Thursday, October 04, 2007

Accidental and coordinated threats

Based on Tempo's recent explorations, I have gained appreciation for two dimensions of threats in my games. One, the dimension of basic tactics, or 'accidents' (e.g., your opponent gives you the opportunity to skewer his queen or fork his king and queen). I now see this dimension as superficial but extremely important. This is the dimension that I first really focused on in my chess training: the side with more material wins, so do what you can to gain a material advantage. Since my games rarely reach anything but a very lopsided endgame, this approach works. Limited endgame and opening knowledge required. Tactics is God. I call this superficial because avoiding accidents is necessary but not sufficient to understand the full nature of threats.

The second dimension is the art of attacking the King. Instead of just hoping to get to an endgame with more material, which happens less and less frequently, it becomes a goal to coordinate pieces and attack the enemy king. This goal is guiding every move. Opening lines and coordinating pieces for an attack becomes the main goal once the pieces are developed. Of course, staying on top of accidents is still necessary, but they are constraints within which the real action is taking place. And sometimes you just have to defend against an attack yourself to stay alive!

Different players typically start out in chess with a focus on one or the other dimension. I started with the first, and I have a serious deficit in my knowledge of attack as a result. I have a tendency to place pieces somewhat haphazardly, where I think they will encourage isolated little accidents from my opponent. I am just starting to try to coordinate my pieces with the goal of king attack instead (all within the constraints of avoiding and exploiting accidents, of course). When I finish the Circles, after taking a little break I will read what many have called the Art of Attack for the novice, The Art of Checkmate (see their summary on when to attack here). I should read that post before every game. I have been trying to use their ideas to help me guide my planning during the game. It seems to help a lot.

Many, such as Seirawan, started by focusing on attack as the key goal, not simple tactics. Many other people I play obviously have the same starting emphasis. They tend to be better players in the long run, if not a bit easy to parry when they are just starting out (they tend to go for Scholar's mate in every game). My cousin (who never read a chess book) and I played a game about two years ago. His sole purpose was attack. What did he do? Opened his lines with a pawn storm, moved the rooks to those lines, and attacked. He didn't even bother to castle, as it wastes time. He beat me. He's quite good at chess, and his only education in the game was playing a lot, and independently developing an overall plan: push pawns to open lines, and then destroy. He is also incredibly smart, which probably helped. Of course, such aggression can sometimes backfire, but it sure makes for fun games, and my main point is that starting with such an approach will ultimately lead to a more interesting command of, and understanding of, the flow of a game, more than the accident-focused approach to threats.

I think an inadequate feel for attacks in chess is my main stumbling block to reaching my goal (a rating of 1500). As Stean suggests (in one of my favorite chess excerpts of all time), once I get competent with attack, I will start to realize I need to learn some strategy. This is the natural chess learning progression...


Blogger transformation said...

there is not much that i can add or should add to such an honest, well writen, and as always such a smart post.

art of attack as a long term goal or place to get to the doorway of? yes. absolutely.

art of the checkmate, yes, fabulous.

but do please, when you have a moment, take a good look in person at the physical book art of combination by the ever erudite Znosko-Borovsky. Silman raves of this book, and you can think of it as a carry with CT-Art took take with you and stare at...

it is all there.

art of attack is like reading Kant before Spinoza or Plato, more ornate and elaborate. nothing to take away there.

but my point, art of the combination is half way there, but a lot more accesable without the Byzantine labinrynth of varations that can drive a man to drink (or, in my case, blog!).

im in a pause.

over the flu, intense stomach virus, and no chess of any kind or blogging, only blessed comments, short and sweet.

10/04/2007 04:58:00 PM  
Blogger transformation said...

that is to say, among your many talents, i sense that you have a great wisdom in knowing the scale of approach, and you have fantastic instincts there, and simply suggest:

yes, read art of checkmate. but as an intermediate step to the large step of art of attack:

maybe think about interposing art of the chess combination

(i just looked at mine again for a minute or two, interposed on the shelf interesting EXACTLY between Pandolfini's Endgame Course, and the newly topical again My System by nimzovitsch [yes, i store them in the order that i read them, im very anal])

between your next book and the larger, more giant step. hope that opens some doors for you.

but, again, you know what you need, and your instincts are dead on, spot on, i find again and again.

