Monday, January 25, 2010

The what and the how. (continued)

***I added new text below in green***.

***I added new text below in green***.

My play at Corus shows two evident areas for improvement. The what and the how. What to do (positional play) and how to do it (tactical play).
I'm working hard on the what-department by experimenting with the ideas of Nimzowitsch in my play. Of course that leads to the occassional disaster, but since I'm on a loosing streak anyway I don't bother. I'm learning and I feel happy with what I learn. Gaining the points back and more will be just a matter of time.

But walking around at Corus and following interviews I can't help but think about the how. I expect to need one or two years to fully incorporate the ideas of Nimzowitsch in my play. But I have to look at the future and think about what will be next. My experiences at Corus point clearly at the how-department. In the group next to me there is a 10 year old German girl who has a rating of 1842. At a certain moment she had black and encountered the Blackmar-Diemergambit. She obviously had never seen it before because she took a long think. Yet she managed to put here pieces on the right squares and outplayed her opponent tactically. I doubt she has read My System twice. Or even know the name of the author, for that matter.

The tactical skills comes from the player, the positional knowledge stemms from the coach. If the grandmasters of group A give their post mortem analysis, they show long tactical variations with ease. They have no problem to go 10 ply or so back to the original position. Positional knowledge is only implicitly manifest.

Ton Sybrands is a former worldchampion checkers. He is able to play blindfolded 25 games simultaneously and scores 92%. He is a decent chessplayer. But he can't play blindfoldchess above average. What kind of skill is that? He learned checkers while he was young and he learned chess while he was relatively old. This seems to be a clear indication towards the direction that age of learning is paramount. Indirect there must be a relation to grandmasters getting a lower rating when aging. The knowledge developes, so the understanding of the game of the older grandmaster grows, but his skills have stopped to assimilate the new patterns and they stick to the old ones. Thus losing games to the youth which uses the new knowledge. I must run now for my next game.

We have some strange contradictions here. Papa Polgar proved that the skills aren't innate. Sijbrands proved that it works only at a young age. MDLM has proven that it is possible at an adult age. Jan Timman has proven that it declines with age. The Knights Errant have proven that an adult who is plateauing at around 1500 for some years can gain about 250 points by mere exposure to tactical combinations. No matter in what regimen. No matter the effort. No matter the duration. No matter the amount of chessproblems. Repetition not necessary. Why only 250? Why not much more? Why not zero since we are adults?

What we need is a whole new look at the how-department. A new system for tactical training that differs from what we have proven to fail. Or maybe it isn't about tactics, but about calculation or visualisation or whatever.


  1. When I play against 1900 players I frequently see them making simple calculation errors in equal positions. Several times per game. This is clearly in the how department. After the game they tell me they simply missed my reply. Even when my reply was with check or forced a mate in a few moves. In other games against 1900 players I sometimes come out of the opening with a much worse position. I see winning variations for my opponent. Yet I manage to escape and win the game anyway. This also falls in the how department. When I observe games between 1900 players I see similar patterns. How to go about improving? Thought process comes to mind and calculation improvement. Before you make a move you must always have a mental note of the best replies and also of the main variations. Always. This seems too hard to do for 1900 players. It could be helpful to practice this explicitly. Play a training match and before making a move explicitly write down the best replies and the main variations on paper and then make the move. The pure act of writing them down before moving is the most helpful aspect of this exercise. Repeat this mentally in real OTB games.

    Some players I know with 1400, 1500, 1600 ratings spend lots of time studying opening theory. This is clearly a waste of time if you have the desire to become a stronger player. See my examples above.

    If you frequently have time trouble this would be on the top of my list of priorities for improvement. Time trouble is a sign of poor thought process (and maybe also weak calculation skills). Practice this explicitly, force yourself to have more time than your opponent always and after 30 moves you must always have at least 30 minutes on the clock left.

    Improving is really a personal matter. Identifying your weakest areas in an objective way is hard. Adults tend to repeat their habits. For this a good coach would be helpful.

    If you can't find a good coach I would look at complete improvement programs like the steps method or the Build Up Your Chess series.

  2. Tentative: good luck convincing Tempo to get a coach.


  3. Tentative,
    Your observations correspond to mine. Somehow we (1900 and below) have great difficulty to do alot of simple tasks like checking forced moves etc. in the few minutes we have for a move. These tasks aren't automated enough and require too much attention.

