Saturday, November 17, 2007

Some post-circles thoughts and suggestions

It's been a little over a month since I finished the Tactical Circles. I've focused mostly on playing. My ICC rating went up to 1479, and is probably stable at around 1450 right now. Since I started at 950 I am happy with that for now, though my long-term goal is to reach 1500. The first month after the Circles I had one loss in about 20 slow games (all played with players within -100 and +300 rating points at the time). These wins were greatly helped by the tactical vision and confidence I gained with the Circles.

Anyway, I have some thoughts/suggestions for those who have yet to finish the Circles, how to handle yourself when you finish (I think these suggestions are probably not just applicable to people who did the Circles, but what the hey):
1. Play
Play a lot of slow games and analyze them, especially for tactics. As you are fighting to finish the Circles you will not be playing much, you just won't have time. When you do finish, don't worry about your rating. Just jump in and start playing.
2. Thought process
Create and use a thought process during the games. This was MDLM's third step in his training (vision drills, Circles, then thought process work). I was lucky in that I spent countless hours developing a thought process as I worked through the Circles, a process that is practical and feels natural to use.
3. Stay sharp
Use some kind of program to stay tactically sharp. Indeed, I would strongly recommend, as soon as you can stomach it after finishing the Circles, go to one of the tactics servers (I really like Chesstempo), and do 100 problems. This tells you your post-Circles tactical baseline. Then, do tactics there periodically to see how you are doing. If you ever drop too much, practice more, either there or with your original Circles problems so you don't become rusty. I just started doing this this week, unfortunately, and really wish I had done it right when I finished the Circles. My baseline at Chesstempo is around 1600.
4. Warm up
Before games, warm up tactically by going through 8-15 problems from the set of problems you solved for the Circles. This will put you in a tactical mindset before the game and remind you that weak squares don't mean squat if there is major wood to be grabbed.
5. Relax
You won't need convincing. When you finish the Circles, don't start chess again until you really feel like it. And when you start playing, don't freak out if you don't see results right away. Even MDLM didn't see results right after finishing his Circles: he had to use a thought process to try to make his new knowledge manifest itself in games. We all go through a kind of cognitive reshuffling when we learn something new about chess, and there is often a period of equilibration when we actually play worse as the new knowledge becomes properly integrated with our old knowledge. This is part of getting better, so don't fret.


Blogger Chessaholic said...

"We all go through a kind of cognitive reshuffling when we learn something new about chess, and there is often a period of equilibration when we actually play worse as the new knowledge becomes properly integrated with our old knowledge."

This is a really interesting phenomenon that I hear a lot of people complain about. I have experienced it myself - after reading certain chess books, I feel like I've become a lot "book smarter", but translating that into actual improvements OTB is a different story. I think you're right that it is a natural part of learning, and not necessarily limited to chess. It takes time for the brain to "digest" the information and apply it in a practical setting. When a new concept becomes second nature and you don't have to consciously think about that new concept, that's the point where you improve.

11/18/2007 06:09:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Chessaholic: yes, and a big problem is when we overapply a new concept, give it a priority it doesn't deserve. When I first learned about weak squares, I purposely gave up a Bishop so as not to create a weak square!

11/18/2007 06:11:00 PM  
Blogger Chessaholic said...

I think we've probably all been guilty of overapplying a new concept at one point or the other :)

John Watson addresses a related issue in his book "Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy" (really cool book by the way). He looks at situations where it is prudent to deviate from the "standard" principles established since Nimzowitsch. He advocates a modern chess where the demands of the position on the board overrule any principle- or rule-oriented decisions. In other words: follow the general principles, but allow yourself to abandon those principles if the position demands it.

11/19/2007 12:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope you don't think I am quibbling, but actually Watson isn't advocating anything in SOMCS - rather he is describing what modern grandmasters are actually doing and contrasting that with the principles of Nimzovich.

11/19/2007 09:21:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Rule independence baby!

11/19/2007 11:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

6. Stitch a bluetooth headset into your cap during tournament play

11/19/2007 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger Chessaholic said...

Anonymous: let's just say Watson seems to be in favor of rule independence if the situation calls for it. Whether you want to call that "advocating" or not is a matter of semantics, in my opinion.

11/19/2007 03:06:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

My understanding was that he was an advocate of concrete, rule-indpenedent play. But then again I haven't read it!

11/19/2007 04:08:00 PM  
Blogger Robert Pearson said...

1) An very useful post, and not just for those "post-circle."

2) My take on Watson and "rule independence": All strong players since the queen started motoring around 1500 have been "rule independent," in that they try to find the best move to win the game, not to satisfy a "rule." My take on what happened is that when instructional books began to be written, the master players who wrote them had to try and break down, and make explicit, the half-subconscious skill they had developed by playing thousands of games. Thus, weak squares, knights before bishops, etc. etc. These books were a blessing to those trying to play a decent, rational game of chess fairly quickly, but a curse in that you have to unlearn the rigid application of the rules to keep improving after you've plateaued.

That's my two cents--Morphy was as "concrete" as anybody, way back in 1859, the "rules" were always just guides, it was people who tried to reduce chess to a formula who hit a wall. Watson's books have a lot of great learning positions in them, if you don't try to be "indpendent" but just pretend you're the GM and try to find a strong move, or plan.

11/19/2007 06:15:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Warheit: I think that is a great diagnosis. The rules are better than nothing, and I think most authors are quite careful to clarify that the rules are only guidelines that need to take into account the facets of the position.

Here is a quote from Chigorin that could be from the pages of Watson:
"I do not consider myself belonging to this or that 'school,' I am guided not by abstract theoretical considerations on the comparative strength of pieces, etc, but only the data as it appears to me in this or that position of the game, which serves as an object of detailed and possibly precise analysis. Each of my moves presents itself as a feasible inference from a series of variations in which theoretical 'principles of play' can have only a very limited significance. ... The ability to combine skillfully, the capacity to find in each given position the most purposeful move, soon leading to the execution of a well-conceived plan, is higher than any principle, or more correct to say, is the only principle in the game of chess which lends itself to precise definition."

A beautiful quote, which I got from this review of Watson's book (which, to be clear, I haven't read and won't read for a long time, at least until I've read Nimzovich, which may never come).

11/19/2007 07:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the point of Watson's book, though, is that Nimzovich did kind of go out on a limb and advocate some pretty dogmatic rules.

And Nimzovich deserves credit for doing so- someone needed to do it - and most GMs have read the book and do credit it with helping their chess skills- even if they do break the "rules" regularly. Watson pointed out in the book that even Nimzovich regularly violated his own rules, just like everyone else.

The usual analogy given is that a musician needs to know classical theory before he can start breaking the rules with jazz, etc.

11/20/2007 11:36:00 AM  
Blogger Ivan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11/20/2007 04:36:00 PM  
Blogger Ivan said...

Check item 13# below:

Chess Cafe Column by Heisman

Getting to 2000

11/20/2007 04:40:00 PM  

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