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Friday, April 2, 2010

The Chessboard

Reflections on Becoming a Master Player was originally posted on Chesstalk back in 2000 by Canadian GM Kevin Spraggat. He had some interesting thoughts on the subject and I recommend reading the whole article.

Especially interesting to me were his thoughts on the board itself; something that is often neglected in most books. Here are some excerpts. Again, read the whole article!

It has always surprised me how little time books spend explaining the importance of the chessboard in itself. It has an importance more than just being the 'table' on which the game takes place...

Knowing the characteristics of the board is extremely important. Books spend too much time on the pieces, not realizing that much is missed by neglecting a closer study of the relationship of the board with each separate piece.

A lot of players have difficulty visualizing a chess board. You can ask them to close their eyes and then quiz them on squares (what colour they are), on diagonals (what squares are attached to them), files, etc. My experience as a trainer is that many players have difficulty doing so.

This is compounded by the popularly held belief that it is unimportant...But it is important because of how the brain works! The thinking process in chess involves the use of our eyes as well as our ''mind's eye''. Our mind's eye sees the board in a different way, as it can not 'visulalize' the board as a whole it must break the board down into components, with each component being geometrically related to the others.

If we haven't consciously understood the geometry of the board sufficiently and all of the implications with respect to each and every piece, then our mind's eye (our way of imagining the board) will not appreciate the whole board, and hence certain tactical oversights may go unnoticed.

For instance, how often do we hear the stories of our chess friends explaining to us why they lost such and such a game...they had it all 'figured out', and then at the last moment (too late to help them) they noticed that the piece they wanted to move to such and such a square just couldn't do it. (it being an illegal move)
In the '80's appeared a new generation of chess stars from the Soviet Union who created quite a splash, not so much because they were such fantastic players, but because of what they did at the chess board: they spent more time looking at the cieling ( or the spectators) than they did at the chessboard.

I remember the first time I played Shirov. It was '90, Paris, and I was paired against this relatively unknown youngster from Latvia. I played my normal game, and was quite astonished when I noticed that he would only look at the board from time to time, and that most of the time he spent staring at the ceiling! I still remember thinking that there was something quite wrong with the fellow! But was I amazed by what this guy ''saw''!! I still am impressed. He was combining the usual 'visual' chess thinking with, what for lack of a better word, 'blindfold' chess thinking, and the results were very impressive. Even to this day he employs this technique.

Other players of his generation who did this also are Ivanchuk, and Gelfand. But it is a mistake to think that these players just 'happened' upon this new technique: it was a technique developed by Soviet trainers looking for a way for the new generation of young players to get an edge on the existing generations.
There are a whole slew of exercises you can use to improve your 'awareness' of the board. Start with an empty board. Put a knight on the board, say on a1. Did you know already that to get to b2 takes as much time for the knight as it takes for it to reach the 8th rank?? (Four moves) It is certainly not intuitive, but that is because it has to do with the unique characteristics of the board and the knight. Then try exercises with combinations of pieces, such as Q and R or Q and B.

Spraggat also listed on his site (not updated) a list of “thirty-odd books that no self respecting GM would ever be found dead NOT having in his library...(please note that this only includes books published before '85, and does not include 'good stuff' published since...)” Just out of curiosity I checked to see how many I had, or rather have had because I donated most of my chess books years ago. The total was 22 and they are maked in red.

Complete Chess Strategy, by Pachman (3 vol)
The Middle Game in Chess, by Euwe (2 vol) (Static Features, Dynamic Features)
500 Master Games of Chess, by Tartakover
Lasker's Manual, by Em.Lasker
Common Sense in Chess, by Em.Lasker
Chess from Morphy to Botvinnik, by Konig
Pachman's Decisive Games, by Pachman
Tarrasch's Best Games, by Reinfeld
Life and games of Mikhail Tal, by Tal
Fischer's 60 Memorable Games
Rubinstein's Chess Masterpieces, by Kmoch
Pawn Power in Chess, by Kmoch
Paul Keres' Best Games, by P.Keres (no, not the 'Nunn' edition)
Botvinnik's 100 Selected Games, by Botvinnikn himself (Mr. Soviet Chess )
Zurich '53, by Bronstein (one of the ten best of all time)
Nottingham '36, by Alekhine
Practical Chess Endings, by Keres (the 'must' first book of endings)
Tal vs Botvinnik Match of '60, by Tal himself (one of the top ten)
Ideas Behind the Openings, by Fine
Art of Positional Chess, by Reshevsky (truly great book)
The Application of Chess Theory, by Geller (or how to beat the world champions)
The Art of Attack in Chess, by Vukovich (or how to 'screw' your opponent)
A Guide to the Chess Endings, by Euwe
How Not to Play Chess, by Borovsky (a great book)
Chess Improviser, by Bronstein (one of the greatest books of all time)
Hypermodern Chess, by Reinfeld (again, he didn't play any of these games...)
From Steinitz to Fischer , by Euve
World Chess Championship '37, by Alekhine (necessary reading)
Art of the Middle Game, by Keres and Kotov (super book)
Dynamic Chess, by Coles (great book by complete unknown)
My Best Games of Chess , by Tartakover (one of the best of all time)
Meet the Masters, by Euwe
GM Preparation, by Polugaevsky (one of the top ten)
125 Selected Games, by Smyslov
My Best Games of Chess, by Alekhine (3 vol)
The Chess Terrorist, by Shamkovich (great reading)

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