    I will certainly experiment with your proposal for training.

    Timetrouble is caused by a lack of arsenal. When I had only a tactical arsenal I was constant in time trouble since I strived to solve every move choice by tactics. Sometimes there simply isn't one. If you are out of arsenal there are two things you can do. Some make just a familiar move (i.e. trade pieces) which usually isn't appropriate while others keep thinking untill their flag makes them move. Now I have a positional arsenal too my time troubles are over. What's more, I register the time of my moves and when I have a long think which isn't justified by a long calculation I interpret that as a shortcoming in my arsenal and go find for an answer.

  4. The fact that plateauting players can improve only 250 points at max when following a tactical regimen has a special meaning in my opinion.

    The fact that the improvement is considerably above zero means that improvement for adults is possible.

    The fact that the maximum improvement stalls at 250 no matter more effort or more tactical problems or more repetitions must be caused by the fact that you only effect a part of the total arsenal needed. That is a consequence of the restriction of the problemset to be 'tactical'.

    I can only guess what that means for additional training. It needs investigation.

  5. The sulution of the problem of the how can be sought in two directions. Qualitative and quantitative. I just mentioned the quantitative approach, which means to go beyond your tactical arsenal. Any exposure to new (non tactical)themes will be fruitful. But in fact the observations of Tentative fall in the quality section. He observes that the quality of the tactical skills isn't good enough. And so did I. I had this in mind when I sat "I can only guess what that means for additional training. It needs investigation."

  6. BDK: :-) I didn't expect so as TS enjoys the adventure of discovery so much.

    TS: I assume 1900 players are trained in classical tactical patterns. Even though a repetition every several years may help. Yet in two very recent games against 1950 players I won by the basic pattern "Attack the Guard". They move, I attack the Guard, and they resign. This is a very simple pattern, yet they missed it in 1 move deep. In the last game I had seen it coming several moves in advance. I was so impressed by its exposure in Understanding Chess Tactics by Weteschnik that I spot it in 1 second always. But calculation skills require something else than tactics. Tactics are patterns, but what you really want is to investigate variations. While constructing variations the recognition of patterns helps you to prune moves. Therefore recognition of elementary patterns like tactics helps to speed up your calculation. But so does knowledge of positional play, like you mentioned. A book which I like a lot to train my calculation skills is Forcing Chess Moves by Hertan. I cover the text with a paper, set up the position on the board and try to work it all out. Endgame study is a great resource too. To resume my advice: learn tactics and positional play well and then move on to improving your calculation skills.

  7. Since I know that I have a great blind spot, like everybody, I always listen very carefully to the comments, since they can provide clues about what is in my blind spot. I might always sound selfopinionated, yet I don't feel bound to any pet opinion. My opinions follow my latest logical reasoning, so I consider my latest opinions always to be true for 100%. And I act accordingly. But when new insights arise, my opinions shift. And as a matter of fact I already have been looking for a coach, but haven't found one yet.

    Since I have found a replacement-coach in Nimzowitsch, I stop looking for the moment, but when I feel that I have made His System My System I will continue to look for a coach.

  8. Old players are not that fit to concentrate long. Thats a physical problem (blood circulation, stresshandling, shugarlevel, ...). Then they forget maybe quicker then they learn new ( slower in learning ). The motivation to be best/winning the game ( testosterone? ) gets lower.. many reasons why old players get weaker.
    I am absolutaly convinced of Khmelnisty's concept that chess consists of different categorys and if you only improve in one of them, you cant improve in chess unlimited.
    If you tactical abilitys are already very high, further improvement in tactics dont improve your Elo anymore.
    Tactcis is an important category but no the only one in chess.
    Even Tactics itself consists of many categorys. You may differ the different patterns, Fork, Sacrifice, Zugzwang,...
    There are Complex ones with maybe long ore many different calculations ( CT-Standard ) and there are quick - blunder type tactics as in CTS. After several month training and improving with CT-Standard i blunderd a lot with easy tactics and decreased in CT-Blitz...
    Look for your important weaknesses and work on them. There are experienced trainer wich generated several GM's :

    They did prove that they know what to do.