Man de la Maza

Monday, January 31, 2005

The Nine (Ten) Circle Program

I was going to wait until I finished the program before I doled out advice on how one might improve de la Maza's program, but there are a few knights in the early lap of Circle One, so I'm gonna sound off now.

I think there are a few problems with the Seven Circle program.

1) It covers too many problems.
2) It doesn't leave enough time to digest early material before moving on to more difficult material.
3) The first Circle takes too damn long. You have to go two months before you can claim victory.
4) The workload is a bit much for people who and not young and unemployed.
5) "Seven circles" is poetically incorrect. There should be nine circles to correspond to the nine circles of Hell in Dante's Inferno. You won't write the "Eight Commandments of Chess Improvement", would you?

As such, I present
Don's Nine Circles for Tactical Chess Improvement

First, my nine circle program can be completed in the same 127 as de la Maza's. I'm adding more circles, not more time. Second, it actually has 10 circles. This is because hell has expanded since Dante wrote the Inferno. There are several new classes of sinners -- televangelists, sandbagging chess players, spammers, etc. In addition, they had a bit of an overflow problem after the Third Reich started showing up. As such, they had to build an addition. That and I need 10 to make the math work out.

Circle One -- 32 days -- level 10-30 Max time -- 10 minutes

Circle Two -- 16 days -- level 10-30. Max time -- 5 minutes

Circle Three -- 8 days -- level 10-30. Max time -- 2.5 minutes

Circle Four -- 32 days -- level 40-60. Max time -- 10 minutes

Circle Five -- 16 days -- level 40-60. Max time -- 5 minutes

Circle Six -- 8 days -- level 40-60. Max time -- 2.5 minutes

Circle Seven -- 8 days -- Level 10-60. Max time -- 1.25 minutes

Circle Eight -- 4 days -- Level 10-60. Max time -- 37.5 seconds

Circle Nine -- 2 days -- Level 10-60. Max time -- 30 seconds

Circle Ten -- 1 day -- Level 10-60. Max time -- 30 seconds

I think this approach would work better. It would give you more of a chance to master the problems at the different levels before moving on, but it keeps the same last 4 cirlces to cement the pattern recognition.

In the words of Darth Vader, "It is too late for me, my son", but I thought I'd pass this along as future de la Mazians might find it more beneficial than the program as originally outlined.

Level 60 starts tomorrow.

121 days down, 34 to go
954 problems down, 84 to go in Circle Two
Level 10: 97%
Level 20: 88%
Level 30: 76%
Level 40: 68%
Level 50: 63% (finished strong)

Sunday, January 30, 2005

March 7 is the Day

Back on the plan. Have a bit of catching up to do, so from now until the end of circle 2, I will need to do 30 probs a night. This is really too much. My brain starts to fizzle in the late 20's, and it takes too long to complete, but I need to keep my schedule.

I have targeted March 7 as the Seventh Circle date, and I'm starting to see that if I don't hit that date I might miss altogether. I will need to a take a full day off work, and I will also need not to work on the Circle 6 days. As such, I need a 3 day weekend. The Empress is going out of town the next weekend, so March 7 is the day.

I hope that I might work an extra 20 problems today and catch up. It would be nice to only have 24/night for level 60. I also hope that I win the lottery. I don't think either will happen today.

119 days down, 36 to go
893 problems down, 145 to go in Circle Two
Level 10: 97%
Level 20: 88%
Level 30: 76%
Level 40: 68%
Level 50: 59%

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Couldn't get it done

Sorry, guys. I lost.

All I needed was a stinkin draw, AND I had white. Couldn't do it. Fell into a tough gambit position where I didn't really have enough comp for the pawn and was slowly ground down. I was pleased that I put up a good fight. I held my opponent off for a long time, but it wasn't enough.

I really wanted to win one for all of you guys as much as I wanted to win for me. Sorry.

Anyway, I've been slacking for a couple of days tyring to take it easy, so I'm way behind. Not happening tonight though. A couple of consoling beers and perhaps a viewing of Braveheart -- always cheers me up.

