Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Why I went to the eye doctor & stopped studying chess.


So last week I went to the eye doctor, as per my girlfriends request. I hate going to the doctor, I associate it with something being wrong with me or if it's regular check up I associate it with robbery (I've paid up to £400 for a check up in London!). It turns out the hate is not unfounded, as the doctor gave me bad news and said I have a problem with both my eyes. Who wants to go to the doctor when there is a chance they give you such terrible news?! Right?

Okay, I may have over exaggerated when I said the news was terrible, it annoyed me for the first few hours but by the next day I was fine. The doctor recommended an eye exercise that I must do for 20 minutes a day for 6 months. At first I wondered where I would find these 20 minutes from and boiled over with anger about all the lost time over 6 months (exactly 3,600 minutes or 6 hours). However, this diagnosis turned out to be a blessing in disguise because for those 20 minutes my brain is not occupied with anything else other than the exercise, so being the great multitasker that I am, I am now using those same 20 minutes topractice positive affirmations and meditate over a few thoughts/things.

It was during those meditations that I have realised that I promised myself I would try to work 6 months and rest 6 months (Proof: Roller coasters are fun. When you are a kid.) Now, during the last 8 months I have worked 2 full months. The month of November (Proof: How I made $30,000 this month, by not playing chess.) and the month of February (No proof, :P). So I have to work at least another 4 months to stand by what I said. This is why, starting this week, I've quit studying chess (I'm still playing!), and I am focusing on work and building skills that may potentially lead to enjoyable work in the future.

Having said that, these upcoming 4+ months (the + is because I allow myself to borrow months from vacation and vice versa ;-) ), I will be working on:
  • Something to do with tourism in Ecuador ( real work! )
  • Attaining the skills to become a British Mountain Guide ( future work! )
  • Maybe, maybe a psychology degree ( future work? )
  • Sorting out my eyes ( hard work :( )
  • Launch a single mobile app ( very speculative work )

That's it! Wish me luck. Also, stay tuned because I will be posting a few interesting bits and bobs on how I will carefully start up the business in tourism. The goal is to recover all the investment within 1 year. You may also hear more about the mobile app, if it ends up launching :)

PS.- Let's face it, if I studied chess year round becoming a GM would be a joke, it needs to be a bit harder than that, right? :) I think out of my 6 months off, I managed to study chess for just 3 months, with that, I am confident of breaking into the top 99% soon, I guess it gets harder from there.
Credits: Comic from the quirky little comic
Also posted at: http://unratedtogm.quora.com/Why-I-went-to-the-eye-doctor-stopped-studying-chess

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Mark Dvoretsky's School of Chess Excellence 3: Strategy. Ch 1 Learnings

Okay, so I have not read Book 1 and Book 2 unfortunately as I grabbed this book from a shelf in a shop in Moscow, and they did not have anything other than Book 3. I guess they are popular! I will at some point buy the other books: Endgame Analysis, Tactical Play and Opening Developments. Meanwhile I am focusing on the one that interests me the most, Strategy. I will write a series of blog posts, summarizing my learnings to hopefully reinforce what I've learned and maybe help some fellow chess players out there. So here goes.

Chapter 1: Логика позиционной борьбы (Logic behind positional battles)
I've been playing the Queen's pawn game (1. d4) ever since I started taking chess seriously, and thus, I often find myself in very slow positional battles. This chapter has definitely helped me understand a bit more, mainly by reminding me of important concepts that have not yet taken permanent residence inside of my brain. Here they are:

  • Always start your turn by asking yourself what your opponent is up to, what chance's does he have?
    Recently I lost a game in 23 moves, where by move 22 I had an advantage of more than 2 points. I knew I was winning, I was quite proud that in 22 moves I made only 4 inaccuracies, no mistakes, no blunders. My opponent was suffering. On move 23 I got so excited of my growing advantage that I forgot to ask myself this question. End result? Blunder, and game lost in the blink of an eye. Now, I have already blogged about this before here: Overconfidence Kills: In Business and In Chess , and yet I keep committing this mistake. I need to reinforce this principle so that I never forget to ask it, no matter what, hopefully one day I will write a blog that proves I've managed to stick by this principle.
    White to move. White has a 2 point advantage based on this position. My blunder? Scroll to the end of the blog to see my blunder, otherwise have a guess in the comments section.
  • If you have found what your opponent's plan is, it doesn't necessarily mean you have to make a move to prevent it. That is, if their plan is not dangerous, then you should not make a concession by preventing it. Let them go ahead and do it.
    At the moment I do not have an example of me messing this principle up. I think most of the time I do not waste my time with moves like h3 and a3 if they are not necessary. Keeping to the principle of not moving your pawn's on the side you are weaker, I usually manage not to move the pawn's unless absolutely necessary.
  • Keep your opponent's weak pieces and your strong pieces on the board.
    I'm guilty of falling victim to unnecessary, inaccurate moves and trades from time to time. For example, in the same game outlined above, I had a decent black bishop, while black's black bishop was blocked off by his own pawn. I should have fixed his weakness and played on the opposite flank. However, I remembered a general rule, that you should trade off your opponent's fianchettoed bishop, and I proceeded to trade his bad fianchettoed bishop for my good bishop. Stupid of me to fall for the general rule, when the position actually called for me to keep my bishop and try to lock his bishop into his cramped, bad position. See position below: 

