Friday, October 2, 2015

2015 Sioux Falls Open - Part 2

  After my first round game against Samrath I walked around the museum of mounted animals while I ate my apple. In Jackson I was able to find a recliner to take a nap in but as cool as the Great Plains Zoo was as a site for a chess tournament there were no recliners in sight. The zoo was open to the public and I don’t think I would have been a very good guest if I had taken a nap in the parking lot or on one of the many picnic benches. Don’t think I’ve never taken a nap on sidewalk, parking lot, bench, or even a carpet – I been kicked and prodded by so many people that thought I was homeless or having a heart attack that I’ve given up trying to nap in public places.

Lyle Hanson
  Once the last game of the first round finished I went to the now empty tournament room and took a half hour nap. When I woke up I found I was playing black against Lyle Hanson. Lyle looked a lot like me except he had more hair, more gray hair, and an NRA t-shirt while I was wearing my Waffle House t-shirt (I did wear a Yankees shirt on Sunday in case any of my fashion minded readers were curious). The round was delayed for a few minutes because two of the players who traveled together a few hours to the tournament were paired against each other. They asked if Alex Yemolinsky (the tournament director and grandmaster) could change the pairings. Alex is an excellent tournament director. He is tough about keeping the room quiet and starting the rounds on time but fair when it comes to traveling companions playing against each other and changed the pairings. Lyle arrived a few seconds after Alex instructed us to start our clocks so we shook hands and sat down to play without any of the occasional chit-chat that you get before tournament games.

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of

  Yes, that’s how the game went. I got crushed from the sixth move on, Lyle hung a rook, I took it and offered a draw even though I had a fairly straightforward win. Why? I defended enough that getting a win wouldn’t have been undeserved and if a guy loses a rook he likely deserves to lose. I’ve never met Lyle, didn’t know about his South Dakota urban legend status as a two time (and current) South Dakota state chess champion, and his draw in round four against the super tough Josiah Jorenby despite being two exchanges down hadn't happened yet. So to repeat myself, why offer the draw?

  To be clear, I didn’t offer the draw out of some sense of sportsmanship or honor. I offered the draw because I played this game so poorly I was disgusted with myself. Now that my opponent was sinking to my level I just wanted to forget about it and get on to the next game. If Lyle had given me a rook early in the game or was outplaying me in a well-played game and then hung a rook that would be a different story. I wonder if I would have done the same if Lyle had an 1100 rating like my first round opponent and I really doubt it.

Jerome Mitchell
  Lyle and I went over the ‘game’ and once the last game of the round finished (an epic draw between Sam and Charles Dibley) I took another nap in the tournament room before the 5pm third round. My opponent in round three was expert player Jerome Mitchell who was the third seed in the tournament behind Women Grandmaster Camilla Baginskaite (Alex Yermolinsky’s wife) and multiple time South Dakota champion chess master Nels Truelson. I sat down at the board and Jerome wasn’t at the table. Alex instructed us to start our clocks so I made my first move and started my clock. A few of the players arrived late and I noticed that two of the players started a game on the next row. They played a few moves and then one of the players got up, looked at the pairing sheet, went back to his board shaking his head, gathered his belongings, and sat down across from me! Jerome had started playing on board 13 instead of board 3. Jerome made his first move and our game began.

  Jerome was very nice after the game and said I played well up to 27.Nxd4 and he had just been maneuvering to try to get me to make a mistake and if I had played 27.Nc1 he couldn’t find a breakthrough and probably would have offered a draw. I thought at the time Jerome would have kept me cramped for another hour (we each used an hour for this game and each had a half hour left) or so to squeeze the win out but now I’m not so sure. Jerome is not a tournament regular. The Sioux Falls Open was his first tournament since the 2006 World Open in Philadelphia. Jerome ended up finishing second in the tournament. I ran into him after his last round game which was a draw against WGM Baginskaite. He was almost floating and told me “I drew the GM”. I told him that he could tie for first if Truelson failed to win his game but Jerome couldn’t have cared less about winning the tournament – he was thrilled to have played a really good game.