10/04/2007 05:20:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

DK: Thanks for the tip. If I ever decide to read Art of Attack I'll check out this. That book is just way out of my league right now.

Art of checkmate is annotated games, and then I'll do more of the same for a while. Perhaps I shouldn't have said Art of Check mate is a prequel, as much as a beginner version of, ARt of Attack. That suggests I actually plan to read them successively. I'll change it in my post.

10/04/2007 05:30:00 PM  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

That's the right order.
Accidents, attack, endgame. Even among 1500 players accidents are a rarity (<10%). J'adoube thought he could do without a few years playing attack-chess. He was wrong. You must allow yourself to commit the chess-sin to play gambits. That's the only way to learn to know the value of a pawn. You wil learn that it is usually the open lines and not the tempo's what constitute the value.

Nimzowitsch considers a winning kingside attack to be an accident. Well, that's the next step. You will know when it is so far when your opponents start to deny you your deserved win.

10/04/2007 06:27:00 PM  
Blogger transformation said...

here is the link, which may be of some use:

Art of the Chess Combination, topical reviews at Amazon

they make reference to all three of these books that you mention, with great aplomb.

10/04/2007 06:39:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Tempo: the next step, I think, is strategy (I added that in my final paragraph after finishing the post, probably while you were writing your comment :)).

10/04/2007 06:42:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

DK-it looks like a great book. There are extensive excerpts here.

10/04/2007 06:52:00 PM  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

Unconsciously I had taken over the vision of Nimzovitch that a winning kingside attack can only happen by accident and that thus strategy aims for the endgame in the first place and for avoiding accidents in the second place.

10/04/2007 07:19:00 PM  
Blogger transformation said...

my chess coach, who just placed 29th out of 80 at the Miami open, just behind several IM's including Mark Ginsburg, always said,


'play for the initiative'


and, exactly as tempo says:

along with that, he said to play gambits to learn to seek that. this will put constant pressure on you. thereafter you can polish up your game after a long stint there.

he also said to not only play gambits, but to play e4 only, and that, i know, is not a problem for you, but caused me MANY a loss... :)

interestingly, he was e4 forever, and now is a d4 player. he once told me: IF you play e4, i can help you the most, and now he is...

BTW, charles has this same negative win loss ratio that i so prize, and takes on many a gm and IM at ICC.

warmest, dk

10/04/2007 07:23:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Tempo: I'm nowhere near there yet!

If it is about accidents and endgame, where does strategy come in? Is middlegame and endgame strategy different? I know activity is the God of strategy. Is this different in the middle or endgame?

10/04/2007 07:32:00 PM  
Blogger katar said...

scroll down for comment
Calling Art of Chkmate "prequel" (or prerequisite) to Art of Attack is very accurate, IMO. I memorized every game in that book. (art of checkmate) This is when i jumped a few hundred points very suddenly. Very fun too. :)

i believe endgame strategy is totally different than middlegame. Middlegame strategy is usually dependent on pawn structure. (pawns determine where pieces belong)

10/04/2007 09:30:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Katar: good trip down memory lane with that post you link to. Indeed, it was Patrick of the renowned and mourned Chess for Blood from whom I got the idea of reading the Art of Checkmate. I think he said it was one of his favorite books, along with Zurich 1953.

10/04/2007 10:12:00 PM  
Blogger Pale Morning Dun - Errant Knight de la Maza said...

In my chess study, I feel like I have finally reached a stage where I can sense an attack. However, this has come after several years of playing an exclusively gambit opening repertoire. If you want to learn the attack, you have to play this way. Positional chess is great too, but nothing feels better than possessing the initiative and being able to use it. Vukovic's book is helpful in some areas but less so in others. This art of checkmate seems like an excellent resource.

My personal training advice to you, at no cost :)

1. play gambits
2. study tactical master games

10/04/2007 10:38:00 PM  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

Good question! I gave an answer at my blog.

10/04/2007 11:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might want to check out the Power Play DVD series by King from ChessBase.

