I’ve been carving regular time out of my day to do chess studies and they have started paying off. Despite all of the mistakes and blunders, I believe that my fundamentals are improving steadily as a result. Here’s a solid game I played recently on lichess.org that I felt was worth annotating.
The following games were blitz games played on lichess.org in the past few weeks. I decided to annotate and share them because they show some of my continued progress (and regression) over the past few weeks. I continue to read, study, and play as much as possible, so I hope that these games reflect some improvement in my overall play style.
The first game is a very nice win with some cool tactical elements. There were moments where I felt like I just got lucky, but others where I felt like concrete principles were starting to sink in for me.
This next game is a devastating loss. It is no good for a chess player to only share his/her winning games. As Chess Coach likes to say: losing is learning. Well, this is a painful loss, so check it out:
Chess improvement can be a slow and grinding process. It has been a rollercoaster-like ride full of ups and downs (mostly downs) over the last few years. I am excited to be approaching the 1300 rating threshold after several setbacks over the past few months. Some of the losses this year have been brutal and some of the wins have been incredible, but learning to live with win and losses is one of the biggest challenges when learning the game.
This is a game I played last night that placed me within 2 points of the 1300 threshold. I have been too busy today to put my mind to another game, so I figured I would annotate this game and show some of the things I continue to learn on the long to road to chess mastery.
The balance of power in a chess game can change with a single blunder or amazing move. Although, in my case it is usually the former. This game was played last night on lichess and while it was heartbreaking, I found it to be a worthy educational experience.
Magnus Carlsen put the final nail in the coffin for the 2016 World Chess Championship with a spectacular finish in the 25 | 10 rapid tiebreaker. Carlsen had been frustrated throughout the event and fell behind before managing to equalize the standings in Game 10. He went on to win the last two games of the rapid event, which finally put an end to his challengers efforts and solidified his place as World Chess Champion for the next two years. As the main portion of the event drew to its conclusion, many in the chess world began taking note of the precarious position Sergey Karjakin could find himself in against one of the strongest rapid and blitz players in the world.
The first two tiebreaker games were drawn with Karjakin narrowly escaping a loss in the second game but unable to stop the onslaught that ultimately allowed Carlsen to retain his title.
The position above is stunning and reaffirms why Magnus Carlsen is the best chess player in the world. With Qh6+, Magnus brought his opponent’s bid to become the next world champion to his stunning halt. There were moments throughout the event where it seemed that Sergey Karjakin was poised to overtake Carlsen, but never found a way to convert his opportunities into solid wins. Of course, there were moments throughout the event were Magnus seemed to struggle both with his chess abilities and his ability to keep his emotions in check (no pun intended). Magnus took a little bit of criticism on social media for his outburst following his loss in the classical round, but I have to say that him storming out of the press conference is the kind of stuff that chess needs if it wants to become a popular, respectable, and marketable activity in the United States.
Agon, which has become a four letter word In the chess community has refused to release (at least for now) the exact number of people who purchased their premium package for viewing the event, but initial estimates project that less than 10,000 people paid for the premium streaming and commentary package. Personally, I was pleased to be able to follow the games as a premium member of Chessbase, on ChessBomb, and to watch the exceptional commentary and analysis from some of my favorite people over on chess24.com. Still, just a long way to go if it wants to build an American audience to the point where corporations like Pepsi, Red Bull, or other major corporations are willing to sponsor the events. As mentioned in an excellent news article published shortly after Carlsen’s victory, chess needs a series of dramatic stories in order to sell itself to the American people. Bobby Fischer made history as the lone genius who challenged the world’s greatest chess power, the Soviet Union, during the Cold War which allowed the American people to relate what was happening on the board to what was happening every day in their news. When professional chess can find a way to bring the drama and excitement of playing the game to people in a way that relates to their everyday struggles and experiences, then it will find itself at a buffet of sponsors and fans. Compelling drama and personal connection sells products, not frivolous litigation.
