Monday, July 30, 2007

More on classifying tactics, with an experiment

For those interested in the Circles, you might check out allegroknight's new discussion of how he might modify them. This is something a lot of you have a good deal of experience with :)

My previous post was a bit unfocused, as I wasn't exactly sure where I was going. Now that I'm there, I can be more clear.

The search for a practically useful and relatively exhaustive scheme for classifying tactics was conducted fairly extensively by King of the Spill and Temposchlucker . I wonder what people think of those posts now? Tempo, what do you think of your scheme? Here is a great line from Tempo's post: "King of the spill tried to develop a theory about tactics. If such theory will help to improve your chess is another matter, but I see developing theories as a means to clear up the mess that usually resides in the head. A sort of defragmentation of the hard disk so to speak."

When I wrote the post, I suggested that with longer combinations, things get too messy and any classification scheme will be so simplistic as to cloud the precise concrete calculations needed to find answers. However, in the comments loomis gave a nice analysis of the included position in terms of the simple categories. His analysis not only helped me understand the position, but makes me think the understanding gained would actually help me find similar combinations of tactics in the future.

Heisman says that complex combinations are words built up from the alphabet of basic tactics. If most combinations can succumb to a cogent analysis as loomis provided, that would be sweet, and suggest that when working through tactical problems, it will really pay off to take the time to struggle to find the solution not only in terms of variation crunching, but to take the time to consciously decompose it into the basic elements, and more generally to construct a narrative about the position that would help you see similar patterns in the future.

Indeed, the idea that constructing a personal explanation of particular positions can help you see them in the future has been directly confirmed by a simple experiment. The paper, by de Bruin, Rikersa and Schmidt, is called The effect of self-explanation and prediction on the development of principled understanding of chess in novices, and was published in 2006.

As described in the paper, researchers took a large group of people that had never played chess, and taught them how to mate with a rook and king versus king. They broke them up into three groups: group one simply observed the solution on a computer. The second predicted the moves of the computer before shown the move of the computer. The third group predicted, but also were required to generate their own explanation of each move the computer generated (e.g., 'This move cramps in the King'). It was found that when subjects were given rook mate problems of their own to solve, in future sessions, the third group (the one that generated the explanation) performed better than both other groups, while the first and second groups performed the same. If the result is general, that suggests simply guessing moves is not enough: you should also try to understand and explain the moves once you see them (something a more experienced player is likely to do anyway). Perhaps this suggests you construct your own explanation before reading the explanation of the annotator, or even use the J'adoube method of just using Rybka to analyze the position and then do the hard work of explaining its moves yourself.

On the other hand, their study was on a very simple chess problem, and with pure begineers, so we can't be sure that the results will generalize to more complicated problems in more seasoned players.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The scope and limits of tactical classifications

Before discussing the topic of the post, Knights Errant, quixotic blundering fools feeling our way in the night trying to improve at tactics, time to make room in the fire circle for allegroknight. May Caissa smile upon you. He's already got about five posts up. Please give him a warm welcome to the blogosphere.

Also, I've been thinking a little about how to classify tactics. We all know that rather than simply crunching through variations in one's head, it is helpful to construct a higher-level narrative about the position based on more general principles (e.g., see Temposchluckers's recent post for such an example with bishops of opposite color). Many psychologists would describe this as constructing higher-level cognitive chunks to describe the position at a higher level of generality than the flat-footed 'this piece is here, that piece is there' variety. Indeed, this is what most positional evaluation treatises are supplying, general principles that can be used to evaluate a position to see what weaknesses need to be addressed or exploited.

This also holds in tactics: it is very useful to have the concept of a 'fork', for instance, to classify the multifarious forks that occur in real games. This is not just for aesthetic pleasure, but can be used to provide top-down cognitive feedback in the move selection process. This is a process I call guided pattern recognition, introduced here, and see a non-chess example well-known in the psychology literature here. For example, when I think 'Is there a fork here?', a fork will often pop out at me that was previously invisible, sort of like when someone pops out in a crowd when someone says 'Look for someone in a lime-colored shirt.' (Cognitively, this is likely a top-down attentional affect, as it is well-known that we can selectively attend to particular features of a scene, over and above the previous anemic view of attention in psychology as a little beam or spotlight that is used to only pick out all the features in a spatially focused region of the visual field: rather it seems we also have a spatially extended attentional mechanism that can select individual features anywhere in the field). Helping us with pattern-searching is just one possible benefit of having a good way to classify tactics. It is also useful in discussing games with others ('Then I forked his queen and rook with a pawn': everyone knows what you mean and you don't need to give any specifics of the position).

