Monday, August 31, 2015

My First Tournament Win!

This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of playing in the Joplin Summer Open in Joplin, Missouri.  The tournament was four rounds of game in 60 with a 5 second delay.  This time control is a little quick for me, but I'm happy for any chance at over-the-board play.  This was an hour drive from me, but since it's a one day tournament, driving up and back on the same day is no problem.

I arrived at about 8:20 am and checked in with the tournament director.  The word was that we would have about 16 players play in the tournament with any more than that being just people that didn't notify the director they were coming.  Still, there might be 20 or so at the start of the tournament with a little luck.

As it turned out, we started off with 17 players.  I was paired with a player rated in the low 800s in the first round.

It was a shaky start for me as I inadvertently left my opening system early on.  I improvised a pretty solid opening, though, and I'm pretty sure I was better from the outset.  Then I forgot my e-pawn was hanging.

If he took my e-pawn, I still would've been better, but I would've had to fight harder to maintain that edge rather than immediately trying to capitalize on the edge I already had. 

Luckily, he didn't take it and I got to work improving my position. Once we were into the middle game, I cracked open the position with his king in the center and pieces awkwardly placed.  

I wound up winning a couple of pawns and later on a full piece.  

However, I stupidly threw my advantage completely away by letting his king invade in the endgame when I got short on time.  I thought my king had his blocked out, but it wasn't.  

I had to fight to even hold a draw, but my opponent pressed too hard.  Afterwards, he told me he thought I would lose on time if he didn't take the draw, so he allowed me to capture the dangerous passed pawn that I was struggling against.  However, I had no problem converting the position, even with 11 seconds on my clock.  The 5 second delay was what I lived on.  I used a few seconds double-checking that I wasn't stalemating him, and he resigned with 6 seconds still on my clock.  Disaster averted!

In the second round, I played a very solid player who was very near my rating.  I felt I played extremely well in the opening and again obtained a decent edge.  As the middle game began, we wound up castling to opposite sides and my attack was much faster.  I had my opponent against the ropes and only had to play the most obvious check on the board on multiple moves in order to finish him off.  For some reason, I convinced myself that continuing to build up before finally crashing in was the right move.  I managed to get myself into a pickle and had to give up my queen for two rooks, but I was surely still winning.  I wound up going up a full piece by the time the proper endgame rolled around.  This time, I did manage to toss away the easy win and only escaped with a draw as his king gobbled my last pawn (my lone knight was not going to be enough).

As I headed to grab a quick lunch, it was hard to be either happy or disappointed with the way the morning went.  I had 1.5 out of 2 points, but I should've easily won both games.  I had to tighten my play up for the second half of the day.

In the third round, I was paired against a young man I had played about a year ago.  We played to a draw, though I'm pretty sure I tossed away a win in that game, too.  In this game, I blitzed out one of the main lines of my Scandinavian Defense, while he struggled with each move.  I managed to have a time advantage after the opening for once.  I had a feeling I knew exactly when and how he was going to deviate from my opening repertoire and started mentally preparing for my guess before we got there.  I knew I didn't have a response prepared for what I thought he was going to do, so I needed to start thinking about it now.  It was actually a little funny to me that he was analyzing a position several moves behind the one I was thinking about.  I was exactly right, too.

I took a few extra minutes when he deviated to try to devise the correct plan.  I did decently, getting the first few moves of what I should be doing right, but I didn't find the right longer term plan.  I know now exactly how to handle what he did.  If I'd looked at that idea before-hand I would've gotten a very strong position right out of the opening.  As it was, I think I had just equalized.  A few moves later, though, I think he had created some weaknesses and I had solidified my position enough that I had a small edge.  I was feeling pretty good, and that's when I completely under-estimated one of his ideas, allowing him to win a pawn and get a pretty good position.  I fought as hard as I could, but I'm pretty sure I was completely lost.  However, he blundered and let me get some counter-play.  Finally, at the end, he blundered into a mate in two.  I think he thought he was going to checkmate me, but the position was actually a draw if he makes the best move.  However, the move that threatened to checkmate me allowed the mate in two.  He jumped on it without considering my reply, and he was devastated.  I felt pretty bad for him, but I'm now sitting at 2.5/3 and one game away from winning the tournament (nobody had 3/3), though I didn't really even know that at the time.

