Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Nemesis

White to move

This problem is in both Bain's Chess Tactics for Students and Chessimo Tactics 1.  So I see it a lot; I've probably encountered it 7-10 times, and I'm not sure I've gotten it right even once.  It's not even that hard.  But for some reason, I never see the initiating piece.  It's like it's not on the board.  And I don't seem to be learning the pattern at all!  Maybe this action will burn it into my brain.

Tactics Training Status
 
Chessimo:  Studied 4866, Learned 360 (Overall Completion: 10.1%!)
Bain:  1.75 Circles completed

When you're tired and bored, it gets easy to play Whack-a-Mole on the problems, even if you try to avoid it.  I do keep telling myself that just seeing the patterns and going through the motions (the moves are easy to remember one at a time) has some value.  Added is the frustration that they're getting harder, and they're all Mates or pseudo-Mates.  The difficulty increase is a bit faster than my skill increase.  I would prefer a bit of a go at similarly leveled Win Decisive Material problems, to prolong the training at one skill level.  It will be a bit silly if I get to the end of Tactics 1 having done Mate in 6/7s, and then half of Tactics 2 is 2/3-move forks and skewers.  It's a bit unbalanced.

However, once again, about two units after I started to get discouraged, GM Milos gives 2-3 units of pure review to let you catch your breath.  It's a wise scheme.  I've also been making an effort to visualize or understand the entire problem before whacking, even pausing the timer, and definitely if I clearly don't understand the problem.

I located a PGN of Bain, and that has made a world of difference.  I'm running through this set again, and it's pretty easy to run through 100 or so in a sitting.  I think my favorite tactics training method is simply a PGN and Scid vs. PC, or Scid on the Go for my Android tablet.  I never Whack-a-Mole, there's no timer, but I'm willing to give up and move on if I'm stumped (doesn't happen too often with Bain, of course).

I don't know if I'll do a full seven with Bain within the calendar year, but probably at least three.  Next set likely will involve  Hays' Chess Tactics for Juniors (people say it's harder), CPT 3.3 Tactics set L2, a set from ChessTempo.com, or a combination of the three.

Results
Generic Amazon Customer Chess Book Review:  "I loved this book!  It definitely helped my chess!  Beginners and intermediates will benefit the most!"

How do you know you've improved?  Did you take a canned exam?  What was your rating improvement?  Maybe you got worse!  Granted, I understand that some chess knowledge can have a delayed benefit, and that chess skill isn't all about ratings.  But we have reasonable ways of measuring chess skill, and I'm worried about people thinking they've learned a damn when they haven't.  Of course, to some extent, any exposure to good chess positions is good, but that's pretty weak sauce.

So I say all that to say that I'm sure I'm improving, but I can't prove it.  My CTS rating has bumped up a solid 50 points.  I know that doesn't seem like much, and certainly I would have hoped for more by now, but it's consistent (both the initial rating and the current rating).  It'd be higher if I was more committed to speed over accuracy.  I haven't done ChessTempo in a while, but the problem with that is that by doing Standard, my rating seems artificially inflated.  Honestly, given infinite patience I imagine I could have a 1800-2000 rating at ChessTempo.  I'm not in the mood to do more timers ala Blitz mode, but we'll see.

Regardless, tactics really are popping out more.  The "I know this theme!" recognition is a bit better.  My skill is laughably lopsided.  I'm much better at the Mates, compared to the Decisive Materials.  One emphasizes things like absolute pins and attacks on mating squares.  The other emphasizes forks, skewers, etc.  Hopefully, Decisive Materials will improve and so will my ratings.

I might invest in one of those canned Chess Exam books.  Or something like that.

I hope everyone is doing well.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Naming the Bishops

We chess players love our names.  Our openings carry with them heritage and famous advocates.  We don't play e4 d6, we play the Pirc Austrian Attack, Dragon Formation. We name our structures with colorful labels, like 'fianchetto' and 'isolani'.  I share our love for these names, evoking the great history and global allure of chess.  But I've always been confused by one strange omission.

We've never named the bishops.  Or maybe we have, in some ancient 1500 manuscript, but it clearly hasn't caught on.  Maybe the Soviets did, but I've never seen it referenced.  We're stuck with "dark-squared bishop" and "light-squared bishop", which is unwieldy.  Maybe for the first few hundred years or so it was no big deal, but once the Internet arrived and chess discussion exploded, this deficiency became glaring.  We could use "DBishop" and "LBishop", but that has all the style and elegance of a gym locker.

