Tuesday, November 28, 2006

How to Study an Opening - An Amateur's Perspective

For many players, the study of openings, besides the lengthy arguments for and against, is a difficult item in our study program to address. Before we get into this discussion, let's be sure we know at least one thing: what opening we want to study. This is not an article about opening repertoire selection. That is a personal choice and is highly stylistic. We simply want to try and articulate proven, efficient methods of how to study the opening of your choice. What that opening is will make virtually no difference here.

Part I

Phase 1: General Ideas/Specific Goals
I have always believed that when you decide to play a certain opening, it should correlate well with your personal ideas of how the fight should be conducted. Not everyone feels comfortable on the black side of the Sveshnikov Sicilian, or the White side of the King's Gambit. But what you do feel comfortable in is an understanding of the basic ideas for that particular opening. Here I am talking about opening-specific ideas, and not general opening concepts such as speedy development, castle early, etc., but more like 'Black will seek a quick c5-break in this variation of the Caro-Kann', or 'White strives to restrict black's development of his light-squared bishop'.
These General Ideas help guide and point the improving player to correct plan construction/selection and move choices in this particular variation of the opening of choice. Grasping these general ideas early in the study of an opening is beneficial to the player overall, and usually improves his consistency in move and plan selection during the opening.
All openings have specific goals they try to accomplish - this is what sets this opening apart from all other openings. For example, in the Dragon Variation of the Sicilian, a specific goal for Black is to advance his queenside pawns against white and opt for an exchange sacrifice on c3 as quickly as possible - it is a race against White's kingside pawnstorm.

It is FUNDAMENTAL to understanding an opening that you grasp these General Ideas and Specific Goals and keep them in the forefront of your mind.

My personally favorite books for this kind of information is the "Starting Out" series by Everyman Press. They generally do not overdo it with copious amounts of variations, instead focusing on the ideas behind the opening and what your goals are. For example, in "Starting Out: The Dutch Defense" one axiom for black is stated that 'if Black can put a pawn on e5 in the Classical or the Lenigrad Dutch without being punished then he almost certainly have a good game.'. this knowledge alone, if you play the Dutch Defense, gives you at least a usable amount of information from which to derive useful moves and plans from. It's my belief that the Starting Out series was designed for players like you and I!

Phase 2: Blitz Chess
Huh? Blitz? Isn't Blitz bad for our OTB play? Sure. Well, bad? Maybe not. But it certainly does not help you in OTB play. But here we are discussing strategies on opening study, and Blitz Chess, as a TOOL, is exactly what the Doctor ordered. You NEED blitz games to try out your new opening as well as get some miles underneath you in the transitions into the middlegame, and to see those middlegame positions and how the plans you choose work or fail. And by Blitz, I mean Classical Blitz - 5 minute games, no shorter, even better with a 3-second increment, which is my favorite, as the increment virtually eliminates time forfeits. If you have a chess-playing friend and you both have computers, play against each other online and agree to play the basic opening each game. You want to play online because the moves are automatically recorded and games saved for you, which is VERY IMPORTANT for the third phase of our opening training. Otherwise, really try hard to enlist an online friend. Be flexible - agree to play a certain opening against them for their benefit and share in your training exercises this way. You can even agree to use an opening book for his sake and yours when either of you are playing an opening you are unfamiliar with for the other players sake. And, you make new chess friends this way. Alternatively, some chess playing programs have opening training in them - use that as well.

I would say a minimum of 25-30 games are needed to get a decent feel for the opening you are studying at this phase, no less. An average 5'3" game takes about 10 minutes to play, so you might get in 6 an hour, so that is about 5 hours worth of playing. Try different variations within your opening as well. No matter, after each playing session of "Opening Blitz", it's time to review your opening play and fix the holes in your opening knowledge.

Phase 3: FORD
Not the Car - Fix Or Repair Daily, but Fix Openings, Replay Daily. In this phase, we want to pull out our opening sources and review our opening play in our last group of blitz games using those sources. We want to also have some idea what plans seemed to work well (I know it's only blitz but it is something) and which plans did not seem to work well. We are not trying to annotate these games - they are blitz. We are simply trying to identify opening mistakes, correct them, and identify plans that seemed to work and plans that seemed to fail, and, just as importantly, identify plans yet untried. In the meantime, we are gaining some invaluable experience in this new opening on how the game transitions into the middlegame and what plans are generally available to us. This you cannot get out of any opening book alone. You have to PLAY the opening and experience the middlegames for this knowledge.

Rinse and Repeat
Our next step is really simple: Do it again. Iteration is the cornerstone of active chess training.

AMATEURS PRACTICE UNTIL THEY GET IT RIGHT
PROFESSIONALS PRACTICE UNTIL THEY CANNOT GET IT WRONG

Work this simple cycle of opening study and play until you feel at least comfortable when you play it in a Blitz game. Once you reach that stage (at least 25-30 games of blitz, however!), move on to Part II.

Part II
Phase 1: Annotated Games
As I have said many times in this blog, there is no better way to improve at chess than with well-anotated games from GM play. In our second part of opening training, we will use these games to full effect to fine tune our limited experience we gathered during Part I of our opening training.
Here, we want to gather about 25-30 well-annotated games of GM play in our opening. "Well-Annotated" does not mean Informant-Style annotations. We are seeking Alekhine and Botvinnik-style annotations that explain what the player was thinking, what plans he considered, why he liked certain moves, and what underlying strategies he considered in selecting his moves during the game, things only a GM can do. No symbology can replace this 'textual' annotation, so seek out GM games that are annotated in this manner. My favorites include "Alekhines Best Games" and Botvinnik's 100 Best Games" to name two. Also consider The Bronstein book about Zurich 1953 - excellent annotations.
Now we want to methodically and consistently review these GM games each evening on this opening, and review the games well. Don't simply scan over them, glancing at the notes. Play the game through on a board or on a computer. When you reach an annotation that has a variation, DO NOT MOVE THE PIECES but attempt to visualize the variation in your head on the board, then continue to the next note. Pay particular attention to plan development, ideas and goals the annotator talks about in the opening and in the middlegame.

Phase 2: Speed Chess
At this point you have managed to suffer through about 30 or so blitz games, and perhaps 30 or so annotated GM games. Are we ready to test ourselves in tournament play? Not quite yet...
At this point you could run out to your local tournament and jump into the fray and try your hand at your new opening, but what is the hurry? I firmly believe this phase is where you discover if you can actually play the opening or not: Speed Chess.
Speed chess is defined here as G30 - a game you can finish in an hour. Again, having a compliant partner will help you considerably. Try to get in at least 10 games of G30 before you venture into the tournament arena with your new opening. If you do not have a compliant partner, try to enlist someone online to help you out and reciprocate if you have to. Again, you'll make a new chess friend and be a better person for it!

