Tag Archives: Stockfish

How to Increase Your Chess Rating Fast

You can increase your chess rating quick, fast, and in a hurry. Almost immediately, in some cases. But if you’re a “chess romantic,” this method is not for you.

Increase your chess rating and win more prizes at tournaments.

Everyone wants to win more games, but what price are you willing to pay? If you’re 1000+, I have long been convinced that the quickest, surest path to more wins and a higher rating runs through the opening.

Embrace this. Don’t allow yourself to be brainwashed by group-think that pervades chess instruction and insists you look for a pot of gold at the end of the tactics rainbow. Or worse, insists you focus on endgames.

Are you still reading? Good. Let me be very clear about what I mean, and explain my reasoning.

Use opening study to drive your rating gains

Knowledge is power in chess. When looking to increase your chess rating, laziness won’t do.

That said, there are different layers to opening study.

Wait! Why not tactics and endgames?

Don’t worry!

  • You are working on tactics! If you study openings properly, you will learn recurring tactical ideas in lines you actually play. This makes them easier to find in real life instead of hoping to apply something from solving thousands of random puzzles.
  • Your endgame results will also improve as a side-effect of serious opening study. Not only will you get more familiar positions and practice playing them, good study will provide you with better endgames than you had in the past!

Okay, let’s keep going!

Know what kinds of positions you play well, or can learn to play well.

A player can’t completely avoid tactics or strategy — we all know this.  As for the lecture about “stunting your chess development,” that applies to aspiring 2700-rated grandmasters. Almost everyone else spends their chess career managing their weak spots.

If attacking play comes naturally to you, play openings that allow you the kinds of attacks you like to play. Not all attacks are the same!

Do you consider yourself a strategist? Fine (that’s a hint by the way, study his games). Do you like to maneuver in closed positions? Maybe you prefer queenless middlegames? Perhaps you have an affinity for certain types of endgames?

Research “candidate” openings that might suit you. Then test them out against good opposition online. I recommend playing games in the 5-minute pool. The results aren’t important; focus on whether or not you like the character of the play.

Don’t be delusional

I’m a poor attacker … and after 25 years of chess, this won’t change very much. While I’ve had some success with the Sicilian Najdorf (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3) , I have played the Dragon Variation (5…g6) exactly once in a tournament game — at the Manhattan Chess Club in 1996!

What’s the difference? The Najdorf is dynamic, while the Dragon is a straight attacking race.

On the other hand, I like playing queenless positions, and for some reason I’ve always been able to play any kind of endgame with rooks well. Slow maneuvering is not my forte, which I guess explains why several attempts to play the Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5) as black have been a failure. My attempts to play the English Opening (1.c4) have been disastrous.

As WIM Iryna Zenyuk once told me: “Play YOUR chess.”

A word about system openings

I’m referring to the King’s Indian Attack, Colle System, London System, Torre Attack, etc.

I would mostly avoid them … and not because of nebulous ideas about “limiting your potential.”

As I’ve said before, avoiding main line openings forces you to work harder at the board when you have nerves, a ticking clock, and an opponent to deal with.

Instead, choose openings with defined main lines you can study in advance and learn well. If your opponent deviates, you will either know how to deal with their subpar moves, or can take comfort that you have a route to a clear advantage. In other words …

Raise your rating by shortening the game

The more of a game you can pre-plan, the better your results will be — if your prep is good.

Think about it: do you have more confidence in your own moves, or those you learned from Stockfish or Grandmaster XYZ? As long as you have an idea of your moves’ purpose and aren’t blindly memorizing, I think the answer is clear. Lofty ideas about being creative or original stop most players from increasing their chess rating. That, and not wanting it badly enough.

Yes, you’re going to have to memorize some lines … some of them 15+ moves. That’s a good thing: your hard work will leave your peers behind and raise you to a new level. Let them do 20 minutes of tactics a day and play openings “based on ideas.” They will be at the same level five years from now.

