Older Posts

Posts are in Reverse Chronological Order

Toggle a date to show or hide its post; to see more: use arrow keys or scrollbar.

"Blunder Preventer"
Chessboard - Black to move - Find the best continuation
Black to move - Find the best continuation [click on the diagram to visit the Aimchess website]

In my perpetual quest to improve my game (by making fewer blunders), I have found another website worth trying. I get a lot of email from chess websites; today I received an email from iChess.net with the provocative subject "This New Search Tool Will Supernova Your Chess Improvement…". They offered a test drive, so I tried it out. Very cool! I already have some of the iChess.net courses, so I thought this would be very useful for me personally. I also checked out the folks who made the tool for iChess.net: Aimchess. Aimchess offers help to "learn chess your way" and "Eliminate mistakes with Blunder Preventer puzzles".

Calling all fellow blunderers
On most chess sites, tactics puzzles only focus on "offense" — how do you win material when an opponent makes a mistake. But we think it's equally important to learn to avoid making those same mistakes when you're on the opposite side of the puzzle. Blunder Preventer lessons teach you the "defensive" side of chess by giving you a puzzle with two *seemingly* good options to choose between. One is a fine move and the other is a blunder.

That struck a chord with me, so I signed up for a free trial. The example above is from my Personalized Workout (based on my own lichess.org or Chess.com games). Their clever software finds blunders in your own games and creates puzzles to give you a chance to learn from them. "Once we find your weaknesses, we help you address them by combining personalized puzzles built from your mistakes with unique lessons created by a team of grandmasters and coaches." Pretty neat. They also offer some Tactics training and an Intuition Trainer (which I found quite challenging). In addition to the free membership, they also offer a premium option (which provides more detailed help and allows you to share data and lessons with your coach; it tracks multiple accounts across Chess.com, Lichess and Chess24). You can try the Premium version for $7.99 for a month or sign up for a year for $57.99.

Aimchess claims they can get better results than Lichess or Chess.com. They didn't mention Chessable (which has its own strategy for helping you improve your game). I will give them a try and report my subjective findings here after a while.
Mouse Slip or Lost Focus?
ChessBoard King abandons Bishop
White abandons his Bishop on move 53 - not a mouse slip! Curses, foiled again [by myself]!

I was doing so well. Arnold and I were playing online last Thursday; this was our first game and I was playing well. Suddenly, for reasons I cannot explain, I just lost my concentration after 52 moves and gave away a Bishop! I will share the game on the Featured Page later today or tomorrow. We played two more games, but this was the one that got away [I was definitely ahead in the endgame for the first time in ages]. Arnold won all three games, of course.

On a completely separate and unrelated note, my sometimes opponent Don Ostrowsky (of the Wachusett Chess Club) is not only a chess player but also a historian; he was recently a guest on a program called "Chess Chat" on Fitchburg local TV (FATV). If you have any interest in Russian or Ukrainian history (or the war that is currently raging in Ukraine), you should definitely check out the video. I am planning to buy his book: Russia in the Early Modern World, which was published in January 2022. At 574 pages (and a hefty price tag), this book is probably not for everyone, but my undergraduate degree in History and lifelong interest in Russian history has caught my attention. Here is the blurb on Amazon:
A fundamental problem in studying early modern Russian history is determining Russia's historical development in relationship to the rest of the world. The focus throughout this book is on the continuity of Russian policies during the early modern period (1450–1800) and that those policies coincided with those of other successful contemporary Eurasian polities. The continuities occurred in the midst of constant change, but neither one nor the other, continuities or changes alone, can account for Russia's success. Instead, Russian rulers from Ivan III to Catherine II with their hub advisors managed to sustain a balance between the two. During the early modern period, these Russian rulers invited into the country foreign experts to facilitate the transfer of technology and know-how, mostly from Europe but also from Asia. In this respect, they were willing to look abroad for solutions to domestic problems. Russia looked westward for military weaponry and techniques at the same time it was expanding eastward into the Eurasian heartland. The ruling elite and by extension the entire ruling class worked in cooperation with the ruler to implement policies. The Church played an active role in supporting the government and in seeking to eliminate opposition to the government.
Think Before You Move!
Frog Playing Scandinavian Defense
Zen Scandinavian! - Focus and Hydration: Think Before You Move - Photo by Gale Davison

I know I am preaching to the choir, but I wanted to share my new Zen frog. It isn't exactly a virtual emotional support animal, but keeping it near my computer when I play online does remind me to stay focused (and hydrated). I just started playing another Scandinavian Defense online (after losing the last one); hopefully this frog will help me to remember to stay focused on every move. It was also an excuse to share a video I watched about meditation by Zen Master Shohaku Okumura. Food for thought, even if it has no real connection to chess.