In the previous post on guided pattern recognition, I listed the procedure I use to search for tactics. In particular, I scan the scene partly guided by a short list of tactical patterns. The problem is, many tactics I am starting to see in CTB don't neatly fall into any of the categories. This is partly a result of deficits in my classification scheme. The challenge is to find a classification system that is exhaustive but practical. This topic has been discussed fairly extensively by King of the Spill and Temposchlucker in two important posts from about a year and a half ago.

One problem with trying to classify everything is that I become somewhat blind to tactics that don't fit into my schema.For example, here is a problem that I ran into today at CTB, with white to move:

I'll put the solution in the comments in the next 24. I had a really hard time with this problem, partly because it didn't fit neatly into my tactical classification scheme. Part of my problem is that my classification scheme is really only for very simple tactics (fork, skewer, pin), whereas this problem is truly a combination that relies on seeing not only the ultimate goal, but also being imaginative enough to see how to reach it.See Footnote I guess that's the thing with brilliancies: they aren't obvious. If I could quickly find combinations like this in real games, man, I'd quit the Circles!

Is finding an exhaustive and practical classification scheme possible? Is it worth the effort? There seems to be a consensus that thinking-via-principles is very helpful for strategic thinking, which generally relies less on variation-crunching. But my hunch is that for sharp, tactical positions, it may be that aside from the basic tactical alphabet (forks, pins, skweres, etc), the Caissa smiles mostly upon concrete analysis of variations. With more than 1-3 move tactics, things get too messy and the simple categories can actually cloud the precise analytical processes needed to find answers. I guess I should revisit King of the Spill and Tempo's posts to help me think more about this.

[Footnote While such combinations may not arise a whole lot in real games, when they do it would be really sweet to see them. But, then again, I lose most games because I miss 1-3 move tactics. One nice thing about many of these multi-move combinations in Stage 5 of CTB is that little kernels of the solution have already appeared in previous Stages of the problem (e.g., the last three moves of a a five-move tactic in Stage 5 appeared as a three-move tactic in Stage 2).]

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Lessons from blitz

It has been about a month since I hit chess puberty. This metamorphosis included a lot of changes: more reckless, aggressive, antipositional playing style, a desire to play lots of blitz just to gain more experience on the 64 squares. Some commenters acted the concerned parent, but I just had to fly, had to stretch my newfound wings. And just as I'm glad I moved out of my parent's house (indeed it is really weird to live with your parents past a certain age), I am very glad I took this flight.

This meta-blitz has taught me a lot of lessons about chess in general, and the pros and cons of playing lots of blitz more specifically. Note that these lessons probably won't apply to more advanced players who already have superb tactical acumen, an acumen I clearly don't possess.

1. Error patterns
Ninety percent of the games were decided by tactical blunders. The following plots the proportion of tactical errors, sorted by type, culled from looking over about 60 of the games:

Note that the highest proportion of errors are the simplest possible blunder: leaving pieces en prise, either my own or my opponent's. Such blunders make up nearly a quarter of my errors in these blitz games. Second most frequent are counting errors. The rest of the errors, from neglecting to consider checks, to calculation errors, make up a much smaller percentage of my mistakes.

I think this is largely a result of the fact that it is blitz that I'm playing, but I will next do the same analysis on 100 slow games, to see if the patterns are similar. My guess is that in slow games I will have fewer en prise blunders, more calculation and counting blunders. Not to say I don't make outright blunders in slow games, but the proportion should be less (I hope).

This reinforces the importance of using some kind of thought process that includes a blundercheck mode, a step that is easy to neglect in blitz games when I get too caught up in my own plans and schemes. It is quite amazing how easy it is to miss a piece out there hanging out, ripe for the picking.

