Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Plugging the holes

I finally seem to have created some basis for future developments.

In the past 24 years I have paid little attention to other parts of the game than tactics. Now I seem to book some results in that department, the omissions start to show themselves.

I work like a madman to repair the holes and to get the water out.

Of course it is an insane idea to throw all your openings out of the window and to replace them all at the same time at once. Especially when you do that so rigorously that you start all over again when an opening doesn't work out as you thought it would. Throwing an effort of two years out of the window. That happened quite a few times.

Opponents seem to have a nose for the holes in my repertoire. Or they avoid the main lines that I trained, or they throw obscure gambits at me that take too much time to learn the theory. Or they play rare openings that I only encounter once every five years. The past two years I encountered the Dutch Defense six times, while a friend of mine hasn't seen it in six years. And an anti Dutch system isn't in my repertoire yet.

Slowly a secure opening repertoire emerges which act as a stabile basis from where I can plug the holes one by one. Matters are less complicated when you don't feel obliged to throw whole variations out of the window time and again, but only to plug the holes where it leaks.

Last weekend I spend two days to choose a way to combat the dutch defense.

With white I play the Colle/Barry/London family of openings, so it is logical to start with 1.d4 f5 2.Nf3 against the Dutch.

With black I'm not so far yet. The French Defense is a keeper, which makes 1.d4 e6 a logical response to d4. But when white refuses the invitation to go into the French, I haven't decided on the best route yet. I hope to get more clarity this summer, when I play another tournament.

All in all, a stable basis starts to emerge. For the first time I get usable feedback from my games. I play for instance 1.d4 d6 2.Nf3 Bg4 Ne5. Just because it is advised by some grandmasters. It is aiming at gaining the bishop pair, and indeed I managed to get the bishop pair a few times. That showed another hole in my boat: I don't know how to play with the bishop pair. But at least I'm trying AND learning. Knowing what the problem is, is much better than just fiddling around with moves with no clue what you are after.

Another hole that showed itself is the vulnerability to knight forks. In time trouble I tend to overlook those pesky beasts. So I have created a database with knight forks lately.

Furthermore, I slowly build on the scenarios that belong to the tactics department. It is not that I now throw masterpieces of tactical combinations to my opponents time and again. But slowly I start to become more confident. In the past, my positional plans were always spoiled by some tactics. Now I'm more often than not able to pursue my positional goals. Often showing that I followed the wrong plan, but hey, it is a step further, mind you!

So progress is slow, albeit I work like a madman. One day it will pay off.


  1. The fellow in the boat bailing water out (while ignoring the hole behind him) is a very apt metaphor. If there are holes in your ‘boat’, focus FIRST on filling/repairing the holes! That may require pulling the 'boat' out of the water occasionally and inspecting it for holes. Plug the holes one by one and then put the ‘boat’ back into the water to test its seaworthiness.

    GM Rowson's conclusion (regarding 'holes' in the ‘boat’ ['bucket']) seems applicable.

    "The reason our minds cannot be 'filled' is not because they have 'holes', but because they are not at all like buckets. . . . We construct our understanding of positions, which means using what we have, however imperfect, to make sense of what we are given. . . . real learning is often a painful process, because you are not just collecting new ideas and stacking them up in some sort of expanding cognitive warehouse. . . . Indeed, I have come to believe that the kind of learning that is most useful for chess improvement is actually 'unlearning'.

    What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know. It's what we know for sure that just ain't so.

    1. "Indeed, I have come to believe that the kind of learning that is most useful for chess improvement is actually 'unlearning'."

      I'm a bit careful to classify "unlearning" as difficult. In my youth, I did Judo and Jiu Jitsu. Hard to believe when you see me now with crutch and all. I learned how to break my fall. Someday I did a crash course parachuting. Pun not intended. And I was told that I would have difficulty with fall breaking because it was different when you hang on a parachute. But I had no problems at all. It was enough to just being aware of the differences.

      And unlearning alone is not enough. You still have to learn the new methods. Which means you can't be lazy. You must be prepared to draw the boat out of the water, fix a few clearly leaks, and put the boat back in the water again. And it might be needed to repeat that process a few times. Since only the water can provide you the feedback where the leaks are, while repairing can best be done on the shore.

      And after a lot of effort, you might get to the conclusion that you need a bigger boat.

  2. FEN: rnbq1rk1/p2p2pp/2p2n2/4p3/B3N3/3PP3/PPPQ2PP/R3K1NR b KQ - 0 10

    An “interesting” opening. A superficial appraisal of the position after 10. Nxe4 might seem to favor White. He has two minor pieces and his queen developed and is ready to castle queenside. His two center pawns are not aggressively placed but are impacting the center. His pawn structure is sound. On the other hand, Black has one minor piece developed, but his queenside pieces are not developed. He does have a pawn in the center and he has castled.

    Based on “general principles,” who has the advantage so far in the opening?

    GM Stockfish opines that White’s last move is an egregiously bad move! Up until that move, White had a slight advantage.