While gasoline may be more expensive in Iowa than Minnesota and South Dakota at least there are some bargains to be had in the land of corn. This 16 ounce 'frosty cool' Coke is 10% more expensive at this Sioux Falls, South Dakota BP station than the same can at the Casey's in Marshalltown Iowa...

  After a promising start, my Saturday devolved into hours of defending poor positions in between naps. The Hanson game was a disaster from the get go. I thought I had a good plan in my game against Jerome but missed my two chances to get active on the queenside and put some pressure on him. I felt like I was playing poorly and was lucky to have an even score. Sam (who also had an even score) and I headed back to the Sleep Inn around 8. The convenience store next to the Inn had a Quizno’s so we thought he would get a sandwich there but the clerk said they stop making sandwiches at 7 pm. I got a 16 ounce Coke frosty can for $1.09 which was 10 cents more than the same can costs in Iowa (gasoline was 16 cents a gallon cheaper at $2.08 a gallon) and headed back to the room to order a Jimmy Johns sandwich but none of the three Jimmy John’s in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (population 170,000) would deliver a sandwich to the Sleep Inn. I settled for a dinner of Coke with lemon and a bag of almonds and went to sleep hoping to break my streak of bad play.

Monday, September 28, 2015

2015 Sioux Falls Open - Part 1

  I took Friday and Monday off last weekend and headed to South Dakota to play in the Sioux Falls Open chess tournament in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Why a chess tournament in South Dakota? I was really happy with my play in August’s Jackson Open and one of the players was passing out flyers for this tournament which looked to be really strong. I was on a ‘runners high’ at the Jackson Open and curious to see if I had made a real step up in my chess or if I just had a good weekend. I asked my friend Sam Smith (the organizer of the Jackson Open and native of Jackson, MN) if he was going and when he said he was I arranged to meet him in Jackson and tag along for the extra hour and a half west to Sioux Falls. I wouldn’t have driven 5 and a half hours for a weekend chess tournament but driving four hours and hitching a ride seemed doable.

  My goals for the tournament were simple and very similar to my goals for Jackson : To play in all the games, take at least one minute for each move after the opening (the time control was 90 minutes per side for each game the same as Jackson), and be aggressive against the stronger players. I had signed up for the open section and expected to play stronger players in every round so I didn’t set any goals like trying to win money or rating points or games or anything like that. I wanted to play well and if that led to wins and rating points and money and fame that would be great but if I didn’t win any games I’ve been there and done that plenty also. Most of all I just wanted to play. Chess is a sport and if you’re good enough (which I’m not) it can be an art but it is primarily a game and games are meant to be played.

  I had more than four hours of driving since it was Friday and I started my day heading to St. Francis in Des Moines for the Friday chess club I run in return for using their cafeteria for my youth chess tournaments. I had everything packed on Thursday night and loaded up my car on 5:30 Friday morning with my St. Francis stuff, my computers, and two days worth of food and clothing and made my way to West Des Moines.

The 'Friends of The Jackson County Libraries Book Sale' at the Jackson American Legion Hall. If you a need an 8-track tape of 'One More Polka' by Marv Herzog you'll have to wait until next year's sale...

  I had a great chess club at St. Francis and at 8:30 headed north to Jackson, Minnesota. I stopped every hour or so to stretch my legs and check my email and made it to Jackson at 1:00. I stopped at the Jackson Library to use their free internet and saw there was a 'Friends of The Jackson County Libraries Book Sale' a few blocks away at the American Legion Hall. I had plenty of time so I decided to check out the sale. There were a lot of books but not many I was interested in. I got a memoir by longtime Minnesota sportswriter Sid Hartman and a book about one of the Denver Broncos Super Bowl seasons in of the 1980’s and two dollars later was off to meet Sam at his sisters Lila’s house.

