Loose Pieces Drop Off

Loose pieces have a tendency to drop off the board when your opponent attacks and captures them.

If you have pieces which are not guarded by other pieces, they can form the basis of tactical combinations.

This week’s problem sees Tal using the undefended Bishop on e6 as something he can base his kingside attack upon.

What did Tal, as White,play?

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that White plays 1. Qxa5!

Steven Carr


1977 Major Open Part 2

In round 3 I was paired with the white pieces against Tony Cullinane, a former British Championship contender who was graded some way above me.

I took on his French Defence with the Advance Variation.

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. e5 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 Qb6 6. a3 c4 7. g3 Na5 8. Nbd2 Bd7
9. Bh3 O-O-O

10. O-O Ne7

This is inaccurate. f5, Be7 and h6 have all been played here.

11. a4

Too slow. 11. Ng5 Be8 12. Qf3 gives White some advantage.

11… Ng6 12. Ng5 Be8 13. f4 Be7 14. Ngf3 Bd7 15. Re1 h5 16. Kg2 h4

17. b4

Black has gained the upper hand over the last few moves and this desperate throw makes things worse.

17… cxb3 18. Ba3 hxg3 19. hxg3 Kb8 20. Bxe7 Nxe7 21. Ng5 Be8

Better was 21… Rcf8. Now my computer tells me I should play Rb1 when I’m back in the game. But I continued in desperation mode:

22. f5 exf5 23. e6 f6 24. Nf7 Bxf7 25. exf7 Nc8 26. Bxf5 Nd6 27. Bg6 b2 28. Rb1 Qc7 29. Qf3 Nxf7 30. Bxf7 Qxf7 31. Rxb2 Qd7 32. Rb5 Qh3+ 33. Kf2 Qh2+ 34. Qg2 Qxg2+ 35. Kxg2 Nc6

Black hasn’t made the most of his chances but he’s still emerged with an extra pawn. Here he could have played 35… a6, the point being that after 36. Rxa5 b6 37. Rxa6 Kb7 my rook is trapped.

36. Reb1 Rd7

Not so obvious, at least to me, but the computer still prefers Black after b6 here.

37. Nb3 b6
38. Nc5 Re7
39. a5 Rhe8

He had to play 39… Re2+ 40. Kf3 Rc2, maintaining the balance. His next two moves were also not best, leaving me with an easy win.

40. axb6 Re2 41. Kh3 a5 42. b7 Rh8+ 43. Kg4 Ka7 44. Nd7 Re4+ 45. Kf3 g5 46. b8=Q+ Nxb8
47. Rb7+ Ka8 48. Rxb8+ 1-0

So a rather fortunate win left me on 2½/3. In Round 4 I played black against another higher rated player and former British Championship contender, Rory O’Kelly, who had previously beaten me in the 1969 London Under 21 championship. Rory is still active today, playing regularly for Mushrooms in the London League. I met his queen’s pawn opening with the Grünfeld Defence and we soon found ourselves in the ending.

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Bg5 Ne4 5. Bh4 c5 6. cxd5 Nxc3 7. bxc3 Qxd5 8.
e3 cxd4 9. Qxd4 Qxd4 10. cxd4 e6 11. Rb1 Be7 12. Bxe7 Kxe7 13. g3 Nd7 14. Bg2
Rb8 15. Ne2 b6 16. Kd2 Ba6 17. Rhc1

12 years later, in 1989, these moves were to be repeated in Serper (2420) – Semeniuk (2365), which ended up as a draw, so we were destined to keep pretty good company. Semeniuk now played Rbc8, while I preferred the other rook.

17… Rhc8 18. Nc3 Bc4 19. Nb5 Bxb5 20. Rxb5 Rxc1 21. Kxc1 Rc8+ 22. Kb2 Nf6 23. h3 Kd6 24. Rb3 Nd5 25. e4 Ne7 26. Rc3 Rxc3 27. Kxc3 Nc6

A serious mistake. I should have held fast and played f6, with good drawing chances.

28. f4 b5 29. g4

Missing the opportunity for an immediate e5, for instance 29. e5+ Kc7 30. d5 exd5 31. Bxd5 Nd8 32. g4 Kb6 33. Kd4 Ne6+ 34. Ke4 Kc5 35. Bxe6 fxe6 36. f5 winning.

