Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tactically Speaking

  Tactic - An expedient for achieving a goal; a maneuver (

  I was hoping to be playing chess this weekend, but I got waylaid by a cold on Thursday. I felt so crummy that I stayed home from work sick for the first time in 5 years and decided to pass on the potential 25 hours of chess during the weekend-long tournament in order to get better and rest on the weeknd for a busy week of work ahead. I didn’t miss a day of work, instead using the miracle of modern technology to remotely take over my work computer 60 miles away in Des Moines. I took an hour sick time for a nap, but working from home was a useful tactic to convert 2 hours of driving time into some extra sleep. Maybe I should get sick more often, since after finishing 4th out of 6 players at last week’s blitz chess tournament thanks to poor efforts against Joe from Waterloo and Dave the Barefoot Chess Player, I managed to beat Dave and Dan Troxell to win this week’s 4 player tournament and now my quick chess rating is at it’s all time high. I didn’t win with dashing attacks, but I managed to keep from making any big mistakes and all 3 games my opponents lost a piece and I was able to push to victory after some various misadventures.

A great iPod chess app!
  Almost all chess games among players at my level or below are won or lost by tactics. Being able to take advantage of a sudden opportunity to win a piece or a pawn is a key skill and once the skill is acquired, you can get your opponent go wrong by setting traps or complicating the game to rely on your superior tactical skill to win. Denying your opponent those opportunities is just as key. Players better than me beat me a lot by baiting me into leaving those opportunities while not leaving me any tactical shots. When I’m at a tournament, most players blame their losses on the openings. I’ve learned to nod sympathetically, but when the game is replayed most of these games are lost due to a tactical oversight in the opening and the player buys yet another opening book or spends some money on chess lessons from an expert in their opening of choice instead of the hard work of eliminating tactical blind spots and other deficiencies.

  I’d done some programming work for Andres Hortillosa’s SmartChess iPhone application last year, writing a program to convert some chess books in PDF chess formats into his iPhone app’s proprietary format. The arrangement was that I would get a percentage of the books sales, but then Andres wasn’t able to get the app certified by Apple. I never saw a penny for my efforts. I had even bought an iPod to test the program but was never given a working copy that would download the books my program created. After months of non-contact, I got a couple of emails from Andres over the summer to ask to set up users for my program and would get a quick email when the database server would prevent him from logging in. In late September, I got an email advertisement saying that Smart Chess had been approved by Apple and was now on sale, but I’ve had no other contact with the company since since August. I can only assume that he found someone to duplicate my program’s functionality or doesn’t need the program any more, but some explanation would have been nice (or maybe a complimentary copy of the app).

  I don't care for the the way my program and I were treated, but it's not the first time I've run into the tactic some people and businesses employ to not contact people unless you have a use for them. I should have known better since Andres had already demonstrated to me that he has a loose way with the facts. The techniques I learned from writing the program have already paid off in other projects and unwittingly Andres has helped me find a great way to improve my chess. 2 weeks ago, I saw an ad for Andres’s app on Facebook. I clicked on it out of curiosity, and saw similar applications. I took a look at one called TacticsTrainer, liked it, and decided to invest the $2.99 for it. It’s the first time I’ve ever paid for an app.

  I’ve used Ct-Art for tactic puzzles on my computer and enjoy it, but TacticsTrainer is awesome. Because it’s on the iPod, but doesn’t need to be connected to the Internet, I can use it while I’m walking to and from my car at work, during a coffee break, stuck in traffic, getting my oil changed, or any life’s many delays. While CT-Art has 1200 puzzles, Tactics Trainer has 20,000 puzzles so I’m not likely to run out or repeat them anytime soon.

  A couple of features I really like about this app might be something other players would not call ‘features’ at all. TacticsTrainer doesn’t show me how difficult the problems are or the theme of the problem. (CT-Art always shows the difficulty and shows the theme after you get to retry the puzzle). This makes the puzzles a lot more like the game situation. While playing a game, there's never a big red sign shouting. “TACTIC HERE! TACTIC HERE!”,and letting me know it’s an easy or hard puzzle and that I need to look for a pin or a knight fork is just a bit too much help. The only issues I have with TacticsTrainer are minor. I’d like to be able to review the puzzles I’ve already seen and while the rating and ranking among other players are nice, I’d be more interested in how many I got right. Time will tell if this app will help my chess, but I have to think it will be more useful than a book or software that keeps me tethered to my PC for as long as I use it.

  On his Sunday morning TV program at 7 on the Discover channel, Joel Osteen says God will take things that were meant to be done to you and turn them into things that will be done for you and sure enough, without my seemingly fruitless work with Hortillosa, I'd never have gotten my amazing iPod or this cool TacticsTrainer app and even though the next penny I see from the endeavor will be the first, I feel like I came out ahead.

  I’ve been the recipient of some other strange tactics lately that I hope will work out just as well. In early September, I was looking for a date for my November youth chess tournament at St. Francis when the IASCA pulled their tournament tentatively scheduled for Ankeny on November 5th and moved it to Cedar Rapids. The tournament hadn’t even been announced in early September despite the IASCA's own by-laws requiring the tournament announcements to be made 3 months in advance. Since November was already booked with tournaments in Des Moines for all the other weeks in November except for Thanksgiving, I arranged for my tournament to be held on the 5th. This has apparently caused some consternation in IASCA-land. The clearinghouse director wrote to say how ‘troubled’ he was by 2 scholastic tournaments on the same date and the scholastic director wrote to say he was getting inquiries as to why I was running a tournament in Des Moines the same day as one was taking place in Cedar Rapids (140 miles away). I wrote back asking that inquiries to be forwarded to me and received none. Yesterday, I got an email from the scholastic director saying there has been a ‘backlash’ towards me about my having a tournament and that he has had to tell the chess parents ‘not to worry, that I was a great guy’. Then the scholastic director wrote to all the parents to let them know about his tournament in Cedar Rapids next Saturday, but he wrote about my tournament almost as much as his. He wrote about my ‘motivations’ for holding my tournament on the same day (which were completely wrong) and made special mention that his tournament raised $250 for the IASCA to donate to the states’ scholastic champions to go to nationals last year (no mention that the organizers also pocketed $250 in profit last year from the tournament). I don't know why I'm coming in for all this special mention by name and as borderline rude and unprofessional as it is, I'm not concerned. Maybe the IASCA is setting up a tactic to create a no-lose situation. If the Cedar Rapids tournament gets an increase in attendance, they can say how they are having success despite my ‘interference’ and if they have a decrease they can blame me as the scapegoat. I’m too happy with my efforts to grow youth chess in Des Moines (an area that was abandoned by the IASCA), too confident in the correctness of how I’m going about it, and too pleased with the results so far to let all the chatter ruffle my feathers. In fact, I’m looking forward to seeing how all this will eventually work in my favor.