    What should my plan be here? Well, I incorrectly decided that I need to eliminate his fianchettoed bishop, and I went for it with Qd2, followed by Bh6. The proper course of action would have been to continue my attack on the Queen's flank with a move such as Qb3.
  • Attack your opponent's weaknesses. This is a bit obvious no? Well, in a way yes, but Dvoretsky exemplifies how to execute this to perfection. You should not rush, rather, you should find the most accurate order of moves to achieve your objectives. Whether this objective is to set up an outpost for your knight or attacking that backward pawn your opponent left. I got a feeling from this chapter that there is a certain magic, to train your brain to see a sequence of moves (like in tactics), whose end result is a "just" a weak square in the opponent's camp. Usually I've only done a sequence of moves in my brain to exploit tactics. I will now start imagining sequences of moves that will create the outposts and weak squares I want. After all, it's these kind of weaknesses that in the end define a game.

The next chapter is entitled "Which pawn to move?", which excites me very much as I think the weakest part of my game currently is pawn moves. I am definitely getting better at them, but there is a lot of room for improvement. Until the next time!! :)

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My blunder: Bxh5. Completely forgot I have left the square b3 undefended. Massive, massive blunder.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

No blog entry in 2 months. Ouch. What's the plan?

So my last blog post earned 25 Quora upvotes, a record for the blog. Considering the blog had only about 25 followers yesterday, that's a decent result! It has scared me for the last 2 months, to write something good enough to publish after that record breaking post.

Okay, truth is, I wasn't that scared, so what really happened? The last two months have been devoted fully to family. One month vacation, just chilling with my loved ones during the Christmas and New Year holidays, and then one month of handling family business in chilly Russia. During this time I hardly made any progress at chess. I haven't done a single chess puzzle or watched a single chess video. I haven't studied at all. Shame on me. I can only imagine how the 2 months would turn into a year if I had kids. Luckily, I don't.

The good news is, the Russia stuff that has been haunting me for the whole of last year, is now finally, completely, OVER! So even though I made no progress at chess, I have now a clear take off strip for me to make huge leaps of progress. Thus, starting tomorrow, I will start the take off.

What's the plan?
I will resume doing chess puzzles for at least 90 minutes daily and I plan to complete the Dvoretsky book by the end of March. I shall try to devote at least 3 full hours a day to chess. Aside from that, my days shall be filled with the planning and execution of my next business venture. It has to do with tourism in Ecuador, but for now I cannot reveal more details. I will also be quite busy working out, gaining physical fitness for a few 5,000m+ peak ascents, that I have planned for the end of March. More on that, in a few weeks. Wish me luck!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Doing Nothing Will Make You More Creative & Make You Rich


Yesterday I read a Quora blog post titled, 6 Ways Where Doing Nothing Will Make You More Productive by James Altucher on The Altucher Confidential. What a great life-hack! Old memories sparked in my mind and I remembered vividly, the spectacular failure of our funded start up, Sharkius Games. From raking in $100,000 per month to dust. It turns out, doing nothing, perhaps really is one of the keys to success. We didn't do nothing enough.

The fact that we stopped "doing nothing" was a key on the downfall of our beloved startup. We were busy all the time. We were so absorbed and involved, that almost all creativity and invention came to a complete halt. Sounds familiar? Probably so, it's a hallmark of the modern human to be busy. We have our gadgets with us all of the time, we don't know how to switch off.

Have you noticed, how the best and most commercially successful games and products have proven to be small strokes of genius, rather than feature rich products? Minecraft anyone? Few exceptions come to mind, and indeed, at the birth of Sharkius Games, our success came massively from products that we released in just a week of development! A few weeks of doing nothing and only one week of work, that's all it took to generate over a million dollars in a year. Of course, to stay rich, you then have to spend the million dollars the right way*. Sharkius, lost it all through business.

Most ideas come to me when I'm doing nothing. When my mind is clear and at peace. When I have no worries or expectations. No stress and no anxiety. It is in these moments that something will click via a process in the subconscious and you get that moment of enlightenment where you go "Aha! That's it!". I'm sure that most, if not all of my good ideas have been born this way. It is during this "down time", where creativity flows.

