This was the last week of the chess skill building project. The initial idea for my last lesson with Andrea was to play a couple of blitz games and then analyze them together. We did that, but decided to added something else: we would play the games without seeing the pieces (blindfold chess). There’s a setting on Lichess which lets you hide your pieces. You just need to go to Settings > Blindfold Chess (at the moment, you can find that all the way down in the setting’s page). It was a fun challenge, but very demanding at an intellectual level. Actually, it’s not recommended at all to play like this often.
To my surprise, in the blindfold games, I did much better than I thought I would. We played common openings, but Andrea tried to take me out of the books very early in the games so that I wouldn’t play automatically. I think having a good grasp of the coordinate pairs on the board (the name of the files, designated by letters from a to h, and the ranks, designated by numbers from 1 to 8) is essential to think your way through a game of this kind. Keeping in mind the pawn structures (your own and the adversaries’), as mentioned by Andrea, is also key to remember what moves are possible or not.
In the screenshot above, you can see that the squares a2, a3, and a4 are yellow-colored. That means that I moved the pawn from a2 to a4. That’s all the information both players get at any given point. In this case, we could see the list of moves on the right. It’s possible to hide that as well, but that might have been too hard for me now 😅. In any case, looking at the notation table wasn’t of much help anyway, as I cannot easily ‘see’ the moves in my mind’s eye just with that information.
The Lesson: Playing Blindfold + Project Recap
Here’s a short excerpt of one of the games we played. In the first part you’ll see an empty board and the notation table on the right side. The last move of each player will be highlighted on the board, though. This was a 3+2 blitz game. We played a fast game because we needed to review the game, and didn’t have much time left to do it all. Andrea suggested that if I wanted to train and get better at blindfold games it would be much better to play longer games in the beginning (10 minutes with increment, for example). Also, it would be a good idea to get started playing against weaker opponents (as my opponents would be seeing their pieces).
In the second part of the video you will see the full board for the same game. That was our after analysis.
In the last part of the lesson, we reviewed a couple recent games I had played and did a short recap of the process of the past three months. I’m very thankful to GM Andrea Stella for sharing his knowledge and insights during these weeks. I appreciate that he agreed to give me chess lessons in Italian, knowing that I’m still learning the language. Just from the get-go, he said that wouldn’t be a problem at all. In fact, he even offered to correct some of my language mistakes on the fly (which exceeded what I had asked him for, which was just helping me to get better at chess). I think a good deal of the enjoyment, fun, and insights I got out of this project are connected to Andrea’s help. Quindi, grazie mille, Andrea! 😃
The Weekly Practice (03/24/21 to 03/31/21)
This week I practiced two Puzzle Storms each day (my highest ranking was 46), practiced tactics on mating attack, and analyzed one of my games. I practiced 5 days out of 6, but I completed a one-hour session just two of these days (the other three I did between 20 and 40 minutes, mostly tactics training).
The Games of the Week
Between March 24th and March 31th, I played 52 games. Two of them were against a Grandmaster (my teacher) and an International Master (I won that one).
I’ll start with the blindfold game that I played with the GM Andrea Stella (my teacher during the past three months). I blundered an entire bishop, but I was able to “last” 27 moves 😁.
C01 French Defense: Exchange Variation (I lost with White)
Here’s the victory against the IM (International Master):
C78 Ruy Lopez: Morphy Defense (I won with Black)
And a defeat:
D00 Queen’s Pawn Game: Mason Variation (I lost with Black)
I’m very happy of having chosen Chess in Italian as my first skill building project in a foreign language. It was great to reconnect to my chess studies. Doing it in a new language (at least for the lessons!), made it even more refreshing. This project helped me to notice that my chess skills are not so ‘average’ as I had always thought. During the past three months, I played against stronger players (many CM, FM, and IM’s), and was able to win multiple games. Also, I started to see how relative the rankings can be. Even though I feel I have made good progress, my ranking stayed pretty much the same. But that’s okay! Right from the very first week of the project I had made it a point not to focus on the numbers.
During this skill building project, I ended up deciding that Lichess.org is my favorite place to play and train online. In January and February, they launched new Puzzle exercises and training tools. I tried the premium tools at Chess.com and I have to say that I still like better Lichess.org (which is also free for everyone). Towards the middle of the project, I added two sessions of Puzzle Storms and around 10 minutes of regular Tactics as a warming-up. I would start each session with those exercises. It was very helpful to get in the right mood to tackle more difficult studies and positions.
Something I would have done differently is trying to get more books and materials in Italian to use in the challenge. I tried finding ebook copies of original or translated chess books in Italian, but I wasn’t able to find much material. There were many translations in paperback format, but as a rule of thumb, I always prefer to get digital copies (they are faster and easier to use). When possible I tried to add as much Italian as I could. For example, I set the user interface at Lichess.org in Italian and annotated my own games in Italian. I also completed a short video course provided by Andrea (rook endings) in Italian, which was super fun to do.
The last week of January and the first couple weeks in February taught me to be realistic and to find new alternatives when a sudden emergency or something unexpected throws you off the practice regime. In those difficult weeks, there were days when I didn’t do any practice at all. Later on in the project, there were days I felt unmotivated to practice for a whole hour (or that I thought I just didn’t have that time after a very long day). Instead of not practicing at all, I thought: ‘I’ll do two Puzzle Storms and some tactics.’ That took between 10 and 20 minutes and was very useful to keep the training going. Nevertheless, there were still two days in March where I didn’t practice at all (not that bad!).
From now on, my intention is to continue learning, playing, and training at a more relaxed pace. I might do another period of intensive study in the future as I’ve done during the past three months. In the meanwhile, I’ll continue enjoying this fantastic game. Now, also in Italian 😊.