The cycle of life ebbs and flows with some periods being more demanding than others. August to October of this year has been particularly demanding, which forced me to cut down on my chess writing and playing. Curiously, that break preceded a jump in my online game successes both in live challenges and on the damnable Chess.com Tactics Trainer. My online ELO currently sits at 1101, which is the first time it has surpassed that benchmark since March 13 of this year.
Of course, some of my recent wins were clearly undeserved (abandoned by opponent, etc.) but I believe that many of them are starting to reflect my constant dedication to studying and learning about the game. For example,
Winning and losing in chess is like the tides, so I am trying to prepare myself mentally for the time when the wins don’t come and the only way ahead seems to be down, like this heartbreaking loss:
Until next time, keep the flame burning, campers!
My copy of Chessbase Magazine 174 arrived a few days ago and included an exciting voucher for Mega Base 2017 that instructed me to head over to the Chessbase Shop to buy the new database. Curiously, it is not available at this time, so that voucher is tucked away safely until it is.
In addition, Chessbase has included a brief summary and review of Chessbase 14 in the back of CBM 174’s booklet, but CB14 is also unavailable for purchase on the Chessbase Shop.
I like the product previews, but it feels strange being encouraged to go out and buy products that are not available yet… Maybe next time a simple Coming Soon notice instead?
Many chess players and learners have moved their games into the cloud via Chessbase, Chess.com‘s servers, or the myriad of other iOS and Android apps available for tracking and analyzing a player’s repertoire. For me, this often involves playing on Chess.com on my iPhone or using Stockfish to store and analyze games on the go when I am away from my laptop or ability to access my Chessbase database. Yet, the steady transition of chess players to cloud systems over the years has not entirely eliminated a nostalgic piece of chess history: the computer chess board.
An interesting memory of chess I have as a kid is playing against a computerized board that belonged to my dad. I remember that it had a small LCD display, some red LEDs along the side to indicate the current move, and came with an annoying voice assistant that was always ready to pounce on your emotions once it had destroyed your chess game. The hauntingly annoying words of that board are forever engrained into my psyche: “Hi, my name is Chester! How about a nice game of chess?”
As time progressed, many of these boards were relegated to discount bins at bargain stores or the miscellaneous aisles at Goodwill locations. However, I came across a computerized chess board for sale at a Toys-R-Us here in San Antonio a few weeks ago and the item piqued my interest. Was there still a market for these things? And, if there was…what kind of other boards were available out there? A quick Amazon search revealed a mixture of the same problems faced by manufacturers of other niche products: a collection of worthless products with 1-2 star ratings intermixed with legitimate boards.
I spent the next few days researching options and finally decided on a mid-range board from a company called IQ Toys. My Voice Master electronic chess set came a few days later and I thought that now was an appropriate time to write a review given that I have had about a week to play with it. So, here is what its like to use a classic digital chess board in the age of the chess cloud…
Construction and Presentation
Given the plethora of cheap chess sets out there, it is important for a product to present a pleasing aesthetic. This little board was well packaged and it was immediately apparent that it was of a high quality construction. The box included the board itself, a set of white pieces, a set of black pieces, and a complete set of disks for checkers. I could go off on another tangent about the constant bundling of chess and checkers pieces together, but I digress. I tossed the checkers disks into the garbage and unpacked the small, magnetic chess pieces. The board itself does not come with a way to plug it into the wall, so it requires 4 AA batteries. Fortunately, so do many other toys I have purchased for my kids, so after loading the batteries and setting up the pieces, I clicked on the power and set to starting my first digital chess board game since the traumatic days of Chester…
Game Play and Observations
It was very straight forward and easy to get a new game started. Without wanting to adjust the options such as game strength or piece odds, two clicks on the key pad and I was underway. I quickly realized that it was going to take some getting used to how the pieces interfaced with the board so that I would not be inundated with a particularly annoying buzzer when it encounters an error. The player gently presses the piece down on the board and follows the instructions on the LCD board. After a few times of having the buzzer scare my dog and receiving more than enough interesting looks from my wife, I muted the board sounds and continue on. As with most chess computers it did not take long for me to hang a piece and lose the first of many casual games against the device.
