woensdag 5 november 2008

Light a candle

International master Johan van Mil is dying. His wife has asked us to light a candle.

Johan, Erika and your two sons, my thoughts are with you.

zaterdag 25 oktober 2008

Calculation and patterns

How much deeper do you have to calculate, and visualize to improve 100 rating points? What patterns do you have to master to do the same? Can you gain a significant number of ratingpoints without improving in both at the same time?

These were and are crucial questions in my own search for improvement and in my teaching. In my quest for an answer to there questions, I have used the stepsmethod. From my own experience I can make some estimations about the relationship between rating and mastering the steps. And I have come to the following conclusions:

Step 1:
Calculation level: 1 to 3 ply
Patterns: mate, capture, defend, promotion

At this level the immediate capture of a undefended piece, an immediate mate, and defending an attaked piece or square are mastered. Most exercises are 1 or two ply deep, sometimes three. I cannot give an rating assessment because I have never had a student at this level who played competitive chess in rated tournaments.

Step 2:
Calculation level: 2 to 4 ply
Patterns: Mate in two moves, fork, double attack, pin, mating with king and rook, discovered
attack, eliminating defense, defending against mate.

When he has mastered step 2, the student is able to use standard techniques to attack or defend. He is capable to coordinate piece action (mating with king and rook, double attack). If he has mastered these skills he should be able to reach a 1000/1100 rating.

Step 3:
Caculation level: 3 to 6 ply
Patterns: stalemate, mobility, eliminating defense, luring, discovered attacks.

Step three builds on the foundations of step 2. It is not as much that new techniques are added. The basics are expanded by the game setting. The position have more pieces, and more distractions. Also the solutions require more calculation because exchanges or other forcing moves are part of the solution. After mastering step 3 the student should be able to reach a level of 1200/1300.

Step 4:
Calculation level: 5 to 8 ply
Patterns: attacking kingside, 7th rank; pawnendgame (key squares), rook endgames (passed pawn).

Now that the student has reached a level that he is able to avoid 3 ply deep blunders, he can expect to reach the endgame in some of his games. So the basic endgame's are introduced in this step.. The 8 ply deep calculations are only necessary in very forced positions with no sidelines. The student should be able to reach a 1400/1500 level after mastering step 4.

Step 5:
calculation level: 7 to 10 ply
Patterns: Pawn race, seventh rank, rook endgames (Philidor and Lucena position) open files, drawing techniques (fortress), strong squares, Zugzwang, uncastled king, king side attack, small plan, Pin, discovered attack.

In step 5 the average solution is about 5/7 ply deep, but especially in the forced sequences the student has to be able to calculate up to 10 ply deep. These occur mainly in endgames (pawnrace). Mastering step 5 should get the average student to a 1700/1800 rating.

Step 6:
Calculation level: 9 to 13 ply deep
Patterns: mobility, drawing techniques, zugzwang, imbalances (bishop vs night), strategy (small plan), kingside attack (intermediate moves, adding pieces after sacrifice)

I am doing this step now. I score about 80% on average. So this step is fairly challenging for me (current dutch rating over 2050). The main difference with step 5 is that it is harder to recognize the patterns, and in many of the exercises there is more emphasis on preparatory and intermediate moves. About 60% of the exercises are endgame positions and themes. Mastering this step should lift you over 2000.The main conclusion I draw from this excursion is that the ability to calculate and visualize 13 ply deep is enough to reach a 2000 level. But only if you have mastered the required patterns. Mastered them so well that you can implement them in all of your (slow time control) games.

This survey confirms my suspicion that I calculate not as easy and as well than most of the players that have a comparable rating to me. More than I would like to admit, I notice in a post mortem that a player I just beat, out calculates me. The main reason that I can compete and level with those players, is that I have mastered more patterns than they have.

donderdag 9 oktober 2008

Too deep!

A question every chess player faces once in a while is: how deep should prepare my openings. If you grab your opening books you will find many variations that go all the way up to move 20 or 30. This has always made me believe that to be well prepared, I should learn my openings up to move 20 on average. But now I think I have to question this assumption. Memorizing openings up to move 14 on average, should be enough!

How I can tell? Hans Ree has written a column in the NRC, (a dutch newspaper, so the article is alas in dutch) in which he gives the results of some research he did. He checked how many moves it took in every game of the current Russian championship, to reach a unique position. After the first two rounds the maximum number of moves to reach a unique position was 17, the minimum 9 and the average number of moves after which a unique position was reached was 14.

Of course the 12 games of the first two rounds are only a small number, and it would be better to take lets say 10 recent tournaments to get more reliable statistics. But I did a small test with my own games of the last year (OTB, slow time control). My average was 13! Try it out with your own games. Just to see if you can really expect to see some benefits of memorizing openings up to move 25 or more.

zondag 5 oktober 2008

Exercise wtih Phaedrus, chapter three

Lessons learned from a missed move

first of all a heartily thank you to both Likesforests and Chessaholic. You have done me a great service, enabling me to use you as a benchmark. You also convinced me that solving this position ought to be well within my capabilities.

Yet I failed. So how to explain this? Why could I not solve this position, when it was within my ability to project positions, not overly complicated and rather easy to solve by fellow bloggers. I do not know their current rating, but I suspect it does not exceed mine.

IMHO there are two possible explanations. The first one is that I did not visualize and calculate well enough, and may have given up too soon. There certainly is some truth in this explanation. I had visualized up to 4 Kg2, and just did not see the win in this position. Had I however seen this position, not in my minds eye but right in front of me on the board, I probably would have found the winning split. So my ability to calculate from a position 7 ply deep from the board position diminishes too much, to construct a solution I would have found with the same position already on the board.

position after 4 Kg2 allowing the split: 4 ... gxf2!

But there is also another explanation that is even more valid. The split was not a pattern that I had burned into my memory. I may have seen it, but apparently it did not stick. And I suspect strongly that the split is a (well) known pattern for Chessaholic and Likesforests. They spotted this pattern very soon, and Likesforests in his comment confirmed that indeed he was very familiar with it. So for me the big lesson to be learned from this position is: I have to store "the split" into my memory. I do not fear it will not. Just writing this post has left a big impression, and if that were not enough, there is also the excellent marker in Likesforests name "the split".

The reason that I think the second explanation is more valid than the first one is based on research. contrary to average chess players a grandmasters brain activates mainly (or at least much more) his memory. And what else would a gm use his memory for than the search for patterns.

And now
Like every position that I cannot solve, this position is stored by me an a database. After I have finished the book, I will use this database for a second round in which I will again try to solve them. The positions I cannot solve then, will again be stored. I repeat this until I have solved all of them. This is a method which is IMHO much more efficient than the 7 circles. And it has the advantage that it forces you to focus on your weaknesses. Missing a move is never 100% accidental, or just a result of tiredness. It always is a pointer. It either signals that the position is too complicated for you and beyond your ability to visualize and calculate, or it tells that the move is part of a pattern that has not established itself in your brain as well as other patterns.

