Press "Enter" to skip to content

Month: July 2014

Reflections on Losing

I normally reserve these kind of summary posts for the My Chess Week posts, but this streak almost demands some attention. For my own sanity, my wife placed me on a half-week online chess hiatus after I took an incredible beating on Tuesday as I went 4-15 in 5|0 blitz on Chess.com. When I first started playing chess online, it was common for me to take a repeated beating at the hands of stronger players, but Tuesday’s massacre involved players that were consistently 100-200 ELO points below me! What began as a quick game of blitz turned into a desperate obsession to win at least two games in a row, which never came to fruition. As I played more and more games, my mind became fuzzy and I found myself starting new games with a conscious understanding that the guy who was -200 ELO from my rating was going to wipe me off the board.

This is a perfect example of the insane stuff I was playing by the time I reached game 12:

Some time has passed since my last game and I have started to come down from my obsession and to think critically about the errors in my play. As I have poured over the nineteen mediocre games added to my Chessbase database, I have been shocked at the differential in these games over my previous efforts. However, that shock has given me an opportunity to examine my play in a different light. At the height of my frustration, I did a Google search for chess losing streaks and found multiple entries on different chess websites where players have cried out for help with losing streaks that have devastated their online ELOs.

In this instance, I am learning that it is important to take a step back and to remember that chess is a game that contains many variables. Theory is vital, but so is concentration and psychological health. I discovered over the last few days that much of my play was affected by distractions at work and at home. Those distractions caused me to be impulsive with my moves and to second guess my play. This impulsivity combined with self-doubt and a side-helping of anxiety were key contributors to the abysmal 15 game streak. Psychological health is a critical element of a successful chess game. Without focus and concentration, who knows where the pieces may go! After some heartfelt reflection on the 15 losses forever immortalized in my Chess.com account and my Chessbase archives, all that I can really do now is hopefully sit back, work some tactics puzzles, and return to my physical and psychological center before returning to the battlefield.

Comments closed

My Chess Week (July 21-27 [2014])

Welcome to My Chess Week, where I write about my weekly exploits across the chess board! As we will see, things did not get much better for me as I concluded two more correspondence games and struggle with the psychological effects of chess disaster. However, some redemption appeared later in the week during live online play on Chess.com.

The first game was nothing short of a complete disaster. As you can tell by my liberal use of dichotomous adjectives, this is the game that forced me to rethink my play entirely and, in a sense, to return to my starting point to assess what is going on. 1272 played a great game of chess, but I was simply unable to match his play in a way that was effective for winning the game and maintaining my own self-confidence, which took a hit as I watched my ELO drop from a high of 1437 to 1269. I played White.

In my opinion, the following game is the stuff of nightmares. In fact, I actually had nightmares about this game the night that it was played. I am not a member of the Internet Chess Club (ICC) and although I have no problem with the site’s format, I find the resources of Chess.com to be more suitable to my skill level and general chess interests. However, I decided to test drive the ICC one weeknight and played two games against 1051, who surprised me with incredible comebacks in both endgames. I was coming off of a shocking recovery from the first game and was watching him closely for some form of trickery or blunder on my part that would cost me the game. Post-game analysis by Fritz shows me up a full 25 points going into the final three moves of the game, but this player was quick-witted and managed an incredible, nightmarish finish. Here we go:

Things were not all doom and gloom this week. Live chess treated me much better than correspondence chess. This game was played on Chess.com and was a joy to play (and win). I actually played this one while eating one of those stuffed grillers from Taco Bell, so I was impressed by the level of concentration I was able to devote to my burrito and to the chessboard…

And finally…this little gem…

Comments closed

Finding the Right Notation Tool

Tracking game notation in chess means different things to different people. For some, it is a necessary evil for tracking the outcome of tournament matches, while for others it is a lifeblood of the game in which a player can re-live his or her past mistakes and triumphs. Regardless, tracking chess notation is essential for a player wanting to improve. For me, I rarely (if ever) play a chess game without somehow annotating it. Part of this might be my tendency toward obsessive behavior, but it also has to do with my desire to have a vast archive of my games in which I can reference for improvement. Chessbase 12 is my database system of choice, although I really wish they would make a verso for OS X because I hate having to run it in a Windows 7 virtual machine, but I digress.

