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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Rapid Chess Improvement

400 points in 400 days by Mike De La Maza. I see interest in this has cropped up again on a couple of chess forums. For those who might not be familiar with his method, he began playing in tournaments in 1999, and by 2001 had improved his rating from an initial 1164 to 2041. In his last tournament he won the Under 2000 section of the World Open but never played a rated game after that. After the tournament, he wrote a two part article entitled 400 points in 400 days for the Chess Cafe web site which became the basis for the book Rapid Chess Improvement. Basically his method involved working through a large set of puzzles multiple times until they can be solved very quickly. His method involves focusing exclusively on tactics, with little attention paid to strategy, openings, or the endgame.

Pdf files of his original articles are available for downloading at Chess CafĂ©: Part 1  Part 2

Critics of De La Maza's training methods and of his criticism of chess teachers who emphasize other aspects of the game, such as strategy and endings, include Jeremy Silman and Dr. John Nunn. Personally, I don’t think it makes sense to concentrate on only one area to the exclusion of all others. After all, when teaching a child elementary arithmetic, you would not teach them addition and ignore subtraction, multiplication and division. It’s the same with any subject you are trying to learn. Why should chess be any different?

But the whole point is, does it work? Most of the adherents to De La Maza’s method that I’ve read about all admit that it is enormously time consuming and near impossible to work at the pace De La Maza claimed he worked. If I remember correctly, he was unemployed at the time and so was able to devote full time to his study plan…not practical for most people. Evidently it also resulted in burnout that lead to his abandoning chess.

It is also possible that De La Maza was under-rated because prior to playing in tournaments he did have some chess coaching and these days with class sections and all, it’s very difficult for an unrated player who is playing in an low rated or unrated section to come out of it with a significant provisional rating.

All that aside the real question is, does his method work? Personally, I have never read of anybody who undertook it who made a significant rating improvement, especially 400 points in 400 days. Nor do I believe there is such a thing as “rapid improvement.” For most players, improvement is a slow and laborious process. At the same time I have to ask, how effective are the methods of guys like Alburt, Silman, Heisman, etc. in raising the ratings of their average students? Most of them can probably point to a few students, likely with natural talent, who made rapid progress, but it seems to me that average players are forever studying but never improving very much. All of which makes me wonder sometimes if either method is going to be much help.

Still, if I had to chose, I’d go for a method that tries to make you an all around player, not one that just concentrates on one area using exercises that appear to be by most descriptions I’ve read, downright painful.

I'd be interested in hearing other's opinions of his method and from anybody who has actually tried it. How did it work?

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