Friday, July 29, 2005

Silman's Review of de la Maza's book

I finally got around to reading Silman's review of Rapid Chess Improvement (links to both the book and review are permanently on my sidebar). Man, he is vicious, saying the book is manipulative (like a hustler manipulating an actress wannabe in Los Angeles), foolishly instilling false hope in people ("his promises to the gullible chess student of hundreds of rating points in one year and a nice income from chess prizes is, in my opinion, almost criminal and is most certainly ignorant"), promotes his system more like a content-free infomercial than a teacher("he tells you, over and over and over (page after page after page), what he’s going to do for you without teaching you anything"), he says DLM is "trying to turn us into soulless chess machines" with no appreciation for the real strategic concepts underlying chess, and even if it does help you, you still suck because:
Winning by trickery without understanding the game at all is nothing less than pathetic. Yes, we all need tricks now and then to save us from certain doom, but to play for a cheap tactic from move one on is NOT chess. By all means, study tactics as often as possible, but don’t allow yourself to look at a grandmaster game and understand nothing whatsoever about what’s going on. To avoid this state of “chess existence without beauty,” one must seek balance. Understand a couple openings (don’t memorize, understand the ideas of your opening), understand basic strategic concepts, learn endgame basics, and master key tactical motifs. All this can be done at your own pace, and you CAN improve without the use of snake oil.

In the following, Silman echoes the sentiments of Caissa's Confabulations' recent invective:
Another thing that de la Maza didn’t mention (he was most likely unaware of it) is that many tactical errors occur after a strategically poor position has been reached. Confusion and/or panic sets in, the player has no idea what he’s supposed to do, and a blunder follows. In fact, this same thing happens at high levels, where a grandmaster gets himself into positional trouble, despairs in the face of helplessness, and misses an obvious tactic. This very common problem isn’t about tactics at all.
Though, as Nezha pointed out:
And if you dont learn tactics - and you get to the position he stated above - what do you do?

Its like saying chess is more than mate, or chess is more than the ending, or the opening, or the middlegame. Its like this, no matter what level you are - you have to learn how to mate. Because if you dont know how to mate a king with say, a rook, then whats the point of learning rook-related positional concepts like "exchange sacrifice" or something. Bringing the argument forward - you have to learn tactics. Because otherwise, whats the point of building a good position if you cant take advantage of it?

I think the guy's just confused. Maybe he just needs a few sessions with you and your bokken.

The only (halfway) good thing Silman has to say is in this paragraph:
I can (VERY reservedly!) recommend de la Maza’s book to those that are falling apart tactically AND who are willing to work like dogs to eradicate the problem (and those hard working individuals will quite likely experience chess improvement of some kind). For those that need a cheerleader/drill sergeant/motivational speaker to get them started, de la Maza is there to lead you to the Promised Land of robotic tactical acumen. But if your main problem lies elsewhere, or if you have limited time to devote to chess study (translation: if you have a life), then other books, (real) teachers, ideas, etc. need to be made use of.

My question is, who pissed in Silman's porridge? The book does suffer from some major limitations, but come on, this review is a personal attack (maybe because DLM criticizes Silman's training program in the book). The review also reminds me of some academic snobs at my school who look down their noses at Harry Potter books because they are (arguably) not high literature. Regardless, it gets millions of kids excited to read and exercise their minds. I wonder if there is some jealousy involved on Silman's part because MDLM has sparked so much interest and motivation.

Personally, the MDLM plan was the first approach to chess improvement that made sense from a psychological perspective, that advocated building up gradually, and then burning patterns into your head via repetition. Sure, tactics ain't enough, but you could apply the same MDLM-style principles to end-game, openings patterns, and perhaps even strategic patterns (though I have seen less of the latter). Also, maybe other chess authors could learn a little something from de la Maza's motivational-speaker style. Sure, he may have gone a bit over the top with it, but perhaps practically oriented chess books could use a little spiced-up encouragement!

Friday, July 22, 2005

Pre-circle minis, thinking drills, and games

I have been back into my chess routine for about a week now, plugging away at Step 2 of Tasc Chess Tutor (TCT). In fact, I am on my third minicircle of Sections 10 and 11 in Step 2. I will continue minicircling these sections until I score 80% or higher on every test in them. I am very close, but not quite there yet. I no longer mind going slowly, as the other more experienced Knights convinced me a while ago to worry more about the quality of my exercises than the quantity, especially in my early circles.

My thinking drills are not going very well, for lack of trying. That is, I have so many things going on right now, there is no way I can do my pre-circle and thinking drills in parallel. My new idea is to go through a stage in my thinking drills between each major circle in the Divine Tragedy. It isn't quite as good as doing things in parallel, but given my time constraints, it is probably the next best thing.

I have been playing zero "good" games. I have felt very rusty after my two weeks off, and to just get in some games I have been going to a crappy site, Playsite to play a low pressure 10 minutes per side game once a night. I plan to get back to real chess, when I actually have some time to think things through, once I've gotten these two infernal grants written.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Thanks, Dad

My father, among many other more important things, taught me to play chess. While we didn't really play much (and I didn't really want to), he rightly thought it was important that I understand the basic rules. He passed away last week, unexpectedly, at age 61. Here is a memorial page my wife made.

Dad, you will be missed.