My beautiful wife, who doesn’t really play chess, commented on my postal games this morning after I had spent time making two moves. She thought it was wonderful that I could spend so much time contemplating a position and inferred that it must be so rich in possibilities that puzzling out an answer must be an achievement. I chatted about how postal chess was different, it was objective, mathmatical and considerred and that, yes, the satisfaction comes from a deeply considered move.
In fact the speed of chess greatly affects my thought process. In this blog I advocate slow, considered chess, as a way to improve all of your chess but slow chess is static chess and it does kill the ‘flow’ – this is the greatest drawback of slow chess. I played some blitz games in Canberra and what I enjoyed about them was an almost thoughtless zen state where calculation nearly disappears. A move happens, the pattern of the board changes, and you adjust that pattern to improve it for yourself. The chess is based on image and intuition and I also love this aspect of chess. It reminds me of a Kung Fu fight.
I still advocate slow chess as the best way to improve but we all also need our Kung Fu intuition – so I advocate both.
This weekend I travelled to Canberra with my son because he was competing in the Australian Junior Chess Championship. The competition consisted of 9 rounds (1hr + 10s/move) with 3 rounds being played on each day. On the fourth day there was a problem solving competition in the morning and a 5 minute ‘lightning’ competion in the afternoon.
Obviously I wasn’t taking part but it was interesting to absorb the atmosphere of the competition. I have been in multi day competitions before but only in Melbourne where I can take a couple of byes and stay at home when I’m not playing. In Canberra we stayed on site and were fully immersed in chess to the extent that we had to escape it for sanities sake. Managing the highs and lows of competition was tricky because I was also emotionally attached to the outcome. There was a great sense of elation with a win and fairly crushing devastation for a loss. I spent my time trying to temper emotions so that my son faced the next game from a neutral standpoint.
On the last day a lightning tournament for adults was casually put together and I joined in this. It was a fun tournament of seven rounds with a very mixed field. I played well but made illegal moves in two games and lost. I also lost and won to a couple of players that preferred to ignore the ‘touch’ move rule but given this was a friendly I didn’t care. My overall score was 2/7 but all the games were good and some players were 2000+. When playing white I used the Polish opening which worked very well – either tricking people or at least getting into an even middlegame.
My son is in a tournament next week and I thought it would be good if he did some intensive training in the days running up to it. I am joining him in this since it will hopefully improve my chess too.
The training is comprised of tactics training, turn based games, middlegame puzzles, chess mentor and videos. We have limited the openings to one (versatile) opening as white that should be solid enough to bring the game to a secure middlegame and two black defences to respond to either 1.e4 or 1.d4 and which should again be solid enough to avoid tricks and cope with other first moves. I wanted to limit openings to avoid learning to many lines which at our level is futile.
Tactics: tactics are fundamental to chess. It’s no good building up positions if you are unable to strike when there is an opportunity. We are therefore doing an hour of chesstempo.com tactics in the morning. A correct tactic gets one point an incorrect tactic loses two point (until we are at zero points) – for each point my son gets he earns a minute of extra video game time. The loss of two minutes video game time for a missed tactic ensures a good level of focus.
Turn based games: I entered a 24hr per move competition on chess.com where you play black and white against five other players. This means that we each have ten games to play. We do our move for each game after our morning tactics and then again later in the day after diner. Our openings and defences are limited to our three choices as described above. We are concentrating on the transition phase from opening to middlegame and focusing on positional opportunities. To help guide this process I have been reading Jeremy Silman’s excellent ‘How To Reassess Your Chess v.4’. The book examines how by ‘reading’ a chess board it is possible to find imbalances in the position and by understanding these imbalances it is possible to choose moves that exploit or hinder opportunities. By doing this the board ‘tells’ you what needs to be done and which plans you should follow. This turn based chess work takes about half an hour.
Middlegame puzzles: My son’s teacher at the Tuesday club believes that the next step my son needs to take is to take more time to look at different possibilities as the game gets complicated. My son can calculate and see tactics fairly well but sometimes fixes on one solution without taking the time to look for alternatives. The book my son’s teacher uses to tackle this is called ‘The Complete Chess Workout’ by Richard Palliser. In it there are problems that require a concrete assessment of a number of potential lines in order to choose the best move. I have bought the sequel to this book, ‘The Complete Chess Workout II’, to set up the same exercises that he does. I look at the answer section of the book and find solutions that show a number of moves and include a few parenthesised move options – these problems tend to be rich in opportunity. I then choose five of these problems and study them so I clearly understand them before giving them to my son. This exercise takes an hour.
Chess Mentor: on chess.com there is a chess mentor section there that gives a position and explains the background to the position and asks you to choose the correct next move. When a move choice you choose is wrong it will explain why. We do about 20 minutes of this.
Videos: I am choosing one video a day that shows an amazing games ideally based on the openings we have chosen. Games that relied on positional skill and tactics but which avoid sacrifices (kids love sacrifices and I don’t want to encourage this). Twenty minutes for this.