29… f6 30. h4 a5 31. g5 b4+

Letting the white king in is immediately fatal, but White seems to be winning anyway due to his superior minor piece. Some computer analysis: 31… e5 32. gxf6 Nxd4 33. fxe5+ Kxe5 34. f7 Ne6 35. Bh3 Nf8 36. Bf1 Kf6 37. Bxb5 Kxf7 38. Kb3 Ne6 39. Ka4 g5 40. Kxa5 g4 (40… gxh4 41. Kb6 h3 42. Bf1 h2 43. Bg2 Ke7 44. a4 Nf4 45. Bh1 Kd8 46. a5 Ng6 47. a6 winning) 41. Kb6 Nd4 42. Ba6 Nf3 43. a4 Nd2 44. Bc8 g3 45. Bh3 Nxe4 46. a5 Nd6 47. Kc6 Ke7 48. a6 Nc8 49. Kd5 Kd8 50. Ke4 Kc7 51. Kf3 Ne7 52. Kxg3 Kb6 53. Bf1 Nf5+ 54. Kh3 Ne3 55. Bd3 h5 and White will eventually pick up the h-pawn.

32. Kc4 a4

Another computer line: 32… f5 33. e5+ Kc7 34. d5 exd5+ 35. Bxd5 Ne7 36. Kc5 a4 37. Bc4 Nc6
38. e6 b3 39. axb3 axb3 40. Bxb3 Ne7 41. Bd5 Kd8 42. Bc6 Nc8 43. Bb7 Ne7 44.
Kd6 Ng8 45. Ke5 Ke7 46. h5 Kf8 47. hxg6 hxg6 48. Kd6 Ne7 49. Kd7 Ng8 50. Bc6
Ne7 51. Ba4 Ng8 52. e7+ Nxe7 53. Bb3 Ng8 54. Bxg8 Kxg8 55. Ke6 Kg7 56. Ke7 and wins

33. gxf6 b3 34. e5+ 1-0

Sad, but there you go. After four rounds I was on 2½ points: still not so bad.

Richard James



I’m the type of individual who would rather be good at a handful of things then master of one. I like intellectual variety in my life, probably because I enjoy a bit of chaos (but not a lot of chaos). I had a teenage student ask me how to get “good” at a number of endeavors and I had no concrete answer until I really thought about it. I’m sure some of you may be thinking “you can’t get good at at one, let alone few things, without having some sort of plan.” However, I tend to jump into things and figure out what works in achieving my goals (or what doesn’t), making a note of what does the trick. Intuition from a lifetime of learning simply kicks in. I use a variety of learning techniques depending on the subject matter. Yet, there is one common thread that ties together all my learning experiences and that is a solid foundation.

Building a solid foundation is the real key to learning something, be it chess, music or Mandarin. You simply cannot become good at something unless your knowledge of the subject at hand rests upon a solid foundation! On the first day of my first college class, the teacher stated that we would spend the first week learning how to study. I was amazed and appalled at the same time. After all, we were in college so we should already know how to study. After quizzing my classmates, it became apparent that none of us really knew the fine art of studying. It’s really quite simple. It comes down to time management and reading the texts in manner that allows you to comprehend the material (skimming through a chapter to become familiar with it, rereading it in detail and asking yourself, after each paragraph, exact what points the author was making). Also included in the professor’s instructions regarding studying were finding a quiet place to read and taking good notes.

However, he never really talked about the power of a strong foundation regarding the subject matter. This is where I’ll jump in! How good you get at something depends completely on the foundation of knowledge you build for yourself. Think about building a house. If you live in earthquake country as I do, building even the nicest house on a foundation of sand will lead to disaster when the ground starts to shake. Therefore, you build a house on a solid foundation of concrete (poured onto bedrock). The same holds true with learning. How far you get in your study of a subject depends on the foundation of information you create. Your foundation, in this case, requires a firm and complete grasp of the basics, the essentials.