Annotating a chess game in a setting such as a park or an office can be challenging, especially if you’re playing blitz or something faster. I began annotating my games with one of those $2 scoresheet pads from The Chess Store and eventually I switched to the Tabiya Chess Scorebook from Precision Chess. These books are available for about $10 on Amazon.com and are great for keeping track of an individual tournament or a thematic game set. However, as a technophile, I wanted some way to integrate technology into my game annotations. I was inspired recently when I visited the US Chess Federation (USCF) website and noticed the Monroi advertisement at the bottom of the page. Yes, unfortunately, sometimes internet advertising works. I had checked out Monroi some years ago and found their device to be significantly bulky in appearance and extremely overpriced. I was disappointed to see that in the few years since I had visited the site that nothing had really changed. There has not been a new version of the Monroi PCM in almost eight years and the price remains excruciatingly high for a handheld chess board.

I spent almost an entire day researching the Monroi system and eventually came across two of its competitors. I had never heard of these programs and it is most likely because one of them is new and the other is designed for older iPaq and Windows Mobile devices. eNotate is a digital chess program that installs onto a handheld computer running Microsoft Windows Mobile 5 or 6, such as the HP iPaq. The program locks out all other services while active, which prevents the user from switching back and forth between a chess engine and the notation program. The price is very attractive ($60), but it requires a handheld device, which the cheapest is the HP iPaq retailing on Amazon.com for around $100. I decided to pass on eNotate for the time being and see what else was available. That is when I discovered PlyCounter.

I had never heard of PlyCounter and that is because it is a relatively new device created by a chess player from Dallas, Texas. Not that its creator being from Texas is a real reason why I would never have heard of it, but I think it is important to note that this product is the result of American entrepreneurship in a market desperately in need of innovation. On its website, this little device boasts of its USCF certification and assures its buyers that it is currently undergoing review for FIDE certification as well. Currently, PlyCounter retails on its website for $169 and after comparing the cost of eNotate and a handheld device to install and use it, I decided to purchase a PlyCounter for annotating my games.

At first glance, the PlyCounter device can be a shock to the system, especially in a day of millimeter-thin iPhones, iPads, and laptops. It closely resembles an old-style Palm Pilot in size and form, and the display brings back some nostalgic memories for those of us that grew up playing the original Game Boy, Game Gear, or other devices with miniature screens and low resolution. If this device was being reviewed by a technology site or compared to some of the handheld sets being produced by Apple or Samsung today, it would be utterly destroyed for its appearance. For example, the PlyCounter is thicker than my Macbook Air closed, with a plastic cover over it. However, the world of chess technology is not driven by the need for higher resolutions, micro-thin designs, and unnecessary gimmick features. PlyCounter is a simple device that does exactly what it says it does, and it performs its functions exceptionally well.

PlyCounter is a personal chess manager that is very similar to the Monroi PCM, but with some added bonuses and without some of the additional features. The one thing that most people will notice is that it does not come with an SD card slot. Therefore, any chess games annotated on the device must be downloaded through a USB connection using the PlyCounter download software, which is available from the PlyCounter website. This is a minor inconvenience since the device’s connector uses a standard micro-USB adapter, which most people already own and use to recharge their Kindle or other similar devices. I keep one of these cables plugged in to my iMac, so it takes less than a minute to connect the PlyCounter and download my games in PGN format. This brings me to the next point, which is a lack of wifi. Wireless connectivity for transferring games would have been a welcome addition to the PlyCounter, but I can understand that it was most likely not included for security reasons. Without integrated wifi, the device is at the mercy of a laptop or desktop terminal to transfer and receive information without user input, so that reduces the chances that a person could adapt it to receive information from a chess engine on a wifi connection.

These are minor issues that I believe every device has to deal with. There are many positive aspects to the PlyCounter that have made it my notation tool of choice. First, it has an incredibly bright and responsive touch screen. The device comes with a telescoping stylus and additional styluses can be purchased from the PlyCounter website for $2 each. I highly recommend that anyone purchasing the device stock up on spare styluses…just in case! Moves are simple to input and in accordance with USCF and FIDE specs, the device allows for players to input incorrect moves. Therefore, where you click…your pieces will go. This is important to avoid the perception that the device is providing any assistance to tournament players by preventing them from making illegal moves. The tap-move methodology of the device takes a few minutes to get used to, but quickly becomes second nature after annotating a game or two. In addition to the responsive board, the device also includes a place for the player to input their USCF and FIDE ratings along with their federation ID numbers. Each device will come belonging to Ruy Lopez by default.