2. The predominance of short combinations
Going through the errors also revealed a very interesting property of tactical opportunities. There were hardly any complex combinations available in any of the games. Perhaps in 3% of the games, I missed four-or-more move combinations. Most realistic combinations are two or three move, typically one move. This is an extremely useful fact, and should be impressed into the minds of all beginners. When I first started playing chess, I looked at the board as a structure with infinite tactical possibilities that were well out of my reach, I would sit and search for complicated N-move combinations, wrongly believing that they must be there, but that I was just too stupid to see them. My post-mortem showed me how naive my thinking was, and this is liberating.

The law of short combinations also makes sense from an analytical point of view (and could probably be proven mathematically): the longer the imagined combination, the more likely it is that the opponent will have defensive resources, will have in-between moves that are hard to see, the more likely it is that you are simply missing an obvious weakness in your attack or somehow miscalculating the combination. It reinforces the brilliant insight provided by GM Ziatdinov, which I found out about from DK-Transform:
I teach practical tournament chess. When it comes to tactics, I believe only in clear 1-2 move combinations. These combinations occur in every game, even between strong players, but most people cannot wait for simple combinations.

You can win without strategy. If you do not apply effective tactics on every move, you will not survive long. No amount of planning for the next few moves does any good if your forces are destroyed in the current position. This does not mean that long-term strategy is not important, particularly as a context for tactics, but the outcome of most games boils down to which person sees better tactically in the present situation.

In chess, there is strategy and tactics. Strategy involves long-term concepts, while tactics are immediate. Strategy is academic and theoretical; tactics are practical and concrete.

[An] effective method for improving your chess tactics is blitz chess...Blitz is about developing tactical bravery and intuition. Practice this form of tactical training and then analyze your chess "instincts" after the game with a computer.
Perhaps for players rated around 1600 this wisdom does not apply: I don't know, and don't particularly care. My goal is to reach 1500 and then maintain that level of performance so that I can enjoy a good game of chess, but get back to a balanced life.

This all makes me extremely happy that I am doing the circles with Chess Tactics for Beginners, which is training me in combinations that are typically no longer than four moves in length. Until I can spot such tactics without error in all my games, the later levels of CT-Art are not time well spent.

The only exception to this short-combination trend that I found in my games were sequences with forced moves (i.e., mating nets, sequences of checks, threats against the queen that couldn't be met, or counting problems with sequences of captures). Luckily these are also relatively easy to calculate through, as there are typically not tons of side-variations as the moves are usually forced (though not always, as even counting problems can be disrupted by a smart in-between move). This is proably why the GMs say that in quiet positions, you shouldn't waste a lot of time working through variations in your head.

3. Memorizing opening variations is useless
Another positive lesson from blitz is that the opening doesn't matter. Coming out of the opening with a 0.5 pawn deficit doesn't mean shit if I drop a piece, and almost all of the games are decided by blunders in which the evaluation graph drastically fluctuates during the game (just as MDLM observed). While avoiding opening traps is important, that is essentially a tactical matter. To reach the levels I want to reach, detailed opening study is not necessary, especially if I have a good grasp of the opening principles.

4. Strategy ain't that important
This is a corollary of the discussion in 2 above. Having a backward pawn doesn't matter if you are down a piece. Until you have stopped dropping pieces to simple tactical combinations, you just don't need to spend a lot of time thinking about subtleties of pawn structure. The only strategic consideration that really influences things, precisely because it correlates highly with tactical opportunities, is piece activity, and not typically of a subtle variety (more of the 'My bishop cannot move so I need to activate it' variety).

This also suggests that studying games between GMs is not all that important for beginners. In such annotated collections, typically you have two people playing extremely well tactically, and the entire game hinges on extremely subtle positional factors. In real games between novices at my level, this is not how it works. You are not learning the kinds of things that will make a big difference in your games. Once you have stopped dropping pieces, though, studying GM vs GM games will probably be more helpful. (This is another implicit advertisement for the Euwe's Master vs Amateur book, which shows master versus amateur games).

5. Endgame expertise is not important
I am not losing games because I don't know how to mate with a Q against a R. In most of the games, if they even reach an endgame, the material disparity is so large that subtle endgame knowledge is simply not needed. I know how to mate with the two bishops, B and N, and Q versus N. None of these have ever been useful in a real game. While they say you should 'start' with the endgame, they should also say 'Don't learn too much endgame if you still drop pieces.' Basic K/P versus K is extremely useful at my level, as are the basic mates. Beyond that, not much is needed. Silman realized this and brilliantly incorporated it into his recent book (which I initially thought had ridiculously low expectations of people rated U1400: these low expectations are based in practical considerations about what you will actually need at those levels--more Kudos to Silman!).