Phase 3: FORD
Yes, you guessed it: Fix Openings, Replay Daily. After each playing session, actively annotate the G30 game and pay particular attention to the opening play and middlegame play. Fix any opening errors you made (consult you opening books/software!), and understand what plans worked or did not work in the middlegame, ans what plans should have been pursued but were not.

Rinse and Repeat.

I hope that this gives everyone a fun and efficient way to train in the opening phase of the game. It's a nice mix of Theory and Practice along with Assessment and Reevaluation techniques that are useful in patching up any holes in your new repertiore.

Good Luck!

Blitz Chess Theory

I have added a new link to an interesting article on Blitz Chess Theory under Useful Links to the right.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Endgame Lab - King and Pawn Endings


Here is yet another excellent example of corresponding squares from Dvortesky's Endgame Manual and the process one must use to figure them out.
f4(w) and f6(b) are in obvious correspondence, for if 1...Kg6 2.e7 Kf7 3.Kxf5 Kxe7 4.Kg6 wins. When White's king is on h4, Black's king must be on g6, and not f6, because of Kh5. So h4(w) and g6(b) correspond. Using these pairs or corresponding squares, we can surmise a third pair by the adjoining squares principle:
White: f4 and h4 adjoin g3
Black: f6 and g6 adjoin g7
Therefore, g3(w) and g7(b) correspond.

Let's examine f3: f3 Adjoins f4 and g3, whose corresponding squares are f6 and g7. f6 and g7 adjoin to g6, therefore f3(w) and g6(b) correspond.

Let's examine h3: h3 adjoins h4(g6 corresponds) and g3(g7 corresponds), and it's corresponding square is f6, which adjoins g6 and g7. Therefore, h3(w) and f6(b) correspond.

So far each square we have examined has a single corresponding square for black. Let's go further back one rank and investigate g2:

From g2, white can move to f3(g6), g3(g7), or h3(f6). The three corresponding squares (g6,g7,f6) connect to f7 - a square guarded by the white e-pawn on e6. Therefore, black cannot occupy f7 when White is on g2. Hence, the solution presents itself. White will retreat his King to g2 and see where Black's king is played in response, and go to the corresponding square of Black's new King position. In summary, the corresponding squares are:

f4(w) and f6(b) - ok
h4(w) and g6(b) - ok
f3(w) and g6(b) - ok
g3(w) and g7(b) - ok
h3(w) and f6(b) - ok
g2(w) and f7(b) - illegal!

1.Kf3 f3(g6)... 1...Kg6! 2.Kg2! Now black must choose his poison. Whichever square he moves to, White will occupy the corresponding square... 2...Kf6 f6(b) h3(w)... 3.Kh3! Kg7 g7(b) g3(w)... 4.Kg3! Kf6 f6(b) f4(w)... 5.Kf4 Kg6 6.e7 Kf7 7.Kxf5 Kxe7 8.Kg6+-

Middlegame Lab

White to move and win
[
1.Rd8+ Kf7 2.Bc6 Rec7 [ 2...Rbc7 3.Be8++-] 3.Rdd1! 1-0 and Black loses the exchange.
]

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Chess Turkey

Everyone has done it - dropped a 'Chess Turkey' during a tournament, or been the recipient of a 'Chess Turkey'.

A Chess Turkey is a game where you or your opponent played terrible and got blown off the board handily, usually in under 20 moves.

Do you have a chess Turkey you want to share?

Post the pgn here so everyone can enjoy your 'Chess Turkey' for Thanksgiving Day! Be SURE it is properly formatted so others can simply cut and paste it into their chess readers and enjoy!

I'll start it off with a classic from my library of 'Chess Turkeys'. The names are changed to protect the guilty and the innocent alike:

White: Turkey Reuben
Black: Sausage N. Pepper
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Qb6 5.Nb3 Qc7 6.Bd3 a6 7.Nc3 b5 8.0-0 Bb7 9.Be3 Nf6 10.f4 b4 11.e5
[ 11.Na4 Bxe4 12.Bxe4 Nxe4 13.Qd4 f5 14.Nb6+/=] 11...bxc3 12.exf6 cxb2 13.Rb1 gxf6 14.Bd4 Ke7 [ 14...Rg8 15.Rf2 f5 16.Qe2 Nc6 17.Bxb2=/+] 15.Qg4 [ better is 15.Nc5+/-]
15...d6?? [ 15...h6 16.Nc5 Bd5 17.Rxb2 Ke8+/-] 16.Bxf6+ 1-0

If 16...Kxf6 17.Qg5#. Otherwise, black will be a Rook down with no compensation.


Gobble Gobble!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

How I use the GCTS

Here is a brief synopsis on how I am using the GCTS detailed at ChessOk and summarized here on the blog, modified and altered to fit our needs. I'd also like the readers to post comments on how they use the GCTS and what thier experiences have been so far.

Time
Being a full-time employee for a non-chess company, my 'chess day' is broken into two parts: My pre-work routine and my evening routine. Between these two study segments I try to get as much done as possible, and on occasion I cannot do anything during my Post-work Routine because of other prior commitments. So my pre-work routine is essential in keeping myself fresh with regards to chess.

Originally I had tried getting in 4 time units a day, as called for my the breakdown, by shortening the time unit itself. For example, if I had 2 hours of study time available for the day, my time unit would equal 30 minutes that day. If I had 1 hour, then it would equal 15 minutes. After a while, I found that this resulting in a higher rate of thrashing, so I decided to standardize the time unit to one hour and not stress over getting in 4 units of study a day. For me, it is more like a 16 unit study cycle that I step through, starting with Day1 and progressing, as time permits, through the schedule. The standard schedule looks like this:

Day1 - SO2, VT1, SG1
Day2 - VE2, PL1, VT1
Day3 - SG1, VG1, PL1, VT1
Day4 - SO2, VE1, VT1

(see this post here for what this all means)

The 4-Day routine gets translated into a 16-unit cycle:
SO2, VT1, SG1, VE2, PL1, VT1, SG1, VG1, PL1, VT1, SO2, VE1, VT1

Further, I have made some modifications thanks to feedback from jaxter here (because your input is vital to the collective):
VE2 = SE1 + VE1

I have also broken up each of the SO2's into two SO1's each so they are more manageable in my cycle.