There are four DVDs in the series. All about getting the initiative, attacking the King, pawn storms and mating patterns.

I've just started with these as I had problems getting an attack going and I like them so far.

10/05/2007 07:57:00 AM  
Blogger Zweiblumen said...

Attacking too often is one of my weaknesses, at this point. It seems to me like the only plan I know how to make, and the only plan I'm comfortable executing, is the kingside pawn storm and attack. It comes up in a lot of my games, too, since I play the closed sicilian and white is frequently throwing his f/g/h pawns up the board (in front of his castled king no less!).

It's teaching me to be relentless and teaching me some nerves (defending a lot of attacks on an open king position) but I often have a nagging feeling that I miss the moments in positions where I should attack on the other side, or rip open the center, etc.

On a side note, a while back you mentioned that when doing tactics you are spending less time on the problem and more time on the solution. It makes some sense, but somewhere in my gut I don't like it. It took me a long time to figure out how to express it, but it came to me last night: this seems very similar to the constant struggle between looking over your games without a computer vs the temptation to just ask fritz right away. All indications point to the idea that one should wait as long as possible to consult the machine...


10/05/2007 09:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very insightful post. I can easily identify myself with the development phases you sketch out (even though I am still at the beginning of the long path barely glimpsing into the attack phase...). I'll take a look into the "Art of checkmate" - sounds interesting.

10/05/2007 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

AP: have you reviewed them at all at your site? I'd be curious to hear more.

Scirius: thanks for the note.

Zweiblumen: response too long. Will post a separate post sometime this weekend on the topic.

10/05/2007 11:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The book that taught me the most about attack and the initiative is Rudolph Spielman's The Art of Sacrifice in Chess. It's only about 150 pages and a quick read. Lots of bang for the buck. He shows you the value of a pawn, goes through some gambits, shows the importance of development, etc.


10/05/2007 03:28:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Howard: thanks for the tip--that looks like the main competitor to Art of Combination based on Amazon reviews. Why are all these books on attack so old? Is it because the concepts haven't changed all that much?

10/05/2007 05:43:00 PM  
Blogger transformation said...

Vukovic says that nothing new has been done under the sun and that while some greatness followed the plato and aristotle of chess in a historic sense, capablanca and alekhine work like great grain harvesters of combines, leaving all in their wakes, for all others thereafter just to repeat.

the ever eruditie Znosko-Borovskies book is filled with examples from Alekhine.

lastly, while Vukovic is irreproachible, he never beat Alekhine and Znosoko actually did so and many, many other greats, starving after WWI, and surely hungry for chess after. a real true man of letters.

very, very lastly, thx for google brief. i looked at it, and doesnt quite give the sense of the book. see the physical book.

if you were here, id go buy it for you tonight.

i loved the comment by Katar [the old dutch defence in disguise? * :)] about memorizing all of art of checkmate. great idea.

best to all, dk

10/05/2007 09:56:00 PM  
Blogger ryyj said...

Hola Blue Devil. escribo en español ya que hacerlo en ingles me es dificil, solo quiero decirte que esta entrada es de lo mas esclarecedor que jamas haya leido casi diria que en su simplicidad y sabiduria casi es obra de un genio (a nuestro nivel) . Y ademas, no se si tomas en cuenta a toda la gente que lee tu blog pero jamas escribe nada . yo por ejemplo en un año no me he perdido ninguna de tus entradas y es la primera vez que escribo algo, asi que aunque veas pocos comentarios no creas que nadie te lee, creo que es al contario, felicidades por todos tus esfuerzos. Tal vez nunca llegues a jugar como GM pero has sido inmensamente util a millones de ajedrecistas de bajo elo (patzers)como yo

10/06/2007 03:06:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

rryj: Gracias. Hablo muy poco de espanol, pero tu comentario significan mucho a mí. Es muy simpatico (escribí esto con la ayuda de babelfish y mi escuela de muchos anos antes de hoy).

10/06/2007 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger katar said...

fyi, Leonid Shamkovich's "Modern Chess Sacrifice" purports to be an update (ca. 1980) of spielmann and it is quite good.

DK: i am not "dutch defence". cheers.

10/07/2007 04:46:00 PM  

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