6. Experience, for beginners, is key
My coach (an IM), Chandler (in How to beat your dad at chess), and GM Ziatdinov (above) all recommend that beginners simply play. And play some more. Build up skills, practical experience, intuition. Tactical exercises are great, but playing thousands of games, and losing lots of them, will build up a bedrock of experience that is indispensible. Especially when starting out in chess, playing mindful blitz (thanks, Wahrenheit), going over the games quickly afterwards to get a sense for the patterns of error and success, is extremely helpful. Yes, there is the danger of becoming one of those people at ICC with 10,000 games and a rating of 900, but my hunch is that if you have a half decent head on your shoulders, and use it to analyze your blitz losses, that won't happen. There will always be time for slower games once you feel you have hit a blitz plateau.

So, beginners, play. Lose. A lot. Get nailed with the back rank mate 10 times. If you analyze afterwards you will slowly build up a feeling for safe positions, dangerous positions, positions in which crazy fun speculative sacrifices are likely to work, and those in which they are not. Most importantly, you will not fall into the trap of becoming a chess scholar (on the same level as philosophers in academia in the heirarchy of tournament chess), someone who has tons of book knowledge, subtle understanding of the intricacies of move 19 options in some strange variation of the Philidor Defense, but gets his ass kicked in 20 moves by the kid who just started playing 6 months ago.

7. The downsides
There are some clear downsides to blitz overdoses. For one, in slow games, it is hard to get back into the careful mindset required in such controls. I have found that I have started to get bored in slow games: it just isn't as fun as the crazy pie-throwing contest that is blitz.

Second, blitz is largely a pie-throwing contest. A blitz game itself largely tests the knowledge you already have, how quickly you recognize basic tactical motifes, rather than the depth of your understanding of the beautiful subtle aspects of the game. You are also likely to not remember the mistakes you made, and definitely not likely to learn anything new about the game during the game; the longer the game, the less likely you will have these problems. You need to be careful of playing blitz mindlessly if your goal is to improve: if you just play and never think about your losses, you could end up that 900 rated person with 10 zillion games. It's important to play blitz mindfully.

Third, your games will simply be uglier, unimpressive, and messy. That is, blitz games don't have the aesthetic of a well-thought-through slow game.

OK, there's my mind dump. So far, it has been very fun, but I will now play about 100 slow games to get a sense for my error patterns. It will be interesting to see how they compare to the errors in blitz games.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Fourth Phase DONE!

Stage 1-4 Circles done! Finally, after a year, I'm on to the fifth and final stage of the circles. Within three months I'll have my tactical baseline established.

It took me 13 times through these 299 problems before I got 100% correct. By the 13th time through, it was effortless (though near the end of the problems I was getting so nervous about the possibility of making a misclick that I actually had to start thinking again).

This, strangely, is from one of the last problems I got wrong (I think it was in minicircle 4.11). I made a wrong step once it got to this position (white, you, to move). Easy: either give black the opposition by stepping back, or move to the right and draw. For some reason my circuits got crossed and I thought I had to step my king back to draw. Ack. Let's hope I don't do that again!

# CirclesPercent Correct
Problem Set 11498-99-100-100-100-100-100
Problem Set 21590-93-96-99-99-99-99-99
Problem Set 3885-93-97-99-99-99-99-100
Problem Set 41373-87-93-96-98-99-99
Problem Set 50
NOTE: Circles undertaken with CTB.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Welcome Grande Merda, back into the ranks of the Knights Errant. Good luck!

Due to family emergencies this week, less chess than usual. Still playing blitz, and I will summarize the effects of this rebellious phase of blitz-playing pretty soon. The short story is that it has helped my tactics a lot, helped my blitz play a lot (well, ~200 rating points in my blitz play), and helped me realize just how unimportant the opening is at my level.

Monday, July 16, 2007

BCC is on a roll

Note added: to those who find DG's humor offensive, don't watch the following classic Chappelle bit: .
(note the full video is here, but of lower quality and with the first minute cut off).

I'm sure it's not news to most, but over at BCC Weblog there is a wonderful series of answers to a chess questionnaire, from excellent players. What am I learning? One, they are really paranoid about saying what openings they like. Perhaps one person has directly answered the question about favorite openings.

