Man de la Maza

Monday, November 29, 2004

Home for the Holidays

The four day Thanksgiving vacation is just what the doctor ordered. Watched a few movies, caught up on sleep (including a whooping 13 hours Friday night), raked some leaves and did a few chess problems. Had a good run last night , 80% solve rate. Even when I was missing, I was right on track. Nice to drop back to 15 problems. Those last few are always the hardest.

If I keep my schedule, I will have done exactly 1000 problems by this time next week. A week after that I will be halfway in time through the whole 155 days. Wow! Another interesting mathematical truth, I will complete the remaining 6 circles in less time than it took to complete the first circle. This is true of all the remaining circles. Bet it begins to feel like the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" towards the end.

I've been thinking about the other things I could do after this quite a lot over the weekend. In fact, I have been more excited about the thought of doing an hour a day of exercise than I am about finishing the chess problems. I imagine that if I dropped this and switched over to exercise in two months I would be much more excited about finishing chess problems than an exercise regimen. Though I need to improve my health, I think my carcass will hold together until the end of February. If not, let my epitaph read -- "He died of an obsession with the game of Kings".

Movie Reviews
Got a special rent all you want thing at Blockbuster so I watched a lot of movies over the weekend. Here are my rating using the patented chess piece rating scale.

Calendar Girls (bishop) -- light comedy but not entirely predicatable. Enjoyed it.

Supersize Me (rook) -- a good documetary with the appropriate sprinkling of humor. Michael Moore should see this one and review the basics. I may never eat McDonalds again.

Snatch (knight) -- OK. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was much better.

Elf (pawn) -- Sorry, just didn't think there was much to this one.

Seeing Other People (knight) -- Had the occasional moment but otherwise forgettable.

64 Days down, 91 to go
898 Probs down, 311 to go in Circle One

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Playing the Percentages

I see Sancho is posting his percentages which I think is a good idea. I will do that more religiously on Circle 2. In the beginning, I was returning to problems where I missed something and redoing them. As such, the stats of CT ART are not entirely accurate (Level 10 shows a 100% solve rate for example).

These are approximations based on my memory:
Level 10: 95%
Level 20: 85%
Level 30: 75%
Level 40: 65%
Level 50: 60%

Elo Start-Finish
Level 10: 1525-1820
Level 20: 1820-2056
Level 30: 2056-2103
Level 40: 2103-2165
Level 50: 2165-2240 (current)

It would be nice if there was some way to rework prblems you have missed without it affecting your overall score. Something for CT Art 4.0 perhaps.

Cruising along with Level 50. Doing 17 a night at current. Takes me 2 hours and change. Idea of the combination usually comes pretty quickly, but it is rare that I don't miss a move or two. Even rarer is when I have seen solutions in all variations. Seeing the whole solution feels like owning a problem to me and usually what I require before I will sacrifice material over the board. Perhaps I should take a few more chances.

Life after Michael?
I must admit I have begun to think that there are other things that I might like to try to accomplish after this is done. 1-2 hours per night for 5 months is enough to conquer a lot of things. Some thoughts (in random order):

1) Learn to touch type -- I type all day long. I could get about twice as much done if I bit the bullet and learned to type
2) Read the bible cover to cover -- Probably the most important piece of literature and spiritual instruction of my culture. I've never read it cover to cover.
3) Exercise -- Need to lose about 25 pounds. Should probably do this before my first heart attack. Five months or one hour a day exercise would do this easily.
4) Meditation -- I have wanted to establish a regualr mediatation practice for about 10 years. Hell, I could do this in 30 mintues a day.
5) Learn to play the guitar -- I could probably achieve a basic proficiency in guitar if I worked at it every night for an hour for 5 months. Could at least play "Puff the Magic Dragon" and "The Boxer".

62 Days down, 93 to go
866 probs down, 343 to go in Circle 1

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Caught up enough to drop back

Did 28 problems last night. Enough to be officially 17 problems behind and thereby drop back a day. Who knows, maybe I'll find time to catch up, but I won't plan on it. I also finished all the Level 40 problems. Will be going on to level 50 tonight. I don't want to break my arem patting myself on the back, but I have to admit that doing 800+ tactical problems in the span of approximatley a month shatters all previous chess efforts. The highlight of my chess student career to date was ... nothing leaps to mind. I have a lot of books. Does that count?

Had a nice run of problems last night. The ones that still give me the most trouble are the mating of the king when I have limited material. This is one area that I obviously don't have the right thinking process for. Perhaps, I should augment my study with a review of the Polgar book, aka the "Door Stop". Reviewing basic mating patterns may help with this.