On the left is Sam, his sister Lila, and her husband Jerry. On the right is the South Dakota speed limit of 80 miles per hour. You can only go legally faster (85 mph) in Texas (click to see the map).

  Sam suggested I leave my car at Lila’s house since it is on acreage and would be safer than parking on the street or in a parking lot. I can’t imagine there is much crime in Jackson but there isn’t any point in taking chances. I hung out with Lila and her husband Jerry for an hour until Sam arrived. We talked a little more and left for Sioux City around 4:30, stopping at the Luverne, Minnesota Pizza Ranch for dinner. The ride was quick and a lot quicker once we got to the South Dakota border where the speed limit was 80 MILES AN HOUR!

  We got to the Sleep Inn in Sioux Falls at 7pm and I logged in the game results from St. Francis, keeping an eye on the Yankees loss to the Chicago White Sox before turning in at 9pm. I wouldn’t have played in this tournament if there was a Friday night game after a long day with no naps but the Sioux Falls Open had three games on Saturday and two games on Sunday.

The Great Plains Zoo, home of the 2015 Sioux Falls Open. On the right, Grandmaster Alex Yermolinsky was the tournament director and he was checking people in at the door!

  After a good night's sleep and a light breakfast in the Sleep Inn’s breakfast nook, Sam and I headed a mile down the road to the tournament site, the Great Plains Zoo. The $20 entry fee included entry to the zoo, with the tournament held in large convention room/meeting hall to the side of the Delbridge Museum of Natural History, a huge display of over 150 mounted animals that mostly belonged to a local big-game hunter/hardware store magnate Henry Brockhouse and eventually made it's way to the zoo. When we got to the zoo we were greeted by the tournament organizer De Knudson and there in the doorway taking the online registrations was none other than Grandmaster Alex Yemolinsky (who was serving as the tournament director). Jodene Kruse, the Okoboji Open organizer was there with her student Riley. Even though the Okoboji Open is more than six months away it is deep in the planning stages and we chitt-chatted a little about it while waiting for the tournament to start.

In between marveling at the mounted animal collection at the Delbridge Museum of Natural History, I played my first round opponent, Samarth Ram.

  When I read the tournament flyer I thought the tournament was in multiple sections with an open section and sections for players rated under 1800, 1600, 1400, and 1200. I had signed up to play in the open section because I wanted to test myself against stronger players but when De greeted us she said that the tournament was in two sections – an open section for players rated over 1400 and a reserve section for players rated under 1400. Alex got the pairings set up a little after 9 and I found myself ranked 14th out of the 32 players in the open section, playing Samarth Ram, a young player rated 1126. I didn't look up Samarth's rating (ratings weren't printed on the pairing sheets) which was just as well since Samarth has been beating players rated 1500 (I’m rated 1700 at the moment) or more in the last month and has gained over 200 rating points in the same period. I didn’t know that at the time and mentally went over my guidelines of how to play against younger players : a) Don’t let them attack - that’s likely what they’re best at, b) Use a lot of time and try to project an attitude of infinite patience because they tend to get fidgety and impatient waiting for their opponent to move, and c) An adult is more likely to outplay the child in the endgame because children tend to win their games with attacks, not endings and will not have the adult’s endgame experience.

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of

  I didn’t know Samarth’s rating until I looked it up after the game. I didn’t believe it and was right to not believe it since he has been tearing it up over the last month and beat a player stronger than me in the last round of this tournament. Samarth took his time (he used 75 minutes while I used 59 for the game) and was very patient in developing his position and trying to counter attack. For myself I was very pleased with my game at the time and looking at it with computer help a little later I still think I played well with my only fault not finding that I had a way to take the pawn on c6 with my knight and get it out of danger. It was a very tense game and I was especially pleased that I was the agressor thoughout and didn't go into my normal 'try to pull the game out in the ending' mode. After surviving the first I rewarded myself with an apple for lunch and a nap before round two while Sam headed off to the Wendy’s with Jodene and Riley.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

TV Review - Fear The Walking Dead

'Fear The Walking Dead' plays heavily on the fact that we know what's coming while the characters don't.