We all know chess players who employ openings, for example that are beyond their grasp. They memorize an opening move order along with a few variations without having a solid grasp of the underlying principles. Then they play someone who makes a move they haven’t memorized and it’s game over! Before you venture off and play the Ruy Lopez, you need to understand the principles that guild each move. When white plays 3. Bb5, for example, you need to understand how this seemingly non-centralized move helps to control the center (the Bishop on b5 attacks the Knight on c6 who in turn is defending the pawn on e5). If you want to get good at chess you have to know the very basics of the game inside and out. It’s knowledge if the simplest concepts that allow you to learn and understand the complex ideas. There’s no room for partial knowledge if you want to win games against strong opponents. Too many times, a player will try to make a move he saw Karpov make, only to have it backfire and lead to a loss. As a beginner or improver, you can’t play like Karpov so you shouldn’t try. It’s the idea of learning to walk before trying to run! You build your foundation of knowledge as single brick at a time.

Another great example of building a solid foundation can be found in mathematics. If you wish to learn algebra and calculus, you need to have an absolute grasp of arithmetic! Many people dislike mathematics, and while they’re able to get through the basics of arithmetic with little pain, they usually have a little trouble with fractions (unless you live in a country smart enough to use the metric system which bypasses this annoying branch of mathematics). They skim through learning fractions, which weakens their mathematical foundation and then run into trouble when fractions are applied in algebra! Their thinking is this: Fractions are a small part of arithmetic as a whole, so if I do well everywhere else, I’ll be just fine! Wrong! It only takes one poorly placed brick to bring your foundation crashing down.

There’s no taking half measures when it comes to building a solid foundation. In studying Mandarin, I made a point of really working on the most basic aspects of the language, the tones. Some words in Mandarin are spelled identically but have different meanings based on how they’re pronounced. If you gloss over studying the tonal aspects of the language, you’ll never speak it correctly. You’ll proudly walk into a Chinese restaurant, place your order in Mandarin and be swiftly thrown out because you told the waiter his wife was a goat! Like memorizing a chess opening, you can memorize a huge number of words in Mandarin but if you can’t pronounce them, no one will understand what you’re saying (and you’ll never be allowed back into your favorite Chinese eatery).

So how does the beginning chess player build a solid foundation? Obviously through hard work and study. However, you have to progress slowly and not advance from one concept to another until you have a firm grasp of the material you just studied. I advocate over-kill when it comes to learning. You can’t study too much (within reason of course). Opening theory, something I talk about a great deal in my classes, is a great example of an area in which beginners tend to skim through. Patience, is the chess student and chess player’s best friend. When learning how to start a game, the opening, beginners more often than not, study the games of the masters. There is nothing wrong with this as long as you really understand the opening principles. As you play through the game of a master, ask yourself with each move made for either side, how do the opening principles apply here. Too often, a beginner will jump to the next move if her or she can’t figure out what opening principle applied to the previous move. Wrong! You have to determine the principle behind each move before moving onto the next. If you can’t figure this out, go online and do some research. There are millions of beginners out there and you can’t be the only one stumped by a particular move! By doing the research you’ll answer the question which will, in turn, strengthen your foundation. Play through the game you’re studying not once but five or six times. When you can play that particular game from memory you can move on.

The same holds true for tactical play. I use tactical training programs on my computer to improve my skills. However, I do something not everyone does. Most people will look at the screen, solve the problem and move on. Wrong! Tactics don’t appear out of thin air. They are set up. This means you need to look at moves made prior to the execution of the tactic! If the program you’re using doesn’t give you the moves made prior to the tactic in question (many don’t), find it in a database. I know this this takes extra time and you won’t be able to tell your friends that “I did 1,237 tactical puzzles today,” but you’ll learn a lot about how to set up the tactic in question. It’s all about the foundation you build!

Endgame play tends to stump the beginner because they never get to a proper endgame or if they do, they’re playing someone with endgame experience. Learn endgame principles and find someone to play endgame positions with, such as a chess playing program. Play pawn and King endgames until you’re eyes glaze over and then do it again. Slowly add more different pieces into the mix. Take it slowly, one brick at a time.

Going that extra mile, building a simple but solid foundation, will do wonders for your ability to take on more complex ideas (both on and off the chessboard). Like I said, you can’t run until you learn how to walk. Don’t worry about people around claiming to have sped through their studies because they’ll hit the brick wall fast learning soon enough. Of course, for anyone who has read my social media posts regarding my fast acceleration in learning Mandarin, it’s only happening because I build a solid foundation of the basics, which took a great deal of time and work. However, that work in fully grasping the simplest concepts is paying off. Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson


My Ode to Odette

My opponent in this correspondence chess game is a French woman who is named Odette. At the time that I am writing this, Odette is in dead last place with five losses, no wins and no draws. Although she is alive (as far as I know) her chances of getting more than a couple of wins or draws is dead. Thus, the ode.