Black to move:4... gxf1B or 4 ... g1Q mate

And though it appears to be just another oversight, I do think that Likesforests missed mate in 1, signals something. It might either be that this mate was not familiar enough for him, and/or that he is inclined to stop thinking as soon he sees that a piece can be taken.

Sloppiness, fatigue, distraction, all increase the chance that you miss the best move, but this occurs the first with those patterns that you have not mastered 100%.

zaterdag 4 oktober 2008

exercise with Phaedrus, chapter 2


Congratulations to Chessaholic and Likesforests, who demonstrated that they were able to "outsolve" me in yesterdays exercise. Although there is not much I can add to Likesforests comprehensive solution (with the exception of a mate in 1 he missed), I will give the solution here again, and add a few diagrams. In this way I make it more comfortable for you (other) readers to see what chesscaholic and Likesforests came up with.

This was the position I asked you to solve yesterday. It is black to play and win.

The solution is 1 ... g3 2 Nf3+ (2. Nf1 Bxf2+ 3. Kh1 g2+(see next diagram)

And in this sideline after 4.Kh2 best is 4 ... g1Q and mate. 4 ... gxf1B was given by Likesforests. It is less effective than mating immediately. But his variation has the attraction of the very rare occurrence of a minor promotion to a Bishop. So an A+ for creativity for you Likesforests!) 2... Kg4 3. Nxd4 h2+

Analysing this position in my minds eye, I failed see how black can win after 4 Kg2. But in fact it is very simple now. 4... gxf2

This is what I missed and what Likesforests so appropriately calls a "split"! 5. Nf3 h1Q+ 6. Kxh1 f1Q+ 0-1

Tomorrow I will return to this exercise and share some of my reflections on the fact that I failed to find a solution (and why Chessaholic and Likesforest did).

vrijdag 3 oktober 2008

Exercise with Phaedrus, Chapter one

Dear readers of my blog.

Like I told in my post "Zen and the art of chess training", I am working my way through step 6 of the steps method. The following position is taken from this book. I would like to invite each of you to try to solve this position. If you come up with solutions or some variations, your please sending your efforts in a comment is much appreciated. I very greatly hope that you can resist the temptation to try solving them with a chess engine. And if you cannot resist, I request you not to take from the effort of others by kindly withholding comments. For me it is very important to see what my readers can do with this position. Thank you.

What I am trying to do with this post as well as with the next two planned is to make clear how I use these kind of exercises to improve. This is the first post, with the solution planned for the the next, which will be occur tomorrow. Finally, this Sunday I will discuss the results with you in my third and final post on this position. Then I will tell you why I think that improving takes just a bit more than just solving.

Good luck! And one more thing: I failed to solve this problem, so this is your golden opportunity to not only accompany me on my road to chess improvement, but also to embarrass me.

It is black to play and win.

vrijdag 26 september 2008

First note on transfer

In an earlier post I had presented a framework for chess improvement (see below). The part of the framework that raised the most questions was the “transfer” block. And in many ways this was indeed a “black box”. The whole subject is more or less ignored in all major books or methods of chess improvement but the manuals for chesstrainers step 1 to 5 being a notable exception.

First of all, let me explain to you what transfer is to me. Transfer is using the patterns one has acquired by learning and/or training in a game. Working with beginning players in combination with the chess trainers course has opened my eyes to the gap that exists between solving exercises and playing a game. Very often I would see young players who could solve 3 to 4 ply deep tactics, yet who more often than not, put their pieces en prise several times in a game or miss 1 ply deep opportunities to capture a piece or execute a simple mate.

The way we were taught to handle this was to make a connection between the things our students had learned and playing a game. So every time I see a beginning player putting a piece en prise, I wait for his opponents move. If he misses the capture I will stop the game and ask both players: ‘Do you see undefended pieces or other targets (king, mating square)?’ And after they have pointed out all the targets I ask them, so what is the best move? This almost never fails to direct them to the best move.

The other method I use to improve transfer is to encourage beginning players to name the theme when they use a tactic. It is amazing what it does to them if they start saying out loud: “double attack: wood and square” or “Pinned piece is a poor defender”, etc.

All of this does wonders when players are climbing up from a rating of 1000 to 1600. But after reaching 1600 level the results are found to diminish. I believe that the reason for these diminishing returns is that the games above a certain level are no longer decided by basic tactics and themes that occur in almost every game. When I tell a player: "look for targets", and he sees almost every game decided because he or his opponent fail to do so, I have established a very direct connection between training and playing.

But when you improve and face stronger opposition, games are no longer decided anymore by these basic tactics. And this is where most of us get out of “the zone” of fast improvement. Improving gets harder and the connection between training and playing is lost again. So the big question is: can this connection be re-established? This will be addressed in my next post on transfer.

vrijdag 19 september 2008

Zen and the art of chess training

As stated my last post, I am still alive! And though my current audience may well be very limited after such a long and unannounced break, I feel that it is time now to resume posting. Contrary to the posts I wrote up to now, I will focus less on general training issues. Future posts will mainly tell you about my own struggle to improve, or at least keep my current level.

This is a real struggle, and I would not dare to begin posting about it, if I hadn't proven to myself that I had the determination to give it the required effort. And I think I have. For 20 weeks I have been working through step 6 of the stepsmethod. Every week doing at least 3 sheets of 12 exercises (see the bottom of this post to check out the planning sheet). And I really feel the pay off. already I can sense that I have mastered a few skills that I did not before.

It is too soon to tell if this will have any influence on my rating, but I am convinced that in the long term it will. Provided that I will continue to train like this. For the next 20 weeks I know what I have to do.

As for the period after that I also have a precise plan on what to do. Then I will come to phase two of my struggle with step 6. Phase two is going through all the positions that I could not solve. These positions are the true treasure of my study plan. These are the position I could not solve, not even after trying for 20 to 30 minutes. Most of the time I could not solve them because I did not find or even know the pattern. Others I missed because I did not calculate well enough.

Just to give you an example of the latter I give you this position. It did not take me long to see the pattern, yet I failed to give the correct sequence because I missed a crucial defense. It is white to move and win.

(Here I immediately saw 1 c5 Bb1. After a few minutes I came up with 2 c6?! Be4 3 Ne6! and after 3 ... fxe6 c7! the pawn will queen. So 3 ... Bxc6 is forced, and now 4 Nd4+ appears to be winning. But unfortunately it is not. Black can play 4 .... Ke4 (I completely missed that move) and after 5 Nxc6 Kd5 it is not clear how white can win. Much, much better is 2 Ne6! fxe6 3 c6 and black is completely lost. Did you find this one? Congratulations if you did.)

