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Perron, Sean

Diary of a Woodpusher

Chapter 1
Pins and Kisses
Sean Perron

Greetings fellow chess players! First and foremost I'd like to extend a massive thank you to Calgary Chess Club President Steve Sklenka and our webmaster Neven ... for this opportunity to contribute to the site. Steve, you have been exceedingly gracious and accommodating. Neven, thank you for all the help and advice, for proofing the articles and publishing my drivel for all the world to see!

My origin story, as fascinating as any Marvel superhero, will come to light over the next few articles, but in a nutshell: I have been an irregular fixture at the club for 15+ years, but a player since my junior days. I have spent the majority of that time hunkered in the Expert category with a couple forays north of 2200 that did not last long. I had been inactive for almost five years before making a disastrous comeback of sorts last year at the Calgary International. I have dabbled in a few events since then and couldn't be happier to be back playing.

Initially I had selfish motivations for writing these articles. It would be a great way to keep my mind on the game and an excuse to flex my increasingly atrophied chess muscles. However, I thought I might also provide some insight into how a career expert thinks and prepares, discuss the material they consume and what they take away from it...

The crux of everything I want to discuss boils down to how we can improve? I would like to visit the topic of plateaus and how to push beyond them. From time to time I will wax philosophic about fantastic books I think the world should read, DVDs you should consider, chess software and setups, using tech in your preparation, reviewing games that made an impression, and so on.

As a man with more good days behind him than ahead - now there is a morbid thought - I am keen to apply lessons I have learned in ever more efficient ways.

Regardless of the topic I choose, one thing we can probably agree on is that chess is hard! Getting better means doing solid work. Raw talent gets you to a certain level, but eventually training is required to excel beyond the mediocre. I am the first to admit a lazy attitude, and I am willing to share some of the pitfalls I encountered along the way in hopes you can avoid them. Approaches I will use draw inspiration from a variety of sources. And not all of them chess. As a man with more good days behind him than ahead - now there is a morbid thought - I am keen to apply lessons I have learned in ever more efficient ways. There exists no one size fits all approach, so you will need to experiment and tinker to see what works for you.

You might be thinking "But Sean, can a ruggedly handsome career expert, just shy of kissing 50 and with decades of bad chess habits under his belt, flagging stamina and huge gaps in his chess education really get to 2200 and beyond"? I am relentlessly optimistic, so for me the answer is yes. But let's see what that journey looks like, starting today.

For improvement to occur you need to be able to take an honest inventory of your weaknesses.

Today I am far more objective assessing my own play than I used to be. Early on I would often brush aside losses with assorted excuses like having missed simple tactics or falling victim to someone else's opening preparation. The inference, somehow, is always that my opponent got lucky. That poor attitude has been replaced by an appreciation for the moment where I started to lose the thread in a position, where I waffled between competing plans, where my opening preparation ended prematurely, marvel at deficiencies in my endgame play, and spot the moments where my nerves failed me.

For improvement to occur you need to be able to take an honest inventory of your weaknesses. I have plenty! Don't worry, we will get to each embarrassing one in time. Let's take a peek at a couple of examples that illustrate a particular tactical blind spot...

Many sins mark this game, but I will focus on just one for this article, namely 24.Qh6+ which seals Black's fate. The idea lends itself to classification with the generic motif of a pin, but feels as though it deserves a name of its own. I am going to call it a "kiss", of a variety that I need to avoid getting blindsided by again in future outings!

The idea lends itself to classification with the generic motif of a pin, but feels as though it deserves a name of its own. I am going to call it a "kiss", of a variety that I need to avoid getting blindsided by again in future outings!

I can try several things. First, I can keep on doing work on tactics, either utilizing online trainers such as those available on playchess.com or chess.com or continuing with any one of the amazing tactics books I have in my library. A steady diet of tactical puzzles is good advice anyway. Examples featuring the newly minted "kiss" theme are bound to turn up, and those will be moved into a special database - or perhaps a notebook for the less technically inclined - featuring problematic tactical ideas in general. This is all about future work. My own working database contains tactical shots I had difficulties with in my own games, but also other random and impressive tactical solutions by strong players. Basically, any time I come across a move or idea that completely eluded me ... that game gets saved for later review. In time my hope is that collecting these positions will lead to clearing up specific holes in my tactical vision.

You could, and probably should, do this for all manner of tactical slips in your own games. I will be creating databases for missed wins, endgame blunders, converting winning positions, opening mistakes, and so on. But more on this in subsequent articles.

I would like to show one more example featuring the "kiss" motif, which was every bit as shocking to me as 24.Qh6+ in my game against Jake. Johan Hellsten's excellent book Mastering Opening Strategy features the move in the notes to the game Najditsch-Belov, Moscow Aeroflot op 2007, and is another idea I would never consider...

I could, and probably should, spend hours reviewing a game like this. It's a fascinating piece of chaos ripe with nuance and aggression. And for all of it, the move 21.Be6! (in the notes to 17...Rf8) is what resonated with me. White goes from nearly busted to completely winning. Great stuff!

This idea of creating small databases to house a menagerie of your weaknesses does involve some work. But this is work that will pay dividends. The act of annotating your games, collecting the games of others, and cataloging them like this should be enough to start cementing these patterns into mind. If I were to let a game like mine with Jake go by without trying to understand my play, how could I ever expect to improve?

These are my first tentative steps towards really trying to evaluate myself, take corrective action, and measure the results. You might find a different way, a better way that works for you, and that's great. As long as you do something, it's a step in the right direction. See you next time!

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