Granted, people are all different, and perhaps it is not so for others, but having talked to many creative individuals I've come to notice a similar pattern is ingrained in most of them. I recently watched a documentary about Coldplay. Chris Martin says "all of our best songs have appeared in 3 or 4 minutes, that's always the way but they don't come about as often as you'd like them to. You just sit like a fisherman and wait... and wait, and eventually something appears really quickly, and they are always the best songs.

Chris Martin's method echoes exactly how all of my own best ideas have come about. The period of waiting like a fisherman will be different depending on your profession, but generally this involves achieving basically nothing for hours on end, or simply put, doing nothing. You don't exactly have to be doing completely nothing, but your brain must be at rest, no anxiety, no stress, no to do lists and deadlines, no upcoming meetings, no pressure (ok, maybe a little pressure?).

To do nothing. you could be relaxing at the beach or you could be hiking up a mountain. Of course, we don't all have this kind of downtime often, so more realistically you could do nothing while exercising your profession (if your to do list is empty!). For example, as a musician, you could be sat with a guitar for hours without much success. Repeating some odd chords that you know or playing old favourites. As a game designer, you could be browsing the net without much purpose, perhaps reading web comics, when the idea will hit you. You could be playing a video game that doesn't suck much of your attention away. Perhaps you could be enjoying an easy to read book when your mind will wander off.

It's true, if you do nothing, and your subconscious knows what you want**, the best ideas will eventually come. Doing nothing will really make you more creative, and more productive. Go on. Try it. It worked for me, it will work for you.

How have your best ideas come about? Let me know!

PS.- While I hate to admit it, I've even had some moments of inspiration while on the loo seat!
PPS.- This month and January I'm doing nothing (and a few small chores). I'm hoping to get back to my chess career sometime mid February.

* Books that would have helped in hindsight are: The Richest Man in Babylon & Rich Dad Poor Dad.
** Read more on how to program your subconscious to get you what you want by reading a book like "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

How I made $30,000 this month, by not playing chess.

I failed the goal I set myself for November. It was simple, just do chess tactics daily for at least 1 hour. I didn't keep to it. Why? The first week of November I got an incredible urge to solve my current financial situation. I realised that if I remained inactive work wise, I would probably run out of savings by February and have to get a job somewhere (ugh!?!). I completely stopped playing chess and started brainstorming how to solve my situation and earn some money.

It wasn't just a matter of having money to survive, HMRC has been chasing me for a £20,000 debt for a few years now. Since my last start up started making losses, I never had any extra money to pay towards this. I've been hovering below $5,000 in cash the whole time. I knew I had to pay this debt off soon or they would get incredibly pissed off. The last 6 months of working at Sharkius I didn't get paid anything, the year before that I got minimal amounts. I even considered bankruptcy at one point but chose not to. Playing with the tax man is not fun.

So this month the urge was very intense. I had to get rid of this debt. My chess ambitions came to a standstill. The things I tried were:

  1. Making a new web site
    Unfortunately I lost interest because it was a chess thing, that is probably going to bring utility more than money. I will finish it at some point, it's really cool.
  2. Playing Poker
    I've had $5,000+ tournament wins before and I tried my luck again. I noticed an improvement in my game thanks to chess, but alas, losing with AA against KK has nothing to do with skill. $400 profit pocketed, but no more.  Next time.
  3. Brainstorming new businesses
    From tourism to technology. I realised that I'll have the same problem I had all year, lack of capital to do anything meaningful without having to raise money. I don't really want to raise money again, not just yet anyway. Most of the businesses I thought about were trying to integrate bitcoins somehow, maybe I will do one of them in 2014, who knows?
  4. Messing about with bitcoins and it's altcoins
    I already knew about bitcoin since about March 2013. I thought it had potential; however, being unfortunate enough to lose a whole $1,200 on the closure of bitcoin-24, I was unable to buy and hold any bitcoins. Thus, I did not make any profits from its huge increase to $1,200. This time, I wanted to do a bit more than arbitrage the market for the odd few hundred quid I'd make fortnightly. I studied my options.

The last try, option number 4 would end up having something significant in it. First, I used the last of my money (just a couple grand), to arbitrage the markets to the max. Having generated a healthy profit of a couple thousand, I started day trading. Initially I lost around $600 day trading. It was painful. It seemed like I could never get the decisions right. I sucked. I was about to give up.

At this point I was only day trading bitcoin, but having studied the whole crypto currency scene a bit more, I realised there is a lot of potential in other coins. Some of them are quite ingenious and who knows, maybe in 2 years they will surpass bitcoin. I picked PTS (Protoshares) for the best candidate to gain value. I made 50% gains overnight, I was ecstatic.