So many of us (me included) are tempted to seek for improvement within our comfort zone. But this is not where it can be found. They are like all those people who think that they can do what Zen monks do, just by meditating every day and setting up a Buddhist altar in the living room. They love the beautiful and comfortable Zen, not the brutal and true Zen.

In chess terms: they play over games and analysis casually, read the narratives about the game, read the psychological bogus, and think that this laid back approach will make them stronger. But even if they learn, it does not mean that their skills improve. I have yet to see a correspondence course that will teach anyone a swim stroke like the butterfly.

There is no way around it. Improvement, for most of us, is hard work. In my humble opinion this is what chess training is all about. Struggling to add patterns and sharpening your calculation skills. It is a bit like Randy Pausch said in his brilliant Last Lecture. When you want to get at a certain place, but face a wall, remember that this wall is build to keep out the other people. And even when you are ready to break down the wall and get to it, it is still not certain that you have find the 1% of useful advise Temposchlucker refers to.

In spite of itself, Zen is what we are talking about when we talk about peeling away the many-layered fabric of false identity. If you take away all the trappings of Zen -the teachings and ceremonies, the different schools, the postures and the koans, everything you think of as Zen- and throw it in the fire. What survives? What is the true core of Zen after all its veins and vanities have burned away?

The fire! The fire is what's left. The fire is Zen.

(Jed McKenna, Spiritual Warfare)


The rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

zaterdag 5 april 2008

Freedom is to loose! Open letter to Chessloser.

Dear chessloser, You wonder what to do now!

When I read your post I felt a strong urge to reply. But my years of experience as a teacher and as trainer have taught me that it is very dangerous to give advise, if you don't know what the the exact problem is or what the other already did to fix the problem.

In my first year as a teacher at a university for applied sciences, I had to exam a female student. Before the exams I looked at the schedule in the restaurant. An other (older) colleague looked over my shoulder, and said: "I see that C.... is on your schedule". Having said no more he left, leaving me wonder why he would pick her name out of a list of 20 names.

As soon as the (oral) exam started I, as well as the co-examiner, found out why. C... walked into the room, and panic and anxiety were written all over her face. I tried to calm her down, offered her some coffee, told her that so far things had gone really well that morning and that all the students so far had passed. But it all was in vain. She picked up her coffee cup with trembling hands, tried to drink, but as she got the cup to her mouth, a sudden convulsive movement made her spill most of the coffee over the table. When the coffee spread over the table and contaminated our questionnaires, all three of us were frozen. I remember I looked at her, she looked at me, we all looked at the table, then looked at each other again. She tried to fight the tears in her eyes, but could not stop them. Then she started crying, softly.

Of course we did everything we could to normalise the situation and calm her down. So we cleaned the table. Told her that this was no problem at all, and started the exam again, giving her a glass of water to avoid new stains.

My philosophy with oral exams always has been that one should give a student the opportunity to demonstrate his knowledge as much as possible, and that they are most likely to do so, if they have some confidence. So I always started with some "slam dunk questions", to make sure that the student could gain some confidence in the beginning and get rid of some nerves, before getting to the real testing questions.

This time I chose the easiest question that I could think of (not even on the questionnaire, that was unreadable after the coffee accident anyhow). And again those eyes! Sheer panic. And then silence, followed by a cramped face and more silence. So I tried to rephrase the question, attempting to make it completely monkey proof. But this aggravated the situation. She began to cry, loud this time. So loud in fact that we started to attract attention from people outside the room. We waited in silence and offered her paper handkerchiefs as hers began to ran out. We said as little as possible until she stopped crying.

As soon as she had dried her tears, we asked if she wanted to continue. To our relief she said that she didn't see any use in a continuance. There was some time left before the next candidate, so I thought that it was time to offer some advise, and suggested to her that there were ways to fix her problem. This was clearly the limit for her. Not only did she start to cry again, but she also got really angry with me and started yelling.

Did I know what she had already done? Would I believe her if she told me that she had done EVERYTHING to fix this. Could I possibly imagine how desperate her situation was? And that she would never ever pass an oral exam due to stress. And before I could make some suggestions, she summed up everything she had tried. It took five minutes or so to sum up. Leaving the distinct impression that this would offer enough material to write several breathtaking thesis's on "fear for failure".

The whole experience was intense enough to be a lifetime lesson. Since that day I try to be reserved when the occasion arises to give advice. But now there is this direct question, if not cry for help. What to do now? The only way I saw fit to give advise was to ask Chessloser to tell me what he had done so far to improve. After a few days he gave me the honor to reply and this is what he told me:

i've been studying chess, really paying attention and studying to learn and improve, for just over one year now. i've chosen one opening for white, one for black against 1.e4, and one for black against 1.d4 and tried to learn those openings through books on the openings and through master's games, to see how they played them. i also have a few books on tactics that i go over. other than that, i don't really have a "focused training schedule." but i'm not sure if that is what i need. i do have someone i study with, i analyze games, then we go over them and he answers any questions i have and teaches me through those games. but i don't know enough to know what questions to ask.

This information gave me enough to dare to give some advise. Chessloser is using a method of chess study that closely resembled mine when I was a student at Nijmegen University. In those days I studied chess with a very good chess friend. We analyzed our games together and often played blitz till dawn. We were 100% about chess. Even girls came second. Not to mention law school (my study) and philosophy (his). Studies which were more or less used for killing time between chess activities. He gained a lot of rating points in that period, I did hardly. When we met, I was somewhat stronger than him (50 points). When I left Nijmegen, he was a lot stronger than me (200 points).

I had to stop spending so much time on chess, since I got a full time job. Paradoxically enough, suddenly I made much more progress than in the years before. One of the main reasons was that I was on my own, and had to make some sense of chess study now that the entertaining evenings with my friend had stopped.

This was the moment that I began to work more systematically. The biggest jump however was after I did the course for "chesstrainer A" and "chesstrainer B". These made very clear to me on what didactic principles the stepsmethod was based, and what I should do to make progress. Just to avoid misunderstandings, the course was purely didactic, and there were no exercises to increase our own level. The only thing that came close to chess training for ourselves was the final exam for chesstrainer B in which we had to solve 12 exercises, a test to determine if we had step 6 level. Inspired by this course I began to do the steps myself. Being a 1850/1950 player at that time, I nevertheless did all the steps with the exception of step 1. And I did them exactly in the way we were taught to teach. After the theme exercises I would do the mixed exercises and after every solved position I would say out loud the theme of the exercise.

