Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A new beginning ...

Well, it's time to just start making a daily habit of chess study now, otherwise I'll keep putting it off for more opportune times, which rarely seem to come up.

Current Plan:

Study Tactics Daily, or as often as possible.

I'm working through the Chess School 1a book, I also have the 1b copy as well. These books compose of 1299 puzzles combined.

Unlike my other attempts at trying to increase skill level, simply by doing masses of puzzles, these books are actually designed progressively and orderly. It was the same book used to teach Russian students chess, and was written based on decades of experience if I remember correctly. The first book-set should bring someone up to a 1600 level.

My goal is to get to at least 1800 by October 1st. My rating will be monitored based on online play (likely Yahoo Chess & CTS). This means I have to work hard! If I can finish these books in two months, I would ideally be around 1600, and still require another 200+ points within the following month.

For that, I will use the second book from Chess School, which brings you up from 1600-1700 to 2200 or more so it says. If I am still lacking tactical skill after the first series, then I will re-do what is necessary until I can handle the second book.

Okay, so other than studying so much tactics what else will I do? Play games online. Test my tactic skill occasionally on CTS, and perhaps later on attempt the knight-sight and other board-vision drills.

I have a ton of tactics books. In fact, all but one of the chess books I own are tactics based. When I get in the 1800+ range, I'll likely start reading Lasker's Manual of Chess. I think I'll really be able to enjoy it at that skill level when my tactical skill is pretty solid.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Status: Active

Yes, I'm still alive. I was a little side-tracked after the tournament, but rest assured I'm still in the game. My chess rating should be updated with the CFC tomorrow and I'll see how I fared from that tournament. For some reason the first update didn't change anything; perhaps the tournament results didn't arrive in time.

I have obtained some new training materials and I'm interested in trying out the Russian's systematic training, as per their "The Manual of Chess Combination" series. The first volume contains about 1320 tactical positions and as I understand should bring a beginner up to a 1600 level. The second volume supposedly takes you from 1600~2200 elo. The remaining two volumes of the four volume set are written by different authors and focus more on improving calculating ability or ending tactics.

I've been doing 30 puzzles a day for a bit now and I'm interested in seeing if these tactical exercises are perhaps more beneficial to know for lower rated players. I believe my older plan would be better suited for a higher level than I am at, and would probably take longer to see results. I also obtained a copy of the Combinative Motifs book, which I also plan to use when my rating is higher (i.e. after the first Chess Combinations volume if it can really bring me up to ~1600 level).

Why do we do tactics? I think it's to expose oneself to many challenging positions or thematic positions, which may happen at a much less recurring basis in real games. This has the effect of isolating your skill for tactical ability, much like how weight-lighting isolates specific muscle groups. So it should be logical that how efficiently you train those will be related to the quality and tactical motifs you study.

If I were training with the Polgar book alone, I believe it would take a longer period of time to notice larger gains, particularly at my lower, foundational stage. I will still use it some point but not right now as the sole training material.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Tournament Results

I enjoyed the tournament quite a bit. It was pretty fun. Unfortunately I didn't perform so well. Of the five games I had a bye, a loss, a draw, a win, and a final loss. Keeping score of the games were not necessary, but I chose to do so on my final game, and I feel it really distracted my play as I hadn't practiced scorekeeping prior to it.

I made some serious blunders in a few of my games. In the game that I drew, I had the advantage and blundered. My opponent counter-blundered leaving me with the advantage again. We made a few blunders each with him having the advantage at the end, but I managed to draw him. The errors I were making were probably from not preparing on real boards. Most of my practice was with computer opponents & tactical puzzles, leaving my OTB sight unprepared.

I didn't expect to be at any real competitive level yet anyhow. I pretty much entered in it for fun because it's also one of the last local ones for the year.

Anyway, back to training I go! I'll keep you posted about my current training progress and thoughts in a short while.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Striding Along

I'm halfway through my second circle of the 306 mate-in-one problems. I can certainly say that this time through, I've been seeing things more visually and recognizing patterns. I have even encouraged some of my habits of seeing a piece's influence. For instance, with my opponent's king I see the square perimeter around him. Of course I have always sort of tried to work out the influences visually, but for some reason it seems different now... perhaps easier?

