Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Don't stop thinking about the circles

MDLM in concert, doing vocals!


Could it be that MDLM improved because he essentially was doing Rowsonalysis? That is, perhaps it was the more slowly-done initial circles (10 minutes per problem) in which MDLM really worked on concrete calculation that helped his chess. Maybe the later circles weren't really important.

Another thing: Nunn in some book I recently browsed said de la Maza needs to temper his confidence in his methods. MDLM spent almost two years, almost full time, playing chess, and improved a whole lot. MDLM attributes such improvement to his method, but to say this we need a comparison. How much improvement would someone see if they spent that much time using more traditional well-rounded methods (i.e., playing, postmortems, tactics, strategy)?

This is an excellent point from Nunn. Nunn doesn't specifically address how to get better at tactics if that is your weakest chess skill, so that is a bit disappointing. Some kind of tactical problem solving seems a reasonable option, even if not the crazy Circles overload.

21 Comments:

Blogger transformation said...

great post. thank you.

as for rate of speed in CT-Art 3.0 or similar. as i have said many times, i have had positions from about half way through level five on my chess board near my bed set up for ten days, not ten hours or ten minutes.

the story i always tell: my branch manager at my first brokerage firm, a real class sales guy with a people smart IQ of about 140:

'Jim, xyz says he makes 140 contacts a day (fe make 100; i made about thirty or less)'

'he THOGHT that he spoke to 140 persons'.

anyone who says they do a level five or + CT-Art 3.0 problem in under an hour only THINKS that they did the calculations. its like a real serious chess problem with a clock, at a tournament, where you take an hour to uncork a deeply calculated line. it takes time.

slower is better. funny think from a blitz maven like me to say, but behind all that, i do things like a take a year to read a chess book without a board, and try to see the variations.

i love all the points you make, and yes, we dont know what other factors went into his raise, such as talent, amount of live chess, memory retention, transfer, etc. no doubt he busted his ass, but as you so aptly say, the first circle adds most of the value or did so for him and for me is the root of it.

take care, dk

12/10/2008 02:58:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

DK: there are lots of variables involved that's for sure. Once again, we need a millionare to fund a sound chess study with 1000 amateurs to be randomly assigned to different experimental groups!!!

12/10/2008 03:14:00 PM  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

Now that you are rubbing that old wound again. . .
What if it has nothing to do with circles at all? If I look back I made my greatest progress when I entered a new area. When I started with tactics I didn't repeat them. Yet I gained 250 points. I entered the (to me) new area of positional play last year. I gained another 70 points. If I count my latest winning streak which isn't processed by the rating committee yet, I can add another 80 points. Virtually I'm above 1900 now.

What if you simply can't avoid to memorize patterns when you enter a new area? What if plateauing simply means that you ran out of new area's? Not because they aren't there but you simply don't know how to get access?

12/10/2008 04:51:00 PM  
Blogger chesstiger said...

I think in postmortons, analysing your own game you will practise your tactics aswell but with more time to search, find, them then in the actual game.

Actually i always found that doing the circles did take away the fun of tactics. It's a nice drill but i wonder if it's really paternrecognision and not the solution stored in your brain after doing the same exercises for the third time?

12/10/2008 04:57:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Tempo: interesting point. Microplateaus hit relatively fast, suggesting diversity is best. This way there can be cross-fertilization too among very different ideas. This may be why it is so good to go over one's games (aside from the obvious reasons): you have to work a little on everything (opening, middle strategy, tactics, and endgame all in the context of your own work).

CT: I discuss your concern here.

12/10/2008 05:47:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

PS I miss the old Knights Errant. This post would have caused a firestorm of controversy. J'adoube would have threatened to give me a roundhouse kick, everyone would have been in a tizzy. The Knights Errant don't have the verve they used to when we were young and naive. :)

12/10/2008 05:48:00 PM  
Blogger James Stripes said...

I'll confess that I started MDLM's system several years ago after reading the two Chess Cafe articles. I did not then have the time to devote to it. I was and am intrigued by his learning exercises, including several that are in the book and not the articles. But, I'm also skeptical. Most of all, I'm curious about the burn-out. He doesn't seem to play chess any more.

Never the less, I have been able to devote a lot of time to chess--some playing, some teaching youth, some event organizing, some study--over the past six years. More the past two. In that time, I have raised my rating from hovering around 1500--I crossed over 1500 for the second time in late 2004, but did not drop below as the first time--to solidly above 1700. Although I crossed over 1700 in late 2007, the next event dropped me back down. But, since crossing it again in March 2008, I have maintained it above that mark.

