Saturday, May 26, 2007

When and why to study positional chess?

Redated from August 2006. This is worth repeating.

For your reading pleasure, an inspirational quote from Michael Stean's book on chess strategy, Simple Chess. I never tire of his elegant and insightful prose:
Don't be deceived by the title--chess is not a simple game--such a claim would be misleading to say the least--but that does not mean that we must bear with the full brunt of its difficulty. When faced with any problem too large to cope with as a single entity, common sense tells us to break it down into smaller fragments of manageable proportions. For example, the mathematical problem of dividing one number by another is not one that can in general be solved in one step, but primary school taught us to find the answer by a series of simple division processes (namely long division). So, how can we break down the 'problem' of playing chess?

Give two of the uninitiated a chessboard, a set of chessmen, a list of rules and a lot of time, and you may well observe the following process: the brighter of the two will quickly understand the idea of checkmate and win some games by 1. e4 2. Bc4 3. Qh5 4. Qxf7 mate. When the less observant of our brethren learns how to defend his f7 square in time, the games will grow longer and it will gradually occur to the players that the side with more pieces will generally per se be able to force an eventual checkmate. This is the first important 'reduction' in the problem of playing chess--the numerically superior force will win. So now our two novices will no longer look to construct direct mates, these threats are too easy to parry, but will begin to learn the tricks of the trade for winning material (forks, skewers, pins, etc.), confident that this smaller objective is sufficient. Time passes and each player becomes sufficiently competent not to shed material without reason. Now they begin to realize the importance of developing quickly and harmoniously and of castling the king into safety.

So what next? Where are their new objectives? How can the problem be further reduced? If each player is capable of quick development, castling and of not blundering any pieces away, what is there to separate the two sides? This is the starting point of Simple Chess. It tries to reduce the problem still further by recommending various positional goals which you can work toward, other things (i.e., material, development, security of king position) being equal. Just as our two fictitious friends discovered that the one with more pieces can expect to win if he avoids any mating traps, Simple Chess will provide him with some equally elementary objectives which if attained should eventually decide the game in his favor, subject to the strengthened proviso that he neither allows any mating tricks, nor loses any material en route.

Essentially, Simple Chess aims to give you some of the basic ideas for forming a long-term campaign. It also shows you how to recognize and accumulate small, sometimes almost insignificant-looking advantages which may well have little or no short-term effect, but are permanent features of the position. As the game progresses, the cumulative effect begins to make itself felt more and more, leading eventually to more tangible gains. Combinations and attacks are shelved for their proper time and place as the culmination of an overall strategy. Given the right kind of position it is not so difficult to overwhelm the opposition with an avalanche of sacrifices. The real problem is how to obtain such positions. This is the objective of Simple Chess.
While I am still kind of at the early stage of trying not to blunder material, this really whets my appetite!

Here is the Table of Contents:
1. Introduction (above is an excerpt)
2. Outposts
3. Weak pawns
4. Open files
5. Half-open files: the minority attack
6. Black squares and white squares
7. Space

Nezha recommended this book to me for an explanation of the importance of space: thanks, Nezha! Note this book really isn't for beginners, as he states in the Intro. The Idiots Guide To Chess is the best introduction to strategic concepts for novices that I own. This one is aimed more for people ~1500 or so, who don't blunder away material very frequently. However, I have looked it over and it is certainly quite readable even for this patzer.


Blogger DG said...

I have looked it over and it is certainly quite

The suspense is killing me! Quite what?

8/19/2006 03:15:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

:) Good eye, DG. I've fixed the sentence fragment.

8/19/2006 08:53:00 PM  
Blogger Edwin 'dutchdefence' Meyer said...

What a coincidence. I came across this book myself yesterday and intended to add it to my book purchase post. Besides being recommended by a GM, all the reviews were more then positive. This is one i must have as well.

8/20/2006 01:05:00 AM  
Blogger St. Patzer said...

This seems like quite a good book. I will get round to obtaining a copy. The content is exactly along the lines of why I now see the de la Manza system as flawed. Tactics only gets you so far, and it only aids you against people who make material errors. Practising tactics is a helpful begining, but proper progress comes from undestanding strategy, and any book that gets this across is definitely worth having.

8/20/2006 04:28:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Good to see you are back, St Patzer! I got really sick of looking at that cartoon of the exploding computer!