I am a little pressed for time this week (with a haircut, a wedding, a medical appointment and a chat with a lawyer), so the Featured Page will have to wait until next week. I will see some of you on Monday in Oakland, but won't be able to play on Tuesday night. We have some new faces this week (Zach and Aric); give them a hearty welcome and a good game.

Maybe I will see [you] on Zoom Thursday evening.
How to Avoid Making Blunders
Book Cover - Danger in Chess
Danger in Chess - How to Avoid Making Blunders by Amatzia Avni

This is the book I needed! Maybe you never blunder; regular followers of our Featured Page will know that I am not immune from that particular "feature" of chess. What follows is the description from the back cover of the Dover edition.

One false move, and you're dead -- as in other games, chess is fraught with situations in which the wrong reaction leads directly to defeat. However, unlike most other games, chess's most dangerous moments are often subtle and easily overlooked. This volume offers players at every level guidance on how to develop an early warning system.

I have added a perfect example of an avoidable blunder on the Featured Page from an online game I played against Arnold recently. I started off playing well, but for some reason [chess blindness, perhaps] just threw my Queen away on the 23rd move! Aaarrgh! Not even a mouse slip! Maybe reading this book will help me avoid that kind of blunder in the future. And yes, it's not the first time I have thrown my Queen away. Each of us has strengths and weaknesses as players. If you share my tendency to blunder, perhaps this book can help you, too.
Can You Guess What Happens Next?
Image of position on chessboard with Black to move
Black to Move. Does he not see the threat?

Just imagine yourself in my shoes, playing Black in this game.What would you play if it were your turn? We will soon share the exciting final moves and the shocking results. You can replay the whole game (all 15 moves of it). And you can also view another game played against the same opponent (which ended rather differently). The games will be published on the Featured Page tomorrow (before our first in-person meeting in Oakland, assuming that Dunkin' will be open on Memorial Day).

Maine State Correspondence Chess Championship Players
It's Off to the Races!
Rich Strike at the 2022 Kentucky Derby
"Rich Strike, an 80-1 long shot who only entered the Kentucky Derby field on Friday as a last-minute replacement for Ethereal Road, paid off big for bettors with one of the biggest upsets in Derby history." - KDVR-TV - Photo by Nellie Carlson

In a much less crowded field, the 3rd Maine State Correspondence Chess Championship began this past week. It is not clear yet which of us is the 80-1 shot (moviebuffc48f or JPC48) but the play is brisk; nobody seems interested in waiting 7 days between moves. It feels more like blitz. But once we get out of the opening book, perhaps things will slow down. So far it looks like an interesting variety of openings: Catalan, Dutch Defense, Caro-Kann Defense, English Opening and Indian Game. I will have more to say about these games once they are finished. "Chess.com's version of correpondence chess is called Daily Chess". I play without using opening databases, but "you are allowed use opening databases (like Opening Explorer). You are not allowed to use any other outside help like engines or endgame tables." This is a very pleasant way to stay connected to the world of chess without setting aside large chunks of time; if you enjoy playing but don't have a solid hour or two to play, give correspondence chess a look.

Maine State Correspondence Chess Championship Players
Virtual Emotional Support Animals
Cat with Butterfly
Photo by Karina Vorozheeva on Unsplash

Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, we just have a tough game. Maybe our opponent ate extra Wheaties that day or maybe we are just off our game. That can lead to bruised egos, questioning one's abilities, etc. When you are feeling down in the dumps over an outcome, you might take comfort from a virtual emotional support animal (or a real pet if you have one). You might remember Chesster (the official V.E.S.A. of the Waterville Chess Club).

From time to time we will share images of V.E.S.A.s that you may want to adopt as your own. And don't worry, we all have good days and bad days. Hang in there and remember that every time you lose a game, you can learn from it and come back a better player for your next game.

I have had a busy week (so no new Featured Game this week), but I hope to have a little more time soon and will attempt to update the site in a few days. The third Maine Correspondence Championship begins this coming Wednesday [the 18th]; if you are interested, send an email to Wyatt Hendrix [see the full announcement in the MECA box].
How Is Your Memory?
Bragging about a bad memory
Staying focused and concentrating on the matter at hand in chess is of no small importance!

Maybe you have had the experience of "the one that got away" in one of your chess games. You are playing well and everything is shaping up to be a great victory, but your attention wanders or you move a little too quickly and 'poof' goes your victory! It happens to most of us. The good news is that playing often gives you more practice at concentration; and our chess club offers many opportunities to play. For some of us in our 7th or 8th decade, you'd think with all those years of practice we'd be better at it than younger players. Jury is still out on that one!
The Art of Chess Problem Composition
Book Cover for Professione Problemista
Professione Problemista is an Italian book about creating chess puzzles

With all the excitement about the 2022 Maine State Open Tournament behind us [though we will be sharing some of the games on the Featured Page], I thought it might be fun to take a look at chess puzzles (for a change). Even though we have looked at some exciting endgame puzzles recently (thanks to NM Nelson Lopez's coverage of the Mark Liburkin endgame studies - see the April 24th, 2022 post below), there are lots of other kinds of chess puzzles. You might be familiar with the Eight Queens puzzle and the Knight's Tour.

