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)

14 opmerkingen:

transformation zei

what a wonderful, fabulous, inspirational post... it is so great to see you unfold.

now, just remember, with or without massive readers, you just keep going. not unlike the steps method.

when you have a thought that is suitable for sharing: write it down and post it. you can always save things not finished to draft form.

ten minutes a day, in two weeks goes a long, long way in two months, believe me.

i am proud to have you as a chess collegue, delighted to have you as a true friend, and stronger for having you as a collaborator.

warmest, dk

Phaedrus zei



But to be true, it was you who suggested months ago in a comment that my blog could use a more personal touch.

After months of denial I am finally in a state of acceptance. Thanks for the advise. I will try to put in to good use.

chesstiger zei

Chess is indeed hard work.

At friday evening, i and a few of my clubmates come together and do some study together (we are all in the rating range between 2100-1900). One of us has something prepared and gives a lesson about that. So far it goes wonderfull, especially since a 2300+ player has agreed to give us some lessons aswell.

Last friday i managed to solve one of the exercises this 2300+ player had given us. I was amazed i had it good since the exercise came out of Dvoretskies endgame book.

(Btw, i am still doing the stepsmethode, but on a smaller pace since i have decided to read another chessbook aswell so that i have some diversion).

Polly zei

Nice post. I'm glad to see you back amongst the living. It is hard work to really improve. The questions all of us have to ask ourselves are "How bad do I want to improve? How hard am I will to work? How much time will I devote to the work?" These are questions I still have not answered for myself.

Phaedrus zei


These kind of group sessions are a wonderful motivator. I hope you guys will keep doing them. I do not doubt that you will learn from them, and I congratulate you on solving a Dvoretsky puzzle. Dvoretsky never give you an easy way out, so this is a real accomplishment. As far as TASC and the stepsmethod is concerned, remember that solving is only half the task. The secret is using the exercises to improve your thought process and hence improver the transfer.

Phaedrus zei

Hi Polly,

These are indeed the hard questions. But much more important than the amount of time is the intensity and regularity. One of the good things of the plan I use is that it is not overambitious. I do 36 exercises a week. That is an average of 6 a day if i take 1 day a week off.

For me this is a workable amount. Most of it I do when commuting. Some of it when I have a day off form work or in the weekend.

I hope that you have overcome your fear for the Smith Morra gambit by now.

Temposchlucker zei

And though my current audience may well be very limited after such a long and unannounced break

Don't underestimate the amount of lurkers out there that keep an eye on you.

Chess Coach zei

wonderful! i am linking your blog on my blog which has been started a couple of days ago. you might find my mission interesting, and your feedback is most welcome! please do keep posting...

Anoniem zei

Great idea for a blog - I am reading Zen and the art of Motorcycle maintenance on a recommendation by Josh Waitzkin - I get where you're coming from

anon ~ 2000 FIDE.

Phaedrus zei

Chess coach thank you for linking me and your kind and complementary comment on my blog.

anon you are right when you refer to 'Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance' as one of inspirations for this blog. But the ideas brought forward to me in this blog cannot be directly linked to the book.

The book has been however a major influence in my life and struggle to grow as a human being.

Blue Devil Knight zei

He lives!!!

Great to see you back.

Have you read Rowson's zebra book? He has a whole section which is very Zen on the importance of "unlearning" what you know about chess. And a quote reminds me much of what you say. He says "The best training is the kind that pushes you up against the edges of your comfort zone, where you force yourself to take responsibility for difficult decisions."

Phaedrus zei

Dear BDK,

I have and I love the book. It is an inspiration for this blog (amongst others).

RJ zei

I really liked this post, and am glad you're back. Your legitimate expert rating and trainer status keep me interested as opposed to other "knights" and other chess-blogger-bullocks out there. However...

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.

This line...and the paragraph...is rubbish because you then go on to discuss Zen and Rowson. Psychology and the will to win is far from bogus. Which comes first, the tactics or the will to find them? I'd argue that will and skill are both needed if either is to succeed. Let's not think that someone is studying less when they may focusing on a different part of their game.

Keep it up, and look forward to new posts!

Phaedrus zei

Hello RJ,

Thank you for your kind words and honest comment. You sure make a point here. Unintentionally I made the suggestion that all that is written on psychology and chess is bogus. This is not true, and you justly say that I cannot say so and at the same time praise Rowsons books.

What I meant to say was that a lot of what is written on psychology and chess in magazines and books is bogus. But certainly not all of it. De Groot and Rowson being the notable exceptions.

Furthermore I wanted to make clear that significant progress cannot be achieved by reading and learning alone. It has to be followed by training. And replaying games is not a very effective way to train.