So I would sit behind the computer, solve a position and say: "pinned piece is a poor defender", or "kings attack, making a hole, regrouping material and mate.", or "decoy, taking piece and winning material". I did this in a regular schedule. At least three nights a week for one hour in a quiet environment. I felt in "the zone" as never before since puberty, and began to look at the board differently. I developed "chess vision". With the knowledge of today I would say that I was sharpening my motor skills.

And this my dear Chessloser is exactly my advise to you. Sharpen you motor skills. NOT by casually going through exercises, NOR by forcing yourself to do an over ambitious De La Maza schedule. But by returning to the basics and reestablish the basis of your chess skills. It seems to me that, just as I discovered for myself, the foundation of your skills is not good enough to ad new skills. If this indeed is the problem, no new knowledge will help you to improve. You need to unlearn and relearn. Methodically, gradually and determined. Use a schedule that does not interfere with higher priorities in life, but use the hours that you invest in chess study as well as you can. Just to give an illustration of my method of study I will give you three "step two positions" that I used, with solution and theme. (If you highlight the space between the brackets you will see solution and theme.)

White to move: (1 Rb5 double attack piece (Nb2) and square (b8) )

Black to move: (1 ..., Bg4 Discovered attack (battery), headpiece attacks material (Qf3), tailpiece attacks square (d3), extra credits for identifying "Pin" (Bg4. Qf3, Ke2) which prevents the queen defending d3. )

Black to move: (1 ..., Nc2+ eliminating defense, luring defender (Qd2) and taking material (Kxh6) )

Too simple? I don't think so. Remember the "micro drills" Michael de la Maza endorsed. He continued to do them, even after finishing the circles. Maybe those contributed more to his improvement than circle 4 to 7.

Hope this helps.


P.S. For those of you who wondered what has happened to C.... She graduated, but rivers of tears flooded the university building before she eventually did. And without Clause 5 (see below) she might never have.

maandag 24 maart 2008

A framework of chess improvement.

For a chess player self knowledge is the key to improvement and getting your rating up. The illustration below is an attempt to distinguish the elements that determine your strength, results and rating.

I would like to hear form readers of this blog what they think of this framework. Do you miss something? Are the elements clear? Any other comment? any questions? To the adjusted framework that results form your comments, I want to related the methods of learning and training that I will suggest in the future.

So please, be ruthless and blunt. But above all, be honest and clear. Make sure that I think of everything, when I adjust and complete my framework of chess improvement. For the benefit of all!

vrijdag 21 maart 2008

The birth of a Motorskill (a small tribute to Temposchlucker)

Before I started blogging I had a very extensive email exchange with Temposchlucker on chess improvement. Some of this is reflected in his last posts. A central topic in these emails was "motorskills". In this post Tempschlucker tried to explain what these skills were.

For reasons outside chess, Temposchlucker has decided to give blogging a rest. And although I understand that life can force a person to prioritise other activities than chess, I hope that the following occurrence will motivate him someday to resume where he left the blogosphere.

My wife and I have two sons, 6 and 4 years old. I do not actively endorse them to play chess. They are more inclined to engage in physical activity. But of course they see me play chess and sometimes, spontaneously, they are interested and ask me about the movement of the pieces. very occasionally they take it a step further and do some exercises of the first step of the stepsmethod (movement of pieces). The "chess" game they like to play most is "Troyis". A game that is all about knight moves.

A few days ago I had the position below on screen. My eldest son walked by, looked at the position and said: "Hey dad look, the knight can take the rook." As patient and understanding as I am, I replied with: "No L, that is not a rook, but a bishop". Or at least I tried to say that, because half way he interrupted me and said, pointing at the screen: "look, first there (f2) and then there (h1).

I was struck! Because I think I have witnessed the birth of a motorskill of my son. Something I would never have perceived in the same way without the discovery of these skills by Temposchlucker. Therefor Tempo I dedicate this post to you!

Thank you!

Me and my sons "castling Seaside"

dinsdag 18 maart 2008

Look closer

In the next position it is white to move, what should he play?

You can see the solution if you highlight the space between the brackets. (Whites strongest move is 1 c3 (1 Bd2 is an okay move and leads to an even position after 1 ... Bxa5 2 Bxa5) after which Black is forced to play 1 ...Bxa5 which gives white the possibility to play 2 Bg5! and white is better: e.g. 2 ... Nf6 3 exf6 gxf6 4 Ne5! 0-0 5 Bh6 fxe5 6 Qg4 Kf8 7 Qg7+ and white wins material.)

I missed this today when solving this position. What really bothered me that I hadn't seen the second move at all!! I really felt caught with my pants on my knees when I saw the solution, because suddenly I realised that I had not followed the single advice I give to almost all my students all the tiime: search for targets. Had I done this then I certainly would have spotted the immobilised and vulnerable position of the queen on d8.

This is a major problem for all us patzers. We think, calculate, judge, plan etc. But we forget to do the most important thing in chess, to look, to look closer!

zondag 16 maart 2008

3 tempi is not (always) a pawn

The book Point Count Chess states that three tempi is equivalent to a pawn. In an earlier post I gave a method that was endorsed by Purdy on how to count development. So one could be tempted to use a combinations of these methods to judge positions.

I do not recommend that. The Purdy method is an excellent rule of thumb to measure the difference in development. But the weight this has compared to other factors, depends very much on the situation on the board.

As a general rule it can be said that development and activity have most relevance in open positions. In closed positions where the pawn structure is the dominating factor development is less important. This rule is illustrated in the graph below.

I will give two positions to illustrate this rule. The first position is taken from the Danish gambit. White has a deficit of two pawns, and a plus of three tempi (two moves to finish development, black 5). According to Point Count Chess, black should have a advantage, yet current theory gives the position as clearly better for white.

In the next position white also needs two more moves to complete development and black five. Material is even, and despite the advantage in development white has, theory gives this position as approximately even.

The difference between these two position is, that in the first position there is no heavy pawn structure. For this reason three tempi make up for more than two pawns. In the second position it is all about pawn structure, causing the difference in development to have no significance for the evaluation of the position.

maandag 3 maart 2008

Why dislike playing a won position?

In this post Drunknknight gives a beautiful and honest game commentary in which he expresses his frustration about his own play as well as his opponents stubbornness in a lost position. When I read this I got the feeling that in the last phase of the game the main thought on his mind was: "resign, you fool".

I have had to deal with this problem myself in the past. Sometimes even throwing away points, because I started calculating rating points that would be gained instead of variations. But now I have more or less fixed this problem. The remedy that worked for me was adjusting my impatient attitude. When I have a won position this is my attitude:

  1. I focus on enjoying the game and forget about the points to be gained.
  2. I thank my opponent in silence for allowing me to play on in a winning position.
  3. I look for the very best move. There is so much choice when you have a won position. Picking the one that hurts your opponent the most is really a lot of fun.
  4. I don't speed. There is no reason to do this. My position is great, I don't resent looking at it. My opponent probably will.
  5. I realise that my calm yet determined attitude will destroy all hope my opponent has that I might get careless. I keep in mind that he has a really miserable position, and that he will have a hard time looking at it, especially when nothing happens (somehow a lost position is less painfull when you are making moves). He won't be the first that selfdestructs if I take my time to find the best moves.

