Tuesday, October 19, 2010


As promised in my last post, I would start writing about chess again.  So here it is; a post that's completely about chess. 

A few weeks ago I did a lecture for one of my chess classes.  I showed one of my favorite games that Judith Polgar played back in 1988 at the tender age of 12.  It's short, but full of wonderful tactics and ends with a spectacular queen sacrifice.  When I show the game I bring up a few different themes in terms of development, removing the defender tactic and square weaknesses.

J. Polgar

Position after 12...Qb6

It's easy to see from the little arrow that Black is threatening White's bishop.  I typically ask the students what the threat is, and how to defend against the threat.  Most students can see that the bishop is hanging, but I'll get various answers on how defend. Answers range from moving the bishop to guarding with a4.  Some students will come up with Polgar's move 13. Nc3. With a more advanced class, the students will be able to explain that the move not only defends the bishop, but completes White's development by connecting the rooks on the back row.  With a group that hasn't quite gotten the hang of opening principles it's an excellent example of how to complete one's development.

After 13...Bxe5 14. Rae1 Bxc3 15. bxc3 this gives me a chance to discuss the tactic: removing the defender.  Even though Black erred in going this route it's still a good example of how remove a defender, leading to the win of a piece.  However in this particular position 15...Qxb5 is a blunder. This leads into the last lesson of weak squares.  Exchanging off the fianchettoed bishop protecting the king is dangerous if one is not getting the same color square bishop in return.  Polgar punished Black with 16. Qh6. No matter how Black defends she can't stop White from mating.

Here's the complete game with the crushing queen sacrifice on move 17.


I did that lesson on a Tuesday, and on Thursday I would play a game with another female where we would both be giving up our fianchettoed bishops for some other then the same color squared bishop.  It was the race to see who could mate first on g2 or g7.  Admittedly the game was sloppy on both our parts leading up to the crucial position.  This was one game where Caissa blessed me with kindness.

Position after 27. Qd2??

Here is where Caissa truly smiled on me.  Move order is the difference between life and death in this position.  Black played 27...Nxf1+? which causes the game to continue 28. Rxf1 Bxf1 threatening mate in two with 29...Qh3+ 30. Kg1 Qg2#.  I defend against the mate with 29. Qh6. creating my own mate threat of 30. Qg7#

However if Black reversed the move order by playing 27...Bxf1!, it leaves White with the unpleasant choices of 28. Rxf1 Nxf1+ forking the king and queen or  29. Qxe3 Qh3+ 30. Kg1 Qg2#.  Fortunately that move order did not occur so I was able to play 29. Qh6 to reach the position below.

Position after 29. Qh6!

Once again Caissa smiled on me as Black played 29....Kf7?? allowing me 30. Nd6+ forking her king and queen.  She could have defended with 29...Qh3+. After 30. Qxh3 Bxh3 31. Nd6 Bd7 we'll end out in a complex position with White having two pawns for being down the exchange.  Given that we were playing cracktion and both were under 8 minutes who knows how it would have gone.  I'm not sure Caissa would have given me another second chance.
Here is the entire game.  It was rather sloppy  I probably should have been punished by Caissa for my play, but maybe she was just being kind knowing how the last two rounds would go for me, two ugly losses after an ugly win.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Write Stuff

My posting has been rather sporadic as of late.  I have been playing some chess in September and October with mixed results.  Some games have been pretty good, and other games just butt ass ugly!  I will confess a majority of the games have been played at the "cracktion" time control of G/30.  On a positive note there weren't many time pressure induced implosions.  On a not so positive note some the games I got smashed out of the opening or missed simple tactics early before time became a factor.  In those cases blaming the clock doesn't help.

I have been doing a great deal of writing for the past two months, but it hasn't been blog related.  As my regular readers know, I am testing for Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do in November.  At our school the requirements for becoming a Black Belt go beyond knowing the forms, breaking boards and sparring.  We have to do a fast, go on a group hike, read a book and write a book report on it, write an essay and do a 3 hour sitting meditation.  Yes, "Ms. Can't Sit Still During a Long Chess Game" actually sat still for 3 hours! I did have to change leg position sometimes because sitting cross legged for such a long time tends to hurt after awhile.  No I can't put my legs up on top each other like the very limber yoga types or even like Grandmaster Kim did for the meditation.