My methods, whatever they are, have improved an adult's well-established rating (MDLM never had a well-established adult rating before he began his rise) some 200 points in roughly three years. I've become quite serious about reaching class A (over 1800) and intend to get there in the next fourteen months.

I've long believed that the principle need of adults wishing to improve, if they've been playing chess a long time, is the unlearning of bad habits.

12/10/2008 08:37:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

James: very interesting! I assume you've read Rowson's book (Chess for Zebras)? :) That's a big part of his philosophy too.

12/10/2008 09:33:00 PM  
OpenID chessmasterorbust said...

I think this recent article might be of some interest. It mentions Rowson. Personally, i think the steps method is one of the best ways to improve. If i would have to compile a top 10 list of ways to improve by one's self, the steps method would certainly be on it. I'm not sure which place but definitely ranked high.

12/11/2008 12:11:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

CMoB: I like the steps program, and did the first three steps a few times as a kind of pre-circles training. I don't think it is a magic bullett, just like anything else, but if incorporated into a routine of playing and postmortems it seems a very good introduction to the basics.

That article you cite, which DK mentioned today, will get a future post of mine in the next week or so. Overall, I found it basically repeated Rowson (at least when he was right, which isn't necessarily a lot) while acting like it was deeply new and innovated over Rowson. Ultimately, he recommends the exact same method as Rowson: deep analysis of tough positions!

Never trust a Heideggarian.

I'm gonna hold my tongue, as I want to save it for the post.

12/11/2008 01:26:00 AM  
Blogger wang said...

Bottom line is I lost a lot of the awe I initially had for the system once you told me that he didn't do anything for two years but do the circles.

Well He was bound to get better. I mean doing just about anything to do with chess he would have improved. I don't think the method is as important as having a method, that is having a program and sticking to it. I think in our quiet moments a lot of us adult improvers would admit to not sticking hard enough to our plans. That and a lack of time, you know being able to not work and do nothing but study chess all of the time.

That's what hangs me up anyway.

12/11/2008 01:53:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Wang: yes, that is a bit much for an adult to do. With a life, anyway.

But going from 1300 to 2000 in two years is still pretty impressive, especially for an adult player!

I bet he could have reached IM if he started enacting a more balanced approach. But clearly he was burnt out on chess by that time.

His general argument in his book is very good: that patzers are not GMs, don't need to worry about openings, strategy very much, as most games are decided by tactical disasters. This is certainly sound.

The question is: do you want to focus on tactics exclusively in your training? I actually discussed the question of how to decide if the circles are for you here.

12/11/2008 02:06:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

I also agree with James that some of MDLM's exercises are very helpful (the pin/skewer exercises, and knight vision drills). I should do those more often. Someone in the last year wrote a really good program to automate that. Where is that link??? Anyone remember?

12/11/2008 02:08:00 AM  
Blogger katar said...

here's that URL

but IMO you're better off with 15 mins a day of tactics, no more, and any extra time spent reading game collections.

12/11/2008 04:38:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Katar: that's about what I'm doing now (I'm plugging along with Personal Chess Trainer doing a few minutes a day).

Thanks for the link: I'll put a permalink on my sidebar.

12/11/2008 10:01:00 AM  
OpenID chessmasterorbust said...

To say the steps method is just an introduction to basics doesn't really do it justice. I think to fully appreciate the method you should atleast complete 4 and 5 as well. and then repeat it untill it becomes easy for you to do them, you know? As in master them.

Speaking of mastering, who really tries to master anything they have? Like a book or software program or whatever... I mean, what can you expect from reading a chess book (for example) once and never look at it again. That is gonna be my approach from now on. To really try and master stuff. Even though that means my chances of reading/looking at all the material i have becomes even less then the 1% i have when i would try to read/look at it once ;)

Life is too fucking short for chess.

12/11/2008 03:51:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

CMoB: I have looked over the whole series, and mastered 1-3. It is good, but not necessarily better than Wolff's Idiot's Guide to Chess. It is better in that it has a lot of problems to work on, but worse in that the explanations are not as clear. They have similar material.

Nothing has everything.

I can see going different ways on 'mastering' a book or software. Doing it a few times, really steeping in it, and you will really get it down. Or, do it once thoroughly, and move on to something else so as to get more perspectives from different angles. The Circles is clearly full-tilt hung up on complete mastery of a set of about 1000 tactics problems. It has ups and downs. One down is the burnout factor.

Ultimately, as long as you are playing and diligently doing postmortems, it probably doesn't matter all that much what you are doing as long as you are doing something.

12/11/2008 04:24:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Postscript
For those new to the chess blogs, wondering about this 'steps method', King of the Spill did the Circles with the Steps Method (early post of his here and my message about him here).. It would be interesting to see what he thinks now with some perspective. I wrote a note about finishing my work with the program here.

