Random Posts

Friday, January 14, 2011

Words of Wisdom

A certain young player desired to improve his rating so he studied tactics until he puked and played every wild, crazy opening he could buy a book on. He had a measure of success and rose to a little over 1700 and then decided USCF Expert (2000 ELO) was within reach. To reach that goal he decided to do more tactics and buy some more gambit books. I told him I didn’t think that approach would work because he could no longer play in lower rated sections. He had to start playing opponents who would not fall for his cheap tricks and who, generally, knew more about chess than he did. My advice was to study: strategy, endings and play solid main line openings and play over lots and lots of classic games. He promptly informed me that advice was, to use his word, "crap" and he knew what he was doing. I said nothing more.

The result was he lost well over 100 rating points, got frustrated, and quit playing chess. Well, now he’s back. His plan: don't study openings, just tactics.  I still haven’t said anything but if it didn’t work before, it won’t work now. In chess, like anything in life, you can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results.


  1. Maybe he didn't read your excelent free pdf booklet How To Improve at Chess (?).

    I'm taking it into account as serious advice, I was surprised while reading it, for its contents is the result of years of experience.

    Unless I'm mistaken, chess improvement is the result of hard work, and there is no magical or tricky ways to build a solid playing other than studying / training / playing hard.

    Well, up to now, it's what seems to me.

  2. Rapid improvement happens for some who have a gift for the game but for most of us it’s a painfully slow process and at some point we all seem to reach a level where we can’t go further. We still try though. All well known teachers I am aware of say that it is necessary to study ALL phases of the game and that is the point I have been trying to make. People seem to take the saying, “Chess is 99% tactics.” to mean 99% of their study should be devoted to tactics, but I don’t think that’s correct.

    Also, just doing tactical problems is not the solution to improving in that area. Think of algebra. The first thing you have to understand is the concept then you work the problems to see if you really understand the concept and can apply it in various situations. Like tactics…you need to know the motifs then do the exercises to verify that you recognize and can apply the motifs in different positions. When the problem says, “White to play and win” you know there’s a win there somewhere. That doesn’t happen in a game. When you are presented with the opportunity to play and win, you need to recognize it based on some characteristic you noticed during your examination of the position.

  3. That's right, and I'm convinced that Chess is 99% pattern recognition. Once you recognize a pattern it recalls you a strategic plan, which needs tactical knowledge in order to make it happen.

    But someone may ask "Ok, then how do I improve my pattern recognition skills ?".

    Again : hard, very hard work. No tricks, no excuses. That old saying : no pain, no gain ! But if someone thinks that "Chess is 99% tactics" means to devote 99% of its time to tactics... it's clearly a mistake, IMHO.

    Unless we are talking of a very talented and skilled chess genius, of course.

  4. I agree with you guys. I was surprised at my improvement just reading over the book "500 Master Games of Chess" by Tartakower

  5. This remains one of my favorite books! For me, after studying every chess book I could get my hands on and still not showing improvement, I played over several hundred games from the old Informants and at my next tournament something clicked. Rated around 1700, I had four straight wins over 1800-2000 rated players before losing in the final round to 2400 (later an IM) Chicago legend, Morris Giles.