The essay we had to write was about our goals in Tae Kwon Do, and benefits we receive from Tae Kwon Do.  Being one of many words I wrote an eight page essay on the topic.  I wanted to share the benefits portion of the essay because I think a lot of what I've gained through Tae Kwon Do transfers over to chess.  In these last couple of months as my Tae Kwon Do training has intensified I've started to actually see that some of what I've gotten from the sport is transferring  to chess.  There are still technical elements that I need to work on in chess, but some of the psychological elements are falling into place.  If I can get back to the technical elements (tactics training, opening preparation and end game study) I believe I can perhaps get my rating back over 1800.

Black Belt Essay


"I would see ads in the newspaper for various martial arts schools.  Each ad would tout the benefits of martial arts for children with phrases such as “Develops self-discipline.” “Improves their behavior at home and school”, “Builds self –confidence”.  The marketing to adults was more on the line of physical fitness, self-defense and losing weight, with no mention of self-discipline or self-confidence.  I would look at these ads and think to myself “Couldn’t adults get some of the same benefits that were being marketed to kids?”  I knew I sure could use a dose of self-discipline and self-confidence to help me find some direction in my chaotic dyslexic ADHD driven life.

For a number of years on trips to Borders bookstore I sometimes would stop and look in the window of Grandmaster Kim’s and watch the kids doing class.  I think even one time I walked in and asked about adult classes, but got scared off by the time commitment and the cost.  At that time I wasn’t ready.  It was on one of those trips to Borders that I saw 6 adult women taking class during the day.  That was when I walked through the doors and signed up for a trial lesson, “and the rest is history”, or so they say.

The rest is not history.  It’s journey that started the day I took that trial lesson, and decided I wanted to learn Tae Kwon Do.  I’m sure Instructor Mitchell probably wasn’t convinced he would make a sale from that trial lesson.  I think one of the first questions I asked upon seeing him bring out a board with the paper work was, “You’re not going to have me break that?”  Yes he was going to have me break a board before our time was up.  I kept saying there was no way I could break that board.  Talk about needing self-confidence!   I did break a board in that lesson, just not the one he initially brought out.  I was so afraid of hurting my hand, he had me break a children's board instead.

The trial lesson convinced me that Tae Kwon Do was something I needed in my life.  I signed up for a one-year program and paid for the whole thing up front.  I figured that would be good motivation to get me going in a new direction.  I left the school that day with a crisp new dobak and a student handbook. 

After having read the student handbook several times, I decided it was time to fill in the Personal Goals section in the back of the book. 


Fill in three things you would like to improve or accomplish through Tae Kwon Do.

This is what I wrote at the time:

 Build up confidence and self-esteem.
Develop better focus and concentration.

Get stronger physically and mentally.

These were pretty general goals.  They weren’t as specific as what was quoted at the bottom of the page. “My Goal is to be a Black Belt, Instructor, Master and Grandmaster!”

At the time I didn’t have such ambitions.  After my first class my goal was to make through my second class without having another meltdown, and perhaps get past #2 of Kam Sa Hyung. The idea that I could become a Black Belt seemed absurd at the time.  In fact I had told myself before I even started taking classes that I wasn’t going to get wrapped up in this whole “belt thing.”  I just wanted to get a workout and see if I could learn to focus better.

It would take me 3 weeks to get my first patch.  I found it humiliating to come in week after week with this plain white uniform with no patches on it.  In my mind having a totally unadorned uniform screamed out “Total newbie!”  I felt like people were looking at me and thinking, “She is so hopeless, she’ll be gone in a month.”

What I was feeling was not what was actually happening. I was not being made fun of, instead what I found was a group of very supportive people who were at various stages of their Tae Kwon Do journey.  Every single person whether he was a White Belt, or a seasoned Master said the same thing, “I started in the same place.”  These people were able to help encourage me, and explain things that I was having trouble understanding.

