My son is taking part in the upcoming state chess championship next weekend. His Tuesday chess club teacher is giving him exercises that he believes are the best way for kids to improve and sharpen skills, I have been doing them as well. These are calculation exercises of fairly complicated positions. The exercise starts with a move that has been played, it might be a great move (!!) or a dubious move (?!) the task is to work through the possibilities, without moving any pieces, and consider the strength of the move. It is important to keep calculating concretely as far as possible so that your assessment is as thorough as it can be. Here are four examples, I recommend working through them in your head first then jotting down the different continuations you have come up with.
Garry Kasparov vs. Dimitry Kalumov. Kasparov as white has just played Nf6
White has just played Nf6. So here we have to go through the candidate moves. The most obvious move would be to take the Knight with the pawn, what would then ensue? Is it safe (I haven’t yet tried this one)? Or do we need to move the Queen and if so to where? Are there alternatives.
And 3 more to think about.
Garry Kasparov vs. Smbat Lputian. Kasparov as black has taken a pawn with Nxe4
Garry Kasparov vs. Oleg Pavlenko. Kasparov has just taken a white Bishop with his move Bxc3
Garry Kasparov vs. Oleg Privorotsky. Kasparov as white moves Nh6
I have been struck by a cold and I am recuperating in bed. I have been watching chess videos and playing blitz games and I’m happy to report that my rating has been climbing. Today I past the 1300 mark for the first time since the beginning of 2014 with this bold miniature against a player rated higher than me. At least my chess is recovering – I suspect it’s to do with quantity at one sitting.
I recently entered the Victorian Chess Championship and had a terrible tournament. My first game was against a player rated 1823 and it was a great game until I BLUNDERED!
Here is that game.
So at this point I’m thinking ‘What a shame, well nevermind, he’s a better player than you and you were holding your own until the horrific blunder’
The next game was my favourite game of the tournament against a kind older man rated 1558 (I have no rating yet). At the time I liked the game but looking back over it I see that positionally it was lousy and I made a lot of worthless queen moves.
So OK, I should have a close game or win next. But I played a horror of a game against someone, rated 1417, who gave me many chances.
So by this point I’m getting depressed. This is a player I feel I should have beaten or at least I should have had a better game. But it gets worse, I now face a kid who had an annoying habit of getting up after every move to hang out and he often didn’t return till a couple of minutes after I had moved. He had other annoying habits too but anyway…
The kid did play some good tactical moves including his great ending but I was a rook up.. I ended up being at the bottom of the field and was given a bye – which weirdly also means I get a point, my first. My next player was a small girl who I’m fairly confident I would beat. This game was very nerve wracking for both of us and seemed to sway wildly in favour of one player and then the other. It was also my only game with an endgame.
At this point I have lost every game, I feel I’m playing badly and when a ray of sunshine occurs I throw it all away. It really is depressing. You feel that all the work you have put into chess has not been absorbed and you do question your intellectual capacity and wonder what the point of playing and studying chess is given this inability to learn.
My final game.
At last, a win. I didn’t feel I did much, basically we both swapped down and he made a couple of mistakes that allowed me to maintain pressure. I had to sympathise with my opponent who thought it was the worst tournament of his life – clearly this kind of thing happens. A week later I was at my monthly blitz tournament when a player rated 1400 beat a player over 2200, the high rated player stared off into space and must have been thinking those same troubled thoughts ‘what the point of playing and studying chess is given this inability to learn’.
My postal chess is still ongoing. In a recent blog comment it was noted that postal chess was ‘elaborate’ and ‘ornate’. I agree and I sometimes suffer from guilt when I avoid sitting down to go through the laborious process of making the moves. I also sometimes suffer from not putting in the time I should on a move and in one game I am down a piece because of this. But I still love my postal games. I think it is true to say that the love of them comes from their ornate and elaborate nature. I like the studious quality of the games and I like the idea that someone else in the world is going through the same process in response to the problems I set them. I also see them as a set of puzzles rather than a flowing game, this is because you set up a board without remembering the previous sequence of moves. This does impact thinking and it is easy to forget the concepts you and your opponents were aiming for – thought is more objective. (In tactics puzzles on computers the computer often plays the opponents last move to focus players on new possibilities). So I am enjoying my postal games and if I treat them properly I think they are a good way to improve but I do admit that my postal games are driven, to some extent, by quirkiness rather than a pure desire to improve.
