The doctor is *in*

by admin on August 26, 2008

But are the patients? I guess we’ll see!

I’m now (mostly) done with those pesky real-world commitments that kept me away from this blog for a while. This weekend I will play in my first chess tournament since May, the CalChess Labor Day Classic. This is northern California’s version of a state championship. Usually I enter the open section, but this year I decided to swallow my pride and enter the expert (under-2200) section. Why?

  • I haven’t played or opened a chess book for the last month.
  • I have to get real. Until I’m playing well and confident about my chess, I shouldn’t be playing against masters.
  • The Western States Open in Reno is next month. That’s the tournament where I really want to play in the open section, because it’s FIDE-rated. One of my long-term projects is to get my FIDE rating back up to 2200.
  • Did I mention that I’m not prepared?
  • Oh, and I almost forgot — it’s a little easier to win prizes in the expert section than in the master section. That would be nice.

Interestingly, the last time I played in the expert section in this tournament, there were more class-A players than experts! That was the year I played against Nicholas Nip and had the somewhat discouraging experience of losing to an 8-year-old in front of a huge throng of people. Well, okay, maybe 10 or 15 people, but that feels like a huge throng when they’re all watching and rooting for you to lose. Now Nip is 10 years old and a master, so I won’t have to worry about playing him.

I will think positive, happy thoughts all weekend. For one thing, I will make sure to eat at least once at Tommy’s Joynt, which is the best restaurant I know of in San Francisco. It’s the only place where you can stuff your face with home-cooked-style comfort food for under $6. Tommy’s Joynt is almost the only thing I remember from my first visit to San Francisco in 1984, and it hasn’t changed a bit since then.

So, dear readers, what have you been doing for the last month? With no blog entries to read, I’m sure that you have had lots of spare time.   😎

Have any of you played any good games or tournaments recently, or gone on any interesting trips? I know that Andy Hortillosa has an announcement that he wants to make, so Andy, here is your chance.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Andres D. Hortillosa August 27, 2008 at 7:48 am


Please do not take long vacations again for our sake. Kidding. I spent a week in Destin, Florida myself with family in July. We caught so many crabs; I was cooking and eating them every day.

My wife and daughter would only venture to feast on one crab per day so I was left with gusto at five per meal.

But that is not the announcement I have been itching to make. I wanted to do it here because it was here that it all began and I feel a special affinity towards the souls that frequent this blog.

Some time ago I posted a “scary” note on your blog that I was making a push to master level. It was an audacious wish but I was committed to the dream. My first step was to clarify my chess thinking process, which led me to develop my blunder-proof algorithm. As your readers know, it received its first testing at the US Qualifier Open in March. You and I played in that tournament. My results were not encouraging. But it gave me insights into what is needed to further improve my system.

After all, my system extols the benefits of process improvement. In a sense, I subjected my system into a Six-Sigma redesign. The second testing of my redesigned system came at the Chicago Open in May and the results were encouraging but not noteworhy.

Meanwhile, the two editions of my column showcasing the “old system” with resonated unexpectedly with the target audience.

Any Six-Sigma process design needs data to validate its merit. So I bravely entered this year’s New England Masters in search for more data. Since March this year, there was a sporadic email exchanges between me and GM Emms, Commissioning Editor at Everyman Chess about a book project. Sample materials were sent but no definitive response was forthcoming except for some interest in what I was writing about. The Monday following the tournament, a contract offer was in my inbox.

I had a great tournament in a sense because I exceeded my goal. In fact, I met my secondary goal of obtaining a FIDE rating after round 2. Since I am unrated, I needed to score at least a point against a minimum of three FIDE rated players for a given tournament to count for rating purposes.

The US Qualifier did not count towards rating because I could only score zero against three FIDE rated opponents there. To get an initial rating, new FIDE rules require a total of nine games against FIDE rated players. The 2008 New England Masters was a 9-round event limited to only 50 players though only 44 showed up on game day. Scoring a point would guarantee me a FIDE rating as long as I avoid playing the other two unrated players in the mix.
Luckily, my games were all against titled players except the one against a Dominican contingent rated 2226, two IMs and six FMs (some with IM norms). After five rounds, I scored 3 “huge” points, 2 wins and 2 draws. Another 1.5 points more in four rounds would earn me a FIDE Master title. The rules for computing the initial rating are such that my performance rating while scoring at 50 percent (4.5 points) would also be my rating. Even before round six, it was way over 2300. Warning: Do not daydream about your good fortunes while still playing. It will have negative consequences.

This is where it got complicated for me. I was not expecting this kind of good fortunes in only my third try at a FIDE-rated event.

Paired up in the sixth round against IM Sarkar who already has one GM norm and barely missing another, I got very nervous. More concerned about my system, I only had one goal which was not to lose the game quickly with a blunder. Despite the somewhat predicted loss, the mourning was short-lived and relief came quickly because I exceeded my goal. In the game, I actually felt I had some drawing chances. My loss there is attributable to another aspect of my game which needs dramatic improvements if there is hope of ever chalking points against this level of opposition.