I have yet to beat this board, which is nothing new for me and is nothing that I did not expect. However, I was curious to get an idea of how strong the board is on a normal setting. I felt as though I was playing against a 1500-1600 ELO player and decided that the best way to compliment any kind of review of the product would be to put it into an engine match against Stockfish. I fired up my Fritz 14 GUI and launched a new game against Stockfish with White and me manually inputting moves for Black on behalf of the Voice Master board. Although there were some moves made by the Voice Master board that warranted a ?? or similar marking, I avoided annotations in the game unless the board itself provided some form of text alert.
As I expected, Stockfish made short work of the Voice Master board although I was shocked at some of the moves and warnings offered by the board as the game approached its brutal conclusion. Specifically, move 21.Rxg7+ was flagged by the board as requiring caution. When the board asked me if I was sure that I wanted to proceed with that move, Stockfish’s analysis of the move bringing it to within (#8) with 21…Kxg7 22.Qg4+… at this point was more than enough for me to chuckle at the device’s overconfidence. The same thing occurred two moves later after 23.Rh7!! with the board asking if I was sure I wanted to proceed. Needless to say that the board lost shortly thereafter.
One interesting point of the game above is that the board seemed to completely ignore Stockfish’s attach after 21.Rxg7+ and go its own way. Very little was done to counter the coming assault although the board continued to offer coaching advice and precautionary alerts despite Stockfish having it at a #4 disadvantage.
The construction, appearance, and usability of the Voice Master board is nice. It does not have the cheap appearance or feeling that comes with many electronic boards sold in stores or online today. Learning the proper level of pressure to apply to the pieces during gameplay can take some practice and I highly recommend turning off the board sounds until you have a firm grasp on that pressure. Otherwise, a player can expect to be inundated with the horrific error buzzer mentioned above.
As for playing strength, the board seems perfect for beginners to mid-range skill players. It offers a classical tactile chess experience without the need to hunt down a physical opponent. However, it might be too little of a reliable challenge for some players as demonstrated in the demo game where it ignored the final mating combination almost entirely. The board retails for $39.99 on Amazon.com (as opposed to $99.99 on sites like ChessUSA.com), which makes it a nice gift for your favorite chess lover or child looking to get started playing the game. At least it does not have the taunting voice of the dreaded Chester set I mentioned in the beginning.
I love discovering new chess apps and web services! Recently as I was looking for new (and useful) apps to install on my Apple Watch I came across a cool little app called Watch Chess (Facebook | Twitter | iTunes). Mainly searching for an app to display chess games or maybe even lucky enough to play a chess game on my watch, I was blown away by the functionality of this little gem and knew that I had to offer it a short review!
The app’s home page is simple and intuitive with a colorful list of available broadcasts. Clicking on the tournament image brings up a list of rounds for that tournament that include dates and easy select for kibitzing the game of your choice. The interface is mirrored on the Apple Watch with the only difference being the absence of the colorful tournament buttons. Each board is clear and easy to read on the Apple Watch just as it is on the iPhone. Although some people might be turned off by the lack of an engine interface, that is no reason to stop most users from enjoying the app’s presentation of high-level chess.
Watch Chess is one of the few apps out there that offer full support for the Apple Watch. While some people still consider it to be a novelty, the Apple Watch is growing as a tool to supplement people who use iPhone or other Apple products. The app works as well as any other Apple Watch app with custom notifications and the ability to use the digital crown to scroll through archived games. Unfortunately, this means that the app also suffers from some of the watch’s setbacks including some slow load times for games. Apple has promised to fix these problems by moving more of the operating system on to the device itself with the coming release of watchOS 3 this fall.