I'd say the newest weapon in my arsenal is "interference" -- i.e throwing a piece in the way whose capture garbles up defenses. It's not something you usually think of -- "Well, I could just put the bishop here where it would be taken with nothing to take it back". It's so unexpected it almost feels like cheating.

59 Days down, 96 to go
814 probs down, 395 to go in Circle One

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Sliding another day

Still playing catch up. I am 28 problems behind on the Christmas day schedule. If I can get that number down to 17 , I think I will drop back another day as catching up sucks. It is hard enough to block out 2 hours a day without trying to add time at the end.

I got a reprint of an article in Chess Horizons about the esteemed Mr. De la Maza. It appears that during his run he was taking some time away from work. Apparently, he was laid off from a job and decided to take time off. I wouldn't begrudge him this time to devote to chess, but I must admit I am a bit miffed for a comment in his book. He suggests that if you have trouble finding the time to do the exercises you should get a particular time management book that outlines what is necessary to achieve your goals. Brave words from someone whose day was unencumbered by going to work or putting children to bed at night. Nonetheless, he was much more disciplined than I who would likely spend such time eating chesse doodles and reading Sci Fi books.

The article also gives an explanation about the mystery De La Maza -- why quit playing after such great success? De la Maza's answer was that it was hard to improve after Expert. He also, I believe, went back to school since he is now Dr. De La Maza. Perhaps new challenges were more exciting than chess for this obviously achievement-oriented, driven person.

Hope he returns to the board for fun on occassion.

59 Days down, 96 to go
786 probs down, 423 to go in Circle One

Monday, November 22, 2004

Believing but not entirely Seeing

Worked hard this weekend. It was a stressful week, and I was pretty shagged by Friday night. To add to this, I had a house of 10 year old girls celebrating my daughter's birthday. Slumber parties have not changed much in the years, so it was not the most peaceful place to do chess problems. It was nothing but stubborness that got me through the run of Friday night problems. Stubborness is not real good at solving chess problems, but I felt I could claim a moral victory at least for doing them all. Saturday and Sunday were better. I managed to catch up 15 problems over the weekend. I am now only 32 problems behind on my Christmas day pace.

The problems are now frequently beyond my ability to calculate. Even when I get them right, when I make move 1 or 2, I am not always sure that I am making the right choice. On the other hand, I am getting very good at picking out the weak points in the position. Without calcuation, I have a feeling where I should be going. I wonder if at some level one makes "tactically strong moves" without seeing solutions in all lines.

58 days down, 97 to go
765 probs down, 444 to go in Circle One

Friday, November 19, 2004


9PM last night. Staring at computer. Not much sleep for about 4 days -- 5 hours/night at most. Like to get 8. Bed calling, "Don. Daaawn. Put down your heavy burden. Rest. Chess problems can wait for another day ..."

No. I may get the remainder of the problems wrong, but I'm going to get them wrong on schedule. I return to the screen with new found determination and immediately am rewarded with getting 3 problems in a row completely wrong. The next problem looks no better. I see no real threats. Hmmm ... Let's try this. What looks out of place in black's position? King position is a tad under-defended and his rook on the queenside is undefended and in an awkward spot. Calculate a few lines on a kingside attack, but not quite enough to break through.

Then it flashes. One kingside line forces the king to cature a piece on h7 where a queen check will fork the poorly placed rook. The 5 move combination flows effortlessly.

This happened several times last night. I was trying to start off my analysis with thoughts about what looked "wrong" about a posistion. What I was able to do more easily was to see how several themes could combine -- combining combinations. Much like what Sancho described as "stringing several ideas together". Very satisfying when a 5 or 6 mover pops into your head. Never thought 6 movers would feel like 2 3 movers.

55 days down, 100 to go
695 probs down, 514 to go in Circle One

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Another hiccup

Been away for a few days to visit my Dad who has just undergone heart surgery (He is done and recovering nicely). I have fallen a couple of days behind in the whirlwind of travel, etc, but I have not abandonded ship. In fact, there has been only one day when I did no problems -- the day before his surgery. The day of his surgery I actually completed almost a full run of problems while sitting in the waiting room. While my family read books and the like, I powered up my laptop and plowed through a few level 40's. Like at other times in my life, focusing on chess proved to be a pleasant balm for an anxious mind.

Still a little crazy, but hoping to return to a normal schedule starting today.