The end result is:
SO1, VT1, SG1, VE1, SO1, PL1, VT1, SE1, SG1, SO1, VG1, PL1, VT1, SO1, VE1, VT1

I list these on a whiteboard and check them off as I do them. I am not married to the order, so if the opportunity comes to play, I play and mark off 'PL1', or if I'm feeling kind of 'endgamey', I'll study or solve endgames. I do make sure I hit each segment before I begin a new cycle. This ensures homogeneous studying across the chess spectrum. I periodically review the cycle every couple months or so based on feedback from my losses and my chess coach.

Pre-Work Routine (non-cycle training)
I have discovered very recently that actually reading a chess book in the early morning hours is not a good way to awaken from my dreams! With that in mind, I avoid any study routines that require written materials. I have gotten into the habit of doing about 30 minutes of tactical problems at the Chess Tactics Server each morning. This gets me thinking about chess right off the bat in the morning, and after a couple of problems my head is clear and I am thinking as I should. These problems are generally not too difficult. However, the trick to scoring well is solving them in under 3 seconds! I try and concentrate on recognizing ideas and getting the tactics correct, even if I lose a point or two in the process. I have noticed that I sometimes go into a 'funk' in my solving abilities, missing several in a row at times. This can really kill your rating on the site. I have found that I think better if I do not know what my rating is at that moment, so I tape an index card to my screen to cover my rating that is displayed below the board. It helps.

Remember, It is more important for us to solve the problem correctly than to rush a move and get it wrong, so I would aim at higher rates of solving than rating points. The site is primarily for tactics training as it pertains to blitz chess, so for that reason the 3 second limit is used. I would guess that the better blitz player you are, the better score you'd get at this site.

In Summary, I am able to do 1/2 unit of Basic Tactics Solving each day. I refer to this as non-cycle training as it is not included in my Cycle. It is in addition to any training I do in the Cycle.

Post-Work Routine (Cycle Training)
My Post-Work Routine includes all of my other study routines that require sit-down, book in hand, board in front studying, including Openings, Strategy/Middlegame Theory and play, Endgame theory and play, and intense tactical training on difficult positions (remember that my non-cycle training is all about basic tactical drills). This is the meat and potatoes of my studying. It includes at least one weekly G60 game played on ICC (PL1), and one simul against an IM or better (PL1) on weekends if I can get it in. Otherwise, I play a bunch of G5, G10, or G15's. I inherently get in about 30 minutes of strategy/middlegame studying due to my ongoing correspondence games, and this helps me recognize and develop useful plans during these games. If you are playing correspondence games, you'll agree it is a great way to train your analysis skills and strategical sense. Otherwise, I consult my cycle and decide if I want to study the next item on the list, and go from there.

I hope this helps give other players an idea of how I use the GCTS to promote good, homogeneous study in chess. It's important to concentrate on all aspects of the game when you are in training at the sub-2200 level, and the GCTS gives you that.

Please post your ideas, comments, and criticisms here at the chess training blog and good luck to everyone!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Corresponding Squares and Triangulation



Here is a classic example of Corresponding Squares and Triangulation:

Pairs of Reciprocal Zuzwang exist:

d6(w) and d8(b)
c5(w) and c7(b)

The black zugzwang squares, d8 and c7, border c8. The white zugzwang squares, d6 and c5, border d5. Therefore, d5(w) and c8(b) are also corresponding squares in this position. This essentially means:





  • If White moves his King to c5, Black must be able to play Kc7

  • If White moves his King to d6, Black must be able to play Kd8

  • If White moves his King to d5, Black must be able to play Kc8

The sets of squares are said to be in correspondence.

Black must avoid moving into a corresponding square without white already occupying the other square in correspondence:



  • If Black plays Kc7, White can win with Kc5

  • If Black plays Kc8, White can win with Kd5

  • If Black plays Kd8, White can win with Kd6

    So, the goal for white is to force Black to move in the current position, because c8(b) and d5(w) are in correspondence. Unfortunately, it is White's move.

    White must lose a move with Triangulation.

    With the Black King on d8, white will move from c4 to d4 (or reverse) to force black onto c7 or c8. White only then occupies the corresponding square which black moves to:

1.Kc4 [ 1.Kd6 Kd8 d6/d8 correspond and white cannot make progress with this move.; 1.Kc5 Kc7 c5/c7 correspond and white cannot make progress with this move.]


1...Kd8 Kd6 would now win for white, as d6/d8 correspond, but he cannot play that...


2.Kd4 distant opposition as well as zugzwang. Now Black is forced onto c7 or c8 and White wins by occupying the corresponding square.


2...Kc8 3.Kd5! because d5 and c8 correspond.


3...Kd8 [ 3...Kc7 4.Kc5(.) followed by Kb6+-]


4.Kd6 because d6 and d8 correspond.


4...Kc8 5.c7 and white wins.


Go over this fine example several times until you fully understand it perfectly. It is one of the most important endgame positions to know. Below is another example of Corresponding Squares. See if you can identify the corresponding squares in the same method as above. The key is to identify mutual zugzwang pairs of squares and identfy common squares between them that lead to additional corresponding squares.



Highlight below to see answer
[White needs to break through at e3. The obvious corresponding squares are

d2(w) and f3(b)
c3(w) and e3(b)

Looking at adjoining squares:

d2(w) and c3(w) adjoin c2(w)
f3(b) and e3(b) adjoin f4(b)

Therefore:
c2(w) and f4(b) correspond.

But white has the similar additional resource of triangulation using b2 and b3 squares, as both those squares correspond to the single square f3 for black, and that is key to the win, allowing White to triangulate at an opportune time to place black in zugzwang.
]

Corus 2007

Check ou the Corus 2007 tournament here.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Endgame Lab - King and Pawn Endings

Instructive Endgame
Here is a very instructive endgame from the U.S. Chess League Wildcard Round. Thanks to NM Arun Sharma for the analysis. The entire article can be seen at the U.S. Chess League site.


Black to move: Can you hold the draw?