In 1967 American Country singer Bobbie Gentry wrote and recorded a hit song entitled Ode to Billie Joe. In 1976 the song was made into a movie. What is still not clear to me is if the song and the movie are based upon a true story or if this all came from the imaginations of some talented writers.

The description from the  movie on  YouTube is as follows, “A seventeen-year-old boy is seduced into a homosexual act. His guilt over the incident drives him to commit suicide by jumping off the Tallahatchie Bridge, leaving his girlfriend behind.”

If you want to know more about this story then you can click on the following links:

Odette played some moves in this chess game that are about as bad as jumping off the Tallahatchie Bridge. Fortunately, she is alive to play more chess games. Because this chess game is rather short, my analysis below is more about what was not played than what was.

Mike Serovey


Karpov in Retrospect

We have today a world-wide art of efficiency and practicability … Beauty today is magnificent and overpowering, but it means the death of individualism. – Richard Réti, Modern Ideas in Chess

Anatoly Karpov's Best Games (Batsford 1996, ISBN 0 7134 7843 8)

Anatoly Karpov’s Best Games (Batsford 1996, ISBN 0 7134 7843 8)

Today comes the news item claiming, likely hyperbolically, but not implausibly, that Google AI researchers have cracked the game of Go.

I first began studying chess seriously in my 20’s, that is, in the 1970’s. Anatoly Karpov had just become World Champion.  Gary Kasparov was young and rising and the great rivalry was still between Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi, “between a young, handsome, blond Russian and and old, fat, balding Jew” as Korchnoi is said to have said.

Karpov and Kasparov were the ultimate (literally) prestige productions of the massive state-sponsored Soviet shool of chess. The era of grandmasters sitting at home and planned their campaigns against the handful of opponents who constituted the elite of world chess competition gave way as the Soviet school ushered in the era of collective training and preparation.

The new era did not eliminate genius, but it armored genius in solid, scientific research and collaborative study. The finest and most massive presentation of the chess endgame until the advent of the tablebases  was prepared by Soviet scholars under the direction of Yuri Averbakh. While Karpov was often perceived in the West as being some kind of in vitro child of the bureaucracy and the acerbic, non-conformist Kasparov as a Fischer-style lone wolf, both were deeply invested in the established system of collective preparation.

I recently purchased a copy of Anatoly Karpov’s Best Games by Karpov himself, a fine volume written 20 years ago and commented by the former world champion in rather a vain tone of voice, but well worth reading; which led to these reflections.

Karpov and Kasparov share this: they were the last World Champions to prepare entirely by dint of the human mind unaided by grandmaster-strength computer programming. This lends a certain poignancy to Karpov’s annotations.

Karpov was certainly the most computer-like of world champions of the 20th century, not given to flashes of intuitive brilliancy, coldly calculating concretely. The BBC “Master Game” series of videos filmed in the early 1980’s featured players verbally streaming their thought processes during the game. While most players narrated in general terms, often quite entertainingly, Karpov droned on citing variations, and at such length that the editors would fade his voice out in mid-phrase.

Yet Karpov’s laborious annotations look thin side-by-side with the data dumps larded into modern commentary. Karpov was cautious by nature and clearly perceived the limitation of even the most dedicated mental gymnastics. Most of the flaws he points out in his own play in the book consist of roads not taken due to the limits of human real-time analysis. “This would have been a faster path” is a recurring, regretful refrain of this human calculating machine who for his opening preparation leaned on a full-time staff of grandmasters, he who wended his way cautiously, even diffidently through the midgame to the endgame horizon, whence he played on with a skill, devotion and insight unmatched by any other 20th century player, perhaps unmatched by any other player ever, yesterday and today.

Chess reached its artistic peak in Karpov and Kasparov. Apres lui, l’ordinateur. We know more about chess now in the Age of the Computer, but we serve Caïssa less personally, taking the sacrament not directly, but mediated by her electronic priesthood.

Jacques Delaguerre


Recognising the Patterns : Challenge # 15

Today the pattern I am going to discuss is very familiar to us; we’ve seen the same thing many times while learning importance of development in the opening:

Legal’s Mate

Based on the captioned theme, try to solve following problems:

Tony Ladd against Joseph Lonsdale in 1993: White to move.