Seeing a solution gets more complicated when you have a mesh of knights and pieces that make the visualizing more difficult, but it seems working on visualizing those and "sensing" the patterns are more quicker than logically trying to look at all the square each piece can attack. And now it's as if I can more easily assess what's happening on the board.

We all know how the pieces move. We know the rules. It seems it's about seeing and truly "understanding" the ramifications of the rules which allow us to make progress i.e. as I believe de la maza puts it: "chess knowledge" and "chess ability."

I started doing a few of the mate-in-two puzzles that follow the mate-in-one from the Polgar book, and I must say they are much more challenging than the former. I'll still continue doing the mate-in-ones as they seem to stress pattern recognition well, while mate-in-two (or more) stress calculation (or at least until they also become so simple that I don't need to calculate any longer.) So, I am starting some of the mate-in-twos also. I want to do several circles of the 306 mates to see how it affects my play/visualization.

In terms of CTS scoring, there has been no numerical improvement. If anything, my rating has dropped, now just hovering above 1100. But, I think that can be attributed to staying up so late, sometimes to finish some chess problems that couldn't be finished earlier. I know that I can now see solutions to many 1350+ rated problems, where as before I had no idea what to do. All of my CTS tropies are in the 1300+ range now.

In other news however, there is a local chess tournament on October 21 that I registered for. This is my first tournament and will also give me my first CFC chess rating. All the entrance fees for the section is returned as prize money. Hopefully I can put up a decent fight in the tournament as it seems there are players rated up to 1650+ entered so far.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Develop Pattern Recognition Through Analysis

I've been following my plan somewhat, doing the 50 CTS puzzles and 50 one-move mates from the "Polgar Brick" and the rest as time permitted. Recently I looked through my copy of 1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate by Fred Reinfeld. I took a quick peek at the first page on queen sacrifices (which I still haven't finished) and wanted to redo the first few puzzles again.

These problems were pretty tough for me when I first attempted them months ago. So, I thought I'd try doing the puzzles over and to my surprise after a few moments of looking at them, my old thoughts and analysis was popping into my mind! I clearly remembered the position. I knew what pieces were important and where to start testing a solution in my mind.

Because these problems were initially so difficult for me to solve, I had spent a lot of time analyzing potential moves. This meant a lot of side-analysis and understanding of the war going on. It wasn't simply another static puzzle, but a whole system that I became well aware of and consequently remembered much more of.

A similar comparison might be to one of your positions in a chess game. You should be well aware of the board as you witnessed and participated in how it played out. You would have made lots of side analysis that was, and was not directly reflected into that game. But if you look at some static position... a tactical puzzle- the pieces may feel alien to you. You aren't intricately familiar to the field as you would be in a game you've been thinking about from the start. A tactical solution may be difficult for you to find until you see the board correctly.

In any tactical puzzle I think it is important to have the skill to quickly assess the field. To know what is under attack, where there are pins, forks and potential tactics. To see the position from both white and black's perspective and so on. If you can clearly see what is happening on any board, it is simply a process of choosing the best outcome, be it a material advantage, positional or checkmate, etc.

I think our goal is not simply to solve a tactical puzzle, but practice observation and analysis. By working the puzzle in your mind like that, you are putting effort into it and have developed many strong connections in memory (by concentrating on the consequential interplay of the pieces) that it would be hard not to remember something from it.

I started to slow down with my solutions so I could get more familiar with the board. I started finding more than one solution to some puzzles, noticing potential checkmates being rallied by the opposition, and many fun details that are increasing my board vision and awareness of that tactical puzzle. Because most of the mate-in-one puzzles are simple enough that a solution can often be seen without much analysis, I would be putting that extra bit into it to really understand the position. This way, they are not simply one of 50+ positions I flew past without much mental thought and being barely able to recall them afterwards.

I can imagine that after continually looking for features in the board, you'll soon recall that many of these features are similar to other puzzles you've studied. You may reach a point where you can see a board position and quickly make judgement as if you had been playing the game from the start because many patterns will begin to pop-out. This is similar to how knight movements can pop out if you practice knight-sight enough. Afterwards your analysis can begin to reach deeper levels, as the details you once placed effort into seeing are now obvious and observed quickly because of well-earned pattern recognition.