Though I'm very dissapointed (Ya think?), by any objective standard, it is the best tournament performance I've ever had. Should pick up about 85 rating points. Thanks for all your support. I wish I could have delivered.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Bite of Reality Sandwich

Went back to the problems Sunday night. Was feeling pretty good after Saturday's tournament, but CT Art gave me a nice bite of a reality sandwich. My first set of 10 level 40's came in at an anemic 43%. I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure I heard the laptop call me a punk. I pulled out the power cord and let it run on battery for a while until it adjusted its attitude. I have no patience for impudent electronic equipment. It eventually apologized in the form of a "battery low" message. I think we understand one another now.

Think I was getting a bit cocky. Was able to get back in the groove though on the following sets. Last night was better. I've started to write down problems that I hose up quite a bit in order to review them later. Perhaps can do this on the rest days. I also HAVE to be stricter about time limits. I found myself going over 5 minutes several times. I don't mind cheating a few minutes over 2 hours, but I'm starting to scare 2 and half hours on some nights.

114 days down, 41 to go
803 problems down, 235 to go in Circle Two
Level 10: 97%
Level 20: 88%
Level 30: 76%
Level 40: 68%

Saturday, January 22, 2005



I shouldn't make too much of it. I only played three rounds today, and my opponents were expecting to play Mr. 1573;


Today, I faced a 1910, 1810, and 1641. My score ------ 3.0, baby. The final round had been delayed tonight because of snow, but if I win in round 4, I will will my local club's champion. Even if I were to lose to fool's mate in round 4, I would be well pleased with the result. I will be squarely in class B.

No doubt. There's a big difference. Again, totally specious to put so much on one good day, but a few more stats. If the tournament were to end today, I would be rated over 1700. My performance rating for the day is 2310.

Rock and FREAKIN roll, baby.........................

Friday, January 21, 2005

Gentleman's Game

Reading an article on chessbase about Wijk aan Zee. As usual, the article has a few pictures of grandmasters analyzing the games afterwards. This always make some feel a close kinship with these great chess minds. Even though they are fierce competitors, after the game they sit down and discuss it with each other. Part of this is a tradition of being a gentleman's game; part of it, I think, is our helpless love of the game itself.

Got a bit behind last night. Have a rest day scheduled for Sat since I'm playing in a tourney. Perhaps I can catch up then. Played a good game at club last night. My opponent was a solid B player, but I was able to capture the point. Hope I play as well on Saturday.

110 days down, 45 to go
718 problems down, 320 to go in Circle Two
Level 10: 97%
Level 20: 88%
Level 30: 76%
Level 40: 69%

PS Somebody please throw Morozevich a life preserver.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Slap me around and call me Susan

Got slapped around again by CT Art last night. Considering giving up chess and entering the priesthood. Haven't been to church in 15 years. Hope it hasn't changed much. Do they still get to finish the extra wine at the end of communion?

109 days down, 46 to go
708 problems down, 330 to go in Circle Two
Level 10: 97%
Level 20: 88%
Level 30: 76%
Level 40: 68%

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Butt Kicked

So, I have taken a more sane approach to the program and doing less problems. I sit down last night well-rested and in a good frame of mind. I then proceed to get my butt waxed. I think I found about 5 complete answers all night. I was going to do 30, but called it a night after 27 as I heard myself thinking "Whatever, I'll just play the first move I see". Think it was just a bad night rather than me being a bad knight, but still hard to swallow.

Funny to hear this frustration for everyone. Sancho, who appears to be one of the strongest tactically, often expresses that he is having trouble but then posts pretty impressive numbers. I'd be doing kartwheels if I could get 91% of the level 30's, but he speaks about it like he is missing every other one.

In my case, I think it is the difference between seeing and understanding. The first hurdle in playing a combination is understanding how it works. If you just can't follow the sequence of moves or don't understand that the resulting position is a win for your side, then you don't understand it. Think of the postion that the club champion looks at in a post game analysis that he claims is a win for white because of x. You nod your head sagely and then go home and play it out in Fritz because you have no idea what he's talking about. "Ah, he's right. Black can't take the queen because the bishop is pinned". Now you understand. This is an important step forward, but it by no means guarantees that you will see the tactic when presented again.