Highlight below for solution:

[
Mikhailuk - Kuljasevic [A29], U.S. Chess League, 2006: 65...Kd7? Black made a big mistake with 65... Kd7? as will later be shown, 65... Ke7 was much better.[ 65...Ke7! 66.Kd5 Kd7 opposition 67.a5 bxa5 68.Kxc5 Ke7! 69.b6 ( 69.Kb6 a4=; 69.Kd4 Kd6 70.c5+ Kc7 71.Kc4 b6 72.c6 Kd6=) 69...a4 70.Kb4 Kd6 71.Kxa4 Kc5 72.Kb3 Kxb6=] 66.Kd5 Ke7 67.a5 bxa5 68.Kxc5 After 68. Kxc5 as shown by the game itself, it appears that Black may be lost since the moving of his King to the d-file allows 69. Kb6 followed by Kxb7 and the advancing of the c-pawn where, due to the location of the Black King, White Queens right after Black and because of his extra b-pawn and better King placement, the ending is then winning for White. However, despite his error on move 65, Black still had a real chance to save the game with the incredible move....
68...Kd7? [ 68...Ke8!! 69.b6 ( 69.Kb6 a4 70.c5 a3 71.c6 bxc6 72.bxc6 a2 73.c7 a1Q 74.c8Q+ Ke7=) 69...Kd7 70.Kb5 a4 71.Kxa4 Kc6 72.Kb4 Kxb6 73.c5+ Kc6 74.Kc4 Kd7 75.Kd5 Ke7 76.c6 b6 77.c7 Kd7 78.c8R Kxc8 79.Ke6 b5 80.Kxf6 b4 81.Kg7 b3 82.f6 b2 83.f7 b1Q 84.f8Q+ Kd7 85.Qf7+ Kd6 86.Qxh5= is a theoretical draw.] 69.Kb6 a4 70.Kxb7 Kd6 71.b6 a3 72.Kc8 a2 73.b7 a1Q 74.b8Q+ Kc5 75.Qb5+ Kd4 76.Qd5+ Kc3 77.c5 Qa6+ 78.Kd7 Qa7+ 79.Ke6 Qg7 80.Qd7 Qg8+ 81.Kxf6 Qf8+ 82.Kg6 Qxc5 83.f6 Qg1+ 84.Kxh5 Qg3 85.f7 Qf3+ 86.Kg5 Qg3+ 87.Qg4 Qe5+ 88.Qf5 Qg7+ 89.Kh5 1-0
]

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Endgame Challenge

An excellent example of outflanking and opposition - White to move and win:
Highlight below to see solution [1.Ka6 Kb8 [ 1...f4 2.b6+-] 2.g3! [ 2.b6? Kc8 3.b7+ Kb8 4.g3 c5 5.Kb5 Kxb7 6.Kxc5 Kc7 7.Kd5 f4! 8.gxf4 Kd7= siezing the opposition] 2...Ka8 [ 2...Kc8 3.Ka7 Kd8 4.Kb8! opposition 4...Kd7 5.Kb7 Kd8 ( 5...Kd6 6.Kc8+-) 6.Kc6 outflanking 6...Kc8 7.Kd5 Kb7 8.Ke5 Kb6 9.Kxf5 Kxb5 10.g4 c5 11.g5 c4 12.Ke4 decoy 12...Kb4 13.g6 c3 14.Kd3 Kb3 15.g7 c2 16.g8Q++-] 3.b6 Kb8 4.Kb5! [ 4.b7? c5 5.Kb5 Kxb7=] 4...Kb7 5.bxc7 Kxc7 6.Kc5 Kd7 7.Kd5+- because White has the opposition, f4 does not work.]

Friday, November 10, 2006

Chess Corps


Chess Corps is having an Ice Cream Chess event at a local mall in the Boston area this Sunday.

Book List

I have added a link to an Amazon Book List I will maintain for this blog. Books on this list I will consider as 'must have' books to properly implement the GCTS we articulate here.

Again, I encourage everyone to post comments, suggestions, and criticism of the system here at the blog. Your participation is what drives this blog and the user feedback of the GCTS will make it more efficient and better for all!

Typical Chess Endings

Item 4 in our GCTS training framework (See "Theory , Theory and More Theory") calls for the "evaluation, plan of play and standard tactical methods for approximately 250 endgame positions". Keeping this in mind, where can we get these 250 or so positions? Are they documented? do they even exist?

I introduce GM Mark Dvoretsky...

Precise Positions
In his book "Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual", the author states that "one should study relatively few positions, the most important and most probable, but study and understand them perfectly...Our basic theoretical knowledge must be easy to remember and comprehend."

Dvoretsky calls these Precise Positions.

In this great book, there sits 213 Precise Positions, indicated by being printed in blue ink. Dvoretsky goes on to say that "these positions should be memorized and which will serve as guideposts again and again in your games". This practical view, enumerating the positions and supplying the ambitious student with the actual positions, suits our training purposes perfectly. This is one of the most vital and important 'russian chess secrets' revealed to us by Mr. Dvoretsky.

This number is certainly ballpark of 250, and given the source of this information, I'm willing to risk my chess future that the study of these 213 positions will result in improved play in the endgame. I also believe that this is an efficient use of study time, and it is important for us to be efficient in our studies, and avoid 'thrashing'. This is one of the primary reasons behind the 4-day training schedule.

Our goal is to take the mystery out of chess self-training and make our job as clear to us as possible. Articulating Precise Positions with regard to chess endings, I hope, gives readers a better idea on what to study and where to get those study materials from. Dvoretsky's book can be had at Amazon.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Middlegame Problem

White to move and win:
Highlight to see solution[Rozentalis (2565) - Terreaux (2300), Biel (open), 1990
1.Nhxf5!! gxf5 [ 1...Bxf5 2.Qxe7+ Kxe7 3.Bxf5+-] 2.Bxf5 Qf6 [ 2...Bxf5 3.Qxe7+ Kxe7 4.Nxf5++-] 3.Qh5+ Ke7 4.Bxe6 Kxe6 5.Re1+ Kd7 6.Bxd6 Kxd6 7.Qxh6! Ng6 [ 7...Qxh6 8.Nf5++-] 8.Qh2! 1-0
]

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!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Captures, Checks, Pins, Forks

It has happened to everybody. You play a seemingly beautiful move and your opponent drops a capture, check, pin or fork on you that you overlooked. Your first reaction is "$%#^&%!" and your second reaction is "how in the world did I miss that?".

This is a frequent occurrence for many lower class players and occasionally happens to upper class (B/A/Expert) players.