Q: Here Tony played d4. What did he miss?
A: He had two ways to get a winning position:

Option 1

9. Nxf6+ gxf6 10. Nxe5 fxe5

The queen can’t be taken because of 10…Bxd1 11. Bxf7+ followed by Bh6 is mate.

11. Qxg4

This is a winning position for White.

Option 2

9. Nxe5 dxe5

Again the queen can’t be taken due to 10…Bxd1 11. Nxf6 Kf8 (of course not 11…gxf6 which leads to checkmate) 12. Ned7+ Qxd7 13. Nxd7+ followed by Nxc5 wins a piece and a pawn.

10. Nxf6+ gxf6 11. Qxg4

This is a better position for White.

Bernhard Horwitz against Bledow in 1837: White to move

Q: Can White take on e4?
A: No, White can’t take on e4 as the game soon demonstrated.

12. Nxe4?? Nxe4

Now White’s extra piece will fall but White was completely unaware about the pattern and played as follows:

13. Bxe7 Bxf2+ 14. Kf1 Ng3#

The following position has been taken from the ‘Art of Checkmate’ by Renaud & Kahn.
White to Move

Q: Can White play Nxe5 using the same pattern?
A:: The problem with 9.Nxe5 is as follows:

9. Nxe5

If 9…Qxe5 then 10. Rd8# or if 9..Bxe2 then 10. Rd8+ Qxd8 11. Bxf7#. Unfortunately Black has a better move:

9…Bb4+! 10. c3 Bxe2

This wins the rook.

11. Bxf7+ Kf8 12. Rd8+ Qxd8

Ashvin Chauhan


Just To Be Clear, I Did Not Bleeping ‘Defect’!

I think I’m going to decline all future interviews with national newspapers after this latest piece by Stephen Moss. And that means for ever!

Below is my email to Mr. Moss when he first asked to interview me, mentioning that he was also interested in improving his chess. Although I was reluctant at first, given other newspaper coverage on this matter, I got talked into it thinking that this time would be different. But when the article appeared it said that his (my!) disaffection with the English Chess Federation was so great that he had switched his allegiance to Wales!

Seriously folks, I’ve really tried to separate my move to Wales with subsequent attempts at constructive criticism of English chess, but somehow the people who’ve interviewed me seem to hear something completely different to what I’ve been saying. This does of course give an indication of how little we can trust the media to report things accurately, perhaps even with matters of genuine importance. It also explains why I haven’t watched the news or read a newspaper for around a decade and feel an ease and cheer I’d never want to be without!

Here anyway is the email which shows very different motives to those ‘described’ in the article:

Dear Stephen,

I’m not sure you picked this post up about why I switched to Wales but it makes clear that the issues with English Chess are not directly linked to my switch. This wasn’t really represented well in the articles that have appeared, perhaps largely due to the fact that it wouldn’t make much of a story. BBC Wales have spoken to me more recently but with the focus being firmly on my being the principality’s first GM.

Probably I can help you more with your attempts to get better as my web site, Tiger Chess prevents a very clear methodology. You’ll need to work on it but people who do get better with me.

Best wishes, Nigel

Nigel Davies



Sometimes a lot of pieces are attacked on the board at once. It can then happen that each piece tries to sell its life as dearly as possible. It is going to be taken anyway, so why not grab as much material as you can for it, before it is taken?

Such pieces are known as desperado pieces.

In this week’s problem, White is to play and win by using a desperado piece. What does he play?

The solution to last Monday’s problem is that Black can neutralise White’s centre by playing 1… e5 2. d5 Nc4 3.Rdd1 Nd6 and Black has a superbly placed Knight, blockading the passed pawn.

Steven Carr


1977 Major Open Part 1

Returning to the consideration of some of my less bad tournaments, we turn to the Major Open in August 1977. The Major Open was then, as it is now, the tournament below the British Championship itself.

My one previous appearance at the British, in 1973 at Eastbourne, where I played in the First Class Tournament, the section below the Major Open, had been a disaster as I collapsed completely due to fatigue in the last few rounds. This time I knew I was a stronger player and hoped I was also mentally strong enough to cope with 11 rounds over 12 days.

