I was looking over a slim book by GM Danny King and IM Chris Ward titled Choose the Right Move. The book covers advice on openings, tactics and combinations, how to calculate, positional play and planning, how to win won positions, practical play and endings.
King and Ward are trying to teach chess the right way; they cover all areas of the game without placing emphasis on one area and making claims that learning an unsound, inferior gambit and practicing tactics will win games. They are recommending an all around approach and I commend them for that! Some highlights:
“Above all it is vital to have a fundamental grasp of opening principles...When the concept of rapid and efficient development is brought up, there is one players who comes to my mind…Paul Morphy.” He goes on to say, “It is worth looking at Morphy’s play when he faced decent opposition.” One thing Morphy taught was development and sound strategy easily refuted the thoughtless sacrificial attacks so prevalent in his day and lead to positions from which he could deliver merciless tactical blows of his own. When he faced players like Daniel Harrwitz who understood the necessity of quick development, Morphy’s genius still allowed him to win with some great tactics, but his play was of a much more positional nature.
King wrote, “I think the first book I ever bought was Bobby Fischer’sMy 60 Memorable Games. I blindly copied the openings that he played…if it was good enough for him, it was good enough for me. Unfortunately, I had no idea of the strategic basis behind these openings…”
GM Artur Yusupov wrote, “…the entire game is an aggregate of mini-operations united by a general strategic idea that has its basis in the opening you have chosen.”
Two points stand out here: 1) Like GM Alex Yermolinsky advocates, King played mainline openings and 2) he had to learn the strategic ideas behind them, not just memorize lines. The authors give the following advice when playing stronger opponents: “I have discovered some interesting secrets. In general, they are only too pleased to see a weaker opponent come out fighting and willing to take risks to randomize the position, because they can rely on their vast amount of experience, intuition, ability, etc. to win…” Again, they are in agreement with Yermolinsky on this point. They mean strong players love to see weaker opponents play junk openings. Play your best opening, hopefully one that is reasonably sound. If you play the Budapest Gambit, then play it against everybody and don’t avoid it against a master just because you know it may not be theoretically the best. That was exactly what Yermo wrote in The Road to Chess Improvement.
Tactics and Combinations:
“…one thing is clear, you must have a basic grounding and understanding of tactics. It is no good playing the best positional chess in the world only to find you miss a tactic and lose a piece...Tactics are short term maneuvers that try to take advantage of opportunities available in the position…the most important objective is to train yourself to spot tactics and combinations in your games.” Like CJS Purdy before them, they emphasize the need to be aware of the different tactical motifs. What they are emphasizing is that you can’t just force a combination if the position does not call for it. This is a point that seems to be lost on many players. “In this chapter the various types of tactics are systematically discussed…so you can learn how to spot them.”
How to calculate:
“The ability to spot tactics is the first stage on the road to calculation…you have to be able to fathom out long variations and work out the consequences…”
Positional play and planning:
“Having a view of the big picture is common to every strong player. Positional motifs recur just like tactical motifs. Such knowledge is built up by studying model; games, typical maneuvers and being able to recognize weaknesses in Pawn structure.” Funny, Yermolinsky said the same thing! “Playing positionally…involves a different skill, namely the weighing up of various factors on the board, resulting in the formulation of a plan.”
“The end gamne is a neglected phase of the game. Too many players are put off by the vast amount of dry theory…” King hit on the reason when he wrote, “…if your opponent hasn’t collapsed by move 35, then it’s just too much effort to keep plugging away…”
It’s also part of the culture for young people today. They want something where you can learn the rules in 5 minutes then exercise their lightening fast reflexes, not their brains. This attitude carries over into chess. Young players buy into the hype that if they learn some slam-bang openings and do a ton of tactical exercises the wins will come easily.
I’ve discovered when playing a few 5-10 minute games on Chess Hotel and Yahoo that all you have to do against the majority of players is come out of the opening with a solid position and wait for them to unsoundly sac something on f7 or h7 and the game is in the bag. Yesterday I was on the Black side of the Guioco Piano and my opponent, a half decent player, had a dead level position. He played the book move Bg5 and when I hit the B with …h6 (also book) what did he do? Played Bxh6 of course. The opening 1.e4 e5 2.Qh5 is also pretty popular. I know Nakamura has successfully played it a few times, but when you have his rating you can take some liberties.
I like King and Ward’s approach to instruction because they don’t overemphasize one area at the expense of another nor do they promise immediate rewards. Rather they emphasize it takes work in all areas to succeed. Honest fellows.