Monday, October 02, 2006

The next beginning

I am now in possession of Michael Stean's Simple Chess and the famous tactical training software CT-Art. I have finished section 1 of Winning Pawn Structures and began to read Stean's book today. It's a short book, but I think there is a lot to be learned from it. I also began the long journey with CT-Art.

CT-Art isn't exactly user friendly. I didn't know what to do first upon firing up the program. Should I be solving problems in practice mode or test mode? I solved all of the level 10 problems today in practice mode. I just did them in numerical order, though it seems that this order groups by theme, meaning that there would be a few problems in a row with the same kind of mate, or the same kind of knight fork, or some other motif. I was close, but not quite perfect for level 10. My final percentage was 97% for the 110 problems in level 10.

The level 10 problems were a lot like the Chess Tactics Server (CTS) problems I've been doing lately and typically didn't take more than 10 seconds to see the solution. Needless to say, this isn't helping my calculation skills yet, but my understanding is that the problems get tougher in the next few levels. I'm sure my calculation and tactical acumen will be pushed to (or beyond) the limit soon enough.

Since the large majority of my time has been at CTS, I'm excited to have some other activities to put significant energy towards. Balance is one of the keys to improvement. Simple Chess will add much needed positional ideas and CT-Art will help with calculation skill (at least once I get to a level requiring more calculation).


At 5:29 AM, Blogger Temposchlucker said...

Balance is one of the keys to improvement


At 10:50 AM, Blogger Loomis said...

That's an easy question to ask, but probably not an easy one to answer. The simplest way to answer is to just refer you to the many very good chess teachers who believe it's true. But I've read your blog and I know that you don't take anybody's word for it. Short of doing it yourself, you simply won't believe. On the other hand, if someone is successful at helping people play better chess, that is proof enough for me that their ideas have merit.

Of course there is a difference between having merit and being perfectly accurate. There is also a difference between a general principle and what is right for an individual. Personally, I have learned nothing about myself that suggests I am special in a way that exempts me from the general princples that have held for chess players that have gone before me.

But I should make some attempt to answer your question. Why is "balance" a key to chess improvement? I think there are a few logical arguments to be made, you can agree or disagree with them if you like.

In war, the more weapons you have, the more opportunity you have to win. If your opponent is able to hold you off from one attack, another may suffice. In chess, being able to calculate winning combinations can be a tremendous weapon. But sometimes the combinations can be parried by the opponent, but only at significant positional concessions. If one is unable to recognize and take advantage of the positional improvements, even the tactical ability would be worthless in that situation.

Tactical opportunities are actually rare in a chess game between players of nearly equal ability. There may only be 2-3 tactical chances in a game of 30-60 moves. In the remainder of the moves, one must be improving their positions, or there may never be a tactical opportunity. But once the opportunity presents itself, one must not fail to take advantage or else all the other moves are for nothing. In this way different aspects of the game go hand in hand and studying one without the other -- a lack of balance -- can not be optimal.

In studying openings, one hopes to achieve a position with opportunities. If there are no such opportunities entering the middlegame phase, tactical and positional knowledge may be useless as your opponent proceeds to push your army out of the way. Of course, achieving the most promising position out of the opening is worthless if one has no ability to make use of the opportunities achieved -- it's no good to gambit a pawn if you can't proceed with the counterplay. In this way, achieving an active position in the opening and tactical knowledge go hand in hand, learning one without the other is nothing but disaster.

Sometimes a tactical opportunity allows a player to win a pawn or two and enter the endgame with a technical win. But if he has no technical ability, then his hard work will be for nothing. Unfortunately, even the most expert endgame player will not win games if they always reach the endgame at a disadvantage. So we can see that the middlegame and the endgame are partners that must be treated as equals.

None of this may be very convincing to you, but I am certain that a balanced approach is correct. We may take periods of time where we focus on one area more than another, but we cannot neglect any part of the game forever.


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