Action steps to improve your rating

  • Buy ChessBase if you haven’t already. I consider it indispensible if you’re serious about trying to increase your chess rating.
  • Search for openings/positions you might be interested in playing.
  • Test these lines in online play to see if they suit you and you like playing them.
  • Create a database in ChessBase with your opening lines. I call mine “Opening Lines.” In this database is one “game” (line) for each opening.
Increase your chess rating with detailed opening study

A peek at my current database.

  • Constantly play through GM games in your chosen lines, and keep testing online.
  • Add/edit lines in your database … this could take months to begin with, and never really ends. Be thorough.
  • Maintenance. Keep studying games, memorizing your lines, and practicing online.

I eagerly await comments on this one!

Don’t Worship Your Chess Engine!

Chess engines can be a valuable tool…

Chess computer software is extremely popular, and has been for a long time. A chess engine can analyze your games and give you an idea of how well or poorly you played. With ratings topping the 3400 mark, these monsters are several hundred points stronger than any human chess player, dead or alive.

…for experienced players

Beware blindly following the output of a chess computer! An engine does not “understand” chess the same way a human does, and we cannot achieve the near-perfection in play that a computer can. When analyzing tactics the computer sees nearly everything, but what if you want to understand a position where pieces aren’t flying everywhere?

Here’s an example. You enter a game into ChessBase (or open one from a database). Then you open your favorite chess engine to analyze it, such as Fritz or Stockfish. How helpful might this be?

Let’s take the classic game Evans—Opsahl from the 1950 Dubrovnik Olympiad.

The value of a chess engine is limited here.

Evans-Opsahl, 1950, after 17 moves. I have opened Stockfish 11. How helpful is the engine, really?

The screenshot is not easy to see, so I’ll fill you in on some details. I turned on Stockfish 11 after black’s 17th move and let it analyze for awhile.

At 36 ply (half moves) or 18 full moves, it considers white’s best move to be 18.Rb2 for some strange reason, giving an evaluation of +/= 0.68. This suggests white is slightly better. In a real game between humans, I totally disagree!

Situations like this usually arise from the Exchange Variation of the Queen’s Gambit Declined (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.cxd5 exd5; other sequences of moves can reach this same position). After both players support their d-pawns, and castle, we get a Karlsbad pawn structure, like this:

Both sides hope to start a minority attack on the flank where they have less pawns! White plays on the queenside, and black on the kingside. The idea is to create weaknesses to attack later. White’s play is quicker and easier, but if black succeeds the reward is a dangerous assault on white’s king.

What the engine can’t tell you

Let’s take another look at the game position:

White is ready to play 18.b5! to break apart black’s queenside. Notice that white’s pieces are in position to pounce. Of course, the future five-time U.S. Champion did just that.

Black has not played in the most accurate manner, and his attack is nowhere near threatening enough to disturb white seriously. Things would look better for him if his knight was on a more threatening post.

But wait, there’s more…

I’d like to mention that if black had the move here, an interesting possibility would be to play 18…b5!? himself. That makes is much harder for white to break through, and black has only one weakness to defend, on c6, though it’s a very serious one. Slowing white’s queenside play would also give black time to organize counterplay against white’s kingside. Either that, or try to land the black knight on c4 where it shields the weak c6-pawn from white’s pieces:

After the computer suggestion 18.Rb2 the move 18…b5 gains even more punch, because if white now follows with 19.axb5 axb5:

White’s heavy pieces trip over each other and struggle to fight for the newly-opened a-file!

A chess engine can’t explain all of that to you. You have to either read a middle game textbook (such as Pachman’s Modern Chess Strategy), study well-annotated games from a database, or hire a coach. Well, you can also read this blog regularly!

Yeah, I know…

I could have left the engine on even longer, and maybe it would have chosen 18.b5 after all. It was the second-choice move with an evaluation of +/= 0.63. The point is, the computer couldn’t tell an inexperienced player the ideas behind any moves it suggests!