In the final round I was paired with another 2.5/3 rated almost 400 points higher than me.  Talk about a back and forth game!  In this game, I got an advantage out of the opening (A Queen's Gambit Accepted), missed a clear game-winning tactic that I knew was there but just couldn't find, still managed to get a winning position, tossed it away back to basically even by missing a tactic, then incorrectly sacrificed a piece for a pawn (thinking it was back rank mate if he took it, but it wasn't!), and regained the piece through some tactical bluffing, finally emerging to a two rooks and four pawns vs. two rooks and three pawns endgame (I'm up a pawn).  Ridiculous!  He offered me a draw since we were the last two playing and all rook endings are drawn, but I was having none of it.  I managed to play a pretty darn good endgame for once and hammered home the win.

After everyone left (except the tournament director, who I am friends with), I collapsed into the floor exhausted and very happy.  I asked if I happened to win prize money, and he looked at me like I was crazy.  "Uh, yeah, you just won the tournament!"  I honestly didn't even realize it at the time.  I helped him carry his equipment back to the car and got in my car for the hour drive home.

What a great day!  I had been waiting for everything to finally come together in one tournament for me, and it finally had.  My rating shot up 91 points, and I moved up from Class C to Class B.

I will post the games themselves soon, but I'd like a chance to add my thoughts before I do so.  If you'd really like to see them, here is a link to the raw pgn:


Monday, August 24, 2015

TIL #2

Today I learned a position in the Lev Alburt Chess Training Pocket Book has an incomplete answer.  The position, which I was checking out during a break in action at work today, is shown below:

As a tactical problem, the solution jumped out pretty immediately.  Rxd6 Rxd6 e5 seems obvious.  I felt, however, that the next couple of moves were also very important.  For instance, after Rxd6 Rxd6 e5 Ke6, it is extremely important to capture the rook with the pawn and not the bishop.  If Bxd6, after f6, the game is drawn!  Instead, white must capture with the pawn, exd6 after which the win is trivial.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Photo-Blog on Tumblr

I've started a separate blog for just the image stuff in my chess world.  Pictures of projects, study setups, equipment, and maybe some of me playing in tournaments (though those are difficult because I'm usually by myself at tournaments and nobody else cares to take pictures of me playing or at least share them with me if they happen to catch me in a shot.  We'll see how that aspect goes.

Here's the link:

Three Coats of Polyurethane Later

And, I'm finished!  I didn't ruin anything, but I think I did sand through the finish a little bit after trying to smooth out the raised paint edges after two coats of polyurethane.  It's ok, I'm still really happy.

Also, I discovered that lowering the leaves of the kitchen table allows this table top to fit right over the top and around the kitchen table, basically converting it into a dream chess table.  I'm still going to take it to school and use it there, semi-permanently, but having the kitchen table option at home is pretty awesome.

Works great for Sinquefield Cup viewing, too!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

First game on hand-made tabletop!

I took the tabletop to school today to kind of show it off and try a few games on it.  I told everyone to be very careful since I hadn't applied a protective layer to the surface yet, but I played a game with one of my students.

The best part is I realized that if I sat the board down on top of two old bookshelves I had sitting in my closet, it is a perfect height to play on and very stable.  The boards around the bottom rim of the tabletop keep it in place nicely, too.  This would be perfect!

I took black so I could try out my new Scandinavian Defense line.  I got a nice game and eventually won a piece and my opponent resigned.  I took a photo of the first ever game on it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Dual-Chessboard Project (DIY!)

I found a piece of wood in my garage that used to be the bottom of a baby crib. We had gotten rid of the baby crib a few months earlier (trash!), but apparently had forgotten to throw out this bottom board. When I noticed it, I immediately thought it would make a very attractive table top with two chess boards painted onto it. It's just how my mind works. I've been looking for some sort of a fun project with wood and paint that I might even get some use out of, and this seemed to be perfect.