My favorite bit so far is from Alex Cherniack (2200+ USCF). It reminds me of hisbestfriend's criticisms of Euwe's wonderful Master vs Amateur (and expresses very well why I wasn't convinced by those criticisms):
My primary mode of training has always been playing over whole games on a chess board from books, with detailed annotations (not Informant symbols) from world-class players. Such books are becoming more difficult to find, because all the analysis in today's publications is verified (and increasingly manufactured by) chess engines. It's hard to learn from "perfect" chess literature! It's interacting with human ideas on a page, discerning the mistakes, and writing the corrections in the margins, that makes me improve the most.
It would be interesting to know what books Cherniack recommends (other than the 1953 Zurich book, which he recommends very highly).

Friday, July 13, 2007

Chess in Don Quixote

Redated from last August

I am reading Don Quixote. It is a beautiful, hilarious, brilliant masterpiece. If you haven't read it, drop everything and start now. The new translation by Edith Grossman is excellent. It is a quite readable book, and Grossman does a good job explaining historical allusions in the footnotes. It makes the perfect vacation or bedtime reading.

Since the Knights Errant are following in Don Quixote's footsteps, I thought it only fitting to include the one and only mention of the game of chess in the novel. It comes from Part II, Chapter XII. Its wit and charm are representative of the work as a whole:
[Don Quixote said to Sancho Panza], "Come, tell me, hast thou not seen a play acted in which kings, emperors, pontiffs, knights, ladies, and diverse other personages were introduced? One plays the villain, another the knave, this one the merchant, that the soldier, one the sharp-witted fool, another the foolish lover; and when the play is over, and they have put off the dresses they wore in it, all the actors become equal."

"Yes, I have seen that," said Sancho.

"Well then," said Don Quixote, "the same thing happens in the comedy and life of this world, where some play emperors, others popes, and, in short, all the characters that can be brought into a play; but when it is over, that is to say when life ends, death strips them all of the garments that distinguish one from the other, and all are equal in the grave."

"A fine comparison!" said Sancho; "though not so new but that I have heard it many and many a time, as well as that other one of the game of chess; how, so long as the game lasts, each piece has its own particular role, and when the game is finished they are all mixed, jumbled up and shaken together, and stowed away in the bag, which is much like ending life in the grave."

"Thou art growing less doltish and more shrewd every day, Sancho," said Don Quixote.

"Ay," said Sancho; "it must be that some of your worship's shrewdness sticks to me; land that, of itself, is barren and dry, will come to yield good fruit if you dung it and till it; what I mean is that your worship's conversation has been the dung that has fallen on the barren soil of my dry wit, and the time I have been in your service and society has been the tillage; and with the help of this I hope to yield fruit in abundance that will not fall away or slide from those paths of good breeding that your worship has made in my parched understanding."

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Pawns like friends

Pawns are social beings that need to operate in groups. They should not be left on their own.
-Lars Bo Hansen

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

What have I become?!

I hate to admit it, but this cheesy New Age music may be just the perfect background music for doing tactics: no distracting lyrics, and in general nothing to take my mind off the task at hand. And since it is Sirius, no ads.

Next thing you know I'll be baking quiche and wearing sandals.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Why deep opening study is crucial for beginners

From Heisman's new tactics book:
It does not matter who gets the advantage out of the opening, if one of the players is likely to lose a piece to a simple tactic in the middlegame. Losing a piece from an advantageous position will almost always result in a lost position. So study tactics, not openings, until you almost never lose pieces to simple tactical motifs.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Phew, that was tough

After training for about six months, I participated in my first triathlon today. While it was only a sprint triathlon (750 yard swim, 15 mile bike, and 5k run) it may have been the toughest sporting event I have ever participated in (perhaps playing rugby back in college comes close). It was also really fun pushing myself to the limit and meeting all the hard-core triathletes.

That's me in the pic, making the transition from bike to run. The run portion just about killed me, and I had to walk on a couple of the steeper hills, but I plugged along and finished in about 2 hours (my goal was to finish in under 2h 15m). Objectively, this isn't a good time (the best people finish in about an hour!), but for me it is a big step from the couch potato I had become...I could hardly run a mile six months ago. I hope it is the first of many such events. The adrenaline at the starting line, lined up with all these guys at Lake Crabtree getting ready to swim, was intense. My wife was very helpful, actually waking up at 5:30 with me to drive me to the 7:30 am race. Thanks, Julia!