Evans was more than “slightly better” after 18.b5

The second player had to passively defend a weak structure for the rest of the game. In a practical game, this is a nightmare scenario. Opsahl finally succumbed after 81 moves.

Mainline Chess Openings…Should I Play Them?

What are Mainline Openings?

“Mainline chess openings require lots of study time, which I could use to work on other parts of chess. I’ll choose sidelines instead.”

Definitely a mainline chess opening: the Botvinnik Semi-Slav.

The craziest opening in all of chess? Starting position of the Botvinnik Variation of the Semi-Slav in ChessBase.

It’s a common argument, but a misconception. There’s a difference betwen mainline and cutting-edge. Mainlines are commonly played by grandmasters but can be strategic in nature and not rely on “crazy” lines.  Cutting-edge theory on the other hand can be very sharp and is often based on engine preparation by Stockfish and others.

Mainline Example

True, there’s rarely one mainline per opening. Take the popular Najdorf Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6):

The moves 6.Be3 (6.f3 is similar), 6.Bg5, 6.Be2, and 6.Bc4 are definitely mainlines, all of which have different branches. One could argue that 6.h3 and 6.g3 are nearly mainlines as well. Then of course moves like 6.f4, 6.Nb3 and even 6.h4 are not to be ignored. Surely only professionals should wade into these waters?

I’m far from a professional, and I used to play the Najdorf with success. Even this, one of the most infamous mainline chess openings, is very concept-based. That’s because there are only two main structures for black. The d6-e6 center:

And the d6-e5 center:

In these, black’s piece placements don’t change that much. Not only that, a Najdorf player can completely avoid the second structure based on the variations they choose.

At first, you’ll have to memorize variations and play through a bunch of games to understand what’s going on. Yes, more than you would if playing a sideline. But after a little while, there are few surprises. Even enemy “preparation” can’t neutralize your understanding; at best it can give you specific tactical questions to answer.

Choose WIsely

Which brings me to my next point. If you play something wild in the Najdorf like the Poisoned Pawn Variation (6.Bg5 e6 7.f4 and now 7…Qb6)

Expect fireworks and nasty home-cooked surprises!

But as far as I know, the old line beginning with 7…Nbd7 8.Qf3 Qc7 9.0-0-0 b5 is still playable

In my opinion this is the Najdorf line where you need to remember the most specifics, and it’s not so bad. Of course, there’s no requirement to play the Najdorf Variation, or any Sicilian, but I wanted to show an extreme example.

Remember: there’s a difference between mainline and cutting-edge. Just avoid the latter if you don’t have the necessary time, memory, or study habits!

Okay, what’s the alternative?

Players who aim for sidelines in most or all of their games understand that they can expect less out of the opening. On the other hand, their opening repertoires are lower-maintenance.

But are they making their lives more difficult in the middlegame? I say yes.

Let’s take one of the most popular sidelines today, the London System, which traditionally begins 1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bf4:

White usually follows up with, in some order, c3, e3, Nbd2, Bd3, and 0-0.

It’s a trap!

White can almost close his or her eyes and play these moves, but what can black do? Actually, a lot. For example:

  • The light-squared bishop can go to f5 or g4 on the kingside, or to b7 or a6 on the queenside.
  • The dark-squared bishop can go to d6, e7, or g7.
  • The Nb8 can go to c6 or d7.
  • The Nf6 can stay where it is, go to h5 to attack white’s Bf4, jump to e4, or even d7 if black aims for an …e5-advance.
  • The queen can go to a5, b6, c7 if safe, d6 after a bishop trade there, or e7. Did I forget any?
  • The b-pawn can stay on b7 or go to b6 for …Bb7 or …Ba6.
  • The c-pawn can go to c6 or c5.
  • The e-pawn can stay on e7, go to e6, and maybe even go to e5.
  • The g-pawn can stay on g7 or go to g6 for a fianchetto.
  • And plenty of these options can be combined!

This seems like a lot more study to me! If you don’t want to study at home, you’ll have to study at the board! My advice: play mainline chess openings!