Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Converted to strategy

To do the strategical modules of PCT, you must be pretty determined.
For some reason it's much heavier than tactical problems. I'm almost half way now and I'm beginning to like it. The first half though was far from easy. Not that the problems were too dificult. Ok, the first time I was going thru the problems I made 50-70% mistakes. But after the provided explanation of the problems, most of them became clear. It's just that it takes more time before I squeeze some fun out of the process if I compare it with tactical problems.
But I'm starting to enjoy it now.
I have "learnt" (= repeated 6 times) 294 of the 720 problems.
The method of PCT comes very close to the method of the 7 circles we use.

I have a confession to make. You already guessed it of course, but I'm a convert to the positional approach to chess.
Which immediately raises an important question, "is the method of the 7 circles applicable for learning positional chess?"
If you would have asked me before, I would have said "yes".
But if you ask me now the answer would be "only partly".

Before you can convert knowledge into skill, you have to acquire the knowledge. That's true for tactics (pin, skewer, clearance, preparational move etc.) and for positional chess (weak pawns, holes, bishoppair, bad bishop etc.).
Every experienced chessplayer has this knowledge already. No matter the level of the player.
For this kind of knowledge, the 7 circles are perfect. As PCT show.

For strategy it's different. Most strategical knowledge isn't known by chessplayers at class level. The essential information is simply drowned in an information overflow. There is no doubt you have to do the 7 circles with tactical problems and with positional problems before you even start to think to obtain strategical knowledge. If you still hang pieces or forget to occupy an open line you're not ready yet.

For acquiring strategical knowledge you have to start the study of the Games Of The Masters who are exponents of strategy. Here is the list:
  • Akiba Rubinstein
  • Jose Raul Capablanca
  • Aaron Nimzovich
  • Tigran Petrosian
  • Anatoly Karpov
As you see there are a lot of names missing here like Lasker, Alekhine, Botwinnik, Fischer, Kasparov etcetera. Of course that were Masters Of Strategy too. But they all had something else in their play like tactical geniality, excessive opening preparation, extreme dynamism etc. which played a big(ger) role. If you want to learn something, you have to learn it in it's purest form, so you are not distracted by non essential information.
Steinitz is excluded from the list for two reasons. First he changed from one style to another, second he applied his own rules often quite ridgid. When we are in a learning phase, we can't determine yet what to study from Steinitz and what not.
Nimzovich and Petrosian were masters of prophylaxis and overprotection.

To study the games of the strategical masters you need their games with comments.
What's important is that the commentator is biased to positional chess too.
It sounds logical to take the masters themselves as commentator but sometimes that has a downside.
If you take for instance the "greatest games" by Anatoly Karpov, you see that he is biased to his most spectacular games because the public likes that, plus he forget to tell us the things that are simple and natural for him.
So sometimes it's better to have another grandmaster as commentator.
I don't know which are the grandmasters with a preference for positional play, but Yasser Seirawan is certainly one of them.
Capablanca is a brilliant commentator who is able to sit on his knees to give the amateur excellent leasons. I like his book "Chess fundamentals" very much. I don't know wether he has written other books with commentary on games.
I don't know much about the other Masters Of Strategy or what they have written. I intend to find out.

Once the first problem to acquire the right strategical knowledge is solved, the knowledge has to be converted to strategical skill. I doubt if the 7 circles can play a big role in that. Strategical knowledge bears on plans during the entire game. So you can't seperate it from the game by looking only at positions. The most logical approach seems to be to try to apply it in your games and to analyze the results afterwards.

In the past I studied mastergames and I tried to analyse my own games.
To very little avail.
Now I know why. I didn't know which games to study and which commentators to listen to.
Analysing your own games without strategical knowledge is close to useless.


  1. I found a great suggestion at http://chess-training.blogspot.com/. Once you've started to study strategy you try to find the different imbalances - or what ever you want to call them - in the games you've played in the past.

    What you say makes perfect sense though, that we have to aquire some strategic knowledge before we can impliment this type of analysing.

    I don't agree that analysing your own games with little strategic knowledge is useless though. There are plenty of other errors than strategic ones that you can discover and correct through analysing your own games.

    Great and thought provoking post!


  2. thanks for the link to your opening ideas. Now that you have become a space addict you should take a look at the four pawns attack against the Alekhine . I find it to be alot of fun.

  3. Samurai,
    I don't agree that analysing your own games with little strategic knowledge is useless though.

    I like my conclusions bold! The reason for that is that I'm a strong believer that a once drawn conclusion has to have repercussions for my actions. It's not without engagement. In fact I say about the same as you: with NO strategic knowledge, analysing your own games is CLOSE TO useless. Otherwise I would have said it's UTTERLY useless:)

    Almost all the chessplayers I know are analysing their own games for years (the more lazy ones have farmed it out to Fritz:). At my club, the ONLY adult chessplayers who have improvement in the last 7 years are Margriet and I. When I analysed my own games intensily, that had NO EFFECT to my rating at all. That's why I use such bold expressions.