  Once my favorite TNT post-apocalyptic shows ‘Falling Skies’ and ‘The Last Ship’ finished their summer Sunday night runs, I switched my Sunday night post-apocalyptic television viewing to AMC for the first season of ‘Fear The Walking Dead’.

  ‘Fear The Walking Dead’ (FTWD) is the first spinoff of the fantastically popular AMC show ‘The Walking Dead’ (TWD) and is set in the same zombie apocalypse reality. TWD is set in Georgia and started its story after the zombie apocalypse had laid waste to much of society, while FTWD begins its tale in Los Angeles just before the start of the apocalypse. This allows us to see how society unravels as what first appears to be a few isolated incidents of ill people turning into rabid beasts is slowly revealed to be a pandemic of flesh eating zombies.

Not having seen 'The Walking Dead', no one understands the beginning of the zombie apocalypse.

  FTWD centers around the extended family of high school English teacher Travis Manawa, his guidance counselor girlfriend Madison Clark, Clarks’ model student daughter Alicia and drug addict son Nick. As Travis realizes the scope of the zombie apocalypse, he brings his divorced wife Liza and their son Chris into his and Clark’s household, creating a weird Brady Bunch meets zombie apocalypse dynamic to the show.

  The show had excellent ratings for its debut which I attribute to the popularity of zombies in general and The Walking Dead in particular but the ratings have gone down for each episode. I attribute the declining viewership to the lack of zombies and the emphasis on character development. There was two zombies in the first episode, one which was discovered by Nick in his drug den and verified by the rest of his family over the entire hour and a half to be real and not a heroin induced hallucination. The other zombie was a drug dealer that Nick killed and then ran over repeatedly with his fathers truck, leaving it disabled but moving. Episode #2 showed Madison sneaking into the closed down high school to get some drugs for Nick only to be confronted by the zombified principal who she eventually kills by bashing a fire extinguisher over his head while Travis is trapped in an inner city barber shop as he and Liza are getting his son out of a riot situation. Episode three has one of the neighbors in Madison’s suburban neighborhood turn zombie and attack a neighbor as well as the Clark’s family dog as Travis gets his original family and the barber’s family out of the barbershop, through the riots, and to safely in his and Madison’s house in the suburbs. Everyone is ready to make a break for the desert when the neighborhood is taken over by the military and put under martial law in a zombieless episode four.

  FTWD has more suspense and character development than action. This is understandable because it is a new show with new characters and it is early enough in the zombie apocalypse that there aren’t enough zombies for very much zombie action. The suspense comes from the knowledge that the viewers have of how dangerous the zombies are while the main characters still think they’re sick and try to talk to them and comfort them and touch them, getting unknowingly terrifyingly close to being eaten alive. No one even knows yet that the only way to kill the zombies is to crush their brains.

There's not much action in 'Fear The Walking Dead' so far...

  At the close of episode four the neighborhood seems safe behind their fences under martial law with their rationed food and occasional electricity but there is a sense of foreboding as Madison ventures outside to the city and discovers dead bodies everywhere while the barber’s wife (who suffered a broken ankle) and drug addict Nick are forcibly taken to a military hospital. I expect the last two episodes to feature a showdown between the military and the neighborhood and possibly the neighborhood being overrun by zombies. This would seem to fit the way the parent show cycles its story lines where our group of familiar zombie apocalypse survivors find a save haven for much of a season until having a conflict with another group of survivors until a zombie attack overruns the haven and our group of zombie apocalypse survivors is on the road again until they find a safe haven for much of the next season.