Here is an exercise to get your mind used to looking for these kinds of moves right off the bat (after all, they are basic tactics and you need to see these first and foremost in a position):

Take any GM game and pick a side. Begin to replay the game one move at a time. After each move, write down all the captures, checks, pins and forks that can be made as a next move. Record:

Captures: Bxc5
Checks: Bb5+
Pins: Bf5/R/Q (Bishop to f5 pinning Rook to Queen)
Forks: Nf5/K/Q (Knight to f5 forking King and Queen)

Usually you will be amazed how many of these moves need to be accounted for. The benefit of this exercise is to give your mind capture/check/pin/fork pattern recognition. It is also somewhat of a chess vision drill as well.

Try this for several games. It may take a bit of time off your studying, but if you have a problem missing these moves in your mind's eye, this will help you out in a big way.

As usual, keep the comments coming and all opinions are welcome!

Knight Endings - Botvinnik's Rule

White to move and win:
Keep in mind Botvinnik's Rule of Knight endings: "Knight endings are really pawn endings". If you could win this with knights removed, you should be able to win this with the knights on the board.
Highlight below to see solution:[Bagirov (2475) - Simic,R (2505) Dieren, 1990 - 1.Nc5 Nb5 2.a4 Nd4 3.Kg2 Ke7 4.Kf2 Kd6 [ 4...f5 5.Nd3 -- idea 6.Ne5 Xg6] 5.Ne4+ Kd5 6.Nxf6+ Kc4 7.b5 Kb4 8.Nd5+! Ka5 [ 8...Kxa4 9.b6 axb6 ( 9...a6 10.Ne7! idea b7) 10.Nxb6+ Kb5 11.Nd7 Ne6 12.Ne5+-] 9.g4! idea 10.f5 gf5 11.gh5 [ 9.Ke3 Nf5+ 10.Kf3 Nd4+ 11.Ke4 Nf5 12.Ke5 Nxg3 13.Kf6 Nf5 14.Kxg6 Nxh4+ 15.Kxh5 Nf5] 9...hxg4 10.Kg3 Nf5+ 11.Kxg4 Nd6 12.Kg5 Nf5 [ 12...Kxa4 13.Nc7 Nxb5 14.Nxb5 Kxb5 15.Kxg6 a5 16.h5] 13.h5 1-0]

Monday, November 06, 2006

Middlegame Training, Part 2

Middlegame training focus is primary to improving one's understanding of chess. Components of middlegame training include tactics, pawn formations, minority attacks, IQP positions, how to handle the center and flanks, and pretty much everything you'll find in any chess strategy book. Today we want to talk about how you actually train and exercise your middlegame brain in chess. Hopefully you do not lack the social skills to enlist a similar or stronger strength chess-playing friend. Otherwise, a competent computer opponent (Fritz 8 or better, perhaps) will work just as well. Freebies like Crafty also are usable.

Focus

To be consistent, we will select middlegames that occur out of our opening repertoire. For example, let's assume you play the Caro-Kann, Nd7 variation as black. You are going to want to get the game to a position where one side has several decent choices to make, and set the position there. This will be your starting position for this training session.

Training
Now the fun starts! Playing the side you usually play in that opening, begin the game against your friend. Rapid/Blitz games are good enough for this exercise. The goal of this exercise is to play the middlegame in game situation several times, back to back, and get a feel for what may work and what may not in the middlegame, and also get an idea of what types of endgames you are likely to see. After each game, start again from the same position and switch sides. You'll find that as you perform this exercise, you will be repeating some of the moves and trying different 'improvements' in variations that may not have worked so well in a previous game, and seeing the opening from BOTH sides of the board. You'll become more aware of what practical chances your opponent has in this opening, and hopefully, your partner will reveal some practical advice to you in the opening as well.

To keep things fair with your partner, several games in one variation is enough. Give your partner a choice of variations for the next several games, switching off as you go.

After you do this for a bit, you'll find that you will have a practical knowledge of the transition to the middlegame as it evolves form your opening repertoire. You will also have a practical understanding of what endgames can come about. This is important to know DURING THE MIDDLEGAME as you will then be able to make intelligent decisions on when to trade out to an endgame and when not to.

Chess is about seeing patterns and seeing positions. Seeing these positions stemming from your opening repertoire gives you similar, if not exact, positions you are likely to see in OTB play. Seeing them again in OTB play will allow you to use the already acquired experience from your training sessions to be utilized in your real OTB games. You cannot read that type of knowledge from any book, and that is exactly what training is for!

Note also a side effect of this type of exercise is gathering some opening knowledge as well. Subsequent opening analysis will make better sense as you now have a better idea of what some of the goals of the opening are and how they transition into the middlegame.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Tal Memorial, 11/6 - 11/19

"Tal octayotsa Tal." - "Tal is Tal."

The Tal Memorial begins tomorrow as a single Round Robin tournament in Moscow, Russia. The lineup includes:

# 4 - GM Peter Svidler (Russia 2750)
# 5 - GM Alexander Morozevich (Russia 2747)
# 7 - GM Levon Aronian(Armenia 2741)
# 8 - GM Peter Leko (Hungary 2741)
#10 - GM Boris Gelfand (Israel 2733)
#12 - GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan 2728)
#14 - GM Alexei Shirov (Spain 2720)
#17 - GM Alexander Grischuk (Russia 2710)
#20 - GM Ruslan Ponomariov (Ukraine 2703)
#21 - GM Magnus Carlsen (Norway 2698)

Quite the alignment of players! We look forward to some exciting chess. The time limit is 40/100 G15+30.

Mikhail (Misha) Nekhemievich Tal was born in Riga, November 9th, 1936. Tal won the Soviet Championship 6 times (1957, 1958, 1967, 1972, 1974, 1978). At the age of 23 in 1960, Tal defeated Botvinnik for the World Chess Championship Title, then a record for youngest champion. In 1988, at the age of 52, he became World Champion in Blitz chess.

Tal died on June 28th, 1992.

"I drink, I smoke, I gamble, I chase girls -- but postal chess is one vice I don't have."

And here is a classic game of Tal's against Boris Spassky in 1973.

