Monday, November 29, 2010

How Do You Prepare Your Kids For Big Events?

I often find myself wondering what (if anything) other parents of children in these large national chess do before the large national events.

Before one of his first major events, I had Richie focus on tactics. This was the advice I had seen and heard over and over, and for good reason. Mostly I had Richie work through problem sets with specific tactical motifs. I found that he was very good when he knew what to look for, but in real-life game situations he could still miss simple tactics. The result: he did well, but got fancy in some games and sacrificed unsoundly...

As his tactical strength improved I shifted focus a bit and would (before major tournaments) attempt to prepare for him for the most common openings. Part of the reason I did this was that I ultimately wanted him to study middle game concepts and positional thinking but I needed him to get into similar positions as often as possible so that we could talk about common plans. I just wasn't strong enough to have these discussions if he played a wide variety of openings where I couldn't study beforehand the common ideas. The result: he did well, got some decent advantages out of the opening but then missed some tactical wins. On the other hand, he began playing very quickly in the opening as they became rote and didn't seem to realize he was out of his "book." Relying on "feel" to choose the right moves and coming to expect appropriate moves to jump out at him made him liable to play superficially at the early stages of a game.

Over the last summer, we worked a lot on positional chess. I tried reviewing grandmaster games with him that systematically touched on certain positional themes. The result: he'd win a pawn or get an outpost and then relax assuming his opponent would fold. Unfortunately his opponents somehow managed to comeback from positional bankruptcy with surprising regularity.

Then I thought, endgames. That's the ticket. I'll admit I don't like studying endgames. I find so much of it to being akin to learning how to spell esoteric words that you'll never use in everyday writing. So we studied some endgames. The result: I have no idea. Richie's only ever reached a handful of endgames that resembles something we studied.

Sometimes it makes me wonder if doing nothing is best.

But then I quickly come to my senses.

So for this year's Nationals I had him go through a carefully refined study program of endgame, tactics, strategy, and openings! Seriously, though, my goal has been consistency of practice rather than quantity. We decided to skip some of the local events. And to get acclimated to a slower pace of play, for the two weeks prior to the Nationals we avoided having Richie play anything faster than G/45.

This year we opted to fly out on the morning of the event so he will have a pretty rough first day. Usually parents are advised to fly out the night before to get a good night's sleep. One time we tried that, though and the wait from the time he woke up at 7am to the first game at 1:30 pm felt truly endless.

So we're trying something different this time around. We have a very early flight out (hopefully we don't miss it!), and I'm hoping that he sleeps on the plane and catches up on his rest then. Even if that backfires and he's too wired to sleep perhaps he'll have an afternoon siesta, which otherwise would be unusual for him.

His section has turned out so far to be very competitive with at least a dozen players at the 1100+ level with good chances to win it all. I think in 1st grade last year there were a couple of standout players at the 1500+ level, but only 5 over 1100. The depth of strength should make for an exciting tournament.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

2010 Grade National Chess Tournament, Orlando FL

The 2010 Grade Nationals will be held in Orlando, Florida this year. For those who don't know, there are two major Nationals each year, one held in the Winter and one held in the Spring. The Winter tournament has each grade competing in a separate sections, while the Spring nationals have certain grades combined (e.g. K-1).

The table below is mainly for my own convenience to make it easier to look up the top contenders in each section and how they have performed leading into the event (since there is a six week gap between cut-off of the December rating supplement and the actual tournament), but last year, the table got a couple thousand views so I guess I wasn't the only one using it.

This year Richie will be playing in the 1st grade section. Even accounting for late registrants, I think he should be comfortably in the top 10 rated players going into the event, but there are at least a couple higher rated players in his cohort that either haven't registered yet or aren't planning to participate.

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Rating Supplements

I was trying to work out how ratings are determined for tournaments and found out that there's an element of uncertainty that isn't obvious at first.

The basic problem is this: prior to any major tournament, sections and pre-event ratings must be determined based on some rating snapshot in time. Ratings themselves are based on rated games which should be rated in event order, but the results for rated games must be processed or submitted by tournament directors which can take anywhere from a few hours to several days or weeks depending on how they process and submit (electronically, or by mail).

The USCF approaches this problem by publishing monthly "rating supplements" which are official snapshots of every player's "concurrent" rating for events scheduled for that month. For example, the "December 2010" rating supplement is intended to be use for any events held in December. (Tournament directors have the ability, however, to choose to use earlier supplements if the desire).

For the December supplement to be ready for December, it obviously needs to be finalized before the month of December begins, so it is generally published shortly after the first Friday of November, aiming to capture all events completed in October.

The wrinkle is that some events played late in October may not actually be submitted in time to be reflected in the supplement. Players really can't be certain what goes into the supplement until it's actually published.

One point I am still confused about is how re-ratings are considered. It's my current understanding that each week, the USCF actually re-rates recent tournaments to properly take into account the chronological order of events and correct for the problem of receiving results out of chronological order. (Incidentally, the rating algorithm itself uses a two-pass system, meaning that a first pass is made to estimate each player's post event rating, and then a second pass is made to actually rate every player for that event). This process is impacted by any new incoming data for any player so I believe the re-ratings are done in batch and I assume they go back over some reasonable window and do a roll-forward re-rating of every player and every event.

In other words, eventually, your rating is always computed the "right" way, using the latest rated results for you and your opponent at the time the event was played, regardless of when those recent events results were submitted to the USCF.

But I believe the ratings supplements cannot be altered once they are published. I could be wrong about this, but historically official supplements were published in Chess Life Magazine so once they published that was it and I doubt that would have changed. So whatever is in the supplement is going to be used for that month's events, regardless of any more up to game data, even if those games were held before the date-cutoff for that supplement.

Anyway this probably doesn't have any major impact on the vast majority of players, but in some situations you may find that your rating used for an event isn't based on what you thought it would be.
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