Speaking of achievements, and getting back to chess, Sir Rocky Rook has finished his Circles. Please wish him a Huzzaahhh!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Questionnaire tag part two

It isn't fair that the previous questionnaire was only for those doing the Circles. Here is a new one that everyone can do. Rules are: you have to tag someone that hasn't been tagged, and it should be a chess blogger or someone who blogs about chess regularly. It will be interesting to see where it leads, as it isn't limited to people in the Knights Errant Cult.

Atomic Patzer is it.

1. How long have you been playing chess? Have you played it consistently since you started, or were there lulls in your play? How did these lulls affect your performance?
2. Aside from playing games, what is your primary mode of training?
3. What is the single most helpful method of improvement that you have ever used?
4. What is your favorite opening to play as white? As black against e4? As black against d4?
5. Who is your favorite chess player and why?
6. What is your favorite chess book?
7. What book would you recommend for a friend who knows only the rules of chess?
8. Do you play in in-person tournaments? What is your favorite tournament experience?
9. Please give us a link to what you consider your best two blog posts (on your own blog).
10. What proportion of total chess time should be spent studying openings for someone at your level?

Answers to questionnaire

My answers to the questionnaire (see previous post for info).

Tag: J'adoube is it. No tagbacks.

1) Blogger name and URL?

2) How did you learn about the Circles?
I had just started to play chess, and after a couple of months was sick of getting my butt kicked. I was browsing the chess section at the bookstore, and found this book "Rapid chess improvement: a study plan for the adult player." This caught my attention. I'm an adult. I want to improve quickly. Then I read the book and it made sense to me: pattern recognition is they key to good chess. One way to learn patterns is via repetition of the same patterns. And voila, the Circles! It is an elegant idea that resonated with what I knew about human expertise in other areas. I bought the book and devoured it that night. A couple of months later, I found the Knights on line and decided to start the Circles.

3) When?
February or March 2005.

4) How long have you been going through the Circles, or if you have finished, how long did it take?
I have been doing the Circles for about 14 months now.

5) How is your progress?
I am about 80% through. I should finish in 3-4 months. As far a chess progress, I went from around 950 to 1400 at ICC so far.

6) Would working with the Circles alone work well in terms of chess improvement, or does it help more to join the Knight Errant to monitor and discuss the Circles?
It depends how independently motivated you are. The Circles are a very strenuous program of study, and finding the motivation to finish them can be tough, especially given the need to work full time and spend time with my family. What the Knights Errant have been helpful with is sharing their experiences with the circles, and especially encouragement in those instances where I have simply been sick of doing tactics. It is nice to be able to come here and say "I'm fucking sick of this shit and want to play tiddley-winks." People here can understand and are typically very helpful.

7) Are you a scholastic player?

8) Would you recommend this method, the Circles, to scholastic players?
I'm not sure. Kids' brains are so much more malleable than adults, they may get better by just playing a zillion games and absorbing the tactics passively.

9) Do you use other chess training methods along with the Circles? If any, could you summarize them?
The most helpful training I have had outside the circles is going over my games with my coach. That may even be more helpful than the circles, but it is impossible for me to tease apart the contributions from each training method. Also helpful has been working on applying a thought process in my games, and my meager dabbling with endgame study has been very helpful too.

I have also done way too much opening study, which I am trying to quit, and which has probably been detrimental to my game.

10) Any general comments about chess training or the Circles you'd like to provide?

If you need a tactical intensive care unit, the Circles might help. They have helped me a lot. However, I think the best way to improve is to play lots (and lots) of games and do post-mortems with a strong coach, especially going over your losses. A good coach will evolve with you, he will notice trends in your play that you don't see, trends that Fritz will never find (and even if Fritz could find them, it wouldn't know how to explain them in a helpful way). In every discipline the people at the top are there partly because they had good mentors: sports, science, the arts. It is no different in the game of chess. Sure, it takes hard individual effort to succeed, but couple that with a good coach and the work will yield more results more quickly.

