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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

My Squidoo Page

A couple years ago while just messing around, I made a “lens” on Squidoo. I don’t really see the point of the Squidoo idea, but like I said, I was just messing around. Anyway to get to the point I took a look at it today and discovered somebody had actually read it and registered as a “fan.” Wow!

The “lens” was entitled “Rapid Chess Improvement.” BTW the video at the end by the Dutch player “Majnu” is a sample of some of the really outstanding videos he’s produced on Youtube. I recommend doing a search on Youtube for his videos; the guy is really good.

The question the reader will want answered is do the suggestions and method outlined in this lens really work? The answer is, I believe, yes! For many years I was a perennial 1600 rated player. After putting this system into practice my rating went to nearly 2100 so I know this method of study and thinking will work.

I did not discover the methods outlined here on my own. They are mostly a synopsis of U.S. Senior Master Ken Smith and former World Correspondence Champion and International master C.J.S. Purdy as well as astute observations by other prominent masters and grandmasters.
Here's How!
What really accounts for the difference in strength between club players and masters? Aside from the obvious answer that the master can see future positions better and calculate more accurately than the average player, the main difference is in his ability to accurately evaluate the position.

A lot of this evaluation is subconscious. So the question is, "How can one develop a subconscious awareness of what may be a favorable position as opposed to an unfavorable one?"

Most master cannot explain what is going on in their minds. Child prodigy Samuel Reshevsky once said he did not know how he selected his moves. This explains the real reason why books on improvement really don't help one improve very much; masters are often simply unable to explain the process by which they come up with the best move in a position.

It is said a good coach can help, but actually coaches who have helped players advance to the Grandmaster level have had hundreds of students that never improved so obviously there's more to it than just having a good coach. The obvious problem with establishing your own training program is that you aren't good enough to know what to study.

Most would be improving players believe there are some rules, that if you learn them, you will improve. There is also a lot of hype and salesmanship in the chess world where titled players are peddling their books. The kind that promise that if you play a certain opening, usually an offbeat, inferior on at that, you will, for a variety of reason, win more games. That is simply a lie. Then there are those who claim, "Tactics win games." While it is true most games, especially those below the master level are decided by tactics, many players believe that the more tactics you study, the better you will become. The trouble is this only works to a point. Look at their games. They still miss a lot of tactics, and usually after a minimal rating increase improvement plateaus. More often than not their idea is that since a study of tactics added some points to their rating, more tactical study will add more rating points. It usually doesn't work and they reach a point of diminishing returns. At that point they often are frustrated and at a loss as to what to do.

You cannot apply rules without having a lot of experience to know when they will work or when the position presents an exception to the rules.

The real basis of the Grandmaster's ability to play good moves is familiarity with a huge number of typical positions, types of plan, and typical tactics that result from these positions. Patterns are recognized and plans are suggested and thus moves to reach the requirements of the position come to mind. Patterns and plans include typical mating positions, endgame techniques, tactics, and typical middle game plans.

Obviously it will take hours of study over years as well as practical play to gain this kind of knowledge. One quick shortcut that will result in rapid improvement in this area is playing over hundreds of unannotated master games while trying to guess the next move. You should spend no more than 5-10 minutes per game. To make things more interesting keep track of the percentage of correct guesses and watch it start creeping up after a couple hundred games. Rememebr you are going after quantity here, not quality. Quality will come later. What you are trying to do in gain skill in pattern recognition. Eventually you will begin seeing patterns and remembering similar situations and how they were played. This process will be only a vague idea at first, but you will get better. This is the method that was first suggested by U.S. Senior Master Ken Smith of the Sicilian, Smith-Mora Gambit fame.

Very strong players have the uncanny ability to look at a position and make a reasonable assessment of how they stand based just on the features of the position without considering any moves at all. Obviously most of us will never reach that level, but trying to emulate what you see Grandmasters do is the best way to improve.

One important observation is that master often falsify their hypothesis. What this means is lower rated players thinking is often of the type, "If I play here, he plays there." Usually "here" and "there" are moves that fit in with his belief of what constitutes the best plan. Masters on the other hand will think along the lines of, "If I play here, how can my opponent refute the move?"