Benefits of Tae Kwon Do
Those early months as the most junior of belts were very humbling.  Anything that I had accomplished as an athlete in the past did not matter when I stepped into the dojang.  It didn’t matter how many medals and trophies I won as an accomplished age group triathlete.  It didn’t matter that I had represented the United States in the Triathlon Age Group World Championships.  These things weren’t going to make me into a Black Belt.  Only hard work, focus and patience would put me on the path to Black Belt.

I would have to say a benefit of Tae Kwon Do that is not touted in advertisements for martial arts schools is humility.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen an ad announce “Learn Tae Kwon Do to get humility!”  Most people don’t want to be told they need to become humble in order to succeed.  They want to be able to accomplish great things and let everyone know how great they are.  Being prideful and arrogant are major roadblocks on the Tae Kwon Do journey. In his book Tae Kwon Do Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Warrior, Master Doug Cook states "By allowing humility to become the medium in which discipline can germinate and prosper, the martial artist will harvest a newly found sense of self-esteem that will act as fortification against the enemy within.". Without humility it's very difficult to reap the other benefits of Tae Kwon Do. 

In many sports people are ranked by ability.  If someone joins a running or cycling club, he will be placed in a group that is appropriate for his ability.  It may be the first day he runs or rides with the club he might be in a group that’s either too slow or too fast.   After a meeting or two he’ll find the group that’s appropriate for his pace.  As he improves he’ll move to a faster group.  However there is not necessarily a step-by-step progression he takes to move to a faster group.  Not every single person in that club will have started in the beginner group.  Some people are naturally talented, and it doesn’t take much to progress from back of the pack to front of the pack.  Sometimes these very talented athletes don’t have an appreciation for what it takes to progress in their sport.

Every single person who comes into Grandmaster Kim’s dojang to learn Tae Kwon Do starts in the same place.  He or she starts in the back of the classroom in a brand new uniform with no patches and no belt.  It doesn’t matter if she’s the prettiest girl in her class, or the fastest runner in her school she will start her Tae Kwon Do journey the same way we all did.  Learning and showing proficiency in the basics will earn the patches and that White Belt that she’ll eventually will wear.  The basic requirements will be the foundation on which everything else is based.

It took time to adapt to the traditional ways of a martial artist. The etiquette was nothing I had learned before.  I was not used to bowing and greeting people as sir or ma’am, or having people greet me that way.  At first I felt awkward when I would come into the dojang and people would say “hello ma’am”.  It wasn’t something I was accustomed to, or even something felt I deserved.  I thought sir and ma’am were just for those senior to me.  I quickly learned that regardless of rank, students greet one another this way as a show of respect.  It took getting used to following instructions in manner that wasn’t natural to me.  At times it was difficult to accept the fact that it the master’s way, not my way.  It took time but I eventually learned what was meant by rule #7. Establish trust between teacher and student.

It may take some students longer then others to learn humility. Once learned then it gives each student a greater appreciation of what their seniors went through to get to where they are now.  It also helps them relate to their juniors who are facing the same challenges they dealt with at their stage of their development as a martial artist.  Grandmaster Kim continually reminds us to respect our seniors and love our juniors. It’s hard doing those things if we're so full of ourselves.  Personally I’ve found myself looking at people and things with a greater sense of appreciation.  The world I live in does not revolve around me.  I find myself spending more time looking at what I can contribute to others.

What is the very first set of movements we learn? Kam Sa Hyung. Those movements are the building blocks of the basic stances and punches.  It's also referred to as the Appreciation Form.  The understanding being, “The more knowledge we posses, the more we appreciate everything around us.”  It's a form that is common ground for every single student. It’s the first thing we do as a group after meditation and warm ups. Everyone from No Belt to Master performs Kam Sa Hyung every time she or he attends class.

With humility comes another benefit of Tae Kwon Do: Self-discipline.  Discipline starts from Day 1. In fact it started before Day 1. In my trial lesson I learned the proper way to bow, how to address instructors and masters, and how to enter and exit the dojang.  All of this I learned before I even signed up. There are no short cuts in Tae Kwon Do.  Every kick, block and punch must be practiced over and over again.  The 10 basic motions and poomse become ingrained in our minds with constant practice.  It takes self-discipline to continually practice in order to make our forms better.  It is too easy think "I know this. I don't need to practice anymore."  It's also easy to get discouraged when learning something new.  There were times when I would be learning a new form and felt like I would never be able to do it correctly. It was during those periods where I would have to force myself to keep trying.

