I was pleased by last night’s game which was part of my weekly long format competition. It was a game that I won and one in which I felt I played well both positionally and tactically. I was white again and I faced the Caro Kann. I know nothing about it but I set out to grab space, hinder my opponents movement and strike at weak squares and pieces. By doing this I was in tempo heaven. Here is the game.
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
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.
The voyage above 1200 is hard for me and I think one of the biggest problems I have is understanding effective strategy. I’ll define what I understand strategy to be because when I started writing this blog I was unsure about the difference between strategy and tactics. Tactics are a series of a few moves that have a specific target. Usually the moniker ‘tactics’ is only given when the burst of moves are creative and move away from expected natural moves. Strategy is a vaguer concept. Not so vague as ‘My strategy is to win’ or so specific as ‘if I do this, they’ll do that and I’ll be able to…’ (tactics). Strategy occurs in the middle game and its about creating a PLAN of attack. I watched a video recently on Chess.com by an FM called Todd Andrews called ‘Learning the 3 Must Know Rules of Middlegames’. I found it hugely instructive and it clicked with some of my recent thinking. In it he simplifies the process to 3 rules in the same way that openings have 3 rules; control the centre, develop your pieces, castle. The 3 rules Todd advocates are: get all your pieces into the game, make a plan, choose specific target. I’m going to reduce that to 2 rules since ‘get all your pieces into the game’ seems to be part of opening rules and I’m adding 1 new rule ‘Flexibility’. So the 3 rules are make a plan,choose specific targets and be flexible.
MAKE A PLAN: This is a nebulous concept and it needs some clarification. The first step is to look at the board and understand it in terms of advantage and disadvantage. Where are your active pieces, are there any open files or diagonals that would help you? Where do you have space? Can you pawn storm? Typically you should be able to identify the strengths of your position and choose from and attack on the Queen side, centre or King side. I’ll reiterate that – choose an attack on the King, Queen or centre. It is also important to pay attention to where your opponent will strike from.
CHOOSE SPECIFIC TARGETS: Part of the assessment of your position would identify weak pawns and pieces. Once these pieces (including pawns – especially pawns) are identified they need to be pounced on. Pressure needs to be brought to bear on them in a relentless manner using tactics.
FLEXIBILITY: Positions change and it is important to be able to reassess the position on the board. As you bear pressure in one area your opponent’s defence may create greater opportunities elsewhere – shift. Also your opponent may be building a strong attack – clamp it down. You may find that you have the option of putting pressure on a square or an area with two or more pieces, which piece will give you greater flexibility, which piece can attack and defend.
The above advice is different to the advice I would have given a month ago. Then I would have said ‘Look for good squares for your pieces’ – see post titled ‘Outposts’. That advice still holds true but it is not active enough. The placing of pieces to good squares must be part of an active plan.
Here is a game I’m currently playing in which I think I have been more active. It is an ongoing Chess.com game and if I win it will be my best win to date. I may lose.
Well the game has finished and what I thought would be a straightforward victory ended up being a bit of a struggle and went on for 60 moves. I have posted about this in ‘Keepin’ on keeping on’.
Having a good position in a game seems to me to become more important as I improve. It becomes increasingly difficult to snatch a piece for free or land an unexpected checkmate. Instead my tactics need to be more focussed on bettering my position to create opportunities. The other day I recorded the following game that was played by a couple of kids. I’ll quickly run through the it to get to a position that I thought was very interesting – a better position, with equal material, that highlighted the importance of pressing an advantage. The game went:
The game arrived at this point and each player has the same material. Despite this material equality Stockfish shows that white has a massive advantage (5+ points) with blacks best move being 24. …d4. I think it is quite valuable to study this position and to calculate through different candidate moves for both black and white. What are the best move?
I found this game fascinating because it shows how you can develop play well so that you can have a big advantage despite material equality. It also shows how carefully options must be considered to maintain any advantage. This game occurred at my Tuesday chess club and the International Master who runs it immediately spotted that 27.Rxh7 was wrong and suggested 26.Qg7 at a glance. This move maintains an advantage. If we go back to the position above