I wish I had taken a picture of the board before I started on it, but I didn't think to do it. There were some warning stickers glued all over the board, so the first step was to figure out how to remove those. It was much harder than I thought it would be. Peeling and scraping was just not going to work. I tried just directly sanding them off with very little success. Finally, I thought to use google. Apparently, the trick is to warm a little bit of vinegar and rub it on the target area. I was amazed as it came off with just a light brushing almost immediately. First problem solved. This might actually work.

 I went to the store and picked up a few materials. I still expected something to cause this whole project to grind to a halt. I'd never done anything like this, and I had no idea what to expect. I picked up all the sandpaper I needed, some wood stain and a brush, and the three colors of spray paint I'd chosen.

 I sanded the board down with each of the different grits of sandpaper until it was very smoooth and brought the board outside to apply the wood stain. I actually have tried to use wood stain before, but that was a disaster because I didn't even read anything. This time, I at least knew how to do it. It seemed to go pretty well, though I don't think I wiped the stain off as thoroughly as I should've. It was here that I started taking pictures of the project, so here is the board after the wood stain went on:

The coloring didn't turn out to be as consistent as I'd like, but that got better as the stain dried.  Next, I measured out two 18" x 18" squares and centered them on each half of the board.  I taped around the board and covered everything but the squares and spray painted them gray.  I was pretty happy with how the board areas looked after I removed the masking:

After I waited a couple of days for the paint to dry, I drew light pencil lines to mark where the chess board's light and dark squares should go.  I taped over every other rank and file of each of the chessboards, leaving 16 of the dark squares exposed.  I painted the exposed areas oxford blue.

There was a lot more bleeding under the tape from the spray paint on these last two steps than I would like, and I kind of resigned myself to the fact that none of my lines would be as clean as I wanted them to be.  After the first set of dark squares dried, I covered the other set and painted the final 16 dark squares on each board.

Peeling off the masking tape after this last step revealed I'd made an error and had made one row of dark squares too big!  I'm not sure if I took a strip of tape off to reapply it and then never did, or what.  I really do not know how the error happened, but it clearly did!  I was pretty pleased with the rest of it, though.

I had to take a little extra time to fix the mistake, but it wasn't too bad.  All I had left to do was the 1/2" black border to really set things off.

When I peeled the paint off of the last bit of the black border, I was a little disappointed because there was even more bleeding than usual.  Then I realized that it didn't matter that much, because this board really popped!  I brought it inside and put it on a table and started setting up two sets of chess pieces on it for a little photo session.

Sitting down at the table for the first time with all the pieces set up was an almost surreal experience.  I had made something that looked really nice with my own hands, sure, but another part of the feeling was that the colors of this chess board had only existed on my computer screen before now.  I don't think there was any way to get these two colors on a real chess board before.  I have used this blue and gray chess board online for years.  Having a nice, real version of the chess board in front of me felt so incredibly right to me.  It was like being home for the first time in a way.

Technically, I'm not done with the project.  I will be putting a few coats of polyurethane on it to smooth the surface and to protect it.  However, the current state of this dual chessboard is quite satisfying, and I'm going to enjoy it for a day or two first just in case I ruin it with my first ever attempt at applying polyurethane!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Training Diary #2

Since my last entry, a lot has changed.  First of all, I've decided I just really don't like How to Reassess Your Chess.  I cannot get through it.  The more I tried, the more I remembered I just really don't like it.  I could get into the reasons for this, but that is probably better for a different blog entry or article.  I have spent some time looking for other things and settled on a course I had forgotten I even owned.  Igor Smirnov's Your Winning Plan, which was suggested to me by a very strong player a few years ago.  While sampling all the resources I had trying to find something to replace How to Reassess Your Chess, I found myself riveted by this one.  So, that is my new tome.  Hopefully, I won't be getting into the rut of starting book after book without finishing.  I will try not to do that.  So far, I like this one so much I'm committing to finishing it without even alternating weeks with the endgame book!  I've also got pages of notes I've taken on this course alone.  Those are definitely good signs.
I have been plugging away with tactics and openings, also.  In my last post I mentioned that I would be trying to find a way to detail my progress with the basic tactics that I drill for speed and recognition.  I use Anki flashcard software for that purpose.  I have a set of 1001 tactics from a popular tactics book called "Tactics Time" that I am converting into flashcards.  So far, I have 250 of them converted and I'm drilling those using spaced repetition in Anki.  If you are familiar with Anki, these stats may make sense.  If not, it may be gibberish, but here they are so far, current as of today:

