Preparing for the US Open

This blog is, ostensibly, devoted to the review of chess books and literature.  Part of its conceit is that it is written by an active class player, by someone who is striving to improve, and who is more often than not using the books he reviews to do so.  What happens when all that reading reviewing is put into practice, and the reviewer does battle over the board?

I’m writing from my hotel room in MIddleton, WI, where I’m playing in the 2013 US Open.  I’m playing in the 6-Day section, and with a couple of judicious half-pt byes, I’ve created a playing schedule that is mainly one round a day.  This leaves me enough time to see friends, explore downtown Madison, and ogle all the chess books on sale at the tournament bookstore.  (I only bought two, Anna!  Only two thus far, anyway…)

Each morning, time permitting, I will post lightly annotated accounts of my previous day’s play.  The notes won’t be Huebner-esque; there’s not time for that in the midst of the event, and I’m more interested at the moment in noting what I saw (and missed) during the game than I am discerning the absolute truth.  Final analysis comes after the event.  For now, you get sketches.

In this post I’d like to talk about my preparation for the tournament.  Because this is the largest tournament I’ve ever played, and because – let’s be honest – it is an expensive undertaking to pay an entry fee, stay six nights in a hotel, eat, drink, and buy chess swag, I wanted to come into this event as well prepared as I could.  My strategy, therefore, was threefold.  First, I needed to sharpen my tactics.  Second, I needed to work on endings and positional play.  Third, I needed to get some rated games under my belt to hopefully play myself into shape.

The third of these tasks was easier said than done,  It wasn’t hard to get rated games played.  What was hard was playing well in them.  My rating has dropped sixty points over my last two events, and I seem to be in some kind of chessic funk.  Oy.

I tried to work on the first task – tactical study – by solving problems at Chesstempo.  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure that this was the most productive avenue for tactical sharpening.  While you get to solve lots of problems on this website, I feel like such solving perhaps leads to a kind of shallow tactical vision during OTB play and an overreliance on tactical thinking during games.  I’ve noticed that I’m not playing solidly right now, trying to blow lower-rated players off the board with brute tactics instead of solid, building attack.  Most likely it’s just ‘noise’ instead of real data that is making me think this way, but I’m probably going to mix in more complex tactical study from books with my Chesstempo work in the future.

(Now for the part you’ve all been waiting for.)  Endings and positional themes were treated via books!  I used Jonathan Hawkins’ Amateur to IM (reviewed here and here by yours truly) to work on some basic endings, and I looked at a lot of examples from Pal Benko’s Chess Endgame Lessons (out of print, sadly) for both fun and practical study.  I also studied Jacob Aagaard’s Grandmaster Preparation: Positional Play extensively, solving a number of the exercises, etc.   I’ll be reviewing this book after I return home from the Open, but I can already tell you that the review will be very positive.

Now, let’s be clear: my play, good or bad, can’t be attributed to what I’ve been reading.  Still, it will be interesting to see (1) if my preparation was at all helpful, and (2) if anything specific I read or studied will bear fruit.

On to the games!  And perhaps some pictures from the event?

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