The Fabulous Fifth Edition!
No time to waste, let’s get this going!
A short “Chess Around the World” this time as I note that the winner of the World Chess Championship (Anand or Gelfand) will make $1.53 million and the loser will make $1.03 million. That’s a lot of money but it is only going to the top 1% of the chess players playing professionally right now. When I get back to my “sprucing up the modern game” talk again, I can explain how that can be expanded to include a larger number of the top players.
Chess may be slowly gaining speed but at some point its going to be a big deal.
One of the most important things you can ever know about yourself in chess: if you are not competing at the highest level, you could use some improvement. For those of us a little lower than that (i.e. a lot lower): you suck.
Don’t take that as a harsh review of your personal character. I’m including myself in there as well. People at my level of playing could use improvement, and in my case, a lot of improvement. Players at my level, though, don’t really know how to go about getting any better, so it’s always nice to see someone posting ways to improve.
Most of these suggestions, though, assume that you (as the player) are studying almost as hard as the person giving the free advice. That is rarely, if ever, the case.
I personally would like to get better at chess. I’ve read several books and most of them, while pointing out some important flaws in my game, have given me very little in the way of interesting content that I could use long term. I’ve needed a “road map” in order to improve my game and serendipity has placed two individuals at my doorstep offering advice… advice I will now discuss in detail, one piece at a time.
The first list comes from NM Dan Heisman, who writes for Chess Cafe on a monthly basis. The site has some nice columns to read and evaluates the broad spectrum of what can be learned about chess (arbitration, new players, historical games, book reviews, etc) but my favorite is Heisman’s Novice Nook. I am, after all, a novice.
Top Tips for Improving Chess (by Dan Heisman) is the chess column in question here. He presents “two dozen” points of advice.
1. Find strong chess players and analyze with them as much as possible.
This sounds like a great plan of action. One problem with that: I don’t know any. In my personal circle of influence, I am the strongest chess player and I’m barely rated over 1000. I’ve recently taken to randomly messaging top players on Game Knot, but of the twenty or so requests I’ve sent out, only one has responded. He’s been very kind in helping but I don’t want to be a “pest,” so I’ve held off with my barrage of questions and items for him. Any other option I have requires chess lessons and those are expensive.
2. Play as many long time control games as possible.
I play most of my games on Game Knot, and most of those at the standard (default) 3 days per move. I don’t get down to under 1 day very often but that is simply because I can’t get to the computer and has very little to do with staring at the board for the next best move. I don’t know how to think, so staring at the board isn’t going to do me any good.
3. Once you are past the beginning level, play a mix of fast and slow games.
Not past the beginning level, so this doesn’t help me.
4. Play almost entirely against humans (computers play differently).
Check. But, as I’ve stated, players at my level are all looking for the quick win and aren’t really looking to get better… at least that’s the impression I get from their move selection.
5. Play mostly against higher rated players to push yourself to learn.
I’ve taken this advice. When my participation in the Game Knot 90th Tournament ends (I’m in the lowest rated group), I will sign up for the next available tournament at the highest group so that I can play people rated higher than me (because I’m hoping that not many other 1000 rated players on GK have this same idea).
6. Play in every event you can.
I live in North Dakota. There are zero events I can play in. Moving along.
7. Join a chess club.
No chess clubs in my town. Start one, I can hear you saying… tried that. Failed miserably. Well, there was one club that started in town but they meet while I am working, so I can’t join. Life is convenient for everyone else, almost never me.
8. Don’t worry about your rating or try to protect it with artificial progress.
I use it as a measure of my ability, not as something I need to make sure is always at a certain level. If your idea behind this number is different than that, I don’t want to play you because you’re not thinking like a winner… you’re thinking like a number.
9. Practice good time management: use almost all of your time every game.
I don’t live in a world where this is always a viable option. See above for the time controls explanation, which is my situation.
10. Don’t make moves based on hope or without a reason.
I’m TRYING to do this… but it’s hard. Part of my issue is not knowing HOW to think.
11. Pick your opponent’s brain in a postmortem.
You’d be surprised at how many players around my rating level don’t give a rat’s ass. This is why I’d like to start “punching above my weight” because the GK community may have a large number of members but there are a large number of those members who don’t care about getting better.
12. Don’t mask your weaknesses – learn about them and minimize them.
How do I figure out what my weaknesses are? Who can help me figure this out? Part of the problem with this suggestion is that I’m not going to go pay for chess instruction because I don’t have the money to do so. I want to get better but the players at my level aren’t thinking like winners and don’t want to talk about it. Mr. Heisman is obviously living in a great place because this situation isn’t what I’m in at all. While this suggestion might work for someone who has loads of time on their hands and doesn’t need to work two jobs to make enough to get by, I can’t use this. Before I get angry at this, I’m going to move on.
13. Read many annotated games, master or otherwise.
I don’t know that I personally get a lot out of this. I’m a visual learner, I need to see what I’m doing in order to get it. I know at least this much about myself.
