis sessions where everyone agrees with the club champion.

Pfleger: Vat about RFB8 here?
Jussupov: [Stony German Silence]
Pfleger: Dis defends the B7 pawn ...
Jussupov: I don't think this is good.
Pfleger: Yes, of course, me neither.

I was pleased that, though I didn't pay for it, I was allowed to hear the commentary of GM Jussupov's sandwich throughout the game. Whenever Jussupov was thinking particualrly hard, you would hear the crinkle, crinkle of a sandwich being unwrapped. Sounded like the white deli paper, perhaps a brown paper bag.

Pfleger: I dink vhite has no vinning chances here ... Vat? NF3?
Jussupov's sandwich: [Crinkle, crinkle]
Pfleger: I dink vhite must play f4 ...
Jussupov' sandwich: [crunch, crunch -- (presumably some some of rueben with sour kraut, perhaps a few large pickles. very crunchy. Perhaps he has gotten some of the paper]
Pfleger: Dis ist madness. Vite must play for ze draw vhen black has ze two bishops...
Jussupov: ... I think this is good move.
Pfleger: Yes, of course, me too.

I look forward to the sandwich's continuing commentary this weekend.

Two weeks down, 20 to go

Monday, October 04, 2004

Starting to gel

Did about 45 minutes tonight. 2 times through and an extra time for the knight concentric square. Starting to gel.

13 down , 142 to go.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

I think I can safely conclude that there is not a lot to be said for playing chess while on valium

What Tony Miles said of valium is equally applicable to benadryl as I discovered last night. I wanted to run through some knight concentric square drills. This was productive for about twenty minutes until the drugs started to take effect. After I woke from a daze for the third time thinking "Whose move is it?", I decided to call it a night.

Feeling better today. I discovered that I had incorrectly been donig one of the bishop patterns which has prompted me to double check them all in slow mo. I found another fork that I had been missing with the rook on c3 (queen on e1 works in addition to the skewers). Word to the wise, you might invest a little time in the first couple of days to slowly finding each pattern and double checking. Using pawns to symbolize queens is a good way to get all the possibilities on the board. So far I haven't found more than 8 solutions for anyone position.

12 down, 143 to go.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Chess and the fever

Truly testing my resolve today and yesterday as I've come down with a cold. Ok, it's not a bad cold, but it would be good enough to rationalize begging off chess vision drills. Nonetheless, since I'm mostly moping around the house anyway,I've been doing them on and off today most of the day. In fact, I was able to spend the afternoon watching Kramnik slowly lose to Leko. Endgames are so much more fun when you can watch somebody else slowly twist on a spit. It helps too that you have a pretty good idea what the player should do because you can check his moves on Fritz. If find myself thinking ridiculous thoughts like "How could you move that pawn to h4? It's obvious you reach a lost king and pawn endgame 17 moves from now!" This from me who has trouble keeping track of whether or not a pawn will be in square two moves from now when I play OTB.

Got about another half an hour to do tonight and then it will be --
11 down, 144 to go

Friday, October 01, 2004

One piece at a time

Tried working through the concentric squares exercises for just one piece, the bishop, for the whole hour. This was good for pattern recognition. Also I noted that it takes about the same amount of time to go through the 48 squares around d5 as it does to go through the last 15 around the last two sides. This makes sense though since there are 5 distinct patterns in the 5x5 and 7x7 squares, and 8 patterns in the 15 squares outside the 7x7 square. The inner patterns are also repeated more times making them easier to remember.

Went to chess club Thursday night. Some of the tactical rust is starting to come off my game. I played a couple of games that fell squarely in the "doesn't suck horribly" category. I think this is not related to exercises but the general playng I'm doing lately. I've also started to run through the occassional set of 10 problems on CT Art just to keep from getting too bored.

Did exercises Wed and Thurs night. 9 down, 146 to go.