So, I've named my bishops:

D'Artagnan
Lucky

and












I hope you do the same.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

As promised, here's my favorite Chessimo position so far:

Black to move

I like the attraction into the sandwich of ill intentions.

Tactical training status:
Studied 2841, Learned 300

I'm not going to lie, today was a bit more grueling than others.  I wasn't in the mood and I was sloppy.  I might do that unit over again.  However, I'm happy I pushed through.  They'll be more days like this.  I'm a bit ahead of my schedule, so I might go easy tomorrow, combined with some soft study of something else.

Chessimo is technically spaced repetition, but the 'spacing' is crude, based more on how quickly you are moving through the problems.  Spaced repetition is on a perpetual to-do list over at ChessTempo.  CPT 3.3 handles tactics but has crude spaced repetition, CPT 4 has scheduled spaced repetition but doesn't handle tactics.

There's an Anki deck of tactics; I haven't looked at it yet.  It seems to me that it's a straightforward matter to build Anki decks of chess positions:

Position file --> Scid --> use the Engine Analyze Each Position feature --> Save analysis as variations or commentary --> Export --> Parse and chop into Anki-able text file --> automate diagram production via Winboard, Crafty, or whatever tool works best.  Actually, you could do the bulk via Crafty command line scripting and the annotate[h] functions.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Color of Attacked Squares

Chessimo has been all review for the past few units.  GM Milos is smart!  I was getting strained and discouraged by the Mate in Threes (successful, but with errors).  The review is a wonderful breather and a chance to rebuild confidence.

I'm still stunned by how hard Mate in Twos are for me.  I mean, I generally get them, but shouldn't they be automatic?!  It's a key move, then a finishing move.  It should pop out.  Yes, I guess that's the point of my training.  A review Mate in Two can still can take me 12-15 seconds.  I see the probable key move, but it takes me time to verify the entire event.  I'm a discouraged by this, but again, I'm not supposed to be good yet.

I missed a Mate in One today! On time!  It turned out I was counting a useful pawn as owned by the enemy, because it was so deep into enemy territory.  I'm not too worried about it.  If you keep hurtling through tactics problems and changing your allegiances, it's bound to happen.  But, it stands as a funny and useful turkey.  If you're ever feeling discouraged about your tactical abilities, come back to this post.  You can't possibly do worse!

My favorite tactical problems so far are Mate in Ones.  Stop laughing.  Stop.  Look, there's still more blog left, so please pull yourself together so we can continue.  Anyway, I just love the template-y thematic-y feel to them.  I feel like basic verbs are being etched into my brain.  I do also have a favorite Mate problem; I'll try to post it after I see it next.

I'm wondering about visualizing attacked squares.  As in:

  • The king is surrounded by attacked squares.  Is it possible to visualize those attacked squares as different - darker colored, different texture, etc.?
  • Similarly and/or more generally, is it possible to visualize the squares that a piece attacks differently?  I'm referring to the starburst that radiates out from a queen, or the cross radiating from a rook.

Tactics, and generally my view of the board, is still a logic puzzle (which is correct - chess is a logic puzzle - but possibly not helpful to the task at hand).  Viewing the board with rays of influence might be more useful.  I need to google and see how experts view the board.  If anyone has insight, I would appreciate it.

I'm starting to get a hankering for endgames.  Not being from the South, I should of course avoid use of that word, but your pain is the least of my concerns after your little display earlier.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Tactics training status

Chessimo:  1,465 problems done
CTS:  290 problems done

So... yes, it's clear I'm just doing the bare minimum of CTS.  Chessimo is already mildly challenging to me at Tactics 1 - Unit 12.  I'd be ashamed to say that, except for the circular part where I'm doing this because I'm bad at tactics.  Lesson to whippersnappers:  don't get discouraged by being bad at things you're trying to learn how to do.  It saps your soul.

I continue to like Chessimo, and the convenience of having it on my iPhone.  The ads claim it "remembers [my] progress" but meh I must have done the first third of Unit 11 three times.  Either that's PC only or I'm missing something.  Obviously with multi-threading I should be able to step away and step back.  Maybe I just forget to do that.  But otherwise at 135 problems per unit, it's hard to carve out that chunk of time in a single sitting.

After today's single sitting, I promptly passed out.  I dreamed of tactics!  That's gotta be a rite of passage, yeah?