In the first round I had white against an ungraded opponent from a prominent local family of chess players and chose the exchange variation of the Ruy Lopez. His response was not the best (6… h5 is to be preferred) and left me with a slight advantage. His decision to give up bishop and knight for rook and pawn on move 18 didn’t turn out well and I was eventually able to score the full point in a long game. A more efficient 53rd move (Bg7 rather than Be5+) would have shortened the process.

In the second round I was paired against a German player, who might or might not have been the Josef Böcker who was rated 2200+ in the late 1980s, and was faced with one of my favourite systems, the Botvinnik Blockade.

1. c4 g6 2. Nc3 Bg7 3. e4 c5 4. g3 Nc6 5. Bg2 d6 6. Nge2 e6 7. a3 Nge7 8. Rb1
a5 9. Nb5 d5

I should imagine this was a complete oversight, missing the knight fork after the exchanges on d5.

10. cxd5 exd5 11. exd5 Bf5

Already desperation although moving the knight would have kept me in the game. Now there was no reason for White not to take the knight: 12. dxc6 Bxb1 13. cxb7 Rb8 14. d4 is just winning because the bishop is coming to f4.

12. d3 Ne5 13. Be4

Better was d6 with advantage to White. Now it seemed natural to displace the white king, but the engines tell me I should have preferred Qd7, hoping to regain the pawn.

13… Bxe4 14. dxe4 Nf3+ 15. Kf1 Qd7 16. Kg2 Qxb5 17. Kxf3 O-O 18. Bg5 f6 19. Bf4 g5 20. Bd6 Qd7 21. Bxc5 f5 22. Kg2 fxe4 23. Nc3 Rf5 24. Qb3

Instead 24. Bxe7 Qxe7 25. d6 maintains the extra pawn with advantage. Now I regain the missing pawn and have an attack down the f-file.

24… Nxd5 25. Rhd1 Bxc3 26. bxc3 Qf7 27. Bd4 Rf8 28. Rd2 b5 29. Qc2 e3

Choosing to force a draw by perpetual check.

30. Bxe3 Nxe3+ 31. fxe3 Rf1 32. Qb3 Rxb1 33. Qxb1 Qf3+ 34. Kh3 Qh5+ 35. Kg2 Qf3+ 36. Kh3 Qh5+ 1/2-1/2

Richard James


The Poor Improver

Oh, the poor chess Improver. You know this person, the novice chess player who has learned the rules of the game, as well as some basic tactics and checkmates, but that’s the extent of their game knowledge. Why do I say the poor Improver? Because this chess player wants to improve his or her chess skills but faces a hard road to improvement. The road is hard because it requires work and dedication. However, the journey is made even more difficult due to the vast array of inappropriate training material available. Stop if you’re thinking that this last statement is ridiculous because it’s true! I know that, thanks to technology, improvers have a seemingly endless source of training options available to them. There are books, DVDs and countless software programs to help them get better at chess. It’s all wonderful and should be propelling players towards mastery. There’s just one problem. For the Improver there isn’t a lot of truly suitable material. The majority of training material is simply too advanced for them!

I don’t normally say this but I am a bit of an authority on this dilemma. Teaching and coaching beginners and Improvers, it’s my job to dig through all the available material out there and find training aids that are suitable for my students. Teaching and coaching is my full time occupation and something I love doing. To keep doing what I love to do, I have to give my students the best education I can so I examine a plethora of training aids to do so. What I’ve discovered is a nightmarish world in which the improver rarely gets the needed outside training support. While some who teach chess might smile because, after all, it forces the student back to their teacher for further improvement (more money for the teacher), I like my students to improve on their own. Here’s what I mean about the nightmarish world of chess self improvement:

You’re a novice Improver, one who knows the bare basics. You decided to pick up a physical catalog from one of the big chess supply businesses or go online and check out their training aids. You decide to look at books and DVDs. You see that the books and DVDs are all geared towards players within a set rating range, such as 1000 to 1400 (the ranges go up much higher). You’re at a rating of roughly 1000 and mutter to yourself “I’ll get this book because the caption says it’s good for players rated between 1000 and 1400. You order the book and, after it arrives, open it up to start improving. Within three pages, you realize it’s way over your head, requiring a more sophisticated skill set to get anything accomplished. Welcome to the world of self improvement!