That said, the problem is finding a good coach. Someone you respect, someone you get along with, someone who is a good teacher that is sensitive to your chess level and needs, and someone who is a good communicator (the latter is especially hard to find with chess players, who tend to be on the autistic side of the sociability spectrum). Note that the biggest name might not be the best teacher: Bobby Fischer, I would wager, sucks as a chess coach. Also, don't be scared to shop around. You are paying this person hard-earned cash: if they are not helping, if they are not paying enough attention to your individual needs, get someone else (with the caveat that no coach can work miracles so be sure your expectations aren't unrealistic). There are plenty of starving IMs out there who will be willing to coach you. Perhaps even try getting two or three and trying them out for 2-3 sessions before deciding who your "permanent" coach will be. That could be a lot of fun.

Look out DG

Blogger Eu Hong has begun a series of articles on the Circles. The first one, here, describes the Circles, and in the future he promises even more, with a focus on the crazy cult known as the Knights Errant.

Eu is interested in getting information from the Knights, especially those of you who have finished the Circles. He sent me the following questionnaire, and you can email him your responses at euhong_tan82 [at] yahoo [dot] com:

1) Blogger name and URL?
2) How did you learn about the Circles?
3) When?
4) How long have you been going through the Circles, or if you have finished, how long did it take?
5) How is your progress?
6) Would working with the Circles alone work well in terms of chess improvement, or does it help more to join the Knight Errant to monitor and discuss the Circles?
7) Are you a scholastic player?
8) Would you recommend this method, the Circles, to scholastic players?
9) Do you use other chess training methods along with the Circles? If any, could you summarize them??
10) Any general comments about chess training or the Circles you'd like to provide?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Call for teammate, and Circles Update

If any ICC members are out there reading, my team, The King Assassins, is looking for a teammate in the T45/45 League. We play slow time control games, one a week, surprisingly with the time control of 45/45. We need someone rated between 1190 or so and 1236. It is a fun league, and our team is competitive but relaxed about it. If you are interested, please leave a comment or email me!

As for the Circles, I'm plugging away in the final stretch. I'm at that strange point in the fourth problem set where solving most of the problems is, as J'adoube puts it, like playing a video game, just slamming out moves without thinking...

Also, to facilitate finishing these Circles (it's been over a year and I'm just sick of 'em) I'm gonna avoid all opening theory and just play games and do tactics until I'm done. Plus, I really want to smoke that victory cigar! While studying the openings is extremely fun, I just don't need to be focusing on that right now. Hopefully this will free up some of my time and limit the burnout I've started to feel...On days I'm not playing slow games, I'm also trying to limit myself to an hour of chess a day, and limiting my blog intake.

# CirclesPercent Correct
Problem Set 11498-99-100-100-100-100-100
Problem Set 21590-93-96-99-99-99-99-99
Problem Set 3885-93-97-99-99-99-99-100
Problem Set 4573-87-93-96-98
Problem Set 50
NOTE: Circles undertaken with CTB.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

I'm sort of getting sick of chess

During this rebellious phase of playing blitz and looking around at various openings which are not "best" (e.g., Scandinavian, whose second move is 0.13 pawns worse than e5, a difference in evaluation which surely counts as a refutation), I have also noticed that one reason I've stopped playing slow games is that I am getting sort of sick of chess. I can't wait to finish these Circles and take a break from this game! I should start Circle 5.1 within two weeks....And then probably two to three more months and I'll be done!!! I bought the cigar yesterday that I will smoke when I finish.

Hopefull the Circles won't burn me out. I look forward to working through a bunch of WC annotated games once I've achieved what will be my lifetime tactical baseline using the Circles...

Note added: compare this to the last time I felt "sick" of the Circles, a little over a year ago after I had just started them. Reading that is funny, as I said there that my goal was not to reach 1500, but just 1200. I wasn't even there yet. Now, nearly through with the Circles, I'm at 1400, with a goal of reaching 1500 (well, not exactly when I finish, but hopefully I will by the time I finish the Circles and incorporate these tactics into my thought process and get back into a sane equilibrium with my chess study). Thanks for the encouragement back then, Knights. Right now I'm in the home stretch, like finals week, not super fun, but finishing what I started with the hope that it will help...

I have gone nuts today with tactics. I'm about to finish my 250th problem today on Circle 4.5, way ahead of schedule (I was planning on finishing 4.5 in a week or so: I will likely finish it tomorrow).