I grew covetous of ChessTempo.com today.  That likely will be a part of my future.  But I have so many tactical resources right now, more is just distracting.

I've been having fun working out my repertoire, which really deserves separate blog posts.  I've decided to temporarily ditch most of my gambits.  It's too stressful to go in as a novice down a pawn, when you have barely any idea how to attack and have promised yourself not to book up too much.  I do know how to develop and the outlines of many openings, so against fellow patzers, attacks should develop on their own.  A finer reading of many recommendations clarifies that you should add in gambits after your novice stage.  Ah, I missed that nuance.

I'm favoring transpositions and less common variations.  It's fun!  I keep going back to the Dutch/Bird lines.  I find it aesthetically pleasing, but I'm dutifully wary of the Bird being too positional or complicated.  Black is mostly done, which I'll discuss later.  On White I'm trying to figure out if I can get enough sharp transpositions from 1.f4.  I'm trying to work out if I can get a combination of Bird/Larsen, King's Gambit, Taylor-style Grand Prix, Austrian Attack, and whatever other f4 openings fit the bill. Standard Classical or Polar Bear to fill in the rest, which I worry is too maneuver-y for me right now, but in doses might be fine. I'd prefer not to learn the King's Gambit (Declination of From), but it sure would make sense.  I assume the Vienna is waaay too far of a transposition.  I want to position myself for e4-ish openings, because sharp is important, and I want a switch back to e4 gambits to be silky smooth.  Transpositions help avoid a lot of theory (well, technically they might just shift theory), and will let me focus on less than the full slate of the e4 catalog.

More on that later.  So this is how you sate the novice's stupid passion for openings when he's promised himself not to practice openings.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

I'm still plugging away at my 1st Circle, but the question is whether to continue on to the second with this batch of tactics.  My Circle was defined as
I have 180 problems to go in CTS until I'm done.  As I've written previously, they are very easy two/three-move tactics.  It's a great book for what it's trying to do.  But they're so easy I'm not sure I'm going to speed up at them much, and using a book... turns out to be drudgery.  I had wanted to do my Circles with books, because I'm sick of staring at monitors all day.  But you just can't beat the software options.  I did 303 with PGNs.  And now...

I've discovered Chessimo for the iPhone.  The tactics module costs $3.  How could you make a big mistake at $3?!  I should start a scholarship for kids - I'll buy them the $3 Chessimo app if they demonstrate an interest in chess.  And get off my lawn.  Anyway, I gave it a go and I love it.  When I chose to go the book route, I never imagined I would end up loving working on my dinky iPhone screen.  It's just really convenient and fast.  I've already done ~1,200 problems on the thing.  I think this is my new "Circle".  Finish Chessimo tactics.

I did end up buying the whole thing for a whopping $8, and the other modules are great.  Well, the openings module is kind of a useless survey, but at 1/4th of $8 I can swallow that cost.  Strategy is fun, and endgames I believe will be great.  I poke around at endgames, re-acquainting myself with opposition, etc.  It's humbling, but I enjoy it.  I think I'll be good at endgames.  I can do algorithmic things like butter...

But I'm letting discouragement hit a bit on tactics.  I'm on Set 1 - Unit 10, which is two-move mates.  Why aren't these automatic?  I might spend up to a minute staring at a two-move mate.  I get stuff wrong.  How can you not calculate a 2-move mate?!  Well, I can't explain how, so stopping asking me in that mocking tone, "gentle reader", but let me assure you it is very possible.  Ah well, I'm just reminding myself that I chose to start up chess again because there is zero financial incentive, and very little pressure.  Being good at chess gets me nothing but more chess.  If it takes me three more Circles than somebody else, that's not a problem.

And I guess I'm not doing that bad.  Just impatient.  I'm not sure I'll ever be great.  I'm very poor with spatial-visual geometry.  My mother is the same way.  I still can't map out my hometown, or my adopted town.  It's sort of a gray fog.  We figure it's a type of dyslexia - some of my uncles and cousins have it bad, and my siblings were diagnosed with mild cases.  I was never tested, and it clearly hasn't impacted my life much (and smartphone GPS has revolutionized my life!), and I'm more than happy with my route-based style of thinking that has given me my algorithmic and deductive qualities.  It's just a weird quirk that is finally having its day.  It's like my very mild claustrophobia that was mostly amusing, until I was medically forced to use a CPAP every night.

But on this, I can suck!  And I don't think I'll suck, it just might take some time and my achievements might be modest.

