Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The First Temptation of Patzer: Rule of Ten

Why am I so tempted to forego tactical studies and exclusively study openings? There are lots of reasons:

1. Instant gratification.

The benefits of opening study show themselves over the board almost immediately. The opening patterns I study are very likely to show up over the board (the opening position, for instance, is the only position guaranteed to show up in every game of chess). During an hour of studying an opening, it is easy to learn most "book" lines three to four-ply deep. When these positions occur OTB, it is very satisfying.

Compare that to tactical study: it takes tons of work to build up tactical pattern recognition skills. Unfortunately, I can play like a GM for a few moves in, but unless I am a tactical badass, it won't help me that much in my win-loss ratio.

2. Trickery is fun

In many lines, if your opponent makes reasonable looking moves, they are actually setting themselves up for a nasty trap (e.g., the Fried Liver attack). Also, it is important to learn an opening well so that I don't pull such boners myself. Frankly, I don't know what it says about my character that I get such a kick out of zinging someone.

The fact is, good opponents don't usually fall for opening pickles. If I want to excel at this game, I need to be able to spot tactics in the middle game.

3. Opening: a microcosm of the middlegame

Slowly building up an opening repertoire makes me think deeply about positional factors such as pawn structure and space. I would hope that this will help me appreciate such factors in the middlegame.

4. Opening study makes me feel smarter.

I am good at memorizing crap (this, not any brilliance on my part, made me an exemplary biology undergrad). For some reason, I am ridiculously slow to learn tactical patterns. It is very frustrating when, after studying tactics for all this time, I still miss elementary pins and the like in real games.

This is a stupid, egotistical reason to focus on openings. I think all chess instructors would rightly say to focus your energy on the weakest aspect of your game.

While 1-4 provide the reasons for why I like studying openings so much, they certainly don't justify such study. Hence, I have imposed a ten tactical problems rule on myself. No opening study until I have already done at least ten tactics problems in the Circles that day!

6 Comments:

Blogger Patrick said...

IMO, #3 is an excellent and underappreciated reason to study openings and covered in a 2-part article by Randy Bauer. Bauer says something like "openings can be a vehicle to learn all phases of the game."

I do not think you are alone in the preference for opening study, because it seems 90% of new books are opening monographs. Everyone is looking for the magic bullet.

Great post as usual. Peace out.

5/24/2006 10:21:00 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Devil Knight,

I have long been an advocate of opening study, just not to the detriment of other studies.

The biggest problems with not having a good opening repetoire is that you spend to much time OTB trying to determine the correct move in an opening if you haven't spent some time looking at the line.

You hit one point squarely also - sometimes "reasonable" looking moves end up getting you in trouble.

5/24/2006 10:46:00 PM  
Blogger BlunderProne said...

Discipline grasshopper.

Yes, Openings study does tend to ave an immediate gratification effect... boost your confidence ... and all the points of 1-4 you bring up...BUT not being able to see simple to mid-range tatics once you are out of the book becomes an achilles' heel.

While circle training... it took great discipline to stay the course and complete the circles. I would only "refresh" my openings the day prior or the day of an OTB event. I followed up after the event to see where I went OOB ( out of book). I sucked at tactics and decided to do each level 7 times before going to the next.... that gave me the most bang for the buck. once I got through level 30 seven times I found my tactics had improved temendously ( seen as a spike in my OTB rating last summer) I continued to fishish the circles ( earlier this month) and am able to see tactical shots that both my opponent and myslef can deliver.

Now that the circles are completed, I am putting more time on hte openings and less on tactics ( but still believe in doing at least 10 a day ... now using the polgar 5334 brick). I am trying to take a deeper look into my positions as I am creating an annotated database of just my openings.

5/25/2006 01:13:00 PM  
Blogger Gambitz said...

This blog is funny because I was the complete opposite to you a couple of years back (back then I didn't follow chess that much). What I loved about chess were the tactics, the beautiful combinations and mating finishes. I used to detest positional players who preferred dry closed positions. I didn't know much opening theory, and rarely found the time to learn new lines. And unlike many players, I don't have a great memory for openings.
For me it was all about creating complications and carnage on the board, and finishing with a beautiful tactic. Sometimes I used to play odd moves from move one, even in rated games, because I just wanted to confuse my opponent, get into a super complicated position, and let my superior tactical skills finish him off. So much for opening theory :P. The only books I looked at were tactical puzzle books. The best one I came across was by Livshitz "Grandmaster IQ" http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1857440021/002-2488213-7734432?v=glance&n=283155 . I highly recommend that book to improve your tactical skills. I also play those 'mate in 2' puzzles. Love them.
If you want to improve your tactical ability, then do HARD tactical puzzles. Find the most challenging ones. If you understand positional ideas, then the next level would be to find postional tactical puzzles, which IMO are the hardest chess puzzles of all.

5/26/2006 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

Just take care not to end like me.
A 1750 player in the middlegame, a 1100 player in the endgame.
Learning endings takes a substantial amount of work. Don't underestimate that.

5/27/2006 08:23:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Tempo: I think I'm 1600 in the opening, 1100 in the middlegame, and 900 in the endgame. Since my rating hovers around 1100, that suggests what stage is most important (i.e., NOT the opening).

5/28/2006 12:44:00 AM  

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