Clear the Ramparts


Black to move and win: Highlight below to see answer

[
Cernin,A (2600) - Polgar,J (2540) New Delhi, 1990
22...Rxg2+!! 23.Rxg2 Bxh3 24.Ne4 [ 24.Bf5 Bxf5+ 25.Kg1 Bh3-+; 24.Kg1 Bxg2 25.Kxg2 Bxc3-+] 24...Ne5! 25.Nxe5 [ 25.Nxf6 Bg4+ 26.Kg1 Nxf3+ 27.Kf1 Qh1+ 28.Ke2 Nd4+-+] 25...Bxe5 26.Ng5 [ 26.f3 Bxg2+ 27.Kxg2 Rg8+ 28.Kf1 Qh1+ 29.Ke2 Rg2+ 30.Nf2 Rxf2+! 31.Kxf2 Bd4+ 32.Ke2 Qg2+ 33.Ke1 Qf2#] 26...Bxg2+ 27.Kxg2 Qxg5+ 28.Kf3 [ 28.Kf1 f3-+] 28...Rg8 29.Ke2 [ 29.Ke4 Qg6+ 30.Kf3 Qg4+ 31.Ke4 f3+ 32.Ke3 Qf4#] 29...f3+ [ 29...f3+ 30.Ke1 Bf4] 0-1
]

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Thrashing, Tweaking, Holes, Feedback

Note: I have been outed!

:)

Not really, as I was never 'in', but there was a rumor going about that this blogger was the English GM Mark Hebden.

I wish. Well, at least the GM part...

Sorry to say, I am not him, but simply a USCF Class A player coming out of chess retirement using this blog as a vehicle to help other class players organize their thoughts on how to self-train in chess. I am probably the worst blitz player in the history of the game so take that for what it is worth. But, I am working on that as well...

I am making these various ideas available to the public in one place within an environment of free-exchanging ideas so we can bounce these ideas off one another to improve our methods of self-training and to be more productive with the time spent studying chess.

This is truly a chess-utopian environment!

Thrashing
Some of you might know what the term 'thrashing' means. Being a software engineer by trade, I certainly know what the act of thrashing is when doing any repeatable task and it is something you wish to avoid. 'Thrashing' in chess is doing "a little of this, some of that, more of this 'cuz it's fun, less of that 'cuz it's not fun...", and by adding structure to our training, we can avoid thrashing.

Tactics
To improve, the class level player must

1) Play against stronger opposition consistently
2) identify flaws in your play by reviewing your losses with Better Players
3) fix your flaws so identified in #1
4) Don't Thrash

and since class players are generally weak in tactics (if you were strong in tactics but mediocre in other aspects of the game, you'd probably be rated somewhere between 2100-2200, which is tickling the Master-level), it makes sense that a daily regimen of tactical training will have the biggest bang for the buck. In fact, that is what you see in the 4-Day Generic Chess Training Schedule (GCTS) found elsewhere on this blog.

In the 4-day program you will find that tactical drills exist for 1 time unit on each day of training. Are tactics that important? Only you can answer that yourself. Look at your losses closely and examine why you lost the game. Rarely will you come away with a loss stating something like "Boy, that Knight on d5 really killed me." when in fact you overlooked a tactical threat that your opponent saw and won material and the game. So, tactics are the most important aspect of training we, AS CLASS PLAYERS, can do on a daily basis. A necessary evil. If you can confidently calculate tactical threats in a position, you will climb the rating scales slow and steadily, to a certain point.

Holes, Holes and More Holes
Studying tactics ALONE will leave huge holes in your chess game, however. Every class player needs to study tactics. They also need to address weak endgame play, wandering planless play in the middlegame, and superficial opening play as well. But we need to have a feedback system that tells us "Hey! Your openings are OK at the moment. Mayber concentrate on other aspects of your game and get those better?"

How do we do that? I have thought about this for a little bit lately and have come to the conclusion that this feedback system does not exist (within the chess self-training environment), so we will attempt to articulate it a little bit here.

Feedback
Some necessary components need to be in place to assemble a feedback system and relate it to your training regimen:

1) Play on a Regular Basis ("PL" in the GCTS)
2) Closely examine ALL Losses (blunder?) and Draws (missed win?) with a better player. This entails annotation of your games by yourself objectively.
3) Keep simple records

Yuk. #3 scared me when I wrote it. I'm sure it gave you the eebie-geebies when you read it the first time...no matter. Face what we fear and conquer it!

Tweaking the system to make it 'right for you' is a process that we can try to achieve over time. Over-tweaking is something to avoid. We do not want to alter the system to ther point where it no longer resembles that which it was.

Play on a Regular Basis
Play regularly, at least as regular as the basic 4-day schedule indicates. With online play (ICC, for example), and assuming you play G15's, you'll end up with at least 4 games a week. Play local tournaments/ quad events if possible, and play in the open section. If you are winning your games all the time, your competition is too weak - up it a full class. We want our games to test us over the board. I use the following formula for blitz games on ICC:

(rating > myrating + 200) & (rating <= myrating + 300) & established

This will give you games against players rated between 200 and 300 points above you, and they are established rated players. This formula moves as your rating moves, so it is self-correcting.

A word about ego
Some players will balk at this formula stating it is too difficult to play against players rated so much higher than you are, and it will hurt your rating. If you are one of those people, then you truly do not want to improve your chess game and your rating means too much to you. Did I tell you that you still look 21 years old? Or, do you want the truth that you look like a tired 30-something who smokes too much? your call.

We need games against stronger players to expose the weakness in our own play and to punish us directly for that weak play. Any other play is a waste of time and is a game you should win anyway. Save your ego massaging against Fritz or Crafty at home at the lower levels. You will, without a doubt, thank me for pushing you to play stronger opponents in the long run.

Examining Losses/Annotating your own games
This can be a painful experience because, undoubtedly, a better player will often say something like 'Wow, you missed this simple tactic here.' or 'there is a win if you played this' and this can shake the foundations of your chess ego terribly. But, it is cathartic in nature to go through this process and accept the constructive criticism like a man (or woman).

Take notes at every critical position in the game. Get the better players' objective view on your play in the game if possible, at a high level ('You played the opening well, the middlgame so-so, but your endings and tactical play really sucked. Work on that.'). If a better player is not available, use Fritz or similar software, or post your game to one of the chess usenet groups and ask for some objective evaluation of the game. Any comments you get will be beneficial. The single most important aspect of this is to determine at what phase of the game you played the weakest.

Note: a Chess Teacher is the BEST option to review your losses with if you can afford it, or possibly an annotation service. Google it. They are out there...

Our goal is to adjust our training schedule every 20 games or so based on our feedback we get from our losses.

How to tweak
Ok, so we are 20 games into our program, ans we have played reasonably, but the competition has been stiff in the open section, and we have garnered a record of +5=5-10, or 5 wins, 5 draws, 10 losses. We also noted that only two of the draws were thrown wins by us, so in effect, we have 10 losses and 2 draws to contend with. Out of those 12 games, we discover that in 7 of them, we got outplayed during the transition from middlegame to endgame and during the endgame. In 3 of the other 5, we missed a tactic (it happens). The other two games were flat draws.