8/20/2006 05:28:00 PM  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

St. Patzer,
What a nonsense. The system of De La Maza isn't flawed at all. DLM's book is called "400 points in 400 days". Because that reflects his own experience.
Special for wussies, who are willing to spent only a few hours a day only during a few months, he developed his 7 circles.
This program lasts only 127 days, so you can expect only 127 ratingpoints from it. A DeLaMaza Lite version, as it were.

You can find the ratingprogress of the Knights at

15 Knights did the program. 10 of them succeeded ratingwise (=127 points or more gain), 5 did not. Their average gain in rating was 213 !
One of the failures I have counted was Silverdragon, with 78, who didn't even finished the circles.

So the system is definitely proven.

8/21/2006 06:00:00 AM  
Blogger St. Patzer said...

Tempo/Blue Devil

It sure is good to be back in the thick of it as it were.

Tempo, firstly I am not suggesting for a minute that the de la Manza system is not beneficial in improving your chess rating. I believe it is, and the rating improvements of the Knights speak for themselves. And congtats to all knights.

Perhaps I am assesing it unfairly. I came to the De la Kanza system as perhaps my introduction to chess (I knew nothing befdre starting it and had an estimated rating of 800). In recent months I have learned however about the importance of other areas such as pawn structure, and am witnessing a dimishing marginal return from time spent on tactics to the exclusion of other areas.

I think at the outset I saw the system as a panacea almost a route for never ending progress, now i realise that it improves one area of your chess solely. I really think the Silman analyis (link as on Blue Devils site) is a really good crtique of the De La Manza system. And perhaps the benefits gained are disportionate for those player who miss basic tactical patterns, as I am no longer (sorry:- less ofthen) in this category (thanks to the DLM system), there is less in the system for me now then in the past (thats just a personal observation, no disrespect to those who are still making efforts to improve this area).

However, I cant help but feel that Silmans commetns around the over selling of the system by de la Manza are justified, and fundamentally I believe the sample set of one is not sufficient to justify the overall claims that DLM makes. I believe the DLM system improves chess players at tactics. However I have learned in 9 months that there is a lot more to chess than tactics, in the same way there is more to Tiger Woods game than putting, or more to Marco Van Bastens training sessions than focussing on goal keeping (ref: Netherlands 4-0 Ireland ;-))....

anyway great ot be back !!

8/21/2006 03:20:00 PM  
Blogger transformation said...

i read simple chess with ardor, savoring his every word. it is like a
'silman for dummies', and how eloquently clear. even his simple but so cogent an explaination of outpost. imagine if stean were YOUR accountant (he changed fields, as i recall)!

st.patzers comments are all very good, too. we need to work on all parts our game. i wrote a long post on this, i plan to put out, but given its nature, have needed to sit on it for a few weeks:

slow/fast, positional/tactical, opening to middlegame transtions/middle to endgame transitions, rest/effort, passive/active. massive iterations/or just stare at one position for a week like a Zen Roshi with a big stick wrapped in robes burning incense.

8/21/2006 04:05:00 PM  
Blogger takchess said...

Time passes and each player becomes sufficiently competent not to shed material without reason.

I like this book and especially liked this analogy. Isn't it true that this also reflects the development of chess in general from the 1500's on, development of openings on an individual level(movement from simple openings to tricky ones that others haven't seen as much), Perhaps it also reflects tactics as well moving from scholar mate to more subtle tactics and traps.

I bought this book at harvard sq for 5 bucks and didn't finish it which is not a reflection on the quality of the book.

8/22/2006 01:07:00 PM  
Blogger The retired pawn said...

Ever since Patrick said "Goodbye" I find myself getting tips and suggestion from you. I want to thank you for the instruction and the games. Please keep it up!


5/26/2007 01:52:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Thanks retired pawn, for the kind words.

5/26/2007 08:06:00 PM  
Blogger transformation said...

simple chess does as good a job as any book in explaining 'outpost'. highly recommended book.

stean latter left chess to become an accountant. imagine having HIM for your CPA?

thx for reposting, david

5/27/2007 03:48:00 PM  
Blogger XY said...

Nice quote. And the importance of space is something I need to learn about as well (both in principle and practice), so feel free to blog about what you learn. : )

6/03/2007 11:30:00 AM  

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