Obviously you need the ability to look ahead to get a proper evaluation of the position but it is impossible to calculate every possibility in a position so at some point you have to make an accurate evaluation of the position. How well you can do this depends not only on your pattern recognition but how well you can visualize future positions. Both of these skills can be learned. When it comes to visualization of future positions, it is more important to be able to visualize 2 or 3 moves ahead and make an accurate evaluation than to do as most lower rated players do: calculate many moves ahead and make a completely wrong evaluation.

Unfortunately these days everyone is looking for a short cut and authors, in their effort to make a living from chess perpetuate this belief that there are shortcuts. Players try various offbeat openings or some kind of system, or try to apply rules or maxims. There is no easy way to success.

What you have to do is attempt to become an all around player with a knowledge of endings, tactical motifs, study a lot of master games and analyze your own games. You need to pay[particular attention to areas of chess that you don't like. If you despise endings, and usually we despise things we don't understand, then you need to study endings!

What books should be in your chess library? Most of us have far, far more than we need. We see a book that looks promising and buy it only to give it a cursory glance then it's relegated to the bookshelf with all the other never read books because another book making promises to improve caught our attention.

First there are general books that give you some concepts. Then there are the best game collections of great players, past and present. I would avoid the game collections of modern day Grandmasters. The reason? Their style is too complex. The classic games of older generation players are much easier to understand. Seeing how players like Lasker, Rubinstein or Capablanca defeats a lesser opponent will give you a better understanding because in those days chess was not as complicated and their play was more thematic.
On of the best books, but a type that is rarely published these days is the tournament book These are good because you get a realistic picture of how most games are won and lost. Other books usually only contain well-played games or games that are interesting for some special reason. Tournament books show you games that are more "typical."

Best game collections are also good. After you play over the games of just one player you'll begin to think the same way they do. They might use some outdated openings, and modern GM's understand some positional ideas better but they can still teach you something.

You need to study endgames! A good way to start is K&P and R&P endings. That's because they are the most common and often what you learn from them will form the building blocks for other more complex endings. Avoid bothering with "trick" or unusual positions that will never turn up in play.

You also need a book on tactics. When studying tactics don't be content just to find the solution. Look for motifs%u2026what made the tactic possible. Undefended piece, configuration of pieces subject to a fork, etc. More on this later.

You'll also need a general middlegame book that shows you basic strategical themes and how they were applied. Be aware that these books often over simplify things. A win will be presented as the natural consequence of say, superior dark square control, when the reality was much more complex. There may have been a single obvious feature of the position, but many other factors were probably also present and played a part in the game. Studying well annotated complete games from collections and tournament books usually make this abundantly clear.

Of course you will need an opening repertoire but before establishing the openings you want to play you need a general understanding of opening methods and ideas and some knowledge of specific systems and variations. Be aware that many opening books are nothing more than a collection of variations and there is a lot of uncritical analysis. This is especially true of books on offbeat openings. In an effort to prove their point authors often blatantly ignore the best lines. When choosing an opening book, try to choose one with complete games so you can see the flow of the game all the way to the end.

One of the best ways to play the openings is to play classical systems where understanding the type of game is more important than knowing the latest variations. A simple repertoire, but a sound one, that will not be refuted by new analysis is the best. That generally means playing openings the Grandmasters play. Queen's Gambit, Nimzo-Indian, Sicilian, Ruy Lopez; openings like that. No Grob Attacks, Latvian Gambits, etc.

So all the books you really need for starters are a couple general middlegame books on strategy and tactics, and endgame book or two, a general opening book and a couple game collections.

CJS Purdy’s books are by no means comprehensive but you will find them entertaining, easy to comprehend and helpful:

I especially recommend The Search For Chess Perfection. This is Purdy's bio, games collection, and most important, a collection of his magazine articles. You can open this book up just about anywhere and learn something. Especially valuable is his advice on a system for avoiding errors and how to select a move. High

Video on Improvement
A short talk on how we learn by the Dutch player Majnu

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