There is also the discipline that is demanded of each of us during class.  Proper discipline requires us to give our complete attention to the masters and instructors.  When we hear Cha Ryut that's the command to come to attention. No looking around the room or adjusting of uniforms. Mind and body together.  This attention to discipline has helped me focus better. The focus and discipline not only helps in class, but also in other things that require a lot of focus and concentration. Staying focused has always been a challenge for me. I was the kid who was bouncing from one thing to another and not paying attention in class.  I was ADHD long before anyone knew what it was. It's something that has continued to be a struggle for me even as an adult.  The self-discipline I've had to develop to make progress as a martial artist has been helpful in other areas of my life.

 This self-discipline has helped me in making better food choices and lifestyle changes. With these changes I'm finally getting my weight back to where it was when I was in racing condition. I'm not quite there yet, but it's a goal that I'm very close to reaching. Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight will play a big part in being able to achieve my long-term Tae Kwon Do goals.
As I have developed discipline I have derived another benefit from Tae Kwon Do. Self-confidence. Self-confidence can seem contrary to the humility that we gain in our training.  However there is a big difference between self-confidence generated by belief in yourself and your knowledge and the over-confidence that comes from false bravado and cockiness. Grandmaster Kim encourages us to believe in ourselves. He tempers that belief in ourselves by asking us to be honest with ourselves. If he asks, "did you do your best?" it's up to us to answer the question honestly. There are times where I've lacked focus and really didn't do a very good job. If I raise my hand to say I did my best then I'm not being honest with Grandmaster Kim or myself.

Having the confidence in myself makes it a lot easier to be honest in evaluating myself.  I can tell myself "I can do better." When faced with new challenges I can tell myself "I can do this."  Staying positive and being confident makes it easier to deal with difficult situations.  The self-confidence I’ve developed in class helps me in real life situations.  Something may prove to be very difficult, and I might not be successful at first. However having self –confidence gives me the determination to keep working at it.  I often will think to myself “Yes I can!” when I need a little encouragement to get over whatever hurdle I’m facing.

In Master Cook's book Tae Kwon Do Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Warrior, he devotes an entire chapter to "The Enemy Within". This is an area of my life I've spent much time thinking about and working on. With my learning issues and ADHD I've had many problems with discipline and self-esteem through out my life.  It's been difficult to be confident in myself when through out much of my life I've been criticized for being lazy, unfocused and disorganized. As a child I was teased a lot about my funny speech and the way I acted. Even as an adult I've struggled with insensitive people who ask me about the way I talk. I’ve struggled with organization and then have beat myself up when I can’t find something or miss an appointment.  I truly have been my worst enemy in terms of emotional growth.

In the chapter, “The Enemy Within”, Master Cook states, "....the image we perceive is a reflection of the person we've created in our mind.  Our persona is (in addition to a multitude of other psychological and physical factors) a product of the manner in which we were raised, our physical appearance, the criticism we receive from others, and our successes and failures. ...it is difficult, if not impossible, for us to remain genuinely objective regarding our self-image. To dwell too long on this topic can result in either conceit or despair. ...given the wide spectrum of emotional possibilities we are capable of,  we should not be overly critical of ourselves. Rather, we should concentrate on developing our strengths while transforming, fortifying and eliminating our weaknesses."

Master Cook pretty much summarizes what has been the biggest obstacle in my Tae Kwon Do journey. For me it took a long time to build up confidence in myself.  As I slowly progressed through the color belt ranks, I was extremely hard on myself.  It was too easy to blame age, my learning issues and poor coordination on my lack of progress.  It probably was around Blue or Purple Belt that I realized that I really was becoming a martial artist, and that my past history should not be a hindrance to becoming a Black Belt.  It was at that point I could really start believing "a Black Belt is a No Belt who never quit."