The other side of my tactics training has to do with Chess Tempo.  I solve problems there daily, but I don't have a set routine of how many or anything.  Basically, I just go do some problems whenever I feel like it.  I should improve this by making some sort of schedule or quota, but so far, I haven't.  It's somewhat easier to track my progress with that, because the rating graph will make more sense to more people.  The thing to remember with these is that I do not focus on speed here.  I focus only on accuracy--calculation/visualization, etc.  The pattern recognition I build up with past Chess Tempo problems and the Anki flashcards should help as well, but I do not use Chess Tempo to assist in building patterns primarily, it's just a side-effect.
I have been playing long games as often as I can, both online and over-the-board.  I have committed to analyzing at least one game per week as fully as I can.  Sticking to this one isn't hard because it's something I like doing, anyway.  Some examples of the analysis I've been doing:
Just snippets of the full analysis.  I'm still working out how I want to format the analyses for actual publication.  The latter example is a pdf created with Open Office.  It looks very nice, but it is very time-consuming to make.  Analyzing in Scid vs. PC is fine, but it doesn't look as nice and there's no way to publish it without just pasting a PGN file somewhere (not ideal if you want people to actually read it).  Still working on this problem.
As always, comments and encouragement are appreciated!

TIL #1

Today, during an online (not correspondence) chess game, I learned that a typical tactical trick must always be carefully calculated before executed.  The typical tactical trick, from this position:
is simply to play Nxe5.  Of course, if white inserts the tempo-gaining capture, Bxd7+, the knight can hop out of the danger to capture the bishop.  If white just takes the en prise knight on e5 with Nxe5, the bishop is now hanging, so Bxb5 takes back a piece, resulting in the net of the originally captured e5 pawn.
     Bxd7 Nxd7
     Nxe5 Bxb5
The issue?  After the latter line (Nxe5 Nxe5 Bxb5) there is Qb3!  This forks the bishop on b5 and the f7 square.  After Qb6, attempting to defend and create an escape hatch, Qxf7 Kd8 Qxf8, white regains all the material with a tremendous attack.  Black is completely lost.
Luckily, my opponent did not spot the winning continuation and simply played Bxd7.  I went on to win the game in about 20 moves.  Maybe this is unfortunate, because the lesson will not be as painful!