I'm a Knight Errant, but nobody knows it.  But there's nobility in anonymity.  Or, I'll have to slay a dragon, publicly.  That'll get me on side bars.

Monday, June 4, 2012

I'm a Knight!

All right, Blunder Prone has dubbed me a knight!  Of course, I'm not on a list anywhere, so I'm like a secret knight, or a knight everyone's ashamed of, so they don't talk about me.  I have to ride a mangy pony and follow behind the others.  If you know anything about horses, this isn't an optimal location.

But I'm a knight!  Chess Tactics for Students arrived today.  Boy did I get what I asked for - it is very easy.  That's fine, although it's hard to do the puzzles at a fast clip, while avoiding all the hints it gives you on every problem.  I scoured the internet for a PGN collection for this book - no luck.  Maybe I'll input a few every night after I'm done with my Circles training...  Ugh.  Maybe not.  I'll figure out something.

The book really looks great for elementary school chess kids.  Well done.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

I haven't yet been able to raise anybody on the horn over at the Castle of the Knights Errant.  So if and until I can gain membership to that group, I've created my own group.  A group of one (me!), listed over on the right side.

Tools: Books

My experience-to-chess book ratio used to be way out of whack.  Even when buying each book, I knew I didn't need it.  I just had that passion to consume and read.  But ten years ago, I packed up most of them and walked over to a tournament going on near my workplace, and sold them for $80.  I've never regretted it.  I saved my favorites and the bare bones I would need to get started again.

Today I'm not so sure that 95% of the books and software are worthwhile to the average club player.  If you go back and read chess reviews, you might get the sense that they are all going soft on each other.  An IM knows that it's tough to make it in the chess world, so isn't going to ask of a GM's latest book, "Do we really need another of THESE?!.  Perhaps the problem is that so many are good, but we don't need them all.

I'm not so sure I need that fourth book on positional theory for a long while.  I doubt many of us yet need that second book on our favorite opening.  I think most of us are like me; we just want to consume more, and maybe even find that magic bullet.  If we're reading a new book, that's a nice way of telling ourselves that we're "studying chess", when what we really should be doing is the grunt work.  After having written the previous sentence, I shortly discovered that Nigel Davies had coined a phrase for this type of sub-optimal improvement method:  "Reading and nodding".  Of course, it's a hobby, so whatever makes you happy is good.

Here are my resources:

Books
And that, I think, is all the books I need for a while.  Software and Internet resources coming soon.

I should be done with the 303 book by the weekend!  Unfortunately, it represents less than half of a Circle.  But I'm hoping that the Bain book will be easy enough that I can increase my speed.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A New Lifetime Friend

Yesterday was a very good day:  I discovered the Reti Gambit (e4 e6 b3!?)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Openings Manifesto

I just re-read this PDF:  Training in chess:  A scientific approach.  It emphasizes things that should be familiar to most Knights Errant, and most chess students.  But it also argues persuasively against many chestnuts.  I'll probably refer to it from time to time, as I have a few different ideas about studying than the traditional advice that gets passed down through the generations.  Today I'm concerning myself with the openings, and choosing an opening.

The typical advice that you see spewed out by wise coaches and spelling-challenged commentators alike is:  "Don't waste your time learning an opening!  As soon as you get done with your eight moves, or your opponent deviates, you're stuck and lost!  Learn endgames first, study a general strategy book, and play over master games."

As soon as you get done with your eight moves, you are not lost.  You are presented with a position that you need to come to understand.  You will see this position later, when you review your game, when you practice your opening, and when an opponent presents you with it again.  It is inefficient to keep chucking your pieces out there unsystematically and presenting yourself with new positions time after time.  As much as I love and value Silman's strategy workbooks,  I am not Silman and shouldn't yet be trying to figure out plans by looking at an unfamiliar position.  I should already have a clue as to what my plan should be, and test to see if it's still applicable and why.  You are much better off presenting yourself with a Dutch Stonewall repeatedly, and learning how to get your knight onto e4.

The same applies to endgame study.  Beyond learning the common endgame techniques, you shouldn't be studying general endgames.  You should be studying endgames that can be reached from your openings.  You should learn to win the endgames you've encountered in your own games, and learn to win won endgames of master games in your openings.  Of course, I'm dubious about the value placed on studying endgames for beginners, but it does provide good tactical training and brute force training on how the pieces inter-operate, so it's probably good advice after all.