14. (Paraphrased) Not every chess book is conducive to helping you learn.
Yep, got that one down.
15. Improve your chess vision.
How? This is one of those vague things that probably needs someone of a higher level to help me figure out. Now, in Dan Heisman’s defense, he’s got references to how to use these bullet points in other columns he’s written (with referenced links to said columns) except for this one. What I’m getting from this list so far is that I have to spend a lot of time reading and less time playing chess… because there WILL be a trade off in situations like mine.
16. (Paraphrased) Get intimate knowledge of tactical situations.
How? How do I know what to do? I use the tactical trainer in Game Knot (I only get 10 per day) and there are a lot of times I can’t get the puzzle because I don’t understand why the move was made. Why did the person setting that up move that piece there? Why would I know what they were thinking? How can I change my thinking to be that kind of thinking? What am I doing wrong? I need someone to talk to that can help, for free.
17. Do everything you can to make your work fun.
I’m not going to even address this.
18. Don’t worry about your opponent (online or otherwise) cheating.
I don’t because there is no point. If they want to maintain their artificial rating, I’m certainly not going to stop them. I can only worry about myself.
19. Play with consistency.
I’m trying. The only inconsistent part of my game is my opponent.
20. Have perseverance.
Or in other words: you need to be a masochist.
21. Don’t put up barriers.
For a description of what he’s talking about, he’s saying that one needs to get out of the mindset that “humans are too arrogant,” “you can’t find people to play on the Internet,” and “not wanting to read descriptive notation.” I’ve stated all of these things in this column alone, but I’m not putting up a barrier. Players at my level almost never choose the “strong player” moves. They choose moves I can’t fathom, and if I do, those moves never work against stronger opponents. I “can’t” read descriptive notation, I’m a visual learner, so if I want to see what’s happening, I need to set up a board and run through the moves. That eats up a lot of time I don’t have… and the final point is that I can find plenty of people to play on the Internet, I can’t find many STRONG players to play on the Internet. I’m not paying to be on a website, so my options are basically Game Knot or subscribe to something. I guess I’ve got barriers.
22. (Paraphrased) Don’t self fulfill a losing mindset entering a game.
I never go into a game thinking I’ll lose. At least, I don’t think I do.
23. Learn generic ideas before specific.
First time I can say I’ve heard this. Honestly. Now, what do I learn? Where do I start? This is my dilemma.
24. Don’t perceive your chess abilities as “I’ve got this one or I don’t.”
Isn’t this just rephrasing the idea in point 22?
I occasionally read Dan Heisman’s columns and I often feel like I’m missing the “joke.” Like, I’ve needed to have read every column before to understand every column after. Shouldn’t every column of the Novice Nook be geared for a first time reader? Isn’t that the mark of a well written column? Sitting down and reading something takes time and I know from my own experience, I don’t have that much time to read. I listen to my books now because I can do it while I’m working. If I could find a chess audio book that would help me improve, I’d give it a shot.
Let’s get to the other improvement item I came across recently. His name is “Jerry” and he’s also a National Master. His is in video form!
10 Ways to Improve Your Chess
1-Figure out the type of learner you are and your style of play.
I’m a visual learner, so I know I need to see things to get them. I also know at this point that I should probably have someone pointing out my thinking errors to me in the midst of me making them so I know when to slow down. The strong player who has been nice enough to help me did this in our game, pointed out a major mistake I made as I made it… now I know what I should be thinking in those situations instead of bumbling through another error like this again.
2-Solve checkmate/tactical puzzles.
I solve the maximum number of these I’m allowed to in a day on Game Knot. I’ve not found another great source for these yet, but I am actively looking.
3-Play blindfold chess.
I’m a visual learner… but I’ll give this one a go. I already doubt I’ll make it very far into the game but I can take baby steps.
4-Play against those stronger than yourself.
Like Dan Heisman’s point, I have a very hard time to find players stronger than me willing to play. Would I be annoyed by someone weaker than me nagging me for games? I think I might be, so I’m not holding this against them… I’d just like some help. In turn, I should also probably help others when I can.
5-Find a strong player with a style similar to your own and review their games.
I don’t know my style. I need to figure this out.
6-Develop an opening repertoire that suits your style of play.
7-Find a book that meets your needs.
I’ve done this! It’s the Chess Player’s Bible by James Eade and it’s a visual learning manual! I’ve gotten a few pages under my belt but that’s because I’m so busy. I’m trying, though.
8-Review your games.
That’s the point of the next section of this column!
9-Diagnose your defeats.
10-Have a good internal dialogue.
I’ve been told talking to myself is a bad thing.
This would help someone, all together (both sets of points), if they could accomplish all of these things. I find that Jerry’s list (if you listen to the video) comes from knowing how he got to where he’s at as opposed to Dan’s points feeling more like someone on top pointing down with generalities.