This common problem arises because improves don’t realize that there is a huge skill set difference between a a player with a rating of 1000 and a player with a rating of 1400. While the 1400 rated player might sail through the book in question, the 1000 rated player will struggle. In a perfect world, an exact rating system would be applied to chess books. “This book is geared towards the player with a rating of exactly 1000.” However, this is unrealistic. Publishers have to sell their chess books to a broader chess playing audience in order to stay in business. Therefore, publishers use a rating range. So what’s the Improver to do?

My suggestion, one I give to all my adult students in this position, is to use books written for junior players. When I say junior players, I’m not talking about small children but kids between the age of 12 and 15. The books I recommend give clear, concise explanations that a 12 year old could understand, or a befuddled Improver. By using these books, you’ll gain a solid grasp of the subject matter that allows you to improve your skill set. Two titles that come to mind are “Winning Chess Tactics for Kids” and “Winning Chess Strategies for Kids,” both by Jeff Coakley. He’s also written other books in this series. What I like about his books are that they explain key concepts very clearly because they’re written for a younger reader, and the game positions he uses are to the point. These books serve as excellent stepping stones that will make working with more complicated adult chess books on the same subject much easier. If you feel embarrassed carrying around a kid’s chess book, make a paper book cover and write (in thick black ink) “The Super Grandmaster’s Advanced Guide to Extremely Complex Tactics.” If you feel silly about doing this, you should. There’s nothing wrong with any book that helps you improve (even books written for kids). If you want to get better at chess do what every it takes, within reason!

Now for those DVDs! DVDs employ a similar rating system with similar pitfalls for the Improver. The advantage to DVDs for many players is the visual aspect. Many players do better with animated pieces moving about the chessboard on their computer when it comes to learning. Here, you also have to be careful because even a rating range of 300 points can make comprehension difficult for the player on the lower end of the rating range. My first suggestion is to research the person lecturing on the DVD. Youtube is an excellent place to vet your electronic chess coach. Simply type in the person in question’s name on Youtube and watch a few clips. Ask yourself, did I get anything out of this clip or did it go over my head? If you want to cut to the chase, check out Andrew Martin and Nigel Davies. Both provide useful information in clear and concise ways. For example, Andrew Martin’s Winning Chess provides the Improver with really clear explanations regarding good overall play. I’m also a huge fan of Nigel’s Tricks and Traps series because it explains the mechanics of tricks and traps early in the game, allowing you to use them and better yet, avoid them. If you’re looking for a basic opening to learn, avoid the more varietal and complex opens, such as The Ruy Lopez or The Sicilian Defense and opt for simpler openings such as The Italian Opening. You can’t learn to run until you learn to walk! At least with DVDs you have the option of sampling them online before purchasing them.

Now for training software! Here, the Improver stands a better chance of improving! As with the other aids for self learning, you have to do some research. Training software also uses the same rating ranges. However, I’ve found that the range tends to favor the player on the lower end of the spectrum. Peshka (ChessOk) has some good programs geared towards the low end Improver, such as their Mate In One and Easy Ways of Taking Pawns and Pieces. While these are really simple, they help you develop your chess eye! They also have a Mate in Two, Mate in Three and tactical training programs that are good. Again do your research. Chess King (also by the Peshka folks) has three good Tactics Training software programs. There are many other programs to consider as well. Training software tends to gear itself (for the most part) to lower level players.

When choosing a training aid, the more research you put into your potential purchase, the less likely you end up with something geared towards a master level player. Ask around. Go onto a chess forum (something I never thought I’d suggest) and ask other improvers what’s worked for them. With all training aids, go through the information at least two or three times. I have gone through Chessbase Training DVDs at least three times. Why? Because the more I work through them the more knowledge I gain. You’d be surprised at how much you miss the first time through. You only discover this fact by going through the DVD again and again, where you pick up more and more.

You don’t go out and buy the first car you see and you shouldn’t go out and purchase the first training aid you run into. Do the research. While you can find a great deal of good training videos on Youtube, you have to remember that anyone can claim to be a chess guru online. Google the name of someone claiming to have a great training video and see what qualifies them to make that claim. Do your homework. Beware titles like “Grandmaster Secrets for Beginners” and “Instant Chess Mastery.” If it sounds too good to be true then it is! Here’s a game to enjoy until next week!

Hugh Patterson