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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Dumb Advice

      This is from a guy who’s been trying to reach 1700 for several years:  It doesn't matter if your position is superior if you blunder pieces and fall into mates so you need to study tactics before you study strategy and endings.
      This guy has played more openings than I have socks and his “study plan” consists of studying tactics and playing blitz games on ICC. The blitz games reinforce his bad habits and encourage superficial thinking.  Constantly changing openings is not to be recommended either. He is constantly advising players who want to improve that tactics and blitz is the way to improve and they should avoid studying strategy and endings until they are at least 1800.  He will likely never get there. I gave up giving him advice a couple years ago.  The other day a long-time master told him he needed to play a lot and then analyze the games (he was not referring to blitz games) and he needed deepen his knowledge of the positions from his openings by studying master games, study strategy and endings. A waste of breath if you ask me because the guy turned right around and complained that he lost his last couple of tournament games because of tactical errors so he was switching back to a previously played opening and was going to have to hit the tactical servers harder. Apparently it has never occurred to this guy that you can’t keep doing the same thing (changing openings, studying tactics and playing blitz) and expect different results (improvement). 
      Most players will never master tactics or any other phase of the game. That’s why they are not masters; they haven’t mastered anything.  Anyway, let’s say it’s a 40 move game and 10 are opening moves; that leaves 30 moves and let’s say a player makes 5 errors that could have lead to loss of material or mate.  That leaves 25 moves where he was doing what?  Just aimlessly shifting pieces around and probably weakening his position?  Or was he applying principles of sound strategy? Why can’t one study tactics, strategy, endings and play over master games to increase one’s pattern recognition skills simultaneously? 
      Yes, as CJS Purdy advised, you comb the board for tactics at every move.  But if you don’t find one, and most of the time you won’t, what are you going to do? Also, as an afterthought, I can’t help but wonder, if this guy keeps losing due to overlooking tactics, why does he insist on playing gambits? If he is devoting so much time to studying and not improving, then he’s doing something wrong.


  1. Interesting. Does the use of engines make playing Gambits less desirable in more cases?

  2. Not sure I understand the question exactly. In OTB chess I guess there is nothing wrong with them as long as one remembers there are sound gambits, "questionable" gambits and just plain bad ones! The latter should be avoided because you are handing your opponent the advantage right from move one and I think one should, as GM Alex Yermolinsky pointed out, avoid positions where you are forced to find the only move that avoids loss at every turn! I never played gambits, but that's just me.

    As for CC, I really can't say because, again, I never played a gambit! Well, I take that back...I've played the Budapest which is reasonably sound according to GM Robert Byrne.

    What I do know is that in GM CC play you see a lot of pedestrian openings (QGD, Nimzo Indian, Q-Indian, etc.) and positional chess rules at that level. I assume they know something or they wouldn't be GM's and I've always tried, in so far as possible, to do what I see the big boys do.

    Obviously I was not all that successful but in both OTB and CC I rarely made a gross blunder because I always tried to avoid tactical situations and play for endings! Yes, it was boring and resulted in a lot of draws. Years ago I remember playing a master in round one OTB and after the game (I lost a 60-move Q&P ending) he asked my rating. When I told him 16-something, he replied, "(Expletive deleted), you're hard to beat. I thought you were 2000."

    If I have a "style" it would be playing as solid a positional game as I can, do little and wait for my opponent to blunder. The funny thing is though, that's exactly what better players to to me!!