However, as things were going, and my rotten luck of the moment was, I managed to get my computer hacked and lost $1,500 worth of PTS... I felt really shit that day. If you are into crypto coins, be very careful. I had never ever been hacked before. I'm a techie, and its the biggest insult to get hacked. But it happened. The positive was that I managed to catch the hacker getting the coins out of my computer wallet and I rescued another $1,500 worth of my coins. To add insult to injury, PTS are worth 4 to 5 times today than what they were when I bought them!

I thought about forever quitting crypto coins, cursing them, hating them, but after waking up the next day I felt better. Instead of being mad at myself, I was now grateful I didn't lose it all. I realised that I let my guard down a little and that if I just was more careful, I should not be hacked again (I hope!!). This small capital I had leftwas enough to do something.

A couple of weeks after, things turned around and I had a bunch of HUGE swings in luck. I had moments where I was up a few thousand and moments where I missed the right moment to sell, and thus missed out on $7,000 in profit. These moments the coins would collapse back down and my profit would go from $7,000 to $0. I also had moments were I would lose over a grand in half an hour. These daytrading experiences were hard to take. Very, very painful.

Daytrading really does suck. It is so stressful. I noticed, that because I really wanted to pay off this debt so badly, losing even $10 off any profits I made was especially painful. If I didn't have any debt I thought, I would take more risks and not care if I went down a whole grand. If I didn't have any debt, I would be a better day trader. That maybe true, and we will find out, since I've now managed to make enough to pay my debt off and have a little bit left over.

Yes!!! So I managed to multiply my money nearly 10 times, great! What do I do with it? Keep day trading or play it safe and pay the debt? This question was killing me for a few hours. If I changed my bitcoins to FIAT now I could miss out on the next 2x multiplier. A 2x multiplier at this level would mean winning $20,000 in profit over the course of a day... I could do it...

After long deliberation I realised that I did not want to risk a penny of the debt money. I may end up making less profits by trading with only $1,000 rather than all my capital, but at least I will sleep well knowing that my debt is paid off. I will also have more time to get back into chess, without the debt breathing down my back.

By paying this debt I've bought myself some more time to do whatever the hell I want in life, and that's awesome. I'm not financially free as I would like to be, not just yet, but it kinda is like that for me anyway. Having a few thousand that you manage to somehow top up every now and then, is just enough. Also, it seems that as soon as I get under pressure, I will find the ways to top my balance up anyway, I've done it before, I've done it this month, and I will do it again when I need it next.

Now, to play chess, climb rock faces, conquer mountains and perhaps just a little bit more of day trading.

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If anyone wants to learn more about crypto-currencies, especially alt currencies, please watch this video, I think it's great:

Eventually, one of the alt currencies will be to bitcoin, what today's Twitter is to Facebook. Unfortunately I missed the Quark boat, 1000% returns in a week, crazy. Why wasn't I there? Looks like a solid coin too.

PS.- Please don't jump into just any coin as this guy recommends, that is his only mistake in his video, some coins are scams and some coins are just too weak and will die out. Do some research first, like you would with any investment.

PPS.- None of this blog post is intended as investment advise and any positions you may open due to this post are solely your responsibility and not mine. You understand that any investment is risky and you could lose all your money. Thus, you should not invest money you cannot afford to lose.

Also at:
 http://unratedtogm.quora.com/How-I-made-30-000-this-month-by-not-playing-chess

Friday, 1 November 2013

New Concrete Goal + Progress Update

I've just realised that all my goals are very abstract. Abstract in a sense that I have to play games and achieve good results to get to my goal. This kind of goal does not help because I do not feel a sense of achievement unless I reach a particular rating (eg 98th percentile!). Instead, I should be setting goals that will improve my play whether or not I reach a particular rating. To this end, I've decided my goal for November will be to do at least 50 hours of Tactics Trainer on chess[dot]com and at least 1 hour a day for 20 consecutive days no matter what. This kind of goal can be achieved with just a little bit of determination, and I am guaranteed results whether I win games or not. Also, if I don't achieve it, I will feel ashamed because I know at least one or two of you read this and I do not want to look like an ass by not achieving my goals ;-)

As for the progress report, due to my bad goal setting, I've fallen behind quite a bit. I made a promise not to play 15|10 games until I improved, and I have kept that promise. Because of not being able to play those games though, I've lost will to study hard and I've spent my time doing other things instead such as day trading, poker and building a chess web site. The last is the most productive thing I've done, and it will definitely help me when it is finished. However, I am disappointed that I have made little progress on my chess strength.

Enough said, below is my miserable performance on Tactics Trainer for October. November shall correct this. I promise myself and the world!