A Great Hidden Feature in Lucas Chess

There are probably dozens of things that fit that description, but I want to focus on one feature I've really been using a lot lately.  The feature is simply called "Moves Tree" and is buried in the Utilities menu of the main game windows.  It is both more powerful and more useful than it initially appears.
Let's start out by making a new game from scratch using the menu items "Tool - Create Your Own Game."  Now, for the purposes of this article, let's just pick a random opening position.
Now, if you go to the menu item "Utilities - Moves Tree" you will get a new window with a list of every possible move from that position.  The first move of the list is on the board because it is highlighted by default.  You can single-click any other move in the list and that move will appear on the board.
Well, that's useful, but we don't want to look at every possible move.  What we should do instead is narrow it down to candidate moves.  There are two good ways to do this.  One is to just select the moves you want to assign a rating yourself.  Another is to let the computer assign evaluations to some or all of the moves and rate the moves according to that.  If you wish to do the former, just leave out the computer analysis step and go ahead and manually assign the ratings.  For this article, I will be allowing the computer to evaluate the moves for instruction's sake.
To start, click the yellow rectangle icon (fourth from the left) in the icon toolbar above the move list.  The tooltip for this icon is "Analyze."  You will want to set the engine to a strong one and decide how long you want it to "think."  Also, you should decide how many moves you want it to evaluate for you.  I chose 60 seconds for the time and maximum for the number of candidate moves to evaluate. 
Again, great information, but not what we really need.  Our goal was to pare down the list of moves to a reasonable list.  Based on the data the engine gave us, it appears there is one good move to make with several others that are speculative at best.  For simplicity's sake, I'm going to rate the top two moves.  Highlight the top move and then click the purple square icon in the icon toolbar whose tool tip is "Rating."  Here, you choose a color-coded square icon for each move to describe the quality of that move.  For the first move, I just selected the blue "Good move" rating.  For the second move in the list, I called it a "Speculative move."  How you rate the moves is really up to you.  The main idea is that the moves you want to keep for the future you give some rating to.
Finally, click the light bulb icon on the icon toolbar whose tool tip is "Show/Hide."  Select the menu items "Hide - No rating."  You are left with a much more manageable list of candidate moves for the position.  Click back on the first move in our list and click the plus icon in the icon toolbar whose tool tip is "Open new branch."  This is where you will start to see the power of the feature.
You will see a new list of every legal move from the position after that first candidate move was made.  If you pare this list down to a few candidate moves and repeat the process a few times, you will have the first branch of a move tree.  If you go back to our original branch and click the plus icon, you can make an entirely new branch off of that moves.  Of course, anywhere along the way, you can make new branches for each move in the move list of your branch.
But wait, there's more!  Click on one of the moves in your tree and then click the speech balloon icon in the icon toolbar whose tool tip is "Comments."  You can add a description, annotation, evaluation, or whatever you'd like for each node in the tree with this function.  It will display in the tree in the "Comments" column.  
Now, click "Save" in the top left corner of the window, and you're done.  The craziest part is any time you come back to that position, even when analyzing a totally different game, that moves tree will show up for that position.  Try it!  Close the created game you were making and start a new one without saving the previous one.  If you make those same moves again and open a new moves tree window, you will see your previous moves tree with the branches closed.  
To re-open a branch, just click the plus sign while highlighting the move.  In the saved tree view, you can see if a move has a branch hidden under it by the "up arrow caret" symbol next to the move.
I hope you find this feature as useful as I do!

More on Learning Openings

In an earlier post, I went into some detail about how to use Lucas Chess to help learn openings.  Two other tools are very useful in learning openings for me: Chess Position Trainer and Scid vs. PC.  The latter is free, the former is not, but has a pretty useful demo version (though it is well worth buying!).
Today, I am working on the Benko Gambit as white.  I have entered some variations I want to study into Chess Position Trainer.
The beauty of Chess Position Trainer is that entering the moves and variations of an opening is as simple as making moves on the board.  A tree of variations is created and saved to your repertoire database as soon as you make each move.  I have selected one particular line (shown above) to use as an example.  You can see how many distinct lines are in your opening by navigating through what are called "Leaf Nodes" (you can see I have selected to navigate by leaf nodes in the top left corner).  Leaf nodes are basically the ends of your branches.  If I hit the arrow to go to the next leaf node, it will move to another position that is at an end of a branch.  It will tell you how many leaf nodes you have in your opening in the status bar as you navigate through it this way.  Going to a leaf node lets you see one distinct line of your opening.
What I like to do is take one leaf node and enter the moves into Scid vs. PC for comparison with my main database of chess games.  I use the "GorgoBase," which is a collection of just over 2.5 million games.  It is compiled from all of the games ever released by TWIC and all of the games compiled at the PGN Mentor website.  The goal was to get a mix of both modern and historical chess games.  You can download this database for Scid or Scid vs. PC for your use at my website,
Once I have the moves entered into Scid vs. PC, I filter for all games that reached that position by going to "Search - Current Board."
This leaves me, in this case, with just over 100 games to look through.  From here I just select the first game in the list and step through it quickly using the right arrow key.  When I reach the end, I hit "ctrl+down" to load the next game in the list and step through it, too.  I look through as many of the games as I can this way, hopefully all of them.  This gives me a good impression of where pieces belong, typical pawn breaks, what the endgames usually look like, etc.  I may select a few games for deeper study if I find a game by certain players or if a particular game catches my eye for one reason or another.
After doing this, I will use Lucas Chess to play a weakened computer opponent from the position I'm studying and analyze it.  Sometimes, I will play several games this way (if I do this, it's usually some blitz games).  After doing this, going back and re-reading the book (or re-watching the video) the line originated from should help you gain even more insight.
After all that work, it's time to check out the next leaf node!