As you can tell, I am in love with my PlyCounter. It is simple, intuitive, and provides a relatively easy way to export my games to PGN for inclusion in Chessbase or to provide to a tournament director. For $169 I do not believe that you can do better for certified digital chess notation that this little device. If you want t spend an extra $150, the Monroi PCM includes an SD card and wireless connectivity, but the tradeoffs are probably not worth the extra dough unless you need something that is FIDE certified. I am confident that FIDE will eventually certify the PlyCounter and that it will become a mainstay at tournaments around the world. Rightfully so, it is the perfect companion for the chess annotator on the go or for someone looking for a practical way to record their chess notation. Chess notation tools are different for everyone, but I am convinced that unless you require a Monroi PCM to interface with a tournament system, the PlyCounter is the way to go.

Technical Specifications

Monroi PCM PlyCounter
Size: 3.1in x 4.69in x 0.70in Size: 4in x 2.54in x 0.75in
Display: 240 x 320 LCD Display: 240 x 320 TFT
Weight: 7.05 ounces Weight: 4.3 ounces
Memory: 4MB (50 games) Memory: 4GB (10 million games)
Wireless: Yes Wireless: No
Battery: Internal, USB-charged Battery: Internal, USB-charged
File Format: PGN File Format: PGN
Certification: USCF, FIDE Certification: USCF, FIDE-pending
Price: $359 Price: $169
Purchase Purchase

PlyCounter Final Verdict: ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟

Comments closed

Chess Chronicles of the Strange and Unusual

In my opinion, the universality of chess is one of its most appealing characteristics. Yet, there is a strangeness to the world of chess that creates and attracts some of the strangest personalities out there and unites some of the most unlikely of foes across the board. In this post, I will examine five unlikely chess players who have at least one game that has survived through time.

1. Aleister Crowley

Aleister Crowley was once dubbed by a British news service as the Most Wicked Man in the World and often referred to himself as The Beast. Crowley was a master magician and student of the occult. His penultimate work, The Toth Tarot has become one of the best selling tarot decks in history and it combines elements of ancient Egyptian mythology with later esoteric revelations. He makes #1 on this list not because of his chess playing abilities or prevalence of recorded games, but for his general strangeness and the significant quality of the only real piece of his chess legacy that I could find, which is one game recorded that ended in a draw with British chess master Joseph Henry Blackburne.

2. Che Guevara

The mere mention of Che Guevara conjures images of his cigar and famous red-starred beret. Che Guevara has become a pop icon synonymous with revolution, yet few outside the world of chess know the significant influence that he wielded over the game in post-revolution Cuba. In many ways, he was obsessed with the game and spent much of his time in Cuba’s new government finding ways to facilitate tournaments and to spread the game’s influence throughout the new regime. He also played a large role in Bobby Fischer’s teletype participation in the 1965 Capablanca Memorial. The following game features Che playing against a man whose name is now immortalized in a Sicilian variation: Miguel Najdorf.

3. Paul Morphy

Perhaps the most important thing to know about Paul Morphy is: do not believe everything that you hear. Urban legend has it that chess drove Paul Morphy insane and that he was discovered dead in his bathtub surrounded by women’s shoes. The reality of Paul Morphy is that he was a young chess prodigy and until the arrival of Bobby Fischer, was considered the greatest American chess player in history. Morphy beat most of Europe’s greatest players and endured a lifelong feud with chess legend Howard Staunton. His attempts to withdraw from the world of competitive chess resulted in a psychosis that took his life at a very early age. The following game has become one of the most prominent instructional games in history and is used by many chess teachers and coaches to demonstrate the importance of piece development.