  What makes ‘The Walking Dead’ one of my favorite shows is a partly the zombie action but a whole lot more the action that goes on between the main characters and the groups of survivors they run into. Almost every group that Rick Grimes and crew run encounter has survived by killing before they are killed. From the Governor to Joe and the marauders to the people of Terminus, the conflicts between our heroes of ‘The Walking Dead’ and these groups have been built up over multiple episodes and almost always end in a very violent climax. Another attraction of TWD is the violent acts committed by the ‘good guys’ while battling their adversaries. The upcoming season six starting on October 11th looks to be the best yet with Rick and company helping the soft survivors of the Alexandria settlement battle the ferocious clan of Wolves who rig zombie death traps and seem to live to kill survivors.

  ‘Fear The Walking Dead’ hasn’t had time to develop any adversaries and Travis and company haven’t been through the zombie apocalypse long enough to find their killers within. The performances are decent. Cliff Curtis as Travis and Kim Dickens as Madison are likable enough in their roles as parents of dysfunctional families thrust into the zombie apocalypse. I especially enjoy Frank Dillane's portrayal of Nick as a decent enough kid except when he needs his drug fix and will even stoop to hiding under a makeshift hospital bed to steal a sick person's morphine drip. There hasn’t been a death of one of the main cast members yet although my bet is on Daniel Salazar, the El Savadoran barber whose family is staying with the Clarks and is the most distrustful of the military. I’m finding FTWD to be pretty slow moving so far and I don’t care about any of the main characters very much yet. Having said that, I’m going to give the Los Angeles version of the zombie apocalypse a chance to get going before I make any final judgments. I have to think the showrunners will use ‘The Walking Dead’ as a guide for the new show and follow the same types of story arcs. All the same I’m glad I didn’t skip the last few episodes of ‘The Last Ship’ to watch ‘Fear The Walking Dead’.

Now this is action! Only 16 more days until season six of 'The (REAL) Walking Dead!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Software Process - An Idea In Practice

  In July I wrote about the process of giving users the ability to sign up for my tournaments using my website. My first tournament using the self sign up process was on Saturday. There were 52 participants in the tournament with 31 signing up via the website and four more that I set up myself via the website.

  The self sign up option was available in July but I formally announced the option in my tournament email of September 5th. I had a few parents create accounts and add their children but weren’t able to sign them up for the tournaments. I looked into the issue and found out that the company that hosts my site ( ends user sessions after five minutes of inactivity. Since I store the login information in session variables, when the GoDaddy web server ends the user session my website won’t know who is logged in and doesn’t know who to display when the signup link is clicked or just won’t show the signup link on the tournament page. This meant that anyone spending five minutes reading the tournament announcement or browsing on another tab or being distracted in some other way would have their session ended and get an error when they tried to sign up for the tournament.

  I think five minutes is an awfully short time for a session to be terminated but it’s not my world –I just live in it. To combat this problem I built in a ‘your session has ended’ page and a timer to route the user to it after five minutes of inactivity. That solved most of the issues with the only remaining problem being that I don't have a message on the ‘session has ended page’ to remind the user that they’d have to log in again.

  A couple of people wrote to ask why they couldn’t see the sign up link and were able to register soon after I wrote back to tell them about the ‘not logged in’ problem. Most users were able to set up an account, add their children, and sign up for the tournament without any help from me. When people emailed me to sign their children up for the tournament, I politely but firmly asked that they attempt to use the self sign up option on my website. If anyone was offended they didn’t say so and at the tournament I got a lot of positive comments about how easy the sign up process was.

  As for me, adding the self sign up option made my job as tournament organizer way easier. During the week of past tournaments I'd have a bunch of emails to both of my primary email addresses from parents registering their children. Many of these emails wouldn't say what section (rated) or which sessions (morning or afternoon) so I'd have to send an email asking and wait for a reply to enter the players in my tournament software. It was time consuming and the chance for error good. This past week was completely different. Whenever someone signed up for a tournament my website sent me an email telling who was signed up and the session and section they were signed up for. Each night after work I’d check the emails from my website to see if anyone signed up and put them in the tournament software if they did. I didn’t have to worry about any missed emails – I just went to the website and crosschecked my tournament software’s player list with the tournament signup list. If the counts were off I knew I missed an email – otherwise I was good to go.