    If Black is tactically alert, he will “SEE” his opportunity.

    Instead of just mechanically totaling up the apparent development of the respective sides, Black should look at the potential lines of attack and potential LPDO, specifically f8->f1 and d8→h4, and the WBa4. At present, there is no LoA to get to the WBa4. How to open those two LoAs? Move the BNf6 out of the way.

    10… Nxe4 11. dxe4 and both LoA are open. 11… Qh4+ now capitalizes on the LoA.

    White has 4 unpleasant moves to choose from: Moving the White King allows either a check on f1 (picking up the WRa1) or a check of f2 (picking up the White Queen for the Black Rook. Interposing the White Queen just throws it away for nothing. By process of elimination, White plays 12. g3. There is now a possible queen fork on e4 12… Qxe4, forking the LPDO WBa4 and the newly LPDO WRh1. White resigned.

    Not a particularly difficult problem to solve, but it does illustrate the concept of a resulting move. In the initial problem position, there was no apparent way to take advantage of the LPDO WBa4. The exploitation of the LPDO only occurred as a result of calculating a plausible sequence of moves which forced the creation of an elementary tactical theme/device: the queen fork on the e4-square.

    The moves in the game [] were:

    1. e4 e5 2.Bc4 f5 3. d3 Nf6 4. Nc3 b5 5. Bxb5 c6 6. Ba4 Bc5 7. Be3 Bxe3 8. fxe3 O-O 9. Qd2 fxe4 10. Nxe4 Nxe4 11. dxe4 Qh4+ 12. g3 Qxe4 White resigns

  3. Sorry I didn't react earlier. I forgot to turn on the comment notification for this post. Darn Blogger. I will read your comment in a minute. First a link about the relation between understanding and memorization

  4. I have fond memories (maybe because of reading it over 50 years ago!) of the book How To Think Ahead In Chess: The methods and techniques of planning your entire game by I. A. Horowitz and Fred Reinfeld. The recommended openings were the Stonewall Attack as White, with an eye toward a kingside attack built around the Bishop sacrifice on h7. It also covered what to do if Black evaded that possibility by playing the Queen’s Gambit Declined. The recommended defense against 1. e4 was the Dragon Sicilian. [Not exactly similar types of openings!] The recommended defense against 1. d4 was Lasker’s Defense. None of it was particularly deep, but it did help get me through the first several moves without total disaster.

    Part 4 of the book explored what to do against “inferior play” (by which meant that the opponent didn’t play what he was “supposed” to play to allow the recommended opening main lines; imagine that!).

    There were 5 sub-chapters in Part 4:

    (1) What If My Opponent Doesn’t Follow the Book?
    (2) The Importance of Controlling the Center
    (3) How Superior Mobility Leads to a Stormy Breakthrough
    (4) How Line-Opening Leads to Attacking Possibilities
    (5) How Superior Mobility Leads to Line-Opening

    I wouldn’t recommend the book for anyone beyond novice level. However, there are some interesting concepts in those last 5 sub-chapters.

    I stopped studying openings in extreme detail a long time ago. If I can get a reasonable position that I feel comfortable with and in which I can work through any tactical traps, I’m satisfied because I don’t play at a sufficiently high level to require minute examination and memorization of every finesse in my chosen openings. I also am curious enough to play openings I’ve never studied or played), especially if I know that is the opponent’s preferred opening.

    Back when I was rising rapidly in rating (USCF Class B), I applied that philosophy in a game against an Expert (who had previously been at Master level). Prior to our game, I asked some of the local players (who knew him) what his favorite opening was as Black. (I had the White pieces for our game.) He referred the Queen’s Gambit Declined. I got out Modern Chess Openings, 10th edition, and memorized the main line in about 15 minutes before our game. As soon as we started, I blitzed out my moves until I ran out of the book line (about 14 moves) in less than 2 minutes; he took nearly an hour over those 14 moves. Every time I played, he would look at me with the suspicion that he was being set up. If he had chosen any sub-variation, he would have gotten me out of “book” and would have easily beaten me. I actually had a sufficiently advantageous position to win the game after he finally deviated from book. I had grabbed a pawn and stubbornly checked every one of our moves to make sure I didn’t overlook any tactical shots. He traded off into an inferior endgame with pawns on both sides of the board and a single Rook on each side. I had absolute control of the only open file and a centralized King. He used so much time checking and rechecking during the opening that he blundered with only a few seconds left on his clock, while I still had nearly half the allotted time until the first time control. He said, “Well, I guess that’s it.” I asked, “Are you resigning?” He retorted, “No, I’m NOT resigning to someone at your level!” So, with my clock running, I got the tournament director and had him watch for the clock flag to fall.

    It didn’t make me his equal (I’m sure I was much less skilled than him), but it did give me a nice rating (and ego) boost. Unfortunately, it was not long after that I had to give up tournament play due to work, and my family with two young kids.

    I coulda been a contender!” - Movie: On The Waterfront

    Not bloody likely!!

