Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Theory, Theory, and More Theory

What Is Chess Theory and why is it important?

As outlined in a previous post, the GCTS ("Generic Chess Training System") that we are trying to develop here attempts to outline useful self-training methods for each stage of the game as a student progresses. In a recent post, a blogger commented on the lack of Endgame Theory included in the program. Opening and Middlegame 'studies', as opposed to solving problems, make up a fair portion of the program, but there was a lack of endgame study-time alloted. We further went on to elaborate on this missing piece to our chess training puzzle, defending it as being 'included' in the generic Endgame portion of the program. But that does not answer our question: What is Chess Theory?

Let's try and define this simply by defining it's components. We all know what 'Chess' is, so:

the‧o‧ry  Pronunciation[thee-uh-ree, theer-ee]

–noun, plural -ries.
1. a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena: Einstein's theory of relativity.

2. a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact.


3. Mathematics. a body of principles, theorems, or the like, belonging to one subject: number theory.

4. the branch of a science or art that deals with its principles or methods, as distinguished from its practice: music theory.

5. a particular conception or view of something to be done or of the method of doing it; a system of rules or principles.

6. contemplation or speculation.

7. guess or conjecture.


I've highlighted in bold the two definitions (you may disagree - that's ok) that I believe apply directly to Chess Theory.

A simple(?) example may help here: Philidor's Position is not theoretical in nature as it can be drawn in all cases with correct play. That is an actual fact, not a theory. On the other end of the spectrum, from a theoretical point of view, Rook endings, in general, are drawish, but it is not a fact that all Rook endgames end in a draw with correct play. The same can be said for a myriad of opening variations that 'in theory' are good for white. White has lost hundreds of games from those positions, and it can not be said as a statement of fact that white is winning or is better. It is conjecture or a statement of opinion, that is all. There are many examples (none come to mind) of 'theory' being completely wrong in the opening. Hence, the 'guess or conjecture' aspect of theory.

Semantics perhaps.

Referring back to the article that we summarized this training on at ChessOk, we find the following paragraph, which I think is a very interesting assessment of what it takes to become a 2200 ballpark chess player, called the 'base line':

"The chess player must master tactics (60-70 per cent of a success rate solving problems of an intermediate difficulty), acquire a firm knowledge of the basics of chess strategy, ie. How a position's evaluation is developed and what are its components, familiarize with about 15-25 common plans from the chess classic examples, know typical chess endings: evaluation, plan of play and standard tactical methods for approximately 250 endgame positions."

Let's dissect this paragraph into it's components and we will try and address each one separately in this and in posts to be written later:

1 - The chess player must master tactics - 60-70 per cent of a success rate solving problems of an intermediate difficulty
2 - acquire a firm knowledge of the basics of chess strategy: How a position's evaluation is developed and what are its components
3 - familiarize with about 15-25 common plans from the chess classic examples
4 - know typical chess endings: evaluation, plan of play and standard tactical methods for approximately 250 endgame positions

I'm no literary genius but I would say that paragraph pretty much lays out what you need to know before you can expect to achieve a rating in the 2200 range!

Here we have specifically described 4 areas of chess knowledge/theory that is required to be known by a student if he expects to progress into the 2200 range. Naturally, there will be students that will do it without achieving this 'base line' knowledge, but for our generic purposes, our goal will be to meet this base line and focus our studies on achieving this.

I will examine the first item today: Tactics

Chess Tactics
Our base line states "The chess player must master tactics - 60-70 per cent of a success rate solving problems of an intermediate difficulty". This is a very simple, direct statement, but the only problem may be what we define as 'intermediate difficulty'. My opinion on this is that any tactic that is 1 move deep can be considered a basic tactic, 2-3 move combinations are intermediate, and complex tactical problems of 4 moves or more are advanced. For example, recognizing a simple Knight Fork or Pin would be considered a simple tactic. An intermediate tactic may be the removal of a defender/deflection to win a pawn. A complex tactic would be anything more complex than an intermediate tactic. Topalovian, for sure.

To practice simple to intermediate tactics problems, you can try the Chess Tactics Server or get any good book on tactical problems. There are many, many tactical books out there that can help you with this phase of the game.

In our next blog entry we will examine the second item in our list of baseline knowledge: "acquire a firm knowledge of the basics of chess strategy: How a position's evaluation is developed and what are its components." and try to get a better grasp on what that sentence means to us mere mortal chess players who strive to become better at a game that, for centuries, has eluded many.

As always, your comments are actively sought and pass along this blog URL to all your chess playing friends!

3 comments:

SamuraiPawn said...

Just wanted to say thanks for a great blog! I pop in every day and have already implemented a modified version of the generic training program. Keep up the good work!

/Chris

manny said...

Awesome blog. I was wondering, when you refer to 'Solve strategy' in the Generic Training Schedule, what resource do you recommend for solving strategic positions.

Mark said...

Manny said,

"when you refer to 'Solve strategy' in the Generic Training Schedule, what resource do you recommend for solving strategic positions."

I use a Chessbase product called Bangiev's Squares Strategy. Convetka has some really good products out here which I am thinking about getting myself.

Hope that helps!