Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Knights Errant: Some reflections

It's been almost two years since my first post, and the changes around here have got me thinking about this whole Knights Errant thing.

A little over two years ago I found out about this crazy tactical training regimen from de la Maza's book, which was the first chess book I bought and read. It made sense to me. His basic thesis consists of basically three claims:
1. Tactics is a key to success in chess (especially for lower-rated players).
2. It is hard to calculate complicated tactics: good players have built up enough experience to quickly recognize tactical motifs without thinking.
3. One good way to build up such pattern-recognition ability is to work through a large (1000+) set of problems many times, until you can do them without thinking.

This argument made sense, and it still does (for this lower-rated player). I think he is essentially right (though when I am done with his program I am going to try an alternative method, suggested by my coach: play lots of blitz and analyze with blundercheck to learn the patterns in the context of real games (the PatrickTM method)).

I had no idea this was controversial (hell, I still didn't know how to castle correctly), and thought I wanted to give it a go. Imagine my excitement when I discovered King of the Spill's blog, which connected me with all these other blogs, consisting of people who were undertaking this quite demanding programme of study. This little group of bloggers who whimsically called themselves the Knights Errant were very friendly, encouraging, and patient with this ignorant newcomer.

Every now and then, there is a flare of heated argument. Sometimes they are external, such as someone attacking the whole program (remember Quandoman?). Quite often there are internal critiques, such as the many ways Knights have modified and improved upon de la Maza's original regimen. Often it is just your typical chess squabbles, such as whether the Blackmar-Diemer gambit is really a piece of crap. Such arguments have been frankly tame in comparison with those that can erupt at the newsgroups (go check out alt.atheism, for instance). I like to think that it is our collective love of the game, and desire to maintain this little group of people struggling to get better, that has kept such little skirmishes fairly innocuous.

I have seen a lot of help on these pages. For those struggling near the end of their circles, doing more than 300 problems a day, a little word of encouragement can mean everything. That's why I'm a Knight Errant: to give and receive such encouragement in the process of finishing the circles. Without that common kernel, the Knights Errant would not have started, and would no longer need to exist.

I think there are some things we need to be wary of to keep this great little group alive. First, we don't want to get all incestuous so that we are closed off to critiques and insights from people who are improving differently. I believe we have been exemplary in this, realizing that there are tons of ways to improve at chess, and we are using only one of them. Second, we can't take ourselves too seriously. This is a bloody game, after all. Nobody's life is at stake, and we are just moving little symbols around on a bunch of squares. It's not that important. Blogging is not that important. Third, those of us who have been here a while, and are representative of the Knights in the blogosphere need to be just a little more careful about how we present ourselves. We are not representing only ourselves, but what we do reflects on this weird little cult known as the Knights Errant.

These are just my opinions, but overall I think things have gone well, and while times are a changing (people finish, move on, etc), there is a fairly steady stream of people becoming Knights that want to give this crazy training program a shot. None of us started this training because we excelled at tactics, so in the course of working the Circles, I am always highly receptive to criticisms and modifications of this Quixotic quest for chess improvement. I have no idea what I'm doing, but I hope it works.


Blogger Dean said...

I've only found out about the whole Knight Errant thing in the past few weeks. I've no intention to follow the de la maza program, but I think the general idea of practicing tactics over and over is a good one. I'm going to stick to programs like Personal Chess Trainer, as well as tactics books, which are still enjoyable rather than sticking to some regimen of what to do. It seems people stick to these things for a while, then never want to see a chessboard in their lives again. I think it's really important to enjoy your training. Good luck, Dean

3/07/2007 05:39:00 AM  
Blogger Nezha said...

I remember Quando:

Hey quando, sorry for that acerbic comment I left a long time ago.


3/07/2007 09:27:00 AM  
Blogger Nezha said...

btw: I thought the whole post was gonna resolve with you saying goodbye. hehe, it had that feel in it. Good thing you didnt. Otherwise, we wont have anybody who blogs regularly anymore.

3/07/2007 09:28:00 AM  
Blogger rockyrook said...

Great post and thouhghts BDK! I've appreciated your comments of support in my quest. I've also enjoyed other Knight Errant's comments of support too.

Keep up the great blog!

3/07/2007 10:01:00 AM  
Blogger takchess said...

j'adoube links appear to have been highjacked????

3/07/2007 10:23:00 AM  
Blogger St. Patzer said...

Hi BDK. My own experience was that there is a diminishing marginal return with problems. And it is important to learn, when you need to calculate deeply and when you do not e.g. when trying to accumulate some positional advantage e.g. control a file or compromise opponent king safety in order to enable a tactical shot later on. Its certainly worked for me, My OTB rating went up by 450 points in 18 months.

5/11/2007 09:18:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

St Patzer: Good to see you around!

I think it's true that for progress solving just book problems does not translate directly into progress OTB. For me, it's been less a need to study positional play but more a matter of simply playing a lot, being sure to use a good thought process. Almost all of my games are still decided by one of us missing one-move tactics rather than anything subtle. When I don't play regularly, I can solve all sorts of problems but will still tend to play like crap.

I agree that it is absolutely key to know what to focus on in different positions. Quiet positions require little thought, sharp positions require tons of thought. I wrote about this recently, and it has helped me a lot. THe main post is here. That was a major breakthrough for me.

I suppose when I get better, and start seeing better opponents, positional play will increase in importance.

5/11/2007 11:38:00 PM  

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