Lesson with an International Master and Training Diary #1

Note: This article was originally posted on June 29th, 2015 on
After taking a lesson from International Master Attila Turzo, I have decided to begin making blog entries detailing my goals and what I've been working on to achieve those goals.
My studies will be divided into several distinct areas.  First, I will be doing tactics training every day.  I divide that into two areas: adding patterns to my "instant-bank" (tactical patterns I can recognize as close to instantly as possible), and using those patterns in combination to calculate harder tactical problems.  The first area I train by solving simple problems using spaced repetition to build up the pattern in my "bank."  The second area I train by solving problems at that are appropriate for my ever changing tactics rating there.  This week so far, I have improved my standard tactics rating by about 130 points!  (I haven't done serious tactics training at chesstempo in a while, and my rating was languishing at some absurdly low 1500 rating, so this is rise is just correction-related and not indicative of some hard work paying off, most likely)
I will detail the "instant bank" side of training that I do in a later post, as I work out a good way to track it statistically.
Mr. Turzo recommended I pick out a set of books for each phase to concentrate on, and commit to them and finish them.  The idea we agreed on is to alternate the three books by week to avoid one book getting stale.  I have thus committed to:
1) How to Reassess Your Chess - Silman
2) 100 Endgames You Must Know - Jesus de la Villa
3) Chess Openings for White Explained  - DPA (Roman D, Perelstyn, Alburt)
I have since decided that I'm going to study a different source for the opening phase based on some feedback from others and a review by John Watson.  The book is consistent with a lot of openings I like, which is why I chose it, but the content isn't the greatest.  This also coincides with a desire I've had lately to try out 1.d4.  Therefore, I'm going to be learning a whole new d4-based repertoire.  I'll be leaving my black repertoire alone for now, and revisiting that later.
I have read a lot of How to Reassess Your Chess in the past, but never systematically studied and finished it.  I have committed now to studying it thoroughly and 100% finishing it.  Well, the 100% is slightly wrong, because I'm going to skip the random section on the endgame thrown in at the beginning, since I already have a source for that.  So far, starting at the beginning, I have worked up to pg. 42.  
Finally, I will be practicing visualization by training for blindfold chess.  One intriguing idea Mr. Turzo recommended to me was to place a knight on a chessboard in my head and try to move it from one square to another, of course, only in my head.  Initially, I didn't know how to select a start and end square for this journey, so I wrote a little script to pick two random squares.  This worked when I was sitting at my computer, but I found that I would be out somewhere waiting in a line or something and realized it would be nice to practice it right there and then!  I then decided to do it systematically.  I put a knight on a1, mentally, and tried to move it to b1.  Then a1 to c1, etc.  When I finish with a1 to h8, I'll change the start square to b1 and do it again (starting with c1, not a1--I'm not going to do it backwards until I do it forwards all the way).  I can, of course, do this with other pieces, but the knight work has really helped me build up that "mental board."  
I also do some blindfold play on the computer from time to time.  I found something interesting when I tried this for the first time.  After 15 or so moves, I had a pretty decent idea of what the position was, but I decided to turn the display back on and look to see how I did.  When I did, I was blown away by how chaotic the position looked.  It felt like there were twice as many pieces on the board when I saw them visually.  It was a stark contrast from the empty board I  had been looking at.  It was almost as if my mind was much more calm when I couldn't see the pieces.  It was much harder, of course, and calculating and evaluating while blindfolded is a skill I have almost none of, but it was the first time I'd ever thought of seeing the pieces being something like a "distraction."
I'll conclude my first entry with some goals.  First, I would like to attain a 1700 rating in the USCF rating system by June of next year.  I would ultimately like to achieve a 2000 rating some time in my life.  Second, I would like to make one training diary blog entry per week, and annotate at least one long time control game of my own per week, also in this blog.  My last goal is to finish the books I have started, no ifs ands or buts.  If you have any suggestions or comments, let me know!