This attitude really works for me. Not only did I drop the habit of occasionally drawing or even losing won games, I also get more pleasure out of winning these positions.

If you, like I did, experience problems with winning "won" games, try to enjoy the process of winning more than the points after the game. If it won't pull you straight, it will get you on the right track.

donderdag 28 februari 2008

The most beautiful move he (n)ever played.

It was the fifth round of the Hastings international open tournament. New years day 2006. Willy Hendriks the Dutch IM, had a good start in this tournament and with 4/5 he was playing board 5 on stage, and had the white pieces against Tim Spanton. Spanton had only a rating of 2018, but was one of the big surprises of the tournament so far.

After a 9 ..., Qe7 the folowing position had arisen.

Willy felt like he was in a dream. Could this be for real? New years day in an international tournament and here he sat on the big stage with the chance to play the move of the year! He would make headlines in chess magazines all over the world.

He started to think back to the discovery of the move. It was a few years ago. He was analysing an anoying sideline of the bishops opening. In every variation black apeared do come out at least equal. But for some reason Fritz didn't agree. At first Willy thought that the evaluation function probably had a bug. He stood up to get a cup of coffee while entering the strange and apparantly losing move that Fritz prefered. But when he subsequently entered the obvious refutation, there was a blow so unexpected that he almost spilled his complete cup of coffee over the computer. In an instant he knew what was going on. The "refutation" he had played allowed the most unexpected combination he had ever seen.

After checking the analysis he knew that this sideline was not to worrie him anymore. But Willy doubted very much if his discovery (his were after all probably the first human eyes to witness this combination), would ever see the light of day in a game, since this sideline was not popular at all.

And here, on a day pregnant of expectation, he found himself on what felt like the road to chessnirvana. He would write history today.

The last move he had played was 10 Qf4. This was the move Fritz had prefered despite the obvious refutation 10 ..., Nh5, chasing the queen away and winning the knight. This was indeed the move black played, fast and with confidence. Perfect! this was precisely the attitude that would allow the grandiose finale Willy had in mind. He played 11 Bxf7+ expecting nothing else than the apparent killer move 11 ..., Kh8.

Now the queen is hanging, the bishop is pinned and the knight as well as the game apear to be beyond salvation. Willy began to imagine how he would attract attention for the final moves. At first he would sink his head in his hands as if he were in desperation, then he would act like he was in denial. And as soon as his gesturing and obvious desperation had attracted enough audience, he would play out his hand as if he were in a pokergame. Winning the pot with four aces. Because this was what he had in his sleeve for all those years:

12 Qg3!!!. A supermove. The queen still defends the knight, but it does so by moving the queen to a square where it can also be taken. But look what happens if black would indeed take the queen. 12 ..., Nxg3 13 Ng6!! another stunner. And now 13 ...., hxg6 14 hxg3 and mate next move!

And while dreaming about a wild night in a bar surrounded by chessgroupies, he saw suddenly everything evaporate. After some thinking, never contemplating 10 ... Kh8 at all, black played 10 ..., Rxf7 allowing white a slightly better endgame. Willy won easily, but completely unnoticed. He went to bed early that night.

maandag 25 februari 2008

Taking Development into account

One of the subjects that is treated very poorly in chess literature is development and more specifically the question of how to measure an advantage in development. In most books a method of tempo-counting is used which is unnecessary complicated. There is a far better way to judge a position in terms of development. This system is comprehensible as well as practical.

In this position white has an obvious lead in development. But how large is this lead? The system I endorse works as follows. It takes a fully developed position as starting point for measuring development. Here white is completely developed. He has:

  1. Castled;
  2. connected his rooks;
  3. put his rooks on open files.

For black to reach the same level of development he has to play at least 3 more moves (0-0, Bd7 and Rc8). So we can say that white has a lead in development in this position of 3 moves. Besides having some more space and the more active pieces, this is basically his compensation. Three moves to create some new problems for black while he is finishing his development.

woensdag 20 februari 2008

Two propositions

After my "wet dream" comment on DK Transformations post, I received form three sources the Chessbase files with all positions from Polgars "5334 problems, Combinations, and Games". The first one from someone who prefers to stay anonymous, the second from one of the knights and the third from Blue Devil Knight, who gave me a link to a source still available on the Internet. To all of them I want to express my gratitude and appreciation.

Both the anonymous sources also gave me chessbase files of Polgars Middlegame Brick. But these files are not complete. although I got several versions they all appear to come from the same source, because all of them contain only the first 1.000 positions.

Therefor I would like to make the following proposition to anyone who is interested and willing to put some time into creating a great file to practice your combinational skill. If we can find 10 people who are all willing to put in the effort of transferring 500 positions with solutions of the middlegame brick into chessbase, we can share these files and create a complete electronic version of the middlegame brick.

furthermore I propose to make files that help with training visualisation. I think a lot of us could benefit from training with positions in which the next 6 to 8 moves are given. These moves are not to be played however. You have to visualise them. As soon as the given notation stops there is a winning move. This move you have to find yourself. Again these positions will be made available in chessbase format.

A great source for games from which we could extract these positions, would be the under 12 section from a national youth champions tournament. These games are almost all decided by tactical means which are not very complicated. If we can form a group of ten, and everybody does 50 exercises, we again would create great training material for each other. I will provide the games. It will not be much work to make an exercise. You scan a game with an chessengine, and go to the last move before the decisive move (the move that has the changes the computers evaluation the most). This is the last move of the sequence given in the exercise. From that position you go back 6 to 8 moves, to get the starting position of the exercise. I would make exercises for myself this way, if making the exercises would not frustrate solving them (because I would have allready seen the solution). Therefor sharing is essential! Anyone who is interested can email me. I also would welcome other suggestions to make practice and trainingmaterial, by email, or in a comment.

High level scanning

The next position (Arkhipov-Kuznetsov, Russia 1980) is a forced win for white. You might want to solve it, and are invited to do so if you wish, but this not necessary to get the rest of this post.

What I will try to show you is what scanning and pattern recognition are about. In this post Temposchlucker refers to a article in which scientists reported that they had discovered that: "Grandmasters while studying chess get to see hundreds of thousands of different (chess board) positions. They store these 'chunks' in their brain. When they see a similar position, they retrieve the data from their memory. But what do they retreive exactly? To explain this I will introduce first some patterns that are relevant to solving this position. Patterns that any (grand)master will retreive when he is confronted with this position."

