Tuesday, March 3, 2015

My Addiction, My Playground

  I’m addicted to one minute chess. I’ll play a few games every morning before I go to work and sometimes I’ll play for an hour or more when I get home. My preferred platform to play on is the Internet Chess Club (ICC). I use their Dasher desktop interface which I find comfortable to use and very reliable.

  One-minute chess isn’t the same as chess at longer time controls. Sometimes the result of a game comes down to making random moves or throwing away pieces as long as it costs the other player precious fractions of a second to take them. It’s not the same game as a three hour chess game and shouldn’t be played the same way. The best explanation I’ve seen about quick chess is from International Master Greg Shahade in the video I’ve linked to below this paragraph. In this five minute game, Shahade gets an early time advantage over GM Simen Agdestein and declares his intention to play solidly, maintain his time advantage, and win the game on time. Shahade says at the 10:50 mark “I might end up losing on the board. All I care about is the win, though. That’s the point of chess is to win whatever the rules are.”

Even though this is a five minute game instead of a one minute contest, International Master Greg Shahade demonstrates the importance of time management in this video form his YouTube channel.

  On the ICC I can always find a game and there are a wide variety of players to match up against in the one minute pool but I also get to see the same opponents enough to get familiar with them. My favorite opponent is ‘butte’ who is always close enough in rating to me that we are paired up quite a bit. Butte plays the Staunton Gambit against my Dutch defense and the Albin Counter-Gambit against my Queens Gambit. We generally have the same position for the first 15 to 20 moves but I'm much quicker in making them and end up with a large time advantage. This accounts for much of my stellar 173-66 record against butte even though he normally has an objectively winning position when his time runs out. Here’s a pair of recent games we played in our series that illustrate my point:

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of pgn4web.casaschi.net

  On the flip side of butte is the ‘ClumsyQueen’, who I’ve played 134 times over the years. ClumsyQueen always gives away a pawn and then another and then maybe a piece and I’m always winning but in trying to win on the board I frequently forget the game is a one-muinute scramble and lose on time which has led me to a pedestrian 76-58 (57%) record when I feel I should score closer to 75% against this particular player. I can't understand why I don't win against ClumsyQueen more and I’m sure butte feels the same way about me.

  Another one of my more frequent opponents is Serg2008, who I’ve played 180 times, winning 93. Serg2008 is constantly outplaying me but takes too long to make his moves and lets me win on time far too often. What’s interesting about Serg2008 is that he is listed on ICC as International Master Sergii Pryyomov. Serg2008's ICC one-minute rating is quite low for an IM. That’s likely because he is 78 years old. I’d have no chance against him at a slower time control and for all I know when I do win it’s because he’s letting his grandson (or maybe his grandmother) use his account but I’ll take what I can get since there are plenty of other familiar faces I have little to no success against like Lumpus (14-29), Chigato (27-74), and Brawny (22-46). Even though our ratings are all pretty similar, these characters put their pieces in weird places that throw me off my game and make me use too much time. A good example is my last game against Chigato:

  I don’t know any of these players personally and couldn’t tell you who they are in real life so I avoided using the pronouns him, her, he, or she. Is Brawny a man? Is ClumsyQueen a woman? You might think so from their profiles and little avatar pictures but who really knows? Maybe someday I’ll experiment by putting pictures of different people on my profile and see what kinds of comments I get or if my opponents seem distracted.

  I’ve played one minute chess on chess.com and it is quite a different animal than the ICC. ICC is a paid membership site and chess.com a free site that allows you to pay for features. This gives chess.com has a wider pool of players to draw from but there isn’t the familiarity of playing ‘the usual suspects.’ In the ICC one minute pool you play whoever the computer matches you up against and when the game is over you need to go back into the pool for another game but on chess.com there is no ‘pool’. I can request a game and when it is over I can ask for or give a rematch to my opponent. This is good when I can catch a ‘fish’ to help me boost my rating but not so good when I am the ‘fish’ and lose game after game to the same opponent. All things considered I like the ICC pool concept.

  A problem I have with chess.com is that their platform is completely browser based and if something doesn’t load properly things get screwy. I’ve had situations where a blank square is where one of my pieces should be. If I was just missing a piece or couldn’t move the piece that would be bad enough but I can’t put any piece on or through that square until my opponent takes whatever the browser thought was there. A more frequent problem is when the sound disappears from the browser. I rely on the sound of my opponent’s move as much as visually seeing it and when there is no sound my timing is thrown off and my game soon follows my timing - off. These are trifling things and easily fixed as soon as I restart my browser but they make me prefer my one minute chess on the ICC.

  The other problem I have with chess.com is that when I replay the games I play on their server the time left isn’t saved. In December I set my personal best on chess.com in one minute chess but I don’t remember how much time my opponent and I had at any spot in the game so if I tried to show it here on my blog it would just look like a mistake-ridden game between two bad players instead of an exciting race against the clock and an opponent.

  I’ve played almost 40,000 one minute games on the ICC and am hoping to get my rating past its all-time high of 1606 that I reached over two years ago. I got up to 1521 last week on my trip to Sacramento where I had blazingly fast internet but when I got back to Marshalltown Iowa I also got back to the bane of my one minute chess life: Mediacom’s terrible internet service. I’ll be playing a game. My opponent and I are banging out moves within a second or two when all of a sudden my opponent will stop for a 10 second think. I wonder what he is thinking about and then I see it – the little red X in the corner of my screen to let me know my internet has disconnected. Then I’ll see the little gold star to let me know it’s connecting and when my attention is drawn back to the board I see my opponent has moved and I either have but a few seconds left or I have lost because I ran out of time. Sometimes this happens when I'm losing and sometimes this happens when I am a move away from a checkmate! This has happened multiple times a day for the last few months despite numerous calls to Mediacom. I searched the internet (when it wasn’t disconnecting) and found many of the same complaints I had. When my wife is watching Netflix or I’m watching YouTube videos a momentary internet disconnect doesn’t affect anything because the videos have a few extra minutes downloaded but when I’m connected to my work computer or playing one minute chess the disconnect has immediate consequences. After numerous calls to Mediacom the issue seems to be fixed (for now) and my assault on my personal best continues.

  Internet connection aside, playing one minute chess is my number one activity for fun and relaxation. It requires no commitment beyond a few minutes of my time. I am addicted to it whether I play a game like this:

  Or this:

   To compare chess to basketball, the top chess players in the world competing in big time tournaments like the London Chess Classic or the Zurich Chess Challenge is the NBA of chess; big time regional tournaments like the Okoboji Open are the NBDL developmental league; and one minute chess on the internet is playground basketball where you just show up and play whoever is there. And just as playground basketball has its ‘street legends’, one minute chess has its own legends that I will write about in a future post.