4. Howard Stern

Howard Stern makes this list because public perception of him seems to be that he is the last person you would expect to be a thriving chess player. Although still rated in the amateur range, Howard Stern began taking chess lessons several years ago and playing anonymously on the Internet Chess Club. He has even brought his chess teacher on his show to discuss the game and to play exhibitions. Chess Life ran a wonderful commentary on some of his games in a 2010 article, which is available on the USCF website. The following game is taken from the PGN file of one of those games.

5. Napoleon Bonapart

For the final entry, I was tempted to post a picture of Napoleon from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but I decided to post a legitimate photo instead. However, the tendency of the French to paint Napoleon as an epic hero on and off the battlefield should be taken with a grain of salt. Although he was an unstoppable military commander, Napoleon was a terrible chess player. Legend has it that he would go into fits of rage after losing and that some of his military commanders would purposely lose games to avoid losing their heads! The following game is perhaps one of Napoleon’s most famous losses and it comes against the greatest chess hoax of all time: The Turk!

Comments closed

My Chess Week (July 13-20 [2014])

Welcome to the first edition of My Chess Week, where I write about my weekly exploits across the chess board! This week’s installment focuses on a pair of correspondence games played on Chess.com.

This week has had a variety of ups and downs in the world of my own chess play. The week started off with a pair of brilliant wins and an exciting moment where my correspondence ELO jumped to 1478 before plummeting back to 1322 by the morning of July 20th. The first noteworthy game came against a Chess.com player rated at 1309. I was coming off of an exciting win and feeling the thrill of victory. However, I quickly noted in this game that I was struggling to find decent moves against White, but a key opportunity presented itself at move 29.

1309/White should have resigned or made another move in the game to allow for checkmate, but instead he chose to let his clock run down. I had to wait 24 hours for the game to show up as a win, but nonetheless there was nothing White could do to prevent mate in one.

Unfortunately, things did not go so well on the next game. A combination of overconfidence and a lack of attention to the consequences of my moves cost me dearly against a 1341 playing White.

Following this loss, I suffered another loss before the end of the week with two games remaining to be concluded. As of right now, each of the games are even, but the middle game is just now starting and it is still anyone’s match. The important thing right now is to not let one or two losses, as damning as they are, create fear or panic when I am faced with the same positions in later games. That is the beauty of chess! Each loss is an opportunity to take away knowledge that can bring victory in the next game.

Comments closed

The Ohio Masters is Approaching!

The Ohio Chess Association (OCA) is proud to present the first ever Ohio Masters at the Dayton Chess Club (DCC) on July 25-27. Sponsored by the Ohio Chess Academy and the Dayton Chess Club, the event consists of a unique open format which consists of One Section that is open to all players. On-site registration opens Friday, July 24th and is $95 per player for the primary Open Section. Rounds will be held on Friday at 8PM, Saturday at 11AM, and Sunday at 5PM.

The OCA and DCC are very excited about this tournament and hope that players of all ages and abilities will make the journey to Dayton to test their skills against the masters. DCC expects many strong players from the region to attend the event and to provide daily lectures and exhibitions throughout the weekend. Up to two byes are permitted, but those byes must be scheduled prior to the third round.

This is an official Ohio Grand Prix Event, so Ohio Chess Association members receive a $3 discount on their registration. Additionally, Dayton Chess Club members receive a $3 discount. To enter, visit the Dayton Chess Club at 18 West 5th Street in Dayton, Ohio or register online at http://www.daytonchessclub.com. NO CHECKS will be accepted for on-site registration!!

This event is sponsored by the Ohio Chess Academy and the Dayton Chess Club.

Comments closed

Reading List and Download Updates

The Reading List and Downloads sections here at Off My Chess continue to grow! Three new books have been added to the reading list and uncommented PGN/Chessbase game collections are available for IM Jeremy Silman’s book, The Amateur’s Mind. In addition, the downloads section now features a stylish selection of chess wallpaper and quick links for PGN/Chessbase downloads that include IM Silman’s book and games from the Ohio Chess Association‘s Ohio Chess Bulletin. Please continue to check back for more downloads, book lists, and a soon to be launched Movie List with a comprehensive analysis of chess movies.

Also, I am very excited to announce that the site is now accessible from its new address: http://www.omchess.com. It can still be accessed from the old address and that will never change, but having OMChess.com at my disposal will help with future marketing for some chess projects that I have projected for the future!