Each promotion test is measure of progress that helps remind me of just how far I've come. To progress from the 53-year-old woman who cried her first night of class to the woman who is on the verge of becoming a Black Belt has been a life-changing event. I feel as though I've had an emotional breakthrough as I've overcome both mental and physical challenges to reach the point I'm at right now.  This is the first time in many years that I have undertaken something brand new, and stayed with it.  Traveling this road towards Black Belt makes me realize that I have it within me to try new things and make changes that will have a positive affect on my life."

I'm still working on how to transfer the focusing and self-discipline piece to chess.  I'm encouraged by the fact that I've managed to not toss away winning positions by losing focus, and getting distracted by external factors.  Every time I've gotten a winning position recently, I've reminded myself that it's not a win until checkmate, the opponent's flag falls or he resigns.  It's true I had a close call last week when I went for an insane attack.  However that was not overconfidence, it was overlooking one line.  I'd rather miss a line then throw it way because I thought it was a win.

Stay tuned as I will resume analyzing some of my recent games.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Phantom of the Chess Board

The New York State Championship is old news at this point.  However my round 5 was quite interesting.  Not just the game itself, but the contrasting personalities at the board. Before I could even play my game there was still the long drive from Westchester County back up to Albany.  Fortunately I was not the one driving.  I could just sit in the front seat, watch the scenery and talk to the dad who was driving.  We made very good time back up to Albany.  Just about two hours.  So we arrived by 9:45 AM for a 10:00 AM start.

When I arrived at the board my opponent already had his set and board set up.  His set was a wood set with stylized pieces where it was hard to tell the king from the queen, and bishops from pawns.  It was not a Staunton set, so despite being White I asked to use my set.   There was just no way I could play with this set and not risk doing something stupid because I can't tell the queen from the king.  I can find other ways to be stupid without trying to blame it on the pieces.

I really don't like being a nudge about whose set we're using, especially when the opponent has set his up already.  I've seen players who had Black insist on using their set despite the fact that the opponent has his out and set up already.  It didn't matter that the sets were pretty much the same, or that White's set was actually nicer.  The player with Black just does it to be annoying, or to intimidate the opponent.  I wasn't trying to do either.  I just wanted to know for sure what piece I was actually moving.

He didn't say anything about changing sets.  He simply started picking up the pieces and putting them back in his bag.  I helped him clean up his set and set up mine. I didn't think to swap boards so we used his.  The board didn't matter.  It was a standard green and buff roll up board.  After all the equipment adjustments we finally got down to playing chess.

The game started out very quietly.  We traded pawns early and then after he took my knight on c3, I recaptured with the d pawn giving him a chance to trade queens.  He did not want the queen trade so he moved his queen off the d file.  If I had any concerns about making the transition from Game/40 to 40 moves in 2 hours followed by Game/60, they were quickly dispelled.  It took us 40 minutes to play the first 10 moves.  He had used more time in the opening.  I would be the one using more time for the next 30 moves.

I wish I could say that it was time well spent.  I find with these quiet positions it's sometimes difficult to come up with an attacking plan.  With so much time available I often spend a lot of it looking at many different things.  Often it's easy to get bogged down in looking at all sorts of complicated ideas, and overlooking the obvious.  A clear example of this occurred on move 25. In the position below.

Position after 24... Kh7.

I thought I was going to be able to win a piece by playing 25. e5 Qxe5 26.  Bd4 attacking his queen and blocking his rook from defending his bishop on d3.  Sometimes in the pursuit of something clever like a pawn sac, it's easy to miss the simple way of winning a piece.  I can simply play 25. Qd2!  I didn't play it because I was  concerned about a discovered attack that's not there.  The bishop is pinned. If he plays 25...Qd7 I have 26. Rd1. The game continued 26...Qb5 27. a4 Qa6 28. Qe3 Bg6.

