Thursday, June 25, 2009

Six-Month Hiatus, What Will Happen?

Hello everyone,

Although I have been managing the blog from a distance, I stopped playing tournaments back in January to focus on my science.

Three grant applications and a submitted paper later, I am ready to frequent the club again. This is my first blog entry about my return and my current chess perspective.

Six months is not very long compared to Mike Griffenesque breaks from the game, but this was quite an intense scientific period for me: within the past month, I had a 30 page grant, a 60 page grant, and a 75 page paper to submit. If accepted, the paper will be condensed to 3 pages of a science magazine, with the rest of it hidden away in what is called "supplemental online material." Depressing in a way, but that is the current state of science publication -- more is expected, but less is shown up front.
Many will remember my last tournament result. Some chess friends remind me weekly about it (you know who you are). After two creative and very fun games against masters, I uncorked this scorcher:
Black, an expert, crushes himself with Nxe4??.

Let me say for the record that I had planned to take this break BEFORE the event. Looking back, that decision was fortuitous-- instead of replaying the tournament 100000000 times in my head that week, my decision to take a break lent a cosmic-comic air to the result.
Even so, six months later, I am ready to return and clean that one from my synapses.

I'd like to share two thoughts at the outset:

1) We all know skills erode without practice, and, if that last game of mine is any evidence, some of us don't have many skills to erode. To keep up, I have been doing my daily chess tactical problems. I am currently using Anatoly Lein's "Sharpen Your Tactics!" which I found in a used bookstore (support local bookstores!).

I love this tactics book. No text, just problems. The problems get hard at the half-way point. I am nearing problem number 1000, and now they are difficult enough that I can only do 1-2 a day.

2) I have also been sneaking short lunch breaks at Harvard Square, where blitz chess rules, and the hustlers are pretty decent chessplayers. I am no good at blitz, but I did discover one useful fact: There are certain openings in which I don't understand the plans, the pawn structure, or anything. I would lose dozens of games in these openings, and all the gawkers and kibbitzers were more than happy to point out my opening errors. So, in preparation for my return, I have borrowed from Harvard library several opening books on each of these and am going over my nightly master games. I dislike opening books and those endless variations that start on move 4, but I think if I stick to the main games/main lines and get a feel for the plans, I can improve a lot.

Up next, a weekend event, then the Ruebens-Landy.

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