The same applies to playing over master games.  You shouldn't be studying Fischer's games if you're trying to master 1.d4 or 1..f5.

Pattern recognition is key to chess mastery.  You need to master your positions, and it all flows from the opening.  Obviously, this isn't black and white or absolute or maximizing of optimal joy, but yes, every adult chess student should pick a partial repertoire of openings they like and stick with it for a while.  Yes, they should learn some of the moves by rote.  They should understand the plans they need to execute when they get out of their short book.

So now we turn to me, because it's my blog.  It will become clear shortly that I have typical newbie openings angst, the type of angst that the "Don't learn openings!" crowd is kindly trying to protect me from. The situation is this:

  • I should learn aggressive openings and learn how to attack.
  • I'm uncomfortable playing in a gambit style and wonder if I should choose aggressive non-gambits.  It seems stressful.
  • But I do have visions of swashbuckling at the local coffee houses!
  • I do value learning plan-based openings, with consistent structural demands.  "Attack" might be too broad a plan.
  • I value offbeat, especially at low to mid-amateur levels.  However, I'm conservative by nature.
  • I'd like to get onto the business of choosing a long-term repertoire, and learning those patterns and strategies.
Okay, let's get to it!

White
1. e4.  Gambit-y.  If not 100% gambit-y, it's because 100% gambits seems a little exhausting and stressful.  Do I have the wrong attitude?
  • Evan's Gambit (Italian)
  • Smith-Morra Gambit (Sicilian) - The Wing Gambit (2.b4) seems interesting, because it's easy to get to and gets me started on the 2.a3 Sicilian.  But SM gets me started on the Alapin.
  • Cochrane Gambit (Petroff) - Every gambiteer probably has one or two favorites.  I love this one!  How come the whole world doesn't play this gambit?!  Don't answer that.
  • Panov-Bottvinik (CK) - Maybe. But there are some gambits I might like.
  • Alekhine-Chatard (French) - The Alapin comes sooner, however...

Black
Okay, this is where the crazy starts.  My Black choices are still in committee.  The bipolar nature of my choices reflects this.  Generally, these are the competing ideas: 

a) I think I might like the Dutch, starting with the Stonewall.  The plan is clear enough that even I might be able to get a handle on it.  I like the idea of sometimes having something different to learn about chess than gambits. I like the idea of taking a break from the gambits.  I also like the idea of having at least one "solid" opening I might like to keep for the long haul.

b) But the Leningrad looks good too and is tactical.  Aesthetically, I like the opening setup and the e5 plan.  However, my opening book says that the Stonewall position is crucial to understand even for the Leningrad.

c) I believe in the power of offbeat openings.

d)  Maybe I should just gambit it up as Black as well. The Dutch seems like a jarring departure from my themes.

Anyway, enough preamble.  These are the current choices:
  • Against offbeats: Just wing it for now.
  • Against 1. d4 and friends:  Dutch Stonewall, possibly starting with 1..e6 because...
  • Against 1. e4:
    • Balogh Defense (1.e4 d6 2.d4 f5), or 
    • Kingston Defense (1.e4 e6 2.d4 f5), or
    • Kingston Defense, Franco-Hiva Gambit (1.e4 e6 2.d4 f5 3.exf5 Nf6?)
Both the Balogh and the Kingston are Staunton Gambits Declined, and the move order avoids some of the anti-Dutches (I think).  I could learn the Staunton Gambit Accepted, but I don't like having to defend against a gambit when I'm the gambiteer!  Why should I let my opponent have that "advantage"?  I prefer the idea of turning the tables.  If I learn the Balogh or Kingston, and even play it as my e4 defense, then I will be very comfortable when I decide to face the Staunton Gambit.

The idea is also that learning an unknown, somewhat weak opening is a nice placeholder to cut down on the theory I have to learn initially, a placeholder that will still have practical value against the Staunton Gambit when I start to fill in my 1.e4 defense repertoire.

The computer engines don't think much of the Kingston, and they hate the Franco-Hiva.  However, the Balogh is somewhat weak, but not horrible.  Either would give me home turf advantage, and move order flexibility.

Or, alternatively as a Black defense, I could
  • Learn the Scandinavian gambits against e4 (Marshall, Portugese, Icelandic)
  • Learn the Soller Gambit against d4
The Soller and the Icelandic look cool.  But I feel obligated to learn a lot of theory for all these gambits.  And it all seems so "nerve-wracking", as Temposchlucker concluded after seven years as a gambiteer.  In fact, I'd say that Temposchlucker's repertoire decisions are very close to mine, except I'm several years behind him.  Non-risky by nature, we realized we needed to learn tactics and how to attack.