Comments closed

Wesley So Dominating At ACP Golden Classic

The Association of Chess Professionals (ACP) Golden Classic tournament is in full swing in this week in Bergamo, Italy. After three rounds of play, Grandmaster Wesley So is dominating in a series of tough games and currently leads the tournament 2.5/3 points. His game from round one, although on the short side at 23 moves and ending in a draw, was a hard fought battle of wits between the two GMs.

The second game, played against Grandmaster Ian Nepomniachtchi, showed fighting spirit on the part of the challenger, but as is mentioned in the commentary (courtesy of Chessbase), the game was essentially over after move 20 when a series of blunders let Wesley wipe him across the board.

Perhaps the most interesting game so far has been Wesley’s third round game against Daniele Vocaturo. This was the first time that the two met each other across a chessboard and it provides some very interesting variations on both sides.

Comments closed

Amateur Analysis – Unrated vs. Surber

Chess fever in my house seems to wax and wane with the phases of the Moon. Recently, a beautiful chess player and I set down to test our wits against each other across the board. She played White and I was Black. The game began relatively well for her, but a series of blunders on both sides ultimately brought victory to my favor. Check out my amateur analysis and commentary (with assistance from Fritz 14) below:

[Event “Friendly”] [Site “?”] [Date “2014.07.06”] [Round “?”] [White “Unrated”] [Black “Wesley Surber”] [Result “0-1”] [ECO “D00”] [Annotator “Wesley Surber / Deep Fritz 14”] [PlyCount “82”] 1. d4 Nc6 2. Nc3 d5 {last book move} 3. Qd3 $15 Nf6 4. Nf3 g6 5. h3 Bf5 6. Qb5 {Up until this point, the game was basically even. However, after White brought her Queen to b5, I found myself struggling to maintain control of the board and of my own tactics and strategy.} a6 7. Qxb7 Ng4 $2 $18 {[%tqu “”,””, “”,Nxd5,””,10]} 8. Qxc6+ Bd7 9. Qxd5 e6 10. Qe4 f5 11. Qf4 Bd6 12. Qd2 {I was finally able to push White’s Queen back into its own territory and relieve some of the bleeding. At this point in the game, Fritz shows my opponent up by 5.64!} Rb8 $2 $18 {Fritz believes that 12…Nf6 was a better move, but I was hesitant to make it for fear of White’s Queen returning to the h-file and wreaking more havoc.} 13. Qh6 $2 $19 {This move absolutely surprised and perplexed me. It is an obvious blunder on White’s part and was made somewhat quickly. I took immediate advantage of the mistake and captured with 13… Nxh6.} Nxh6 14. e3 $19 Ng4 $2 $19 ({A better option would have been:} 14… a5 15. Bc4 Nf7 16. e4 Bc6 17. Bxe6) 15. Ng5 $4 $19 {Second, and perhaps the most damaging blunder of the game. White fails to capture the Knight on g4 and chooses instead to return her Knight to g5.} Qf6 $2 $19 16. Bxa6 $2 $19 {Fails to move White’s g5 Knight to safety.} h6 $2 $19 {Fritz suggests that I should have captured the pawn on f2, but looking back on this game makes me wish I would have been greedy and played 16…Qxg5.} 17. Nf3 {White finally managed to move the g5 Knight to safety.} g5 $17 18. h4 $4 $19 c5 19. a4 cxd4 20. Nb5 $2 $19 {White would have been in a much better position if she had taken the pawn on d4, which adds pressure to the c6, e6 squares.} Bb4+ 21. Nd2 $2 $19 Qd8 $2 $19 22. Nd6+ $2 $19 {Another unfortunate move on White’s part. Easy response is 22…Bxd6.} Bxd6 23. a5 Nh2 $2 $19 24. g3 Ng4 25. exd4 Ra8 26. Bd3 Rxa5 27. Rb1 e5 28. Nb3 Bb4+ 29. c3 Bd6 30. Nxa5 Qxa5 31. b4 $2 $19 {In this instance, White misses a critical opportunity to move her King to safety by 31. O-O, instead wasting a pawn advance to b4.} Qd5 32. O-O Qf3 33. b5 Qxd3 34. Ra1 Qxb5 $2 $19 35. Ra8+ Bb8 36. Ba3 $2 $19 {White realizes that her Rook is in trouble, but misses the chance to advance the c-pawn and take the Queen off of her perch.} ({Better was:} 36. c4 Qb7 37. Ra2 exd4 38. Rb2) 36… Bc6 37. Rxb8+ $2 $19 {White’s death knell.} Qxb8 38. f3 $2 Qb5 39. Rc1 Qd5 40. c4 Qxf3 41. dxe5 Qg2# 0-1