On Calculation, Visualization, and Positional Analysis

Note: This article was originally published on April 13th, 2015 on
One of the most critical skills a chess player can have is actually a combination of three other skills.  Let's look at a practical example to demonstrate the concept:
This game of mine played at the 2015 Arkansas Open featured a Scotch Gambit (declined).  On the seventh move, white allowed a common tactical idea, the "center fork trick."  If black captures on e4, white's knight and bishop can be forked with d5 after the recapture.  One question we could ask about this position is "should black play Nxe4?"  However, let's look at this from white's perspective by asking two related questions:
1) Should white have allowed this?
2) If white just missed the idea and black plays it, how should white respond?
Our "most critical chess skill" must be put to use here.  First, we have to calculate white's possible responses to Nxe4.  In this example, there are three main options which preserve material equality (black captures a pawn with Nxe4 so white must regain a pawn to stay even materially).  If you want to play along, try to figure out three separate main ideas that do this.
Once, we have discovered our options, the second critical skill must be utilized.  The lines must be played out mentally to "quiessence" and the ending position visualized.
Finally, the ending positions of each of these lines must be evaluated positionally and compared to each other.  The line that leads to the best position for white would then be played.  Or, if possible, if the best option for white is worse than other options available, white should not allow the tactic.
So, let's look at the result:
A 7...Nxe4 8.Nxe4 d5 9.Nxc6 bxc6 10.Bxd5 cxd5 11.Nc3 c6
B 7...Nxe4 8.Nxe4 d5 9.Nxc6 bxc6 10.Bd3 dxe4 11.Bxe4
C 7...Nxe4 8.Bxf7+ Rxf7 9.Nxe4 d5 10.Nc3 Nxd4 11.Qxd4 c6
These were the three main lines to be calculated.  Is one of them clearly better than the other two?  One clearly worse?  Is the best one good for white or black?  Why?  Let's look at the positions.
Position after A
White has a slightly better pawn structure, but black has a better center and the bishop pair.

Position after B
Black's structure is critically weak.  The position is otherwise even.

Position after C
Black has a slightly better center, two bishops, and a rook activated by the half-open f-file.  White has a slightly safer king and a slightly awkward knight on c3.
In my opinion, the ranking of these three positions for white would be B, A, C.  In fact, white would probably be pretty happy to have the position after line B.  
In order to make the correct decision in a game situation, all of this must be done mentally while looking at the first position (or after Nxe4 has been played, depending on the situation).  To review, this requires three separate skills used in succession:
1) Calculate the possible responses.  Here, we calculated three lines that retained material equality.
2) Visualize the resulting positions accurately.
3) Positionally evaluate each position and compare the evaluations.
If you had trouble with this procedure, hopefully this exercise helped diagnose the problem.  Improving in these areas should help your chess skill immensely.  Be on the look out for errors in this type of procedure in your games to monitor your progress.