That's my current understanding of things. From now on I will put more effort into "seeing" a puzzle to develop observational/tactical awareness and earn pattern recognition. On the first run through a set, I think this is important to get some idea, and on the second run those ideas will probably be more easily remembered or more obvious which can then let you take the analysis deeper.

Perhaps there are many higher-level chess players who may find this to be pretty obvious, but then that may be part of the reason they are where they are.

It is with this insight that I feel using CTS as just a measurement tool, is the right choice; not as a developmental tool. With such a short, and narrow time-restrained analysis of each position you won't likely push your analysis to the point of learning something new or spending enough time to really remember the problem. For this reason, I feel it only best measures your current ability.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Laying a Foundation

To get a general baseline of my current tactical ability I completed a bit more than 50 puzzles on CTS (Chess Tactics Server I finished with a rating of about 1119 on a new account also named "boardscholar." Everyday I will try to do at least 50 puzzles on CTS to obtain a reading of my current tactical awareness. I am not intending to use CTS as my problem-set for tactical training, but mainly as a diagnostic tool to measure progress.

I have been re-thinking my study plan over ... I was not sure what puzzle library to use for the seven circles and since I feel that if I were to put a lot of time into over-learning them, that what I intend to study can be as important as to how much time I spend studying it. It seems the CT-Art is a viable pool but I would like to do a lot of training from printed sources.

I already own a few good books on tactics and I think my first phase will be to focus first on a smaller pool of essential tactics. For this I have chosen the first 306 mate-in-one puzzles from Chess: 5334 Problems, Combinations & Games by Laszlo Polgar.

This book also has the added benefit of teaching you to practice using algebraic notation. The system is simple, but without practice in it, it is hard to reach the point of visualizing a game from reading its notation; something I cannot do at present with ease. This is one benefit that does not seem to be adressed in training from programs with visual-results like CTS or CT-Art (or even some books for that matter.)

For the 306 puzzles, I'll complete 50 each day until finished. Then double the puzzle amount after each set until I am doing the whole set in one day. At that point I may continue to do the whole set each day a few more times, depending on how familiar the set has become.

Also, I'll be revisiting Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess. I have read it once before and I feel it's a very practical introduction to chess tactical themes and problem solving (sans any algebraic notation or high-level strategy) which I think are good to review. Each page presents a problem and you are required to choose the correct move, which is shown on the following page.

To balance out all this tactical training, I'll also be going over the tutorials in Chessmaster 9000 starting from the very beginning. I do not intend to put into practice the more advanced concepts when I reach those, but to more or less use it an introduction so that I'm become aware of them. I do not think they are important to think about at my level, but a general awareness seems reasonable.

Couple that with the Michael de la Maza's microdrill exercises and playing then analyzing at least one or two of my own games each day to find out how I lost ... I think that is a very balanced training schedule to lay a firm foundation for further intensive tactical training.

To give a sense of perspective, about a year ago for a period I played online chess just about everyday for a month and learnt about CTS during that time. I believe I started around 1060+ and quickly jumped into the 1100s in a short time. The highest I peaked on CTS was about 1160 but I seemed to sort of hover 20 or so points below that without much change after awhile.
My rating on Yahoo Chess was usually just shy of 1100.

So now that this foundation is planned out, we'll see how it works.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Chess Tool Kit

In Chess (or just about any subject/activity) there are fundamentals which need to be thoroughly learnt. It has been widely said within the chess community that until a reasonably high skill level is achieved (perhaps as high as 1800 rating) that you will obtain the most benefit from studying tactics. It is this weakness of tactical observation/action that allow more skillful players control over their opponent.

I will be following a study plan inspired by Michael de la Maza's rapid chess improvement, which focuses on over-learning a pool of tactical puzzles until you can complete them all quickly and without much calculation. At that point, one should be able to instantly recognize tactical positions and ideas in-game much more easily and faster, so they can better formulate a strategy and take advantage of tactical opportunities.

My current skill level is that of one around 1050-1100 rating. My first goal is to reach 1300 in as short a time as possible. I will test and create various exercises to see what works and then attempt to reverse-engineer them to find out why they worked. Once we have a clear idea about useful techniques, it should be possible to form a picture about some of the necessary tools required in chess success, and then implement those ideas into improving a general study plan. I am also optimistic that many inspirations from studying how to study chess will also be applicable towards learning any topic in general.

In my next post I'll describe my training schedule in detail.