    1. Nice story!

      And luckily the automatic notification finally works.

      I never had a boat before. My openings were always just a raft that floats with the currents and the winds.

      All openings I play have a different philosophy. With white, I play the Colle/Barry/London family which are aiming to a kingside attack. Inspired by GM Simon Williams. With black the idea is to unbalance the game from move one. The French is aimed add preventing an attack, nibbling the center away and get an endgame with a good knight against a bad bishop. Remarkably often I manage to play the whole game according to plan.

      Against 1.d4 1.c4 or 1.Nf3 I try to lure them into a French, a Classical Dutch or a hedgehog type of position. So the openings have little in common. Except for a philosophy to which I can compare my games. Boat in, boat out. Feedback is plugging the holes.

    2. Against 1.d4 1.c4 or 1.Nf3 I play 1.... e6 and 2. ... b6
      1. ... e6 leaves the possibilities open to transpose to the French or the Dutch.

  5. I just started browsing the Community Blogs. I found a fascinating two-part article on SEEing. There’s a lot of scientific terms and graphs used, but the articles are easy to understand for the layman (like me).

    Link: ””
    Science of Chess - Eyetracking, board vision, and expertise (Part 1 of 2)

    Link: ””
    Science of Chess - Eyetracking, board vision, and expertise (Part 2 of 2)

    [Sorry: Blogger refused the comment until I removed the HTML for the URL links. Copy and paste.]

    One of the interesting things (to ME) is the notion of an area of interest. This corresponds to our previously designated local area of tension. It is nothing more or less than specific salient interactions between various pieces: their lines of attack and points of pressure.

    It’s fascinating that chess experts SEE more empty squares than less-skilled players while using focused attention. It’s almost as if those “empty squares” are important in terms of making sense of a specific configuration defined as an “area of interest”—or as a “chunk” in traditional parlance.

    It’s also interesting that peripheral vision plays a [significant?] role in SEEing an area of interest. The experts SEE the salient entities surrounding a central local point of attention. The actual depiction of the pieces (whether the pieces are standard chess symbols or merely letters) is also important in terms of speed of recognition. The closer the image is to generally accepted symbols, the faster that recognition occurs. Imagine that!

    There are some interesting links embedded (that I haven’t explored yet).

    1. interesting stuff. We talked about saccades long ago. In my latest game, my opponent blundered a piece. He did see the pieces, but he didn't see the consequences. So he put his knight where it was protected by two pieces, not realizing these pieces were of too high value so he couldn't take back. Attackers: B and N Defenders R and Q

      I saw GM Hans Ree blundering a piece during a simul against my friend. My friend had played the opening slightly different. So the GM took a piece which he normally could take, and which he probably had done thousands of times in the past, not realizing that he was one attacker short due to the slight difference in the position.
      He was looking at the position in his mind and not at the position on the board.

      I cited it earlier in this blog long ago, about an IM who described a position as his bedroom in the dark. Although he sees nothing, everything is so familiar, that he knows where everything is.

      A bit like typing on this keyboard. I know where every letter is without looking at them. Yet I must have some vague reference where everything is, because I can't type with my eyes closed.

  6. None of this is easy. Aagaards attacking manual points to GMs missing tactics that hint to them not internalizing mating patterns. Remember back in the day tapping the squares the knight that hopefully they pop when you look at a position. Frankly I rush to accept the first good looking Knight or queen move I see when there is often a better alternative.

  7. Some thoughts to add to the training menu besides tactics.

    I have seen a reference to GM Michael Stean’s book Simple Chess as the third (out of the top ten) most important chess books of all time. Curious as to why it received such a high ranking, I searched the Internet Archives and found the complete book here:


    1. Introduction
    2. Outposts
    3. Weak pawns
    4. Open files
    5. Half-open files: the minority attack
    6. Black squares and white squares
    7. Space

    If you like it and find it useful, buy it!

    GM Jesse Kraai reviews the book here:


    Stean describes the purpose of his book in the Introduction:

    “Essentially, Simple Chess aims to give you some of the basic ideas for forming a long-term campaign. It also shows you how to recognize and accumulate small, sometimes almost insignificant-looking advantages which may well have little or no short-term effect, but are permanent features of the position. As the game progresses, the cumulative effect begins to make itself felt more and more, leading eventually to more tangible gains. This style of play is simple and economical both in its conception and execution. Combinations and attacks are shelved for their proper time and place as the culmination of an overall strategy. Given the right kind of position it is not so difficult to overwhelm the opposition with an avalanche of sacrifices. The real problem is how to obtain such positions. This is the objective of Simple Chess. [Emphasis added.]”

    “Undoubtedly the best way to improve your chess is by studying master and grandmaster games. For this reason I have used a selection of such games as a medium through which to put across the fundamental principles of simple chess. These games are mostly not of the type to capture the limelight of chess literature because they are too simple and unsensational, but for this very reason they are suitable for showing off clearly the basic ideas I want to convey.”