Man de la Maza

Monday, May 22, 2006

Talk is cheap. When are you going to so something, Don?

Err, no time soon. August, maybe.

I do want to make another constructive jab at chess improvement, but taking a bite of a reality sandwich, it ain't going to happen before August. I've got a big project coming in at work, and I'm going away to school for the month of July. (I'm training to be a high school math teacher, but as Robert Howard would say, "That is another story".) Since I only go to school one month of the year, you can imagine when all my homework is due. 'Nuff said.

So what is this blog going to be about until then?
I offer you the rare chance of chess schadenfreude. In June, I will be playing one rated game/week at my local club. If my early results are any indication, I should go down in a blaze of glory. I think Zukertort's nervous collapse in his world championship match versus Stenitz will look dignified by comparison. My rating floor is 1500, a full 217 points below my current 1717, and I think I might even need that safety net before Fourth of July weekend. Here is your chance to watch someone flipping around like a fish on the dock.

You're kinda nuts.

You're just realizing this?

My purpose is not all masochistic. I am finding what has happened to my chess ability very interesting. I've come back after layoffs before. One is always rusty, but this is something new. My heightened pattern recognition combined with my severely weakened calculation ability has made me an abysmal player. I really do think I am playing worse than I have ever played. I think that my experience may shed some light on why people get kookie about their rating ("I couldn't pay because I didn't want to risk the rating points") and why people drop out of the game and never come back.

Is that really it?
Pretty much. That and it's kinda fun to think of new ways to describe how much I suck.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Cosmic Event

Former knight, Dread Pirate Josh, and I will be meeting this Thursday. We have been working together to breathe some life back into our local chess club. To my knowledge, it is the first face to face meeting of two Knight's Errant, former or otherwise. Prepare for a disturbance in the chess force on Thursday May 18th, about sixish.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Embracing Suckage

So I 've been playing a fair amount of chess in the past two weeks. Been doing about half an hour/day on CT-Art and playing on In layman's terms, I suck, but let's go into a bit more detail, shall we?

I really do suck in a completely new and different way, and it makes me understand why people get so neroutic about chess. I think it highlights a big danger of the super-tactical regimen. As I waxed philosophical before on a number of occassions, I believe the De la Maza approach develops two related but distinct capabilities -- pattern recognition and calculation strength.

I am happy to report that pattern recognition capabilities do not fade so much. Of course I do not recognize patterns as well as I did after I completed circles, but I still have a pretty good sense of where things are leading. I remember a surpising amount of problems even though I haven't looked at them for more than 12 months, and I still "smell blood in the water" when my opponent's position strays into something ripe for a combination.

The calculation muscle, by comparison, has gone completely flabby. My calculation ability is little better than my 11 year old daughter's at this point. It's sort of like retaining an appreciation for caluclus but having to go back to adding with your fingers.

I don't think CT Art is really the ticket to helping me here. I am too familiar with the problems and thus working through them really works mostly on pattern recognition. That's great, but it's not what I need. I could pick up Renko's CD or delve into one of the 3 million tactics books on my shelf. If I do this exclusively, I'll just be right back where I started in a few months. That would be OK because I was playing at a 1900 strength, but I'd NOW like to explore something besides tactics.

So I'm changing openings. I'm becoming a d4 player.

"Big whoop", you say. "Who cares? Everyone changes opening nows and again."

Not me. I've been playing tournament chess since the Reagan administration, and I've played d4 exactly zero times. The license plate on my car is "1E4" (No, I'm not kidding).

Becoming a d4 player has a lot of benefits for me. First, it is my impression that the d4 game requires a bit more appreciation of pawn structures. Properly played d4 is a surer weapon for the club player. Second, since I am in unfamiliar waters, playing d4 forces me to calculate even in basic positions. I have to get back to 1+1=2, so I don't hang pieces. Finally, changing openings systems is a sure path to a long string of losses. This seems to be in the cards for me now, so I might as well embrace it.

So as of today, I play d4; I suck; and I'm proud.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Flowers for Algernon (only worse)

It has been a year or so since I finished the De La Maza program. From the time I started to the time I finished, my rating shot up about 150 points. It probably would have gone up more, but I stopped playing in March 2005 when I finished. During the prior 3 months, I scored 9.5 of 11 with a performance rating of 1974. Impressive results, but were they permanent?

Last weekend, I was out of town on business, and I had a chance to play in a USCF tourney, U1800 section. I knew I would be a bit rusty so I ran through some level 1& 2 on CT Art the week before in my hotel room.

Results were worse than I expected. 1.5 out of 4 with a performance rating of 1050. My sole victory was over an opponent rated 560 (Beat the hell out of that middle schooler though!). My third round opponent looked at my dismal performance in our game and knowingly suggested that I must be sandbagging in an attempt to lower my rating. Can't say I blame him. I lost that game on move 10 when I hung a knight. Not "dropped a knight to a 3 move combination" but outright hung a knight.

I haven't done the math yet, but it is probably my worst performance in the 20+ years I have been playing tournament chess (and I used to play a lot of round 1 and 3's dreadfully hung over in my college years). If I had scored 2.5, I might have written it off to a bit of rust combined with a run of bad luck, but my performance required something extra. I was not playing nearly at the level I was before; I was not playing as well as I was before I started De La Maza training. In fact, I think I was playing worse than I ever had. I had become accustomed to playing very sharp lines that I could play better than my opponent. I had some good moves and saw a few choice patterns, but I couldn't calculate my way out of a (soggy) paper bag. I was thinking like a class A player and calculating like a class E player.

I play chess for recreation only, and I am always fighting the self-improvement rat race. It's just a game; and it should never be work. That said,

This cannot stand!

I absolutely refuse to be this bad.

Hiatus suspended.

I'm back.