The next diagram is a standard mating position. Note that a piece on d7 is necessary (not a knight though) to prevent the king form escaping. Also note that it does not matter if the king is on g8, f8 or e8.

The following diagram is also a common mating pattern. It occurs frequently when the g-file is opened with force.

Armed with these chunks (and on equal terms with the focal gamma bursted grandmaster) we now return to the initial position.

When we start calculating a lot of us will now come up with the following variations:

1 Qh5 gxh5 2 Rg3+ Bg7 3 Rxg7+ Kf8 4 Rxh7 (see pattern 1)
1 Qh5 gxh5 2 Rg3+ Bg7 3 Rxg7+ Kh8 4 Rg3 (see pattern 2)
1 Qh5 h6 2 Qxh6 Bxh6 3 Rxh6 (see pattern 1)

Unfortunately however there is that darn Queen on c5 preventing this winning combination (1 Qh5? Qxh5). But a simple deflection does the trick here. After 1 b4! Qxb4 we are back to the variations given above.

This is what high level scanning should bring about. Focal gamma bursts that retrieve the right patterns and that make calculating look really easy! But to lift your scanning skills enough to reach this level, they have to be build up step by step.

zondag 17 februari 2008

chess trainers on the Internet

One of the good things of the digital revolution is that is has expanded the possibilities to communicate and share information enormously. and though I expect that there are much more new developments ahead of us, there are already many ways to establish e-learning environments that enable teachers to instruct their pupils. One the front runners in this development is (was) ICC. On their site you can meet trainers (vendors) and make arrangements for lessons. It even has its own currency to pay for these lessons.

The advantages of Internet instruction are numerous. You can choose form a great number of instructors all over the world, the interface is even faster and more flexibel than the board and pieces you would use with face to face instruction, and you can have a chess engine running on the background to check the analysis. The main disadvantage is however that the amount of information exchanged depends to a large degree on the typewriting skills of teacher and pupil.

Nevertheless a really good instructor should be able to overcome this handicap, and give you some high quality training. Unfortunately I recently had a very bad first experience with Internet chess training. I got into contact with a trainer who had gotten a very favorable review (albeit for a grouplecture not on the Internet). Because the stuff presented in this review was very interesting, I send him an e-mail, and we arranged for a chat on ICC. In this chat I explained to him what I expected to get out of the lesson, and asked him if he would be able to do this in a series of 5 lessons of an hour. His answer was: "of course".

The first lesson was OK, but all of the next lessons where a huge disappointment. He would not show op on time (although I had explained to him that I had to make arrangements with my family to have an undisturbed hour). He did not prepare, which became very apparent after he began to repeat stuff in the third lesson that we had done in the first. And he even took a break in two of his lessons of at least ten minutes, without compensating with extra time at the end of the lesson. On one occasion he showed up 10 minutes late, just to tell me he didn't feel very well and wanted to postpone the lecture to another day later that week. After the fourth lesson I was so fed up with it, that I stopped.

When you are really disappointed in the quality of a product or the service, sometimes it is good to think about what demands the it should have met to satisfy you. In this way you will be more aware of what exactly you are looking for. And I came up with the following criteria for Internet lessons that would be worthwhile for me. Besides the most basic demands that should be respected with any service you get like showing up on time and delivering nett time, the following criteria should be met:

  1. The lessons should be based on a clear study plan that has explicit goals;
    The goals should be adjusted to your playing strength.
  2. To get a clear view on your playing strength the instructor should first (before the first lesson) review a number of games you played.
  3. At the end of the lesson you should get some study (or even better training) material that enables you to train with the knowledge acquired in your lessons.
  4. Every two months trainer and pupil should evaluate on the progress the pupil is making.
  5. The evaluation should be on progress in skill (not on progress in knowledge).

Are there chess trainers on the net who meet these criteria?

zaterdag 16 februari 2008

Pinning, head to tail

After the introduction of scanning as the first step in search for double attacks, I will use this blog to expand the scanning to the search for potential pins. But before I come to that I would like to spend some attention on the characteristics of the pin. This is not only useful because helps the reader to appreciate the pin as an attacking tool, but also because I read a blog of Blue Devil Knight in which the question was raised if the pin is a tactic.

The pin has three essential elements:

  1. The pinning piece.
  2. The headpiece (pinned piece).
  3. the tail (the target behind the pinned piece).

It is deliberate that I don't speak of a tailpiece. The tail can be either of the three classic targets king, wood (piece), or (mating)square. There is another aspect that is typical for the pin. In most cases a pin can only be effective when when the tail is of higher value than the pinning piece. The exception to the rule is a situation in which the tail is undefended.

The use the pin as an attacking tool you should expand your should expand the scanning of a position with the following leads:

  1. Are there targets (pieces, king or square) on the same file, row or diagonal?
  2. Are these targets undefended?
  3. Is the tail a target of higher value than the pinning piece?

In the next diagram it is black to move. what should he play.

To see the answer block the space between the brackets. ( If you came up with 1 ..., Rxe2 you probably wont have executed the target scan I suggested in this post and in the former post. After 1 ..., Rxe2 there are two targets in the black position that give the opportunity to win material with a pin. The tail is the mating square a6 and with the rook on e2 on the same diagonal the pin should be obvious. The exploitation of this pin is as follows: 1 ..., Rxe2? 2 Rxe2 Rxe2 3 Bf1!. 1 ..., Kb7 looks like a sensible move in the initial position. )

vrijdag 15 februari 2008

Level 1 scanning

The content of this post mike strike the most of you as more than obvious. Nevertheless I want to make the foundation for the scanning proces absolutely clear. This will decrease the chance that readers get confused later on when I write about the nuances of the scanning proces.

When I teach beginning clubplayers (those who have mastered step one). I give them a sheet with the position in the diagram above. I don't tell them them who's move it is, but I ask them to put a circle around every target they see. At that time they are familiar with three kind of targets: King (check), wood (uncovered piece) and (mating)squares. If they have mastered the skill of recognising these targets this is what their sheet will look like after they have finished their task.