Compos[ing] chess problems is not just a pastime, it is an art. In this volume, illustrated and commented step by step, the author proposes an approach to the composition of chess [problems], imagining a dialogue between an expert player at the table, who wants to approach the subject, and his teacher, who guides him in the discovery of this parallel world. Elements of theory alternate with numerous examples, advice and practical demonstrations, in the hope that this will help give new life to the Italian problem scene and bring to light new composers and new ideas.
The volume integrates a collection of the best compositions by the author, born in 1987 and currently the youngest Italian composer, awarded with the title of National Master of Composition in 2018 and with hundreds of publications and awards worldwide.
- Messaggerie Scacchistiche - Chess Messaging [via Google Translate]

For a short time, I was tempted to buy the book [I do speak a bit of Italian], but in the end sanity prevailed. I am not likely to struggle through a book in a foreign language when I have so many chess books already [in English]. If it ever becomes available in English, I will definitely buy it! Click on the links to practice your Italian!

Recently I spoke with Evan Annis, the organizer for the Camden Chess Club, about how we could share our chess book libraries more widely; with all the advances in technology, it is easier (and probably more efficient) to study online (Chessable has a fabulous tool to help you learn tactics and openings, and a new tool to analyze issues in your games after the fact). Another issue with chess books is that the older ones use descriptive notation; it's a lot of work to translate that into algebraic notation in your head before you move the pieces around on a physical chessboard. As you know, we have a lending library for our physical chess books (and I still really enjoy physical chess books). I plan to contact the Maine State Librarian to see if there is a way we can make our books available all over Maine, not just in the Waterville area.
Mark Liburkin Endgame Studies
White to move and win
Can You Find The Winning Move? A Mind Boggling Study By Mark Liburkin
FEN: 5K2/6p1/7b/8/1B3P2/7k/4N3/8 w - - 0 1

If you like chess puzzles, you'll like this one. White to move and win. Take your time, though, because the answer is not obvious [there are more than one answers, in fact]. This puzzle was composed by Mark Liburkin in 1945. I learned about it from watching a video by NM Nelson Lopez; after you try to solve the puzzle, check out his video by clicking on the image above.

EXTRA! "Chess lessons are more than just a game for refugee students at Stough Elementary School in Raleigh, North Carolina. The students are from Afghanistan, forced to flee their country with their families when the Taliban regained control. As suggested by a friend, ESL teacher Cindy Linton incorporated chess as a tool for the students to develop critical thinking in a second language. Linton brought chess grandmaster Elshan Moradiabadi, one of the most prominent players in chess, to meet her students." - NBC Nightly News via Jenny Engle
It's That Time of Year Again!
Easter Bunny Wikileaks cartoon
Is nothing sacred any more?

When you are trying to learn a new chess opening, it's a good idea to play a lot of games with that opening. After a while, whether you win or lose your games, you should get a sense of what works and what does not work. I have been working on learning the Scandinavian Opening lately. On the Featured Page this week, I share my latest attempt. It's worth mentioning that the opening is only the beginning of a chess game [thank you, Captain Obvious]. You still need to play well in the middle game (not to mention the endgame). The other game on the Featured Page is another French Defense from Bob Lutz. Even after I threw a few curve balls (metaphorically speaking), Bob managed a victory.
Focus, Focus, Focus!
White chess pieces bring down Black King
The image of White chess pieces working together to bring down the Black King was borrowed from the Canadian Elevate My Chess website.

What a difference a single move can make! As White, Bob Lutz was dominating the game right up until his 20th move. In this week's Featured Game, Ellie capitalized on a missed opportunity by White to take control of the game and turn defeat into victory. There were mistakes made by both players, but by staying focused Ellie prevailed in the end.
The Fat Lady Sang!
It Ain't Over 'Til The Fat Lady Sings
It Ain't Over Until The Fat Lady Sings

I wasn't able to play in person this week, but had an enjoyable evening on Thursday playing two exciting games (against Ellie and Bob Lutz). I lost both games; check out the Featured Page for all three games we played. In my London System game against Ellie, I lost focus in a lust for material and failed to check for mating threats. I joked with her that the fat lady hadn't sung yet because I had gone back on the offensive (after being back on my heels during the middle game). But she kept her cool and found the decisive move to win the game (just in the nick of time)!

Maine Chess Association

Interested in playing rated games?

About MECA

MECA Website

2022 Maine State Open Championship
22 or 23-24 April 2022

You can see the results here.

3rd Maine State Correspondence Chess Championship
14 May 2022 to whenever

You can follow the current state of the tournament here. Just click on the number of completed or remaining games to see the moves for specific games in the tournament!
Status of chess tournament games