So it is painfully obvious to us that our endgame and tactical play is wanting (this is probably what is true for most class players, by the way). Let's try to devise a way to make one adjustment to our training that will expose us to more endgame study.

Overall, we have 16 units, broken down:
Opening - 4 units
Strategy/Middlegame - 3 units
Tactics - 4 units
Endgames - 3 units
Play - 2 units

First, we never take away from PL. Second, we never exceed 4 units for any one aspect of our game.

In this example, I would reduce opening study by one unit and increase endgame study by one unit, resulting in the following breakdown:
Opening - 3 units
Strategy/Middlegame - 3 units
Tactics - 4 units
Endgames - 4 units
Play - 2 units

Taking our original schedule, we could adjust to this:
Day1 - SO2, VT1, SG1
Day2 - VE2, PL1, VT1
Day3 - SG1, VG1, PL1, VT1
Day4 - SO1, VE2, VT1

We would then continue to play another set of 20 games and re-evaluate after that.

I hope this outlines a very simple feedback method to enhance the current trainig methodology we are experimenting with today. As usual, any comments are welcome!

Good Luck!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Middlegame Training

Layachi Hamidouche - Les Joueurs d'échecs

Training your middlegame play is probably the most difficult aspect of training in chess. Opening training has been reduced to copious amounts of variations and even a simple opening book will suffice to get you through this stage of the game. Endings, in contrast, are very specific and require the knowledge of a few hundred key positions to play well (according to GM's; what those positions are...). However, the elusive middlegame is the place in chess where creativity, original ideas, brilliancies and mistakes take the stage. Here is my take on how to train your middlegame in chess.

First, let's define what the middlegame is:

Wikipedia says "the middlegame refers to the portion of the game that happens immediately after the opening (usually the first move after the procession of moves that make up a standard opening) and blends somewhat with the endgame. During this time, players will attempt to strengthen their positions while weakening their opponent's, both by careful arrangement of the pieces for prepared attacks and defenses and by whittling away at their opponent's numbers. Oftentimes, the middlegame involves a good deal of trading; studying how to trade successfully is important."

Let's just say that is a tolerable definition for our purposes. In short, when your pieces are developed, you cease to be in the opening proper and are entering the middlegame.

How to train for the middlegame

Of course, we have seen that chess training cannot exist in a vacuum without being influenced by other aspects of the game. You cannot train effectively without some sort of transitional ideas between the phases of the game co-existing in your training method. Training your middlegame play is no different. With that in mind, it makes sense that your middlegame training should stem from the types of positions you are likely to achieve from your opening repertoire.

This brings us to our first idea:

Annotated Games by GM's

Annotated games by GM's within your opening repertoire is the single most effective way to study the middlegame. The knowledge you acquire from annotated GM games from your own repertoire is vital to success in the middlegame. Why?

GM's are the elite of the chess world. They are the Larry Birds, Wayne Gretzkys, and Tom Bradys of chess (I can't for the life of me think of a good Soccer player so I apologize...). When a GM annotates a game in your repertoire, he has documented his thought process (if he is a good annotator - some are not) for that game, hopefully laying out his plans, ideas and concepts that occurred to him during play. You cannot get this type of feedback from the Tom Bradys, Larry Birds, and Wayne Gretzkys of 'other' sports and in this, chess is truly a remarkable game.

Traditional Theory

What is 'traditional theory' as it pertains to chess?

Traditional Theory could be considered established chess theory that has essentially existed since the early 1930's, the time of Nimzovitch and company. Traditional Theory consists of the proper classical handling of a minority attack, isolated QP, pawn chains/structures, classic B vs. N ideas, Exchanges, the Center, and ideas about overprotection/prophylaxis put forth by Nimzovitch. It is also thick in it's application of 'General Principles'. Your training should focus on these traditional ideas that are most likely to occur out of your opening repertoire first, then proceed to other aspects of your game as a secondary measure for completeness. It is important to understand the traditional aspects of Middlegame Theory to gather a better understanding of Modern Theory because of the contrasts in how each one addesses each aspect of play. There will be times when knowledge of Traditional Theory will drag you out of the fire, so ignore this part of middlegame play at your own risk!

The Bible of Classical Middlegame Theory - My System, Nimzovitch

Modern Theory

Modern Theory deals more with a disdain for General Rules and Principles (it is almost as if the 'Modern Theorist' seeks to avoid the application of these rules...), Pawn Play, Exchange Sacrifices, Contemporary Ideas of the Minor Piece, Time/Tempo, Dynamism, The Initiative, and modern prophylaxis.

A good middlegame study program will deal with both Traditional and Modern theory aspects of chess for completeness.

The Bible of Modern Middlegame Theory - Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy - Watson

Correspondence Chess - Not your Daddy's Version

Correspondence Chess ("CC") has managed to survive, nay, flourish, in the modern world of the internet. CC is a great way to improve your middlegame play, and, moving the pieces about is legal in CC, and the time constrains are less harsh than that of OTB play. Couple that with a vast array of Chess Databases available (mostly free as well), and CC play becomes more of a research project into the foray of the opening and middlegame. Here is one method for improving your middlegame play in CC play:

AS your game progresses, pile together a collection of GM games (hopefully annotated!) that are along the same primary variation that is being played. Our goal here is NOT to 'out-book' our opponent, but to 'out-idea' him. Examine each of these games quickly to get a feel for what each side is trying to accomplish, and take note of the types of middlegame ideas that occur. You will most likely find a repeating of middlegame concepts across several of the games; minority attacks, IQP's, Weak Squares, Strong Squares, color complexes, etc., etc. This should help direct your study in a fruitful direction. For example, in the Queens' Gambit Declined, white often has a minority attack against black's queenside. If you are white and you find yourself in a CC game in that type of position, examine several games along that variation, and study up on 'minority attack' theory to understand what it is that white should be trying to accomplish (exchange pawns to isolate the b-pawn and try to win it), or what black is trying to prevent (vis-a-vis). This type of training, unlike opening study, will apply across many of your games because you are developing an understanding of a type of position, and not just parroting a move in a specific position, which is primarily what most 'students' do in the opening. More on that in another post.

It is this type of chess understanding we are seeking when we say we are studying the middlegame.