54 days down, 101 to go
674 probs down, 535 to go in Circle One

Friday, November 12, 2004

Triple Witching

It's just after midnight as I have reached three significant milestones at once. First, I drove my ELO over 2100. In my last problem set tonight, I went over 2100 and stayed there despite dropping 7 points on the last problem (like I was gonna find the 7 moves Mikhail Tal made in 1962!). Yes, I am fully aware that this is silly fictitous number, but it is fun all the same. Second, I am halfway through the problems in Circle One. Woo-hoo!! Third, I have completed the level 30 problems.

Circle 1 should be the nastiest from my perspective. Circle 2, 3 and 4 will be work though not as much suffering. The last 3 cirlces will be taxing but mostly pattern recognition (either I'll get it or not). The big push will come between now and Christmas. Problems will keep getting harder. I see a lot of staring at the screen in my future. If I can keep really working at it and not sluff off, I think I will make some real progress in the next 40 some days.

All things considered, I have made it much further than I ever thought I would.

49 days down, 106 to go
617 problems down, 592 to go in Circle One

Charging back

The CT Art software keeps a graph of your progress and makes a rough estimate of your ELO based on your success. The ELO is useless, of course, absent a standard timing, but it is useful to track your own progress.

When I started the program, I entered an ELO of 1500 which I thought a resonable estimate given that my USCF ELO is in the mid 1500's. It rose steadily and quickly through the level 10 and 20 problems to just under 2000. In level 30, it rose to 2050 and then flattened out. I jumped above 2070 once and dipped back down. this reflected getting about 75%-80% of the problems right. My first few nights I was getting in the low to mid 60's, so this was improvement.

This Monday and Tuesday, I was a man posssesed. Monday was a very solid 80%+, and Tuesday I was over 90%. "I have finally broken through", I thought. My ELO shot up to the tantalizing number of 2097. Alas, the past two nights have been disappointing. More in the 66% range, and my ELO is no longer scaring the 2100 mark. Hard to know whether you are improving, having a run of easier problems, or just having a good day (or the opposite).

One thing I have noticed in the past week. I am solving a lot more problems at the 4 minute mark. It seems that before this week when I would try a problem, I would either get it within the first minute or not at all. I am solving some of the problems in minute 4 now. At least twice yesterday, I was ready to throw in the towel on a problem but decided to give it one more try since only 4 minutes had passed and then went on to solve it. This is very satisfying. Usually in that fourth minute I am thinking about why a great looking combination just doesn't quite work. One of my assumptions about move order or the like gives way and a slightly different theme emerges.

This is very satisfying. It feels very much like when you are at the golf course slicing them into the woods all day, and then you hit that towering 3 iron that lands on the green and rolls to 10 feet from the pin. I can enjoy a whole day of terrible golf if I get those one or two shots that are just about perfect.

48 days down, 107 to go
586 probs down, 623 to go in Circle 1

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The Dream

I was wandering through a village after a long day of battle. I had vanquished two score evils knights blocking the road (who were perversely traveling with a man dressed as a shepherd). As I trudged into town, I came across a peasant. He asked for alms and I reached into my purse to give him some of my gold. When my hand came out, it contained only dented copper.

Suddenly the world around me changed. I was no longer riding the proud Rocinante but a broken down old plow horse. I was clothed in ridiculous armor with a barber's basin for a helm. My faithful squire Sancho appeared as a fat peasant on a donkey. All had changed. I remembered a far away home with a roof that needed mending.

I was not a knight errant but a foolish old man.

I screamed in agony and called forth the wicked enchater who had cast this spell on me. I drew my (rusty) sword, and all was a flash.

I must have slept for a long time to break off the spell. Back was my warhourse, my gleaming armor and my noble squire Sancho. (He will be governor of one of my islands some day, you know). There was much to be accomplished and I had lost 3 days in sleep. I worked out that even three days late, I would still arrive at my destination by Christmas day.

Come Sancho. There is evil just up the road. I have its scent like a hound to a fox.

To arms! To arms!

46 days down, 109 to go
536 probs down, 673 to go in Circle 1

Monday, November 08, 2004


Not the most productive weekend. I went for a weekend visit with a friend. Never got around to doing any problems, so I am way behind. Having a nice relaxing weekend gave me time to reflect about things, and I have to say that there are a few things that seem important to me that I am not paying enough attention to.

Chess seems not so important and like a waste of time. Taking 2 hours every day to work through problems is quite a big commitment and one not warranted by the subject matter. So, I feel very ready to pack up my chess pieces and get to paying more attention to more important matters. I've done other "big efforts" before, and I know that usually you reach a place where you want to throw in the towel and can find no reason to go forward except your orignal vow that you were going to do it. Well here I am.