My hunch is that I am understanding things a lot better here on day one hundred and FRICKIN eight but I'm still not familiar enough that I can see them. The result is that same on my scoring percentage. The only difference I now note is that I don't often have to fire up Crafty to go through a problem to see about another line. Once I see the solution I understand it immediately.

108 days down, 47 to go
678 problems down, 360 to go in Circle Two
Level 10: 97%
Level 20: 88%
Level 30: 76%
Level 40: 71% (told you I got my butt kicked)

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Meeting of the Knights

Sounds like it's time for a meeting. I don't know that there is that much to talk about but it might be helpful to compare notes. If I don't have to be secretary, then I'm up for it. How's about Sun night at 10 PM eastern, 7 PM pacific? We could meet in a game room at as Generalkaia suggests. If someone knows a better place for chatting, please let me know. I don't have AOL IM though. Please post your thoughts in the comments.

Stick it out, Sancho
I know you think the software sucks and that it may not be the best use of 15 days to grind out the rest of the program, but I am pretty sure that you will feel a lot better later if you finish these last two weeks. You have invested a lot of time, and it make sense to finish.

changing Gears
Based on yesterday's reflections, I've decided to alter my own plan a bit. I had been planning to mirthlessly grind out the remaining circles as originally planned, but I've decided to adopt Sancho's strategy of only doing through level 60. Much to the pleasure of the lovely Dulcinea, I am planning on limiting exercises to 2 hours. The Empress de la Maza is supportive, but there had been a few coments about me constantly doing chess problems.

Sancho truncated things because he was disenchanted with the software. In my case, I think those problems are just too hard for me. I may come back to them later, but I see more benefit in working the lower 60 more. As noted by the donkey-riding-peasant, this still is more than 1000 probs as suggested by de la Maza.

In future posts I think I will outline a a method for determining what probs one should tackle based on their ability. I think it is a good idea to go through the whole set once like Pale Morning Dun plans to do. If I were better at tactics, it might make more sense to hit all 1209. For the adult player too, I think it is important to figure out a strategy that limits comittment to 2 hours up until the last 3 circles.

In this vein, last night I did 35 level 40's rather than the originally planned 46. I've even put a few planned rest/review days in the schedule.

107 days down, 48 to go
651 problems down, 387 to go in Circle Two
Level 10: 97%
Level 20: 88%
Level 30: 76%
Level 40: 75%

Monday, January 17, 2005

Keep to the road

Tried to do review of the level 20 and 30 this weekend. Nice idea but probably better for me to just stick to the plan. Too easy for me to slack off, as I did this weekend, when I am not under the dictates of the Plan.

Continuing the program
I wrote my blog entry before reading eneryone else's this morning. Looks like there is a crisis of confidence brewing in the Knights Errant. My subject title this morning was intended only as a message to myself not others. My original post ended after the short paragraph above.

My Thoughts

1) Is this program impractical for an adult player with a family life? I think so. The time commitment this takes seems to keep getting larger. I have 46 problems to do tonight in Level 40. I will likely take me 2.5 hours or more. This type of time commitment is just brutal to make day after day. As the blog shows, I often miss days when I get overwhelmed and burnt out. I also feel like I can't make a statement one way or another until I finish the program.

2) Does the CT art software suck?I don't think so. I have not checked out the problems that J'aboube cites as being problematic yet, but I will tonight. (By the way, J'adoube, you can bring up the problem in practicemode in CT Art and play against the Crafty engine. This is usually sufficient to find the lines). I have found a few problems where I have found perfectly acceptable alternate line that is marked wrong by CT Art, but I have yet to find one where CT Art claims a winning move that is losing. A few such problems are bound to exist in a collection of 1209, and I think we should try to find them.

It is common though for a flashy line to be the main line whereas there is a much better, though still losing, defensive line available. I think this is OK. The idea is to recognize the pattern in the flashy line. In a real game, you want to make such threats even though you may end up grinding out the pawn up ending of the alternative line. As J'adoube notes, grandmasters have missed the better defenses OTB.