Of course I have highlighted the squares my pupils mark with a circle. Then I tell them it is black to move, and ask them to play the best move. As they are also familiar with the double attack most of them will come up with Qf4 and Qh6. Both moves are aimed at two targets (King and bishop/King and Knight). But as soon as I ask them if white can defend, they see that there is a defense against Qf4 (2 Kg1) but not against Qh6.
Obvious isn't it? But then again you would be amazed about the difference in results that occurs if I show this position to a similar group without letting them search for targets first. In the latter case the overwhelming majority simply misses Na6 as a target. And you, did you see 1 ..., Qh6! immediately when you looked at the first diagram? It are experiences like this that convinced me that scanning is a very powerful skill to improve in chess. Albeit that the scanning is a much more sophisticated process when you, and the opposition you are facing, get stronger.
I dare you to experiment with this simple scan yourself. Try it when solving and during your games. It doesn't take a lot of time, and for some of you it surely will contribute to your chess vision and awareness of the key features of the position.

donderdag 14 februari 2008

The move-selecting process

How do I prevent blunders? this question is raised in several posts of the Knights and their friends. I think it is good to broaden the subject to: "how do I select a move'. This question is addressed in in a lot of books. Based on those books, my own experience and on a confession of my teacher I have formulated a thinking protocol that works form me. It consists of the following steps:

  1. Let it flow! This step is not given by any of the books I read on the subject. But I got the idea when we were discussing move searching strategies during my chess trainers course. During this discussion teacher Cor van Wijgerden (author of the steps-method) suddenly said when asked how he picked a move during a game: "first I analyse the moves that immediately come up. I think almost everybody does so. But If I see they don't work I start to think methodically." These words made a deep impression on me. Suddenly it was clear to me why I never succeeded in applying the thinking techniques that were prescribed in the books I read. Nobody thinks like that! When I contemplated a bit more on this subject I came to the conclusion that there is a very good reason to listen initially to your inner voice. It is the voice of all your experience and your intuition. It will do you no harm to check if it has something to say to you that is worthwhile. But you have to be as objective as you can. If it is not clear in 30 to 60 seconds that the move that came up is a strong move, you should stop analysing it and go to the second step.
  2. Orientation. Now the time has come to observe. What targets do you see (king, wood, squares)? Look at all the targets those in you opponents position and those in your own.
  3. Exploitation. After your scan of the position the time has come to search for moves that make use of your opponents targets or make them even more vulnerable. If this is not possible because your own position is under pressure, try to defend your own targets or reduce the vulnerability of pieces or squares.
  4. Evaluation. When you have chosen an move, check if the move really meets the demands of the position. Did you really incorporate all targets in your analysis?

This is the basic method I (try to) use when playing a game and when I solve exercises. I must confess however that there are days (more than i would like to admitt) in which my thinking is very chaotic and fuzzy. On these days my thinking is stuck in the first step and never goes beyond trial and error. However on good days the above method is something that works for me!

There is a lot more to be said about the scanning proces. I will address this in more detail in a number of future posts.

Modifying the circles

In my last post I stated my doubts about the effectiveness of the last circles of Michael de la Maza's program. It is however unfair to criticize without offering an alternative. Therefor I will make some suggestions to improve on Michaels program. These suggestions are based on my assumption that the three phases (learning, training and memorising) each have their own characteristics and function, and that the program can be optimized by incorporating them.

When I worked through the TASC-CHESS CD 2, I used the following method. In the first circle I completely worked through all the lessons and all the exercises (starting at step 2). Each lesson is followed up by an number of sets of 10 positions that have to be solved. As soon as I had completed a step, I would repeat only the sets in which I scored less than 100%. I would repeat this until I scored 100% in every set. Also I would pause every time I didn't solve a position and ask myself: why did I miss that? Didn't I know that pattern? Was there to much fuss/noise that distracted me? Was the solution beyond my horizon of visualisation? I really put in some quality time to make sure I was learning.

By concentrating the next circles on sets with positions missed, I avoided spending to much time on tasks already accomplished. So the second (and if necessary the third and the fourth circle were all about training. When I moved up to the third step, I used the same method. After completing step 3 I would go back to step two and do the mixed (not sorted on theme) sets of exercises of step 2. This way I made sure I had really mastered this step, and memorised the patterns. After completing step 4 I went back to the mixed exercises of step 3 and so on.

I am convinced that this method is more efficient than Michael de la Maza's approach. It does not throw away the strong elements he introduced though. Just like him I use repetition to store the patterns in my memorie. I also make sure that the amount of time used for repetition decreases.

But unlike him I avoid repeating a truckload full of exercises six times, that don't give me any problems any more. Neither do I bring myself in a situation in which I am forced to memorise positions, just to be able to spit out an 'solution' of 9 or more ply within 30 seconds. I am convinced that by focusing on the positions unsolved, quantity is exchanged for quality. This way you will gain more at lower costs.

woensdag 13 februari 2008

The killing fields of chess training

"The last two circles require special dedication. If you are doing 1000 problems then you will be averaging 500 per day in the 2-day circle. At a rate of 30 seconds per problem, you will spend 4 hours and 10 minutes doing tactics problems on each of these two days. In the 1-day circle you will spend 8 hours and 20 minutes doing tactics problems.

Although these last three days are likely to be painful, do not skimp. They are a critical part of the Seven Circles training. You may feel faint, nauseous, and sick. Blood may start dripping from your forehead. But if you have the courage to push on, you will be rewarded with a greatly enlarged tactical muscle that will leave your opponents in the dust."

If this sounds familiar you probably have read Michael de la Maza's second article in which he explains his program. Although I greatly admire the knights who have followed Michaels example, and have finished the last two circles, I do have my doubts if they have done themselves a favour.

I fail to see how anyone will benefit from solving chess exercises for the seventh time, especially when it involves "solving"puzzles of great complexity within 30 seconds.

There is however no doubt in my mind about the usefulness of following the first cycle, as well as the use of repeating them a few times. For most players the first cycle will be all about learning. They will be confronted with a lot of tactical patterns that they have never seen before.

After this first round the second circle is a bit more more about training and not as much about learning as the first circle. Training is not the same as learning. Learning is getting acquainted with new knowledge. In training the pupil is confronted with tasks which he has not yet accomplished, but is not longer quite incapable of accomplishing. Having seen all the exercises and their solutions in the first cycle, we can expect the pupil to do a lot better than in the first cycle, because he has acquired knowledge (patterns) that enables him to solve problems he couldn't in the first cycle.

In the third cycle an element is added. Besides learning (which still happens because he now has a foundation to grasp the more difficult exercises) and training (the solving of exercises missed in the first cycle) he is also memorising. The repetition of familiar exercises will be stored in his long term memory. Gradually it will be less and less about learning and training and more and more about memorising. But enhanced by the decreasing time the pupil has to solve the puzzles, the memorising of patterns is taken over by the memorising of positions. In this phase the circles do not contribute anything to your skills anymore and may even be harm full. The speed that is required to solve 1.000 puzzles in a day can make you believe that finding and calculating complex combinations in a game, is something that can be done in less than a minute.

This kind of dedication, as Michael calls it, may well take all the fun out of chess training. It may easily convince you that training is completely useless, incredibly boring as well as hopelessly time consuming. Those who have followed Michael all the way may well have walked through the killing fields of chess training.

dinsdag 12 februari 2008

The Dvoretsky Method

In some of the knight’s posts and comments the question is raised if the Dvoretsky School of chess has a sort of GM-RAM which contains essential chess knowledge. I very much doubt that this is true. Dvoretsky and his followers do however have a set of positions that they frequently use to train and test their pupils.