Learning Openings Thoroughly with Lucas Chess

Note: This article was originally published on April 9th, 2015 on
Studying openings is, for some reason, a very controversial subject online these days.  I feel strongly that learning a solid, consistent opening repertoire is part of becoming a strong chess player.  Some will tell you to ignore openings until you are (variously) 1600, 1800, or even 2000.  I've even seen one person say not to touch them until you are a master.  To me, this is just silliness.  I'm not going to get into that topic here, but suffice it to say, you should be learning openings.
Your first step should be to select a system to learn and grab some detailed resources about it.  For my example here, I have selected the Hyper-accelerated Dragon (Sicilian) system and the book Chess Openings for Black Explained.  The resource you choose should have recommended moves, of course, but should also include as much detail about why the moves are being played and what plans are being acted upon and should be put into action for the middle game as possible.  A simple tree of variations is not really enough to learn a system for most people.
For this article, I am focusing on one of my favorite under-rated pieces of chess software Lucas Chess.  Within Lucas Chess, if you go to Tools, Openings, Personal Opening Guide, you will find an excellent tool for organizing your opening repertoire.  
First create a new opening with the "New" button on the top toolbar.  For this, I named mine "Black - Hyper-Accelerated Dragon (CO4BE)."  Next, go through your resource slowly, taking notes as you go.  Make a tree of variations by making moves on the board.  Make comments, annotate moves, mark positional evaluations, etc.  
You can draw on the board by using the "Director" feature (right click on the chessboard's border and choose Director).  This visual annotation really helps me, but I also include a text explanation.
Now, I have gone through an entire chapter of the book, inputting a tree of opening choices along with lots of notes and evaluations.  I see many people recommending that that is all that you do, if that.  "Don't memorize lines!" they say.  Nonsense.  Even after I did all of that, if someone sat down and played the white side against me, I would be clueless.  You have to study something to truly learn it.  Imagine yourself in a tournament 3 months from now needing to recall the information in this chapter.  Not happening without study and practice.  Luckily, Lucas Chess makes this pretty painless.
Click the "Training" button near the top right.  There are lots of options here which you can explore, but here is what I do, and it works great.  First, click "black" for the "Play with" option, because this is an opening you are learning for black.  Next, we are going to limit the depth we start with for practice.  I recommend a value of 19 (odd numbers work best for black, even numbers work best for white).  So, change depth to 19.  For name, I also just call it 19.  Click accept, and we are ready to start practicing.
Exit the Personal Opening Guide feature of Lucas Chess and go to Training, Learn Tactics by Repetition.  From here, find the opening you are studying, and select it.  Each different training depth (you just created one for depth 19, next you can move it up to 21, etc.) will appear here.  Select the one you want (here, we just have 19 to choose from).   Click "New" to create a new training session.  Select manual configuration and ignore all the options except "Blocks" near the middle left.  Change the "Order" from original to random and click Accept.  Now, try to recall the correct moves from the chapter for black.  If you make a mistake, you can finish the line, but you will have to do it again immediately afterwards.  It will work its way through all the possible lines you have entered.  Once you are done, you can see how you did.  The important stats are "Working Time" and "Errors."  Just keep creating new training sessions (New, Copy configuration from current register) and practicing until you get your "Errors" down to 0 and your time down to whatever threshhold you want to set for yourself.  Here's an example:
You have completed the first stage of learning your repertoire.  What I do next is go back to the Personal Opening Guide and create another training module at depth 21.  It will appear right under your 19 depth module under Training, Learn Tactics by Repetition.  Practice that one until you get your errors down and your time down and move on to a deeper level.  Eventually, you will be able to do it in your sleep.
The final step before implementing the system in actual games is to go back and re-read the chapter.  You should feel much more comfortable with the positions and moves since you have commited the whole thing to memeory.  During this and subsequent read-throughs, concentrate on the hows and whys the book is presenting.  My experience is I understand so much more at this point than the first read-through.
Don't forget to come back to this opening and run-through the variations periodically to keep them fresh in your mind!

Blitz at the Fayetteville Chess Club

Note: This article was originally published on March 29, 2015 on

Today I visited the local chess club in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The club meets at 1 p.m. every Sunday afternoon at the Atlanta Bread Company.  I played three blitz games with a gentleman named Richard (pictured in the cover photo on the left, but that's not me on the right).  Richard described himself as "about 1400" in strength before we played.
I tried to reconstruct the three games from memory when I got home.  I got two of them, but my recollection of the middle one was not complete enough.  I had a look at the first of the three games and included some comments below.  The third game is basically a miniature (and an example of what can happen if you try to make up a way to play against the Scotch Gambit on the fly if you aren't super careful), and it's included without comment below.
After the three games with Richard, I asked the resident master, (NM Bill Orton, kind of a local legend) if he would be up to looking over a couple of games from last weekend's tournament with me.  I showed him the two games I drew and learned a lot.  After we looked over these games, I decided to call it a day.  It was a fun experience, and I will definitely be going back.