I’m a prodigy – I’m not sure the test works. Find out your chess personality here
Twenty five posts and only now do I mention tactics. I’ve always believed that tactics are at the heart of chess but two things have happened to make me more focused on tactics. Firstly with correspondence chess you can usually double check that the moves you initially make are sound by double checking them in game explorers. These moves can bring me well into a game before I am at a point where I need to rely on tactics and when I do reach this point I sometimes feel my games slip away because of my lesser tactical skill.
the second point of focus has been caused by me writing blog posts about beautiful games, brilliancies and immortal games. It has made me understand better what I like about chess and that is the romantic chess style of the Victorian era and it’s lineage through people like Tal and Kasparov. This kind of play seems to me to be tactics driven.
So how do I get better at tactics? Well a very easy solution would be to go on tactics trainers on websites such as Chess Tempo for 20 minutes a day. But I want to get away from computers because I find it too easy to be casual about what I absorb and I find that I lead a better life if I stay away from screens. So I have bought a couple of books that I hope will be useful – they are being sent by post. The first is called ‘The Complete Chess Workout II’ by Richard Palliser which has 1200 tactical puzzles in it. I did this because one of my son’s chess teachers uses the first version of this book in his class to help the kids look for tactical sequences – often of four or five moves. He obviously finds it good material and he is an International Master; this seems like a good recommendation. Another book I bought is ‘The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal’ by Mikhail himself. Apparently he is a good writer and I thought that reading about him and his games would be inspiring. The last book I am using, and which I already have, is not a pure tactics book but it is a book that I am enjoying that always makes me consider tactics. The book is called ‘Practical Chess Exercises’ by Ray Cheng and it has 600 ‘what is the best move’ puzzles. I find it very useful because it gives no clue as to what the aim of the puzzle is. The move might be the beginning of a tactical sequence, it might be a mating net, a positional manoeuvre, a prophylactic… Anything you might get in a game. The answers on another page tell you the move and then explain why it’s the correct choice, it also gives the puzzle a rating of difficulty. The good thing about this book is that it most closely mimics what would happen in a game.
So I’m going to set aside time and work my way through these books and see how it goes and report back.
Here is a definition of chess style from the US chess league (I’m still looking for a way of determing my own style without relying on the games I’ve played in the past):
Please understand that these classifications are the subjective viewpoints of the United States Chess League. Many players that are classified could reasonably be listed under 3-4 of these headings. We tried to choose that category which fit each player the most.
A technical player will usually play the same openings repeatedly and know them extremely well. Usually these systems are positionally based and they know the strategical ideas extremely well. They may become uncomfortable when confronted with a new and unfamiliar position, however they usually do everything they can to aim for the positions they understand. Sometimes they make even make concessions to avoid being attacked or giving up counterplay, even if this may not be the objectively correct decision. Despite this, they are hard to play against, because you feel like you are always playing into their strongpoints. Almost all technical player’s seem to have an incredible overall chess understanding. It’s a very practical style of play that’s used by some of the most active and successful players in the nation, and it’s almost impossible to be a “techincal” player, without being very strong, as it requires too much chess understanding for lower rated players to use successfully.
Examples – GM Igor Novikov, GM Alex Wojtkiewicz, IM John Donaldson
Positional Players are a bit different than technical players. Postional players are more versatile in their opening choices and simply rely on their general chess understanding to find the right solution in all positions. The difference between a “positional” player and a “technical” player is almost psychological, as the positional player’s simply don’t go out of their way to avoid unfamiliar positions, or positions in which they are being attacked. Despite all this, positional players may be easier to face if you have a tactical nature, as it’s usually a bit easier to steer the game towards your style.
Examples – GM Yasser Seirawan, GM Joel Benjamin, GM Julio Becerra
Attacking players feel comfortable with the initiative. They want to be always attacking the opponent, and depending on whether they are, their strength may vary by quite a bit. Some attackers don’t even have to be great calculators, but instead just have a natural understanding of how to conduct an attack.
Attackers may have some difficulty against technical players, who often don’t even give the attackers a chance to get started, and thus steer them into positions they aren’t comfortable in. However if the attacking player ever manages to mix it up against the more technical types, the attacker stands a great chance of landing a knockout. Their games can be very entertaining as you know there is always a good chance for some fireworks.
Examples – GM Larry Christiansen, WIM Jenn Shahade, FM Dmitry Zilberstein
Calculating players generally work very hard at the board. Even though their general chess intuition may not be the greatest, they make up for it by pure and raw calculation power. You can almost feel their brains going overtime as you sit across from them. They try to always see one move further then their opponent, and are ready to pounce if you make just the slightest miscalculation. These players may often work so hard throughout the game that they end up in serious time trouble. Some of the toughest players to play against are technical players who are also strong calculators.
Examples – GM Alex Ivanov, GM Gregory Kaidanov, GM Walter Browne
There is something about the way a tricky player plays that’s very disconcerting. Repeatedly they will play moves that you didn’t even consider and that just flat out look weird, to the extent that it may become very confusing for you. They never give up, and are constantly looking for ways to trap and attack you. These types of players are usually very entertaining because of their resourceful and imaginative style. They can be differentiated from calculating and attacking players mainly by the unorthodox nature of their play.