I commented to Jerry after reposting his video on Google+ and made mention I’m glad someone explained things as they figured them out rather than trying to follow a road map when you don’t know how to get to the starting point.
I want to be a better chess player. I don’t have the time to devote to sitting with a stack of books pouring over annotated games learning to play like a player I may not play like in order to grasp concepts I’m not even sure I need to be grasping. The problem is, and always has been, how do you get started and how can I get to the end of this journey without at least one person to guide me? Heisman calls that thinking a barrier. I call it reality.
The truth of the matter is that people can be dicks. Very few people want to help others out and very few people think about explaining how they got someplace to allow you to follow the same path and get there, too. That’s like me going from Bismarck to Chicago without explaining how to get there. ”Well, you drive east.” Sure, thanks… that’s great.
I’m a cynical person but I want to learn. I want to improve. I want to know how to think like a grand master but I can’t find anyone to help me achieve this goal. I’m a padawan who needs a Jedi teacher.
Hopefully these help you out, though, and if I’m stronger than you and you’d like me to help, I will. Drop me a line.
Holy buckets, another game! As noted in the Event, this is also not the first game I’ve asked to play but I’m not going to get picky. I have a “tournament” game I wanted to include, too, but I’ll only do that if I don’t have another one to review (which I know I’ve got at least one in the pipe ready to review). So, let’s get to the game itself:
[Event "4: Vorpal Bunnies!"]
1. e4 c5 2. c4 b6 3. Nf3 e6 4. Ne5 Bd6 5. Nd3 Bb7 6. b3 Nf6 7. f3 Nc6 8. Bb2 Qe7 9. Nc3 O-O-O 10. g4 Nd4 11. Na4 h5 12. h4 Bg3+ 13. Nf2 hxg4 14. Be2 Nh5 15. fxg4 Nf4 16. Bxd4 cxd4 17. d3 Kb8 18. Rg1 Bxh4 19. Rh1 Bxf2+ 20. Kxf2 Rxh1 21. Qxh1 Nxe2 22. Kxe2 Qg5 23. Kf3 f5 24. Rg1 Qe3+ 25. Kg2 fxe4 26. Rf1 exd3+ 27. Rf3 Qxf3+ 0-1
This game ended with my opponent resigning. It was a good game, I thought, but I wanted to get it under review to see if there was anything I could do better. This was the first game I knew I’d review WITHOUT the “parlor tricks” approach to it, so I’m at least happy for that. To the diagrams!
1. e4 c5 2. c4 b6 3. Nf3 e6 4. Ne5 Bd6 5. Nd3 Bb7 6. b3 Nf6 7. f3 Nc6 8. Bb2 Qe7 9. Nc3 O-O-O
This was an excellent start, and a logical one (in my mind). My opponent was just as determined to develop a solid opening as I was. In this position, I have more pieces developed but my opponent is occupying the center. As for who controls the center, I think it’s almost an even split here, but the game just started and we keep going. I’ve included an animated board below to “see” how things developed (and as an example to use vs. my static board).
10. g4 Nd4 11. Na4 h5 12. h4 Bg3+ 13. Nf2 hxg4 14. Be2 Nh5 15. fxg4
I’ve developed into attacking my opponent early because I felt that if I didn’t bring the fight to him, I was going to be fending him off the whole time (I shouldn’t use the gender since I don’t know but it’s easier than just being vague). My next move is 15… Nf4, which will put more of my pieces into his section of the board and start putting heavier pressure on multiple pieces of his. I’ve got to admit that I managed to develop myself into a strong position here and my only concern was making sure I had a little pressure on my opponent while I was actively attacking his king.
15… Nf4 16. Bxd4 cxd4 17. d3 Kb8 18. Rg1 Bxh4 19. Rh1 Bxf2+ 20. Kxf2 Rxh1 21. Qxh1 Nxe2 22. Kxe2 Qg5 23. Kf3 f5 24. Rg1 Qe3+ 25. Kg2 fxe4
After a few exchanges of pieces, I actually felt I’d won at this point. I was leery of thinking so confidently but my pressure has paid off and I’m really in the stronger position, especially with so many pieces aimed at so many of his pieces. A simple move or two and I’d have his pieces forked… my first instinct here was to take out the rook but something told me to wait and try going for the queen instead. If you look at the final few moves, I accomplished my goal and my opponent resigned (26. Rf1 exd3+ 27. Rf3 Qxf3+ 0-1).
This game puts me at 2+ 0= 0-, but I can tell you that some of my tougher games are coming. It’s nice to start out with a couple of wins but I personally believe I’ll get better by analyzing my losses more. The strength of my opponents will grow as I get better, which is my goal, but I do have a 2100+ rated player (on Game Knot) who is currently playing me and will give me a couple of games. Hint: he’s smoked me in game one… I’ll add that to my official review here when we’re officially done.