At the time he said it felt it improved his knowledge more than his ability at chess. I can understand this from my experience with TCT, but it also helped me in practice, perhaps because when I started it I was truly a beginner at chess (I had been playing about three months).

One interesting thing about the steps is the section on compositions. Sort of odd, yet a nice way to introduce the student to the full range of chess possibilities.

Everyone has their pet book or software, and will get offended when it is dissed. DK has his GMRAM, for Quandoman it was 'First book of morphy', I have my CTB and CT-Art, Tacticus has PCT. They are all good. Others have their pet peeve books or software (for me, GMRAM, for Patrick, it was MDLM, Silman, well, pretty much everything :)).

12/11/2008 04:41:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Another post of mine in the steps is here, with a positive story. Man, I really sucked at chess back then. I still do, but I was just awful.

12/11/2008 04:49:00 PM  
Blogger BlunderProne said...

Young wipper snappers poking an old dog... DAG nab it!

I can only speak for my own person growth of chess as each of us are different in terms of where we are when we begin this journey.

Back when I was 1350 USCF, the training that improved my play the most was tactical training. The method that accelerated my growth the most was MDLM. I jumped up 250 points to 1600 in short order. Then I hit a plateau.

For the past year I have been shifting my study mainly on master games. More specifically, I had to find a way that made sense for me and a way I could benefit. I decided I needed to fill a void in my chess knowledge and do some history lessons.

I needed to know what chess was like in the "romantic" period of chess. So I studied games from a classic event, The London 1851. I took a raw PGN dump and attempted to annotate on my own. Crossed it with the tournament book by Staunton and some fritz to check my work. As a patzer from 1350- 1600 most of my games were decided tactically. I needed to see how the masters played games and guided them to swashbuckling daring sacrifices.

Then I went to the Classical Modern period which evolved from the tactical melee of the mid 1800's. Steinitz and Tarrasch showed a rather dogmatic approach to controlled central development and respected pawns a lot more as well as care to piece position. Studying the HAStings 1895 event I beleive improved my positional play and brought my rating up 100 points.

Now I am looking at a Tournament in the Hypermodern period which takes a differnt appraoch to the positional style of classical chess and introduces nuances that evolved following Pillsbury and Lasker's carefully staged King side attacks.

I still do tactical puzzles. But I I also create tactical puzzles from the studies I do of master games AND my own games because these are the ones that mostly going to come up for ME.

I am also very priveledged to be part of a chess club that has a good data base of player's games. Lately, I've been preparing my opening lines tailored to my openents style of play and weakness.

This month, I beat two 1800 + plauers in a row. The first one was purely a tactical shot that he missed... so HUZZAH to MDLM and the value of tactics at the 1800 level! The second one, was with a a player I have played several times over. I miss played the opening despite my preparation and allowed him a middle game target of a backward c-pawn
I didn't freak, because I was materially even, and I had a really good FEEL for the position. I thought of Schlecter and how defensive he would have played in this situation. I held my ground and let the human element take its toll. I knew my opponent was fighting for a win... I offered a draw and he refused. But he was not making any progress.
At one point I gave him the chance to take the backward pawn, but KNOWING he was weak in tactics and felt threatened by my "graduated knights errant" status ... I threw a trickey knight move on him. HAd he taken the pawn the threat of R + Q knight fork spooked him so much that he didn't calculate it out to see 3 moves in that he had an in between move and would have one the pawn.

Bottom line, I did what Lasker would do and play the psychology card. It was a risk but I won teh end game. I will close with this: The other thing I've been working on is complicated R+P endgames. He was strong in the endgame. I feared him as much in the endgame as he did in my tactics...but having a little knowledge I was able to formulate a sound plan and see my advantage and went for the win. In the end... again, it was tactics that won the end game with a well placed Q sac which cleaned up pieces and stranded his king way on the other side of the board.

In order of priority:

1) Tactics
2) Positional study through master games
3) End games ( silman's is best)
4) Just enough opening prep to know my openent.

12/11/2008 09:43:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

BP: a nice survey of your development! I agree with the importance of tactics, and one thing I really like about MDLM is that he put this out there for the patzers: all your knowledge of backwards pawns doesn't mean shit if you are about to lose a queen to a tactic! The tactical contours of a game are the foundation for any decent game.

OTOH, many say that good attacks and tactics come from sound strategy. I think this is usually true. If you are bad at strategy you will tend to get into positions where you don't have as many tactical opportunities as your opponent.

I've certainly had fun so far studying the romantic games in Art of Checkmate, and hope some of the knowledge is seeping into my brain.

12/12/2008 12:20:00 AM  

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