Of course, the key games and the stories behind them will be in the book. The book will also talk about preparation (methodology), resources (books, engines, websites, blogs, services like and and coaching (selection process). I think some names will be inescapably mentioned in the book.

Yes, I hired a coach before the tournament. Only two lessons because of scheduling conflicts but they helped tremendously.

My prospective rating will be 2199 when the October update is posted. I also gained 62 USCF points in this tournament. The results are now posted on both sites.

The bottom line is my system works and I cannot wait to share the rest of it with the chess public. I will guarantee two things: my system and “effortful” study routines will allow you to enjoy the game (since blunders will be minimal) and will certainly improve your game in a lasting fashion despite your age. Sorry, the improvement will be lasting rather than rapid.

Any suggestions for a title or subtitle? The target release dates for Europe and US markets are September 2009 and October 2009, respectively.



admin August 27, 2008 at 12:14 pm

Andres, Congratulations on a fantastic result and congratulations even more on a book contract! That is fantastic news. My suggestion for a title or subtitle is “Improve Your Chess At Any Age.”

Sorry you didn’t make it to FIDE Master, but it’s hard to be too disappointed at missing a goal that seemed to be way beyond the bounds of possibility. Besides, you will appreciate it more if you have to work your way up to it.

I wish you continued improvement!



Rob August 27, 2008 at 12:26 pm

Tommy Harris was best man at my parent’s wedding…a long time ago. With all due respect to your opinion Dana…”the best restaurant in San Francisco”? Obviously you have not been there very often…of course, if you are into eating Buffalo then it is the best as I know of no other that serves this in SF.
Anyway glad to see you are back.
I will keep an eye open for Andy’s forthcoming book…


admin August 27, 2008 at 1:01 pm


Wow! Until I checked out the web page I had no idea who the “Tommy” of “Tommy’s Joynt” was … and now I find out that there are only two degrees of separation between us!

OK, there must be plenty of places in San Francisco with better food, but what I really like about Tommy’s Joynt is the food/price combination. That is also what probably made a big impression on me in 1984, when I was still living on a starving grad student’s budget. (By then I was employed and had no reason to continue living like a grad student, but I was too stupid to know any better. Ah, those were the days!)

I don’t get the buffalo, because I don’t eat red meat at all, but what I really enjoy at Tommy’s is the turkey legs. I don’t know any other restaurant where you can regularly get turkey legs, any time of year. It makes me feel like such a caveman, to have this big piece of dismembered fowl on my plate, slathered in gravy… I guess I’m still a carnivore at heart.

I readily admit, though, that I’m not too familiar with the dining options in San Francisco, and I would love to have some other suggestions!


Rob August 28, 2008 at 2:16 am

Dana since I have moved to France and visit SF only every other year I can only recommend one restaurant that I am sure will please you for quantity, quality, variety, and decent prices. At that restaurant is
Park Chow on 9th ave. between Lincoln and Irving (near the Hall of Flowers in Golden Gate Park). I have never been disappointed in any of my visits to this restaurant.

If you arrived in SF in the 80’s there were still a number of Italian and Basque restaurants that served you family style.
Much food, with wine (not all that great), but with decent prices.

And when I was in college we could go to a number of places where they had the so-called “happy hour” and besides cheap drinks…lots of free food.
Many times my friends and I would spend two or three consecutive evenings getting plenty to eat all for the cost of a beer.

Ah…the good old days…BC
(Before cholesterol)


thadeus frei August 28, 2008 at 8:12 pm

good luck on the tournement, I might see you there because Im also going with jim.(they changed the time limite at border to 25 then 20 then what ever is left) I won the top quad today beating richard(2060), Jim(1734), and some guy called chris(1700).:)


Carina August 29, 2008 at 4:51 am

I’ve been having a very enjoyable and instructive summer, the first 1½ months spent reading, playing, relaxing and hunting wild cherry trees in the good weather. The last month was dedicated to a chemistry course, since that was a requirement for the health and nutrition education I’m planning to start next summer. Among the books I’ve been reading, is the Chess Artist, I’m a third through it and it’s enjoyable to me, but I read it in small bits at a time, a chapter every few days. Now I’m back for my last year in the multimedia design school and we’re currently working hard to learn using databases. But I have a comp there, so I have ICC open pretty much all day and watch/go through games. I think that by the end of this school year, my chess will have improved. 😉 I’m not planning on entering a new tournament until I feel as comfortable as I want to feel in my opening and attacking play. I was almost elected for the Danish women OL team that goes to Beijing, but a slightly higher rated girl got it instead. It’s ok though, since I have loads of work to do (and am doing it) with my chess before I feel ready to play over the board, not to mention on a team, again.


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