Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fritz vs Chaisson

This week while waiting for my daughter at the swimming pool I took the laptop and played four 25 min games against Fritz. To make it fair I lowered the computer's strength. According to the directions it's strength was 2000, but it didn't seem that strong to me. I drew the first game, blundered the second and won the third and here is the fourth.

Fritz2000 2008-11-25.pgn

Edited comment: I 've played several more games since then and I lost every one, most with stupid blunders. I seem to be playing like its a blitz game.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Chess Is For Nerds?!

Last weekend my company held it’s Christmas party in Edmonton at the Cree River Resort and Casino. There happened to be a kid’s chess tournament going on that Sunday at the Edmonton Chess Club and I figured my two kids would enjoy playing in it so I signed them up. They had always wanted to play in other tournaments in Edmonton and sometimes last year we specifically drove into Edmonton for some of these junior tournaments. I was surprised when they both told me that they didn’t want to play chess anymore and that chess was for nerds! ........Ouch. I didn’t want to push them into the tournament, so we spent the afternoon wandering around the mall and then driving home.

How did chess get such a bad rap? Two years ago they wanted to play in tournaments all the time and they did very well. My daughter had a scholastic rating that put her in the top 10 in the country for girls in grade 4 and my son came second for grade 2 at the Alberta Provincial Chess Challenge. Now they don’t want to play. I know this is partly because they didn’t do so well in their last tournament, which was the 2008 Alberta Chess Challenge. My boy was very sick that day and was so drugged up on cold medicine he couldn’t stay awake between rounds, and my daughter got very discouraged after a loss and played badly. A bad result can be very discouraging, I know it is for me, but this is not the only reason for their change in attitude. I think the main reason is the way our society puts down intellectual endeavours. Children pick up on this very quickly. It’s not that they don’t want to play chess, it’s that they don’t want their friends to know they play chess. Chess has been branded with the nerd label and apparently being good at chess gives you zero social status.

Being good at sports on the other hand is cool, but I guess this has always been the case. I can remember growing up my two older brothers were both gifted athletes and received the rewards and accolades that come with that, such as popularity and an attractive status to the opposite sex. I loved sports just as much, but being only average athletically; I never received the same rewards. Still it seemed to me that being an average hockey player was better than being a good chess player and if someone asked me what I did for fun I would list the sports I played rather than chess. This attitude is still engrained in me. Recently when I was going to Medicine Hat for a tournament and I was asked at work what I was doing for the weekend, I thought twice before answering. Do I really want these people to know I play chess? They might think I’m a strange, geeky, weird nerd - if they haven’t figured that out already. I reasoned that we are all grown-ups here, and I shouldn’t have these childish fears, so I answered truthfully and said that I was playing in a chess tournament. I could tell by their expressions and their questions that they couldn’t understand why someone would want to do that. If I had said that I was going to a curling bonspiel I know I wouldn’t have got the same reaction.

Maybe the nerd label will one day be removed from chess. I know when I was younger computers were associated with “nerds” but today every kid wants a computer. I think intellectual achievements are just as important as athletic ones but I know that society does not agree with me yet so I will continue to encourage athletic activities for my kids and I will try to convince them to play chess again, but it might be a losing battle.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Meet the new rating, just like the old rating

I see my match against Jamin was rated and my rating has dropped to 1787. This is the exact rating that made me quit chess 15 years ago.

A long time ago, as a scrawny teenager, I wandered into the Charlottetown chess club at the YMCA and joined their monthly tournament. I wasn’t used to playing with a clock but over the course of the month I won a couple of games and threw a couple away and I got my first rating. I think it was around 1300, but I knew I could do better. I joined the club and started playing regularly every Tuesday evening. I improved quickly and started winning most of the club tournaments. My rating seemed to climb naturally but I developed some bad habits. I relied mainly on tactics to win games and I didn’t concentrate on my own game. That worked against the other players in the club but when I left the Island to play my first big tournament I found that I wasn’t as good as I thought. The players in Ontario had much more opening knowledge than me, and I had no tactical advantage. When I got back home I started studying a bit more and concentrating on just a few openings. My rating continued to climb to a peak of just over 1900 but then fell back and settled in the 1800’s and stalled there. I needed more games against higher rated opponents to improve, but there was no internet then and I couldn’t afford to travel to far off tournaments. As other things in life took over my time, I stopped playing regular weekly games and when I did play a tournament my rating started to tumble. I remember my last tournament falling into the Blackbourne Gambit trap to a young kid and and seeing my rating drop below 1787. I decided then that I wasn’t going to play another tournament unless I was prepared and studied my openings.

Years passed, I moved to Alberta, I got married and had children and had not thought about chess much until my kids started playing. After re-entering tournament chess, I have now played ten events and though I think I have improved over the last two years, my rating has now dropped back below 1800 again. Some of my bad habits have changed and some are the same. On the positive side, I do concentrate on my own game now and I don’t have the same desire to wander around the room to try to find a more interesting game. On the negative side, I find I can sometimes have very little enthusiasm when I’m playing a game especially if it is against a lower rated player or if I think I should be doing something else that day. I’m missing a lot when looking at tactics now compared to before. These may be things that go along with getting older, but my weak openings are just a result of my lack of useful studying. The question is now, what to do about my chess?

Option 1. Quit again. I f I do this it will probably not be a conscious decision, but rather a gradual lowering of interest until I find I haven’t played for a long, long, time.
Option 2. Play less regularly probably at a 1700 level. Maybe play in one out of town tournament a year plus the Battle at the Border. The question is, would I get enough enjoyment out of this to continue playing without falling into option 1.
Option 3. Really start studying and see if I can improve to 2000. The problem with this is that there is not enough time in the day to balance work, family, and an obsessive hobby like chess.

I hope I don’t end up choosing option 1, as I still get enjoyment out of playing a good game whether it’s a win or a loss. Plus I haven’t really played a complete tournament yet and I feel there is one inside me waiting to come out. Right now I have no definitive plans to play in an upcoming event. Maybe in the new year.