Thursday, March 29, 2007

UPS Logistics

I am talking about pieces, not parcels. But logistics is also the key point in Undefended Pieces Scan, because scan is only one part of the story. Maybe even more important is the problem to store what you have found. This is why UPS in chess also needs a sort of magazine and a clever way to stack the goods there.

A large part of UPS is bookkeeping. In the opening, there is a number of undefended pieces that emerge and disappear in a typical pattern. The basic UPS patterns are seen at certain home squares of pieces and pawns.

For instance, at the beginning, all four rooks are undefended. Typically, Rh1 is the first one to get safe, followed by Rh8. This is the case if both sides castle kingside. The next one is Ra1, and in most games Rh8 is the last one, at the beginning of the middlegame. After sixteen moves, undefended rooks are the exception. Of course, no castlings or long castlings may lead to a very different sequence.

The notorious weak points f7 and f2 play a role only in open games. Normally, f2 is saved very quickly whereas f7, if present, often remains for five or even ten moves.

The four knight's pawns become undefended after the bishops leave their homes. The g-pawns are re-defended very early if both sides castle kingside. Therefore, the focus should be on the b-pawns. The time-window where they are undefended is only about four or five moves on average. But this normally happens late in the opening, when forces are well-developed and these pawns often can be attacked. But be careful: b-pawns are often poisoned for a queen!

In open games, center pawns get undefended very early and for a couple of moves. In closed games this happens much later.

With this background pattern of undefended rooks and pawns and their transitions during the opening, UPS bookkeeping becomes much easier. If you know the rule, you just have to keep record of the exceptions.


Monday, March 26, 2007

A Painful Eye Opener

«UPS! Undefended Piece Scan! You must do this automatically. You must know where the undefended pieces are at all times. Maybe you cannot win them, maybe your opponent has not blundered. But you can still use them, hit them, force them to move while your pieces go where they need to with a gain of time.»
Tim McGrew, ChessCafe 11/20/2004

I lost my last game. This is bad. I lost it against a 1450. This is worse. I lost it from a won position. This is even worse. And I lost it by missing a tactic. This really hurts.

I have spent a lot of thinking about my chess training approach since then. The conclusion is that my approach has been wrong, and that I have wasted too many hours with useless exercises. Namely at Chess Tactics Server. Today I did ten problems there and then stopped. Enough for this day and for many days to come.

My mood has improved markedly. I am really happy about this loss now. I have the feeling that it has saved me many hours that I can spend with more useful training. Say I lost 18 points with my last game and this saves me 180 hours, cautiously estimated. Then I pay 0.1 points for every hour saved, which is more than worth it.

The tactic I have missed is a knight sac that I rejected because it seemed to win only a pawn to be lost back some moves later. But there was also an unprotected rook that I could have taken. It was there, and I calculated moves without having spotted it at all. I just was not aware. I was blind. This must be the crucial point of my training from now on.

I name my new method UPS training, after the term by Tim McGrew quoted above. My next step is to go back to my earlier games, even those ten and more years ago. Play them again, at the computer screen and also on a real board. Do an Undefended Piece Scan (UPS) after every move. Memorize all UPs spotted. And now comes the hardest task: Go on with the next move, without doing any calculation!

This may seem strange, but it addresses one of my main weaknesses: I always begin my calculation too fast, before I have collected all relevant raw material. This leads to the typical errors such as in my last game.

Now, what is an undefended piece? There are three types:
  1. a loose piece or pawn
  2. a piece or pawn equally attacked and defended
  3. a piece or pawn with a guard that can be removed

A training method that makes use of own games rather than puzzles has more than one big advantage. Firstly, it confronts you with position types that occur in your real games all the time. Secondly, to follow a game move by move mimicks the situation of a real game. Thirdly, the positions are quiet most of the time, and every now and then a tactic emerges. This is far better than sitting before a puzzle that tells you that you must find the tactic to win.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007


I am about to switch my focus on Chess Tactics Server. Less emphasis on pattern spotting and calculation business. More emphasis on mindspotting. That is, looking myself over the shoulder while I am over a diagram. I can say, this makes the thing more interesting, even at a level of 1190, where CTS serves me problems mostly between 950 and 1450.

Even in very simple problems there is an ideal procedure to come to a conclusion, decide and move. It is very fascinating to find out where and how I leave the ideal pathway. Also there is plenty of opportunity to fine-tune the security range and to improve the speed to build a sufficient confidence that the chosen move is the right one. At the moment, I still blunder 1 of 100 problems on average.

I feel that mindspotting must be the key to improve. Because it is my blind spots and other weaknesses that make me blunder. Problems are not the problem. Patterns are not the problem. I am the problem.


Monday, March 12, 2007


Oops more than a month since my last post. As time goes by ...

Very busy at the moment, but this blog will go on. See you later, Knights.