Comments closed

Five Inspiring Chess Movies

Chess has been gaining increasing prevalence in the mainstream media for its ability to relate to the human condition. The trials and tribulations of the common man are fitting anachronisms for the movement of the pieces on the board. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the silver screen where Hollywood has brought the game to life through the eyes of the people whose lives it has changed forever. Here are five inspiring movies about people whose involvement with the game perhaps changed the world for others in ways they never could have imagined.

1. Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)

This is the primary chess film that I remember from my childhood. It is one of the reasons that I ever bothered to play the game. Based loosely on the book of the same name by Fred Waitzkin, Searching for Bobby Fischer is the story of child chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin, who rose to prominence in the chess world in the early 1990s. Much of the film centers around Josh’s relationship with his father and the effect that chess has on their family life. It details the heartache and struggle of a young boy who realizes that his father’s love is more important than his love of the game. Josh Waitzkin is currently the official spokesman for the Chessmaster video game series and has written his own book, called The Art of Learning, which integrates elements of martial arts and chess to help people enhance their learning abilities.

2. Life of a King (2013)

Life of a King is a newer chess film that I recently reviewed here on OMC. It is a semi-biopic about Eugene Brown, the founder of the Big Chair Chess Club in Washington, D.C. Brown learned chess in prison and began using the game as an analogy for the challenges of life during a brief stint at a local elementary school. After losing his job, he founded the Big Chair Chess House and began teaching the game to local kids. Cuba Gooding Jr. stars as Eugene Brown and it also includes a very interesting Magnus Carlsen lookalike in the movie’s final tournament.

3. Knights of the South Bronx (2005)

This made for TV movie stars Ted Danson as a substitute teacher at a Bronx school who uses chess to teach his students how to excel at other things in their lives. Based on the true story of chess teacher David MacEnulty, Knights of the South Bronx is as much about the journey of the Danson’s students to learn chess and apply its principles to their lives as it is about his own journey of self-transformation by his love of the game and growing love for the children he teaches. Many of the kids in his class come from broken homes with parents addicted to drugs and alcohol or serving prison time. One particularly moving scene involves a young man who visits his father in prison learns hard life lessons over the board during his visit.

4. Dangerous Moves (1984)

At first glance, it might be difficult to see how Dangerous Moves could be considered an inspirational chess film. However, there are many subtleties to this movie that make it a treat for anyone interested in chess or the drama of human competition. This is a french movie that was released in 1984 and is based loosely on the 1972 championship match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. The level of chess detail in the movie is exceptional, although it is not without its errors. The devotion to study and preparation before each match is highlighted as the young grandmaster is even filmed playing an opening position in a swimming pool! Although the movie deals heavily with Cold War politics, the politics in the film do not take away from the quality of the competition between the two men. It is more than a chess match between nations as the desire for competitive glory shines through each of them. At its core, Dangerous Moves travels to the core of the human psyche and the desire to win at all costs.

5. Queen to Play (2009)

Although this movie has been out for quite some time, I only came across it late last year and I was very surprised to see Kevin Kline performing a French-only speaking role. In Queen to Play, Sandrine Bonnaire plays a French chambermaid on the island of Corsica. She develops an interest in chess and soon links up with Kevin Kline’s character, an American doctor, to improve her game. Perhaps the most interesting and inspiring part of this movie is the multitude of reactions and especially the skepticism she receives from her family. As I am sure many chess players have experienced from time to time, her family is not entirely supportive (initially) of her pursuits. Chess is viewed as a waste of time and her husband especially begins to see chess as a way for her to become unfaithful to him. Fortunately, there is a happy ending to the story that is well worth the wait.

Comments closed