  There were a couple of problems. I had some people sign up online and then not show up. This happens at every tournament although I think it is easier to forget when signing up online by clicking a mouse instead of taking the time to send an email. The other problem was that some parents put their children in both the rated and unrated section. It wasn’t a big deal but I had to remember to find out which section the player was in before the tournament started.

  These small problems were outweighed by the benefits. I already outlined how it made it easy for me to keep track of the signups. I don’t know if the ability to see who has signed up helped attract more players. I do know that it helps with the Okoboji Open and I believe it will help attract players once more parents are aware of the feature. The day after the tournament I was able to easily assemble an email list to let the parents know where they could find the cross tables and pictures because I had the email addresses of everyone who used the self sign up option at my fingertips using an SQL query.

  The tournament itself was quite successful from a participation standard with the most players I’ve ever had for a September tournament. From the sporting perspective the tournament was awesome. The kids had a great time playing, there were enough players for the rated sections in both the morning and afternoon, the parents were happy to have my tournaments back after taking the summer off, my energy level was high, and my students all showed improvement. Most chess games have a winner and a loser and there is nothing that can make a group of chess playing kids uncomfortable like having a sore loser that starts crying or accuses their opponent of cheating or pulls some stunts like making illegal moves or knocking the pieces off the board. There was none of that on Saturday.

  In the last game of the tournament Nate from St. Francis was playing Meg (a girl from another parochial school). Both players had two points out of four which meant there were no prizes on the line, just bragging rights. The St. Francis player was down two pawns in a desperate situation when he set up and uncorked a beauty of a move.

Nate was white and played d7!! Not only does the pawn move allow a check from the ninja bishop on b4 which prevents the bishop from capturing it, it covers the e8 square and prevents the king from stopping the pawn from becoming a queen next move. If I could pull off a move like this in one of my games I'd never stop writing about it!

  Because this was the last game going there was a crowd of kids hanging around watching when Nate played his killer move. With the crowd and the tension I would have understood if Meg had gotten upset as she realized there was no way she could stop the pawn but she just smiled, shook Nate’s hand, and congratulated him on a good game. It was an example of how having a great group of kids and parents make for a fun tournament where everyone is playing games of chess instead of a day where there are winners and losers and competition is king.

  Adding the self sign up feature to my software didn’t all of a sudden imbue the participants with a ‘good sport gene’ but it made my job as the organizer a lot easier which helped free my mind to give more thought to how to dial down the competition aspect and make the tournaments more fun. Enough parents found it easy to use which makes me think my design was more right than wrong. My next project on the www.centraliowachess.comwebsite is to redesign it suing a new toolkit that will make the website adjust its display from a smartphone to a desktop browser while providing an easy to use interface. I’ve finished all the pieces except the self-sign up part and expect to be finished the next time I have a vacation.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Taking My Time

   I spent the summer teaching chess to five students and am happy to report that the future is in good hands. My students had blonde and black hair and light and dark skin but they all had one thing in common – they were and are very intelligent. I gave them a two to four pages of tactics homework from the ‘Chess Steps’ workbook for each lesson. Each page contained 12 tactic puzzles and all the students were able to complete every assignment.

  The homework had the giveaway that there were tactics in each puzzle and for the most part told the student what kind of tactic was involved. Even so, the students were all able to correctly identify the undefended pieces, under-defended pieces, knight forks, and checkmates. The other assignment I gave my students was to play at least one 15 minute game every other day on That assignment wasn’t completed nearly as successfully as the homework sheets. In the games of the four students there were plenty of opportunities missed and given for the same undefended pieces, underdefended pieces, knight forks, and checkmates that were so easily solved in the tactic puzzles.

  My students missing the tactics in games that they find in their homework was not unexpected and underlines a basic issue with studying tactics as a means of chess improvement – there is no flashing light that suddenly appears when there is a loose piece or two ready to be captured in a real game. I completed the same Steps workbooks that I use for my student’s homework and I still missed two undefended pieces in my game in Jackson against Joe Hall-Reppen. I could have used a flashing light but there wasn’t even the blink of a fluorescent light over my table.