This is a follow on from my previous post. I am entering another longer format chess competition this coming weekend along with my son – he will also be in another longer competition next month for juniors. I’ve noticed a loss of sharpness in both of our games and I put it down to a lack of tactics training. Through bribery, deception and threats I have persuaded my son to join me in tactics training and we are doing this in a non Luddite way.
The deal is this: Everyday we each have to score 20 points on chess tempo’s ‘tactics trainer’. A correct tactic gets 1 point, an incorrect tactic loses 2 points – you can never have less than 0 points. When we first started this, a couple of days ago, my son went into a misery spin “I had 9 points, then I lost 2, and another 2, and…” etc until he had “wasted his time” and was still at 0 points after 40 minutes. He was not happy. We then both sat down and tried again, we looked at the puzzles and worked systematically through possible moves, focusing on ‘all checks and captures’ and ‘forced moves’ (often via sacrifices). My son shifted gear and got 24 correct tactics and 2 incorrect tactics. The important point about this is the ‘shifting gear’, this was a change of mindset from a defeatist ‘woe is me’ attitude to a pragmatic, problem solving attitude. Seeing this change in my son made me reflect that I only improve when I focus carefully. Forcing ourselves to really engage in tactical chess problems is, I believe, a very effective way of learning.
On a more Luddite note I am occasionally using Richard Palliser’s ‘The Complete Chess Workout II’ book in the same way. And I recommend it.
I’m still trying to work out how I can show the comments at the end of my posts, rather than seeing a note like ‘Two Replies’ at the top of a post. A great comment I received this morning from ‘The Great Patzer’ went:
“It is interesting to compare the journey you and I are on. I was excited to find your blog and your approach intrigues me… on the other hand, things that work for you are less for me- and vice versa.
Sometimes I suspect, that we all have a slightly different “training style”- that is an approach to learning chess that works best for us. Consider “tactic puzzles”- you clearly aren’t into them- they haven’t made a huge impact in your game; yet for me, ‘tactic’ puzzles are the single best part of my training, and even when I consider more positional “white to play and win a piece” problems, I still approach them much like a tactical puzzle.
On the other hand; postal chess seemed dismally frustrating to me… and after just a few moves I gave all my opponents no-sweat wins. The setup, the elaborate weaving of unclear variations. it seemed very ornate, and not to the point.
I would strongly agree with you that deeply considering chess moves is key to further progress in chess for me. I look forward to reading your blog. Please continue to describe your improvement process; both its ups and downs. I think there is virtue in comparing notes within our small blogging community.”
Thank you for the comment! I probably haven’t blogged about the importance of tactics and I should. I’ll be going to my local chess club this evening and when the IM who runs it sometimes goes through a game I am amazed by how obvious complicated tactics are to him. He might be watching a game between two kids he is teaching and exclaim immediately after a move “Ahh, why did you do that? It loses a piece”. I look, the kids look, but no one can see it. He then goes into a three or four move complicated sequence and seems bewildered that we couldn’t see the tactic. Clearly tactics are deeply ingrained in him.
Often tactics are undervalued in chess discourse, the focus is on openings, strategy, positional play, the study of historical games etc… and I think that this is because tactics are straightforward and don’t lend themselves to prose. In tactics you only have a few concepts; pins, forks, skewers, discovered attacks, double attacks – all of these are simple to explain and don’t make for great books. Instead you get tactics books and websites with tactics and work through them. I am convinced that tactics are a fundamental building block for chess and I will post more about this in my next post.