    I know that for you it is somewhat different since your rating hasn't settled yet. But the danger to smoothen out my conclusions is that people miss the main point:
    For analysing your games you must have a CLUE. That clue is STRATEGICAL KNOWLEDGE. Strategical knowledge is HARD TO OBTAIN since it is drowned in NON ESSENTIAL information.

  4. I'm curious have you found any problems in PCT strategy modules that are flawed?I've found my first module 3 unit 3 problem 4 the program gives a move that makes sense strategically but there is a simple queen fork that wins a bishop.

  5. NN,
    until now I haven't found a real flawed problem. Only a few questionable moves. Qc6 is indeed a working queenfork in your problem. I handle these things pretty pragmatic. I look only at what the author is trying to tell me. I don't spend time on flawed problems. Every chess problemset has it flaws. I estimate that when I have finished PCT, I will have found about 20 questionable problems. I just forget about them and focus on the 700 new patterns I have learned.

  6. Convert to strategy? I am a sceptic in religions things. Hope that you do not mean it in a religions sense. Normally, converts say goodbye to their old religion. But with tactics this would not work because you must be a good tactician for playing good strategy.

    BTW I find that beta blogger should not try to use other google accounts (such as mail) as default login in blogger. Normally I blog as mousetrapper and not with my real name. I thing many others do so. They should change that, definitely. Because after I have placed my comment, I have again to login anew in my google mail account. This is very annoying.

  7. I found a workaround: blog with Firefox and mail with Safari. But many users, me included, would prefer to do all with their favourite browser.

    BTW there is no verification code bug in Firefox, it seems to be a Safari thing. Anyway, I'll switch my blogging activities to Firefox which seems to work better with Blogger.

  8. Mouse,
    I will think about what to do with my old religion. I will keep you informed.

    About Google account: I login with my Google/gmail account and still comment as Temposchlucker. I don't know anymore how I did it, but it is possible.

    About double word verification, it looks as if the word has a timeout.
    So you have to type fast.
    I e-mailed blogger about this.

  9. Tak,
    I'm a space addict novice. But as gambiteer I'm still alergic for pawn moves in the opening.

  10. "In fact I say about the same as you: with NO strategic knowledge, analysing your own games is CLOSE TO useless. Otherwise I would have said it's UTTERLY useless:)" - Tempo

    LOL. You defend your words well young padawan.


  11. Tempo,

    I find a couple of things about your post pretty interesting. First of all, I agree with your point (which is always a plus!). Intensive tactical study is an essential part of everyone's chess education. You can't fall into tactical messes or fail to take advantage of them when they present themselves, but you need stratgey to manuver your opponent into the place where the tactical opportunity appears.

    Second, I think it very interesting that the only adult players at your club who have improved in the last 7 years are you and Margriet. My club is not as constant, but I notice a tendency of players to hover within 50 points of their rating.

  12. Tempo,
    You will no doubt agree (or maybe not!) that tactics flow from a good position. Hence, strategic knowledge is vital to making opportunities arise to win material and mate.

    Strategic knowledge is very hard to come by, and going over master games can be really frustrating. How many times have you plowed through some GM's analysis, at the end of which he says, "and white is clearly better" etc. and you are looking at it and saying "What?"

    I am rambling a bit here, but there is one component of strategy that is quite easy to grasp, even for the novice...development. Without proper piece development nothing can happen. It is the first level in strategic ability. Understanding that pieces need to get off the back rank and rooks connected is at one point very basic, but at another point is frequently overlooked, even by the masters.

    Chernev's "Logical Chess: Move by Move" is a testament to development. In many of these games, it seems the loser is the one who is behind in development, the winner's tactical moves come from his superior position early in the game.

    I'm not disagreeing with you on the importance of strategy, but I think there are some elements that can be grasped very early on in a players "career." And I think that the most important concept is early development.

    When two players develop equally well, then true middlegame strategy comes into play. It's at these times when one really finds themselves looking for the elusive answers and deeper meanings of the game.

  13. Pale,
    as gambiteer I'm always very well aware of my speed of development. The strategy I'm talking about is based on pawns. Since the pawns are so slow, they form the landscape of the battle. The pawns are standing in the way of the pieces, so they cut of possibilities. I wonder if it is even possible to win when there are no pawns in the startposition of the game. Since any action can be simply answered by a reaction. Maybe an interesting computer experiment.

    It are the pawns that decide the course of the game. All other positional knowledge is wellknown by everybody, but knowledge about pawnstructures is easely drowned in an information overflow.

  14. A question,

    I have been reading your blogs regarding CTS. But somehow, i think i missed your conclusions regarding it. I mean, is it helpful in boosting your chess skill? The previous posts seems to indicate it so, but I see posts like "there has to be a better way", or something to that effect.

    The reason i am asking this now is that i am doing CTS everyday right now. Not to train myself, but just because it is fun. However - i would be glad if it indeed helps me increase my strenght simultaneaously.

    I re-reading your posts again, but in case i miss the point again, can you provide a summary, or the link to the summary of your CTS adventure?