I knew I had something in the position, but I just couldn't find it.  This was match of Ying and Yang at the chess board.  My opponent had not budged from his sitting position.  He was hunched over and just staring at the board.  He made no eye contact with me, or even looked around the room.  His only movement was making moves over the chess board, pressing the clock and keeping score.  I on the other hand was in non-stop motion.  I was constantly changing positions in my chair.  The week before I had fallen on my back and was still in pain.  I couldn't do my usual kneeling on the chair or bending way over the chess board.  I'm trying to maintain some sense of decent posture, so I ended out standing and sitting a lot.  When I was sitting my legs are bouncing up and down or I was fidgeting with my hands.

I kept the pressure him, but somehow I missed another opportunity to win a piece.  We reached the position below after after a series of moves that allowed me to win a pawn with 29. Qxe7 Re8 30. Qd6 Ne4 31. Nxe4 Bxe4.  

Position after 31...Bxe4

I was debating about whether I should continue with the trades in the center with 32. Bxe4 or play 32. Bxg7.  I didn't like the idea that he would play 32...Bxf3.   I was concerned about him having the light square bishop and follow up with 33...Qe2 after I retreat my bishop from g7.   His fierce attack is all  a mirage.  After 32. Bxg7 if he does play 32...Bxf3 I have 33. Qxh6+ Kg8 34. Qh8#.  He has to play 32...Kxg7 which allows me to win the Bishop on e4 with 33. Qd4+. Because I had not seen the mate threat I chose to simplify with 32. Bxe4 Rxe4 33. Bxg7 Kxg7.

With that series of trades I managed to allow Black to activate his rook.  I totally missed that when he played Rxe4 he's attacking my a pawn a second time.  I brought my queen back to d2 because I wanted to get my queen back for defensive purposes.  He can bring his rook to e2.  However he simply wins his pawn back with 34...Rxa4.

It was disappointing giving the pawn back, but I still felt I was slightly better with my solid pawn structure.   However I made a few so so moves right before time control.  I made my 40th move with 13 seconds to spare.  At that point I should have gotten up from the board, and walked away from the position for a few minutes.  I was still in the hyper state of constant movement and being a bundle of nerves.  Walking away for a few minutes perhaps would have let me catch my breath, control my thoughts, and slow me down.  Instead rushed my moves as if I was still racing the clock.  One of the moves I rushed was 43. Kh3?? which allowed him to push his a pawn to a3. At that point I had a serious meltdown and allowed him to push the pawn and queen instead of playing Ra3 which allows him to win a pawn, but it's harder for him to queen in that position.  Here is the game.


I spent over a week working on this post.  While trying to come up with ideas for my narrative, I ended out going over the game several more times and got thinking about what was going on in my head.  It's easy to chalk it up to poor tactical understanding on my part.  However I think it goes deeper then that.  I've written about tournaments where I've had trouble making the transition from the accelerated schedule time control to the slower main time control.  I've gotten in trouble by playing too fast and not using the available time.  In this case I think I was making such a big effort to use my time that I allowed myself to get bogged down by unnecessary analysis.  I also was looking for problems that weren't really there.  Guarding against the phantom threats distracted me from the real threats that I had. 

This is a pattern that has shown up in a few of the games I've played in the past 10 days.  I see things that I can do, but don't because I think the opponent has a big threat.  I'm not sure why it's happening.  Sometimes I think when I'm in a bad mood or a little down on myself, I go looking for the worst in a position.  It may be I'm looking at the position in "the glass is half empty" mode when in reality "the glass is three quarters full."  I know I'm stressing a lot over my upcoming Black Belt test so I'm sure it's impacting what I'm thinking about.

It's also been hard to keep up with my blog.  Writing has not been coming easily as of late.  I've had to do several writing projects in conjunction with my Black Belt test. Even those I've had some difficulty with.  I had a book report due last week.  I felt like I was back in college as I was madly writing even on the day it was due.  Some of it may have been procrastination, but most of it was just trying to figure out what I wanted to say about what I read.  I think I changed my overall theme two or three times before I finally finished it.  Even this post changed a lot from my original premise.

Perhaps one of my upcoming posts will be the essay I have to write as part of my testing requirements.  The topic is "The Goal You Set, Is the Goal You Get."  I have to admit I have not set any chess goals, which is perhaps why I'm coming up with a lot nothing in chess.