3) Should I stay or should I go? I have to admit that I have thought seriously about modifying the program several times, AND I have been unable to keep the schedule as written. It has simply been too much for me. What happened this weekend (try something a little different and end up blowing the whole thing off) is not uncommon. To use my Bruce Denton analogy, you want to do a good hard workout everyday, but not one that is so hard that you break down entirely and get no benefit.

4) What would an alternative program look like?
a) I think for my level of tactical ability, the problems are too hard. I feel like I got almost nothing out of the higher level problems. I like Sancho's idea of cutting back the number of problems to cut out the last few levels. Howard Goldowsky said he stopped at level 50 as well.

b) I would like to have a time cap on the first five circles for total time spent on any given night. Two hours would seem reasonable.

c) The program needs rest and review days. Common wisdom is that one should do problems every day. I seem to feel better after a day off here and there. I also note that two or three days off doesn't help any more than 1. Also, it feels like one needs time to review problem areas.

I'd like to hear everyone's thoughts.

103 days down, 52 to go

617 problems down, 592 to go in Circle Two
Level 10: 97%
Level 20: 88%
Level 30: 76%

Friday, January 14, 2005

Grinding it out

Worked through 46 level 30's last night. Even though I did 58 the prior two nights, 46 took it out of me last night. I have noticed that as I get further in the problem set and get tired, the problems get harder. Problems have been taking me 2.5 houtrs or more this week. I wonder if one builds up mental stamina.

I should like to spend a few days studying the problems from level 20 and 30 that I got incorrect. My plan is always to go back and work through them in my spare time. I'm thinking there will be no spare time between now and the end of Circle Seven though. Even if I could find the time, I only have so much energy for chess in a day. Perhaps I could pause for a day or two to work on review. Seems like a good idea, but I'm a bit afeared to start messing with the plan.

I am really getting problem 461 down though. For some reason, it never registers as complete, so I have done it approx. 8 times now. Rook check, sac on h8, knight check and discovered attack on queen.

103 days down, 52 to go
612 problems down, 597 to go in Circle Two
Level 10: 97%
Level 20: 88%
Level 30: 76% (I was briefly in 77%)

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

100 Days!

Well on the schedule anyway. It's actually been like 108 days on the calendar. Really never thought I'd make it this far, but it has kind of taken on a life of its own. Even after all this, I was ready to toss it in last night.

I had just started level 30, and it was not going well. I was scoring below the 75% mark I had achieved in Circle One. After all this work, I was doing no better! It was not at all comforting that I was approaching the problems in half the time. I don't want to spend 5 months to be as bad as I was at chess before, only 7 times faster. Very hard not to be discouraged, particularly when I have invested over 200 hours into this.

(Side note: 200 hours! Wow! The equivalent of 5 work weeks, and work weeks where you actually spend the whole day working and not screwing off making notes in blogs. That's a lot of time).

Two things helped me. First, I stopped trying to find the first move in the first 2 and a half minutes. A lot of times I felt obligated to move then so I could study the solution in the last 2.5 minutes. This worked fine with Circle One and 5 minutes, but it sucks for Circle 2. Now I don't look at the solution after 2.5 minutes unless I am completely stumped. I solved a lot of them in the 3-4 minute mark.

Second, I recalled that my first time through I redid erroneous problems thus making my solve rate a little higher. Even equalling my earlier mark is exceeding it.

In the second half of the problems last night I felt "in the groove" in a way I haven't since early December. The later probs in Circle One were so hard that it was hard to ever feel very accomplished. It was more trying to even understand it. The early problems for Circle Two weren't really requiring me to stretch, and I lowered myself to the occasion.

If I make it to the end of this, it will be because I don't lose site of the "keep on going" mentality. Have to just keep doin it and wait for whatever is going to happen to happen.

Welcome J'adoube
A warm welcome to the newest quester, J'adoube. After triathalons and martial arts endeavors, I think chess problems should be a breeze.