So, in summary, for middlegame study, we have:

1) Annotated Games by GM's
2) Traditional (Classical) Theory
3) Modern Theory
4) Correspondence Chess

To help you with correspondence chess, here are two sites I recommend:

Chessworld.Net - Correspondence Chess on the web
IECC - Email Chess

I really hope this gives you some good guidance on how to spend your middlegame study time effectively and to begin to see results in your OTB/Online play. As usual, please post any questions or ideas YOU have of your own and we will discuss the pro's and con's of those ideas in a constructive manner.

Keep in mind that PLAYING every day will help tremendously, and is an important part in our 4-day study plan, so PLAY PLAY PLAY!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Questions from Bloggers

I had a few questions I thought would be useful to answer here from a famous reader known as 'Anonymous':

Do you think fast games are better than slow for beginners?

No. My belief is that you need to separate blitz from your slow play, meaning that playing too much blitz is detrimental to your slow play because you get into the habit of moving too fast and looking at the position superficially. A good rule is to not play blitz on the same day you are playing a tournament. Period. On off days, play a G10 or G15 game instead of several G5 games as described in the training schedule as "PL" . You'll get a better quality of games and it will translate better to your slow play thinking process.

Did you have more intermediate players in mind when formulating the training schedule?

This self-training guide - in fact, the entire blog - is devoted to players rated under 2200. All of it applies to players that range from rank beginners to Experts. This particular guide was devised in detail by Irina Mikhailova, GM, trainer, at the T.V. Petrosian Chess Club in Moscow. The version you see here is a layman's summary of that method. I kept the most critical parts of her program intact. The entire article can be seen at ChessOk.com.

Don't you agree that slower games are more beneficial for less experienced players?

Slower games are certainly more beneficial to your chess thinking process. Obviously, with more time to think you can delve deeper into the position tactically as well as recognize positional aspects at a higher level. I personally use G15 or less games to test out opening ideas and to explore middlegames from certain openings, but it's important to keep blitz separated from slow play on a daily basis - don't play blitz prior to when you are playing a slow game that day! You'll almost never see the better players in the open section in the skittles room between rounds playing blitz. there is a very good reason for that...

I hope this answers some of these questions for Mr. Anonymous! Feel free to ask if you have other ideas or questions you want to throw around on the chess-training blog. This blog is for everyone who wants to improve their chess and seeks a reasonable, proven method to do so.

Cheers!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Generic Training Schedule Revisited

It will be beneficial to discuss the Generic Training Schedule in more detail here, so let's take a look at the 4-day rotational schedule:

Day1 - SO2, VT1, SG1
Day2 - VE2, PL1, VT1
Day3 - SG1, VG1, PL1, VT1
Day4 - SO2, VE1, VT1

Key:
S = Study
V = Solve
G= Strategy
E = Endings
T = Tactics
O = Openings
PL= Play (4x 5min, 3x 10min, 2x 15min games)
# = Units of Time

You'll notice here that Solving Tactics (VT1) is something that is included in each days schedule. The reasons for this are obvious: Missed tactics result in over 90% of losses at the class level (<2200 rating). It makes sense that working on tactics each and every day should be a primary concern for all class players and is one of the best ways to improve your game. 'Seeing' positions over and over in tactical exercises gives patterns to the brain that you can call upon in your games. There is no shortcut to this kind of training. Remember our creed:

AMATEURS PRACTICE UNTIL THEY GET IT RIGHT
PROFESSIONALS PRACTICE UNTIL THEY CAN'T GET IT WRONG

Further, lets break down the schedule by game phase:

Opening: Day1 - SO2; Day4 - SO2; TOTAL: 4 Units
Strategy/Middlegame: Day1 - SG1; Day3 - SG1, VG1; TOTAL: 3 Units
Endings: Day2 - VE2; Day4 - VE1; TOTAL: 3 Units
Tactics: Day1,2,3,4 - VT1; TOTAL: 4 Units

One could surmise from this information that Openings and Tactics seem to be the most important parts of the game for the class player given this trainng schedule, and this might be true for most players. Whether you agree with this or not is entirely up to you, and it should be clear that a student could, if they chose to do so, modify this schedule slightly to accomodate more focus on parts of the game they feel they need work on.

For example, in my most recent games I have found that my opening and middlegame seems to be fine, but have lost my way in the endings somewhat, allowing draws in advantageous positions, and not exactly defending tenaciously in disadvantageous positions. So I might take 1 unit of time from one of the opening sessions and apply it to Endings. It so happens that Day4 has both Opening and Ending study that day, so I might adjust the schedule for Day4 to:

Day4: SO1, VE2, VT1

In this way you can customize your study time to fit your personal needs. A word of warning: I suggest you not move more that 1 unit. You still want to be sure you get a rainbow of studies across the chess spectrum. Over-focusing on one aspect of your game can make the other parts stale, so it may be best to make small adjustments and see how it goes from there.

For me, Today is Day3 and I have VG1/PL1/VT1 to complete so....

Any suggestions or comments are always welcome here at the chess-training blog so feel free to post a comment!

Good Luck!

Chess Endings - King and Pawn

White to move and win:

Highlight below to see answer:
[White errored badly here with 51.c5?? [ 51.a4+- a5 52.b5 Kd6 ( 52...Kf6 53.c5+-) 53.Kxf5 Kc5 54.Ke5 Kxc4 55.Kd6 Kb3 56.Kc6 Kxa4 57.Kxb6 Kb4 58.Kc6 a4 59.b6 a3 60.b7+-; 51.Kg5 also wins: 51...Ke5 52.c5 bxc5 53.bxc5 Kd5 54.Kxh5 a5 55.Kg5 Kxc5 56.Kxf5 Kb5 57.g4 Ka4 58.g5 Kxa3 59.g6 Kb4 60.g7+-] 51...bxc5 52.bxc5 52...a5! 53.c6 [ 53.Kg5 Kd5 54.Kxh5 Kxc5 55.Kg6 Kc4 56.Kxf5 Kb3 57.g4 Kxa3 58.g5 a4 59.g6 Kb2 60.g7 a3 61.g8Q a2=; 53.a4 Kd5 54.Kxf5 Kxc5 55.Kg5 Kb4 56.Kxh5 Kxa4 57.g4 Kb4 58.g5 a4 59.g6 a3 60.g7 a2 61.g8Q a1Q=] 53...Kd6 54.Kxf5 Kxc6 55.Kg5 Kb5 56.Kxh5 Ka4 57.g4 Kxa3 58.g5 a4 59.g6 Kb2 60.g7 a3 61.g8Q a2 (90) Game drawn by mutual agreement 1/2-1/2

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