Long-term
It's way too soon to decide, but I imagine myself doing something in the Bird/Dutch/Polar Bear.  I find the idea of consistent pawn structures and plans very appealing.  I like the Dutch, and I like that it's less popular.  But who knows.  I have a lot to explore.

It's still Tactics, Tactics, Tactics.  This is a lot of words for very little upcoming study.  But I'm getting ready!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Progress Not Perfection

Introduction
Thirteen years ago, a new friend asked me if I played chess.  When I responded that I didn't, he looked crestfallen.  He seemed like a nice fellow, and he was also one of the few people around that had a car to escape the miserable college campus where I was stranded.  I offered, helpfully and hopefully, that from childhood I knew how the pieces moved and knew the rules.  Off we drove to a coffee shop where I happily received drubbing after drubbing, sipping on my $2 coffee.  I'm proud to say I pushed out 1. e4 and 1..e5 every time.  Right out of the gate, I was winning by force!... even if I failed to find that win.

But I vowed revenge (as well as vowing to give my friend a decent game) and I secretly embarked on a passionate, library-fueled study of chess.  I did eventually get some vengeance.  But time and difficulty and poor studying plans took their toll, and I eventually abandoned the path.  It wasn't a heartbreak, but I never could bring myself to give away all my chess books...

I've rekindled my interest.  This is a chess patzer's blog.  I've never blogged, and I don't know that I want to be a blogger.  But I do know that I want to be a Knight Errant, and this is a prerequisite of membership.  Now that blogging is a given, I'll try to use it to advantage. 

The Plan
My study plan is different.  Before, I had wanted to hide behind closed pawn structures and avoid having to become a tactical genius.  Tactics were cool enough, but it wasn't elegant.  I realized eventually that in order to post your knight to the fifth rank, that knight has to gallop through a minefield of tactics.  Moreover, many positional moves seem impossible, until you dig deep enough and see that the obvious countermoves fail to tactics.  Any review of the games of a closed position master demonstrates this.

Now I embrace tactics and the attack.  This is my plan.

Tactics:
My current goal isn't to improve at chess.  My first goal is to improve at a game called Tactical Chess Puzzles.  I want to get a Class B rating in Tactical Chess Puzzle.  I've heard this game is based on chess.  To this end, I'm embarking on a de la Maza-style Seven Circles. I wanted to start with easy tactics.  I want to have a firm grip on the foundational patterns and work on ever harder tactics with subsequent Circles.  I ordered Chess Tactics for Students, by John A. Bain.  It hasn't arrived yet, so I've started on 303 Tricky Chess Puzzles. I'll probably merge the two when the Bain book arrives.  750 problems is more than I would have liked for my first effort, so perhaps I'll use all of the Bain book and just use the easiest half of the 303 book.

I'm halfway through the 303 book, and some of them are out of my reach.  I'm pretty sure I'm a worse tactician than I was thirteen years ago, and I was never very good.  Now I'm older and more tired.  But it doesn't matter.  Right now my sole training requirement is to do my daily tactical puzzles.  Everything after that I consider "for the love of the game" entertainment.

I am a complete convert to the College of Tactics, Tactics, Tactics.  Graduate studies are more varied, but demand this prerequisite.

Attack:
Seirawan's openings book recommends Nf3, g3, Bg2, O-O, and I obeyed.  I can't imagine a worse recommendation for beginners.  This otherwise fine introductory book should be banned from libraries everywhere, for this offense alone.  These type of openings might be more my style (I actually have no idea yet!), but I absolutely have to learn how to attack.  Up until now, I've avoided using the term "positional" in place of "closed positions".  Open, tactical situations are positional and they have positional demands - the demand is that you have to use your force and tempi.  To the extent I'm learning openings, my repertoire now includes many good gambits and many somewhat dubious gambits.  To be honest, they make me uncomfortable, but closed positions become open, and opponent defensive mistakes must be identified and pounced upon.

I have Vulkovic's Art of the Attack and Alburt's King in Jeopardy.  I might eventually make a study of those.  Gah.  I have so much to learn.  I'm so clueless.

That's the plan right now.  That's it.  Circles and attacking openings.  The extras (Openings, Goals, Tools, etc.) to come.