This isn't entirely about chess for me. One of my secret reasons for embarking on this quixotic endeavor was the knowledge that it is a good thing to lay our a challenge for yourself and then work to achieve it. The goal achieved is transient, but the memory that you can do very hard things stays forever. 5 or so years ago I learned this lesson by training for a marathon. I had always wanted to run one but could never quite make it through the vigorous training it required. To my own surprise, I was able to stick it out and complete 5 months of training and 26.2 long miles of running. I'm now back to being fat, out-of-shape guy, but knowing that I did it is a source of stregnth for me.

There is much that I yet want to do in my life. What I feel I lack at this point is the will to make it happen. It is a muscle that I never developed enough or perhaps exhausted at a young age. So I don't want to give up largely because giving up is a bad habit.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Couldn't stay away

Played a rated game in club last night. Had the black side of a classical Ruy. Played pretty well with one stumble where I hung a pawn. Fortunately I had some compensation and was able to regain it. Ultimately, I was able to grind out the win at the end of 2 hours with a nifty zugswang.

I accepted the resignation of my 9 year old opponent. Chess is so humbling.

Sancho is taking a slightly different tack on the adventure. Rather than grinding on the probs, he looks at the answer if he doesn't see it after a minute. I try it for a full 5 miutes before giving up. His way certainly would do more to promote pattern recognition. My way would, I think, tend to build up the "calculation muscle" a bit more. I dunno though. I might not be able to see forest from the trees.

Still working it.

44 days down, 111 to go
470 probs down, 739 to go in Circle 1

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Well, at least I did 'Em

Very tired last night when I sat down to do problems. I really wanted to punt and go to bed early, but I struggled through 29 problems. I can't say it was my best effort of all time, but I did 'em. Still a bit shagged today. Might skip chess club, do probs and hit the rack early.

Sancho is flying through his problem set. He passed me sometime last week. Damm peasants have no respect for authority!

43 days day, 112 to go
441 probs down, 768 to go in C1

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Bleary Eyed and Behind

Kinda like John Kerry.

Stayed up until the wee hours of the morning watching election results but didn't do any problems. Am now officially 29 behind schedule. Will try to catch up in next few days.

Chess seems a silly indulgence in light of today's world events.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Moving up the Great Chain of Being

Made the crossover into Level 30 problems last night. Noticeably harder. Took much longer and my score was only 66%. After my experience with the Level 20 problems though, I am not too intimidated. I am confident that my accuracy will increase and my time to solve will decrease. Every time I get a little discouraged that I am not that great at these, I remind myself that this is why I am doing this. Wouldn't be much point if they were easy.

40 days down, 115 to go
412 problems down, 797 to go in Circle One

PS If you're in the US, go out and vote!

Monday, November 01, 2004

Chess, Barley & Hops

Saturday night. Been helping my in-laws move all day (who incidentally have more paintings than the MOMA). Crack a beer. Reheat some beef stew. Crack another beer (Foster's Oil can!) Ahhhhhh! Nothing to do but put my feet up and reeelax for a few. Nothing except ...


Whoops, forgot about that. Well, musn't ruin the schedule. Boot up the laptop and go to work.

I have always been dissappointed that chess does not mix particularly well with beer drinking. Doing chess problems seems to be an exception. I have been steadily getting better at the problems to the point where about half of the level 20's seem trivial, but they usually take me a little over an hour. I usually get 85% right. Freed from conventional concerns (like defense), I am a patzer on fire! Monarchs fall before me as I sacrifice rooks with wild abandon. When stumped, I throw my good lady queen into the nearest pawn. Though we string up victory after victory, my army starts to grumble. In my twenty-second battle, I'm pretty sure I hear the king's bishop refer to me as "The Butcher". As punishment, I sacrifice him first and seize all the abbeys in his diocese. I am invincible. All who oppose me are crushed beneath my sandled feet.

I solve all 29 problems in under 40 minutes without a single error. My performance rating is that of an International Master.

Perhaps my chess difficulties lie in insufficient alcohol intake. The problem of winning tournament games now just becomes how to achieve the proper buzz 3 times in one day. (That 9 AM round may raise a few eyebrows). If the position goes sour, bring out the tequila and await further enlightenment. For final round games, I might even eat the worm at the bottom of the Mescal bottle.

Oh brave new world that has such challenges in it!

39 days down, 116 to go
382 probs down, 827 to go in Circle One