100 days down, 55 to go
460 problems down, 749 to go in Circle Two
Level 10: 97%
Level 20: 88%
Level 30: 76% (and rising)

Monday, January 10, 2005

Jogging with Bruce Denton

In the book, Once a Runner, the protagonist describes the process of training with an Olympic miler, Bruce Denton. The most striking thing is not the intensity of the workouts. In fact, when he arrives loaded for bear on the first day, he is a bit disappointed. He had expected a really challenging workout, but what he gets instead a good, solid workout. He and the other newbies can't believe how easy it is.Around week two, people start to bail out as it dawns on them the true grit of the program is that it is the same thing day after day. After a while you start to break down.

Definitely the same thing with this. It's not that doing 2 hours of chess tactics is that hard -- it is doing it every single day. I had my first hiccup this weekend and I'm going to have to drop back the schedule a day. This seems almost inevitable given my life and frankly level of commitment. If you really wanted to get the most out of it though, I would suggest sticking to the schedule without fail.

Between now and the end of Cirlce Seven I am actually planning to drop back a couple more days because of some commitments on the weekend of March 5th. I figure no need to plan for them, they will happen all by themselves.

99 days down, 56 to go
402 problems down, 807 to go in Circle Two
Level 10: 97%
Level 20: 88%

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Brave New World

Talk about a change in attitude. After reading my October entry about Level 20, I felt a whole lot better. I had been struggling to do 29 problems in 2 hours. Now I'm doing 60+ in an hour and change. Then I was fighting to make 85%, now I'm at 90%, and my misses are usually a result of carelessness. With new found enthusiasm, I scored in the mid-90's yesterday to raise my overall percentage to 92%.


I thought I was just a hopless loser wasting 2 hours day. Now I realize that I am a hopeless loser, but I'm getting much better at chess.

It also makes me realize that keeping the blog is very helpful. I had completely forgotten that level 20 was harder for me than level 10. If all I had to go on was my scoring percentage, I would have seen very little difference between Circle One and Two.

I haven't been this excited about chess since college when Mary Kay told me that if I gave her a chess lesson she's receive it in her underwear.

It's a brave new world.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Level 10 down

97%, oh well. Maybe next time.

Level 20 is off to a rocky start as well. Hovering at about 88% I think. The 5 minute time frame means I have to come up with the first move in 2.5 minutes, so I am a little rushed. I blow through a bunch in 10 seconds, but I'm not accustomed to thinking quite so quickly for so long. I think I got a little sleepy at the end of the first circle. I would kind of stare at the screen for a minute on a lot of them since I was more or less waiting for time to run out. Also, even though the problems are easier, they do take some thought. Some part of me thought that I would blow through them without lifting a brain cell.

I am noticing that some of the mating patterns are second nature to me now which is cool. I'm not seeing magnetic fields yet, but I haven't entered Circle 3 and/or starting hitting the mescaline either.

94 days down, 61 to go
132 probs down, 1077 to go in Circle Two

PS Just re-read my post when I started Level 20 problems in the first circle. I feel a lot better. I have made a lot of progress.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

One lap complete, six to go

Been a bit pokey around the holidays, but I did fiinally manage to complete Level 90 and Circle One tonight. Instead of 64 days, the original circle took me 73. For the most part, this was due to skipping days. Up until Level 90, I felt like I was making real progress. I was really just going through the motions for the second half of December, but I didn't quit either. Some time earlier I said that I thought if I made it through Circle One, my chances of making it all the way would go up substantially. I'd rate myself as about even money now to finish. Much more support out there than I would have ever guessed. Thanks fellow knights and readers!

Welcome to Pawn Sensei and Generalkaia. I'm catching up on reading blogs, so I haven't had a chance to fully investigate their musings. I am pleased that Pawn Sensei did not develop the dreaded "sniffles". Sancho, you still haven't told me how it is that you know Norwegian.

Started Circle 2 tonight and scored a somewhat untidy 96%. Bad habits developed from Level 90 ("Let's try this..."). I wanted a nice clean 100%, but I'm gonna have to focus a little better. High hopes for tomorrow as I return to work and "the routine".

93 days down, 62 to go
66 probs down, 1143 to go in Circle Two