  This is a fairly common problem for most chess players below a certain level (including myself) despite the plethora of tactics books, software, apps, and websites that are readily available. My students and I all understand the most basic of tactics but we forget to look for them in the heat of battle. Luckily to go along with the plethora of tactics books, software, apps, and websites there is also a plethora of similar resources devoted to ‘thinking methods’. A quick google search will uncover books such as ‘Think Like A Grandmaster’, ‘Calculate Like A Grandmaster’, ‘Eliminating Chess Blunders’, ‘How To Calculate Chess Tactics’, etc.., etc…, etc…

  Working with my students this summer taught me that the common cause of these oversights is a lack of attention to detail. I have tried to impress on my students and myself that before every move we must examine ours and our opponent’s checks, captures, and undefended pieces. At my students current level paying attention to these three items will lead to many wins and also provide them a framework for determining their next move. At my level paying attention to checks, captures, and undefended pieces will help keep me from making silly mistakes which is only a start. Years of practice lets me find these items quicker than my students but since I am playing stronger opposition I have to try to look for moves that attack, damage the pawn structure, prevent or enable castling, open lines, and on and on and on. It is like peeling an onion – there is always another layer.

  When I take my time I can find most moves in the position – my problem is I don’t always take my time. That is why on of the goals I set myself in Jackson was to take at least one minute on every move after the opening. Normally I write down the time remaining every fifth move in order to make sure I don’t get into time trouble but in Jackson I wrote down the time remaining after every single move. It was quite a change for me. I play chess games every day where I only have a minute to make all my moves and here I was taking a minute for each individual move. Taking my time started out being boring but I stuck with it and found myself seeing more and more as the weekend went on. The only time I lost my focus was when I drifted into an awful positon against Joe and started moving quicker and quicker.

  It was unsurprising that I played better when I took more time. The trick for me is how to practice taking my time when I have limited time to practice taking my time. I had this rolling around in the back of my mind and then I stumbled on the training section at Lichess is a free chess website that I found out about by watching International Master John Bartholomew’s YouTube channel. Lichess doesn’t have many of the features of the pay or optional pay sites like or the Internet Chess Club but it does have a clean and responsive interface, a large user base, an assortment of chess variants, and plenty of tournaments to participate in.

  Lichess’s user interface is so responsive that it has become my preferred chess website for one minute games but I am using the training module more and more. Lichess archives all the games and the training module consists of tactic puzzles derived from this large database of games. The lichess tactic puzzles seem different from the other tactic sites in that they require a higher level of exactness in the solution and have solutions that go four or moves much of the time. I’ve played the correct solution for two or three moves, winning a piece, only to fail the puzzle because a sudden mate in two presented itself when the opponent made a substandard move in the puzzle. I’ve also failed puzzles for starting a checkmating variation in three moves instead of the mate in two that was on the board or winning the queen when there was a mate on the board. Here are some examples:

Black can win the queen for a rook with Rg6 with an easy win but that would be incorrect.
The correct answer is Bh2, Qxh3+, and Qh2 checkmate.

A 'simple' mate in four. 1.Re7+ Kg8 2.Nf6+ gf 3.Qxd8 Be8 4.Qxe8#

Another attractive line where White can clean up with 1.Re6+ Kxe6 2.Qxc6 Rd6 3.Qxa8
is incorrect because 1.Qf4+ Kd5 2.c4# wins in two moves.

  It’s frustrating to be told I failed at solving a puzzle when I selected a mate in three instead of a mate in two but in order to solve the puzzles correctly I have to take my time on every move. This dovetails perfectly with the habit I’m working to acquire – taking my time. I don’t know if the idea of doing lichess tactics puzzles to help me take my time will help more than any of the other ideas I've trued to improve my chess over the years but if it doesn't work I'll have plenty of time to try something else.