Examples – GM Alex Shabalov, Julian Hodgson, GM Pavel Blatny, IM Yuri Lapshun
Dynamic players are usually pretty well rounded, but lean more towards the aggressive/tactical side. They often play enterprising openings and try to simply outplay you. They aren’t scared to mix things up and are usually fighting constantly. Dynamic players are well rounded enough to not feel too uncomfortable if the position should be strategical or dry. Sometimes they may play the same openings game after game, however they are different than technical players because their opening choices are a lot more double-edged.
Examples – GM Hikaru Nakamura, GM Nick DeFirmian, FM David Pruess
These players have a little bit of edge to their game. They understand that chess is a game, and the object is to do everything possible to win and not always to find the absolute best move. They often will play very quickly to put clock related pressure on you, and will often understand and avoid your strength’s. They usually will play openings they are very familiar with. Technical players are often very practical as well, however they are usually a lot more limited in their opening choices, whereas practical players can play a more types of postions comfortably.
Despite being comfortable in more types of openings, these players often have serious holes in their theoretical knowledge. They just hope to get a reasonable position out of the opening without spending too much time, and then to simply outplay you.
Examples – GM Leonid Yudasin, IM Jay Bonin
These are a weird group of players. You get the sense that they simply understand where the pieces belong, whether the game is positional or tactical in nature. They may not be the best pure calculators, but they make up for it by moving quickly and confidently and being able to easily found solutions where others may have to spend a lot more time. Their reliance on their intuition may sometimes be a weakness as they trust their instincts too much when the position demands harder work.
Examples – GM John Fedorowicz
Logical player’s seem to try very hard to try to understand the position they are playing from a logical perspective. They are pretty solid at all phases of the game but usually not spectacular at any. They are good at adapting to unfamiliar position’s and approaching them with a fresh mind as they have no preconceptions of what type’s of positions they would like to play, and instead try to find the objective best move. These players won’t often try anything too unorthodox, however they also won’t shy away from complications if they are necessary.
Examples – GM Jonathan Rowson, IM Vinay Bhat
Often young players have not yet developed a sense of style. It’s very rare that you will find a positional young player, however they often develop into positional players when they mature. For this reason, some young players will go unclassified until their style develops more.
I have been writing in the Analysis section of this blog describing a forced sequence of moves that changed the style of play for each player more than it improved the position of either player. The position changed whites likely strengthening of the centre, which might be described as ‘closed’ and positional, to a more usual position where both sides become castled on the same side; a semi open position that is more tactical. It was a subtle change and I could be wrong about it but it did get me thinking about playing styles.
The way a person plays, their style, seems to me a combination of temperament, inspiration and natural strengths: spacial awareness, calculation, visualization, pattern recognition. If this is the case then it would change over time.
Natural strengths can be tested to some degree and improved. For example visualisation skills can be tested by how well someone can play blindfold chess – it can also be improved by those excercises I mentioned earlier in ‘Full Board Nirvana’. Calculation, a topic I haven’t covered much yet, can be tested and improved by finding long forced sequences. So natural strengths can be improved and playing style may shift accordingly.
Temperament is something that makes up a person and to change this you need to change your environment, grow or see a psychiatrist. I have noticed that kids love to play very sharply and I suspect this is because this will lead to the greatest opportunity for success or failure, both good for growth. In adults I think aggressive players have a bipolar and romantic quality; they prefer short games with tactical heroics including bold sacrifices in the hope that they get a beautiful game. Positional players on the other hand seem to enjoy slow manoeuvring chess that leads to inevitable, punishing wins. Both types of players are, in my view, likely to exhibit these tendencies in other aspects of their lives. In nature one might be described as a lightning bolt while the other might be a glacier – both equal in my eyes.
Inspiration comes from what you think is cool. In the romantic era of chess of the 19th century anyone who was naturally safe (positional) would be at a disadvantage because it was de riguer to be bold, to accept gambits and sacrifice for glory – this was what was cool. Nowadays that has shifted, Magnus Carlsen is widely seen as a methodical, positional, long gaming player and his style pays dividends and is considered cool. Hikaru Nakamura, who does seem to enjoy the different, is also cool – he plays unusual openings, tries obscure lines, and actively seeks the glorious. So now inspiration comes in more forms.
Where does that leave me? Well I’m not sure. I will try to strengthen all aspects of my technical chess but that doesn’t point in any direction. My temperament is fairly steady but I do like a bit of glory – I also like to play cat and mouse in a slow game. This ties in with what I am inspired by. I admired Magnus Carlsens game with Vishy Anand in the 2013 world cup https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvToX22oG8s which was a beautiful, steady, calm bit of persistance. But I also love those flashes of glory such as the ‘immortal game’ http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1018910 and I like what I have read about Mikhail Tal
I think the solution, at this stage, is to keep working on technical aspects of my chess and varying the openings and middlegame choices I make and seeing what comes naturally. I will also float the question “How do I recognise what kind of player I am”