In his wonderful book Chess for Zebras Jonathan Rowson gives us some insight in the way these positions are used for training. He gives the following description of the way he was trained by Yusupov.

“This (the training) consisted almost entirely of attempting to solve exercises that he (Yusupov) knew well. The training exercises had definitive answers, but they also resembled real positions so if I deviated from the answers Yusupov would put down his book of answers, and I had to deal with the man himself! This took place over the course of five days at Yusupovs house in Germany. I enjoyed the hospitality of the Yusupov family, but my ego has never had such a systematic pounding before or since. I imagine we looked at about 30 different positions, and in most cases I got the first moves right, only to slip up towards the end. Almost never did I get the solution right from start to finish. It made me feel like a very weak player. Yusupov is generous in spirit, and didn’t want me to suffer, but he pointed out to me that I did not calculate like a grandmaster. On the one hand this was discouraging, but it was good to know what I needed to work on, and given that I was 2550 at the time, I consoled myself with the thought that I must be very good at other aspects of the game. Perhaps, I thought, if I could sort this part of my game out then I could still make significant strides.”

As I get it, the Dvoretsky method is so much aimed at building up GM-RAM knowledge, as it is about developing the skill to play out difficult positions that require precision and determination. Qualities all star pupils of Dvoretsky seem to have (acquired).

The Knights Gambit

When I read the blogs of the Knights Errant and their friends, I see that a lot of them love to play gambits. This doesn't surprise me. It makes sense to seek complications if you think that your main strength is your tactical skill.

But what most Knights do not seem to realise is that tactical skill is only one element of gambit-play. Just as important as tactical skill is the gambiteers ability to retain the dynamic advantages (development, activity, coordination) he has received in return of the pawn(s). The natural tendency in chess games is that dynamic advantages level out, but that structural advantages (material) remain.

Most chess players are consciously or subconsciously aware of this. Therefore they are tempted to focus on forced lines, in order to capitalise as soon as possible on their dynamic advantages. This attitude though is often very contra productive. The secret of successful gambiteering is the skill of fostering the dynamic advantages by constantly creating new threats and keeping the tension in the position. This is a skill that not many class players have. On class level most players force events, thereby resolving the tension which is the essence of their compensation.

maandag 11 februari 2008

The problem with the problem-solving mode

When I followed the course to become a chesstrainer, our teacher asked us to explain to him why some problems are more difficult than others. This had to be absolutely clear to us, because we had to construct our own chess puzzles for beginning chess players.

Our answer to his question was that the level of difficulty was determined by the following factors:

  1. the number of ply of the solution;
  2. the number of branches.

Our teacher confirmed that these criteria indeed determined the level of difficulty to a large degree, but added one we had missed. He used the Dutch word "ruis", which can be translated as "rustle", "noise" or "fuss".

A position becomes more difficult to solve as soon as you ad pieces to it, even when they have no bearing on the solutions number of ply or the number of branches. Adding pieces makes it more difficult to see the pattern. Often it also creates patterns that do not work in the given position, but do distract you.

Handling fuss/noise is therefore a key element in improving as a chess player. I suspect that dealing with fuss may be a big problem for anyone who has followed the circles, but has not achieved the progress he expected.

A major difference between solving positions and playing a game is that the fact that the knowledge that you are solving a puzzle decreases the level of fuss/noise enormously. This is very beneficial when solving, because it prevents you from analyzing non-forcing lines. But in a game this problem-solving mode may be the reason that you are to pre-occupied with forcing lines. This may distract you from the real issues you have to handle when selecting your move.

donderdag 7 februari 2008

the 7even circles (un)broken

Years of experience have shown me that most players don’t show significant progress anymore after 10 years of playing and training. Even those who study a lot and are convinced that they have learned, seldom see a structural increase in their ratings.

Therefore Michael de la Maza cannot be praised enough for showing the chess world that the sheer impossible can be achieved. You can improve significantly if you are willing to put in the hard work that is necessary. The program he devised made his rating go up for 600 points in two years. Others who followed his program have also seen their rating go up with hundred points or more. In the links section you can find the two groundbreaking articles in which Michael explains his program.

There is however also reason to be a bit skeptical about the claim that anyone can improve 400 points in 400 days. The Knights Errant is a community that has committed itself to following the program, but the results achieved by its graduated members don’t show an increase with 400 points. Besides acknowledging that Michael’s program has been a breakthrough and has a lot of pros, we must also be aware of the cons. A major objection mo Michael’s program is that it does take a lot of time, and allows you almost no time for other activities besides work and chess. As a father of two children, I cannot afford to follow the seven circles in the way Michael did himself, and suggests to his readers. But even the people who have followed his footsteps did not get the results that Michael had. So one wonders, are there perhaps some flaws in this program?

As far as I can see, there are two aspects on the program that can be criticized. The first is that I cannot see what the contribution is of doing the circles in one (the seventh circle) or two days (the sixth). Solving really difficult tactical problems in just a minute or two, may boost your ego, but if you only solve them because you have learned the position and the solution by heart, it will not contribute much to your chess playing skills. It may even be harmful in some ways. If your mind is too much focused on solving chess puzzles, almost every tactical motive is perceived as winning. This state of mind works wonderfully if you have to solve puzzles because you know the solution is there to be found, and you don’t waste any time on unnecessary verification. But playing a game and solving an exercise are two different things. In a game you cant be sure that there is a 'solution'. Although there may be tactical motives, it is not sure that there is a forced tactical sequence to exploit these motives.

The other flaw in the program is that it ignores the endgame. Michael dismisses this, and said that endgame training is useless if you don’t make it to this final stage, because you or your opponent drop pieces or are mated. But there is a significant percentage of games in which this isn’t the case, and then some basis endgame knowledge is quite useful. It will give you some extra wins or save you some draws. In my next posts I will make some suggestions on improving Michael’s program.

dinsdag 5 februari 2008

You can improve your chess!!

This blog is all about improving your chess. I will share with you my experiences as a certified chesstrainer. English is not my native language, so it takes a lot of effort to be as clear as I want to be, but I will give it my very best.

As a trainer and as a active chessplayer it is my experience that significant improvement (more than 50 ratingpoints) is possible, even when you are allready playing for more than 10 years. It is not that easy to find the richt way to do so however. Therefore I hope to offer you a guide to effective techniques that do make you better, but allow you also to have a social life. My next blog will be on the seven circles program designed by Michael de la Maza. An intense trainigschedule which worked wonderfully for Michael, but was somewhat less effective for his following (see the Knights errants blogs).

Besides giving advise on training and self-improvement I will review books and software. I hope this blog will be usefull and entertaining for everybody who is interested in chess.