Here’s an unmissable documentary from 1986 that I found on Youtube:
Here’s an unmissable documentary from 1986 that I found on Youtube:
Following up my post last Tuesday I thought I’d investigate whether the growing craze of chessboxing is healthy. Well probably it’s OK to look at but I wouldn’t recommend participating. Here’s a match as an example:
There’s clearly some good cardiovascular exercise involved but hitting each other in the head lots of times seems like a clear downside from a health perspective. Now I know they were using head guards but research has shown that this actually INCREASES the likelihood of concussion. There’s an article about this here.
Overall I’m astonished that chessboxing has been greeted with such enthusiasm whilst chess itself has question marks over its health aspects. Yet as boxing has been shown to cause brain damage (especially with head guards) shouldn’t chess plus a good brisk walk a day be rather better?
The answer seems clear, at least to me.
In the wake of two people dying on the final day of the Tromso Chess Olympiad there have been a number of articles speculating that the strain of chess is unhealthy. There have always been stories like this, for example Harry Nelson Pillsbury’s early demise was attributed to blindfold chess. In fact Pillsbury died because of syphilis and the deaths in Tromso were nothing more than a tragic coincidence. Of course Coincidence in Tromso would not make a good headline.
So is chess good or bad for your health? Well I haven’t seen real any evidence either way. Certainly chess is known to burn a lot of calories, at least if you’re concentrating during the game. I also have an untested theory that the goal of improving your chess can motivate people to become healthier and spend much of their time on a unique and powerful brain training method. These would seem to be very good and positive things.
Of course you need to take it seriously for these effects to kick in, pushing the pieces around over a few pints won’t have the same effect. And for me this is what makes chess a beautiful thing, it’s a means of developing human potential.
It was great to see a chess player, Sharon Daniel, win Child Genius 2014 on Sunday evening. Sharon actually mentioned that one of the reasons she liked chess so much was because the tactics and strategy helped her mind.
My impression whilst watching was that she was better under pressure than the other competitors and I thought she’d win after watching the early rounds. But can chess turn your child into a genius?
I’m fairly sure that it helps, though everything depends on degree. Doing an hour of chess a week at school may have some effect but this is in no way comparable to studying the game deeply for 10 or so hours per week and then testing your abilities in competition. I believe that the latter is where the real gold lies.
Actually I’ve had an opportunity to test this, and on my own son. Prior to teaching him chess he was languishing at the bottom of his year in every subject at school. His mental arithmetic and memory were very strong, but a dire weakness in English comprehension undermined his ability to grasp anything.
Four years on and he’s moving up strongly, getting glowing reports at school and becoming very interested in both academic and chess success. How did the ‘miracle’ occur?
Even members of staff at his school now put it down to the chess. Basically he has done something like 60,000 chess ‘problems’, from basic captures and material saving moves to forced checkmates. With English comprehension being taken out of the equation it gave him an opportunity to build his confidence by getting things right, and then competing on even terms with other kids. More recently he has been dipping his toes in adult tournaments and within a year or so should be well established there.
Knowing that we take it rather seriously I’ve had plenty of well meaning comments of the ‘as long as he’s enjoying it’ variety. Actually I can say that he would have enjoyed some XBox games much more, especially Grand Theft Auto and the like. But I’ve seen my job as helping him develop rather than providing entertainment, and it looks like it’s working.
Can other parents do the same? Well for chess it helps a lot if you know something about the game yourself and can at least supervise any training activities. But I’m fairly sure there are other fields that will work very well, for example playing a musical instrument, reading or developing mathematical skill. Many people have some sort of skill that can help their kids develop, but do they have the time and patience? In most cases it looks like they don’t.
Many players see chess as a winter pursuit, packing up in June and then resuming in September. But in doing so they leave themselves very rusty for when the next season starts and also miss out on a golden opportunity. By staying in practice they could exploit the rust of other players and get off to a flying start!
How should someone keep their chess in shape during the summer? Well the obvious answer is to keep playing, but failing that there are other good ways to keep the engine ticking over.
First of all there are always tactical positions to solve and there are plenty of good venues for this kind of work. It can also be useful to read a good book on chess, something that you were always planning to read but never found time. Taking this with you on holiday can be a good idea; even if your schedule wouldn’t appear to allow it, what happens if you get some unexpectedly bad weather?
I recently posted a more extensive video lesson on this topic at my Tiger Chess site which full members can access here. Meanwhile let me wish you all the best with your summer preparations!
In the first course I made at my Tiger Chess site I presented a modular approach to building an opening repertoire. I have explored this idea before, for example in my Chessbase DVD, Build a 1.d4 Repertoire, which showed how you can start with a queen’s pawn opening such as the London System and then gradually replace the lines with more sophisticated ones. But now I’ve taken it way further.
Essentially you can play set-ups with White pawns on d4 and e3 (based around the Koltanowski Colle) and as Black have pawns on d5 and e6 (the French and Queen’s Gambit Declined). This sounds like a simple approach, and it’s certainly easy to get started with it. But if someone brings sufficient middle game understanding to this simple initial set-up, it’s quite enough to become a Grandmaster. If you don’t believe me then ask Magnus Carlsen.
This is the whole issue with openings, only a few players bring sufficient middle game understanding to the table to play them well. It’s this understanding that should be the main focus of a developing player, and a simple repertoire which leads to some nice pawn structures and plans is the best way to complement this development.
Here anyway is my Youtube video on the course explaining a bit more:
After a lot of hard work I’ve finally opened my Tiger Chess site to the public, rather than just my students. It’s been my goal for quite a while to create a site which integrated my articles, video instruction, book and software recommendations and offers an online booking system to students. I’ve also wanted to create material that is both suitable for the target audience and of genuine benefit.
The first course, Building an Opening Repertoire, is now online and weighs in at over 21 hours of detailed instruction. Not having a offices to rent and staff to pay allows me to price this at just £19.95 to those with Full Membership. Those who’ve bought this course are very happy with it.
I have another four major courses planned as well which will essentially be video versions of an expanded Power Chess Program. This was originally a correspondence course I ran in the 1990s which later got published in a two book cut down form by B. T. Batsford. After much ado I got the publication rights back and am now in the process of revising and expanding the original material.
Besides offering Tiger Chess Full Membership, which is essentially aimed at adults who want to get better, the site has a membership level aimed at young players and their parents, the Annual Tiger Cubs Membership. Since becoming a chess parent myself I’ve seen widespread confusion about how to improve, what one’s goals should be, how to find a coach etc. Those with a Cubs Membership (priced at £12.95 per annum) will find resources that should help them navigate through this morass of confusing information and get more from their foray into the chess World. As with Full Members, anything that’s not up there they can ask me. And this all helps build the growing FAQ section.
Here anyway is a Youtube video explaining more about the site and how to go about joining:
A common fallacy is that chess, by virtue of having all the pieces in view, does not contain deception. But this fails to consider the fact that each and every position from a chess game is interpreted by two human minds, each with their own idiosyncrasies. So when you play against someone you often get a sense of their beliefs and preferences, which may or may not be objective.
This is where the possibility for deception arises, by preying on the beliefs of your opponent and presenting them with the opportunity to deceive themselves. Some players who have been very good at this, including the legendary World Champion, Emanuel Lasker.
In the following game he is quite happy to let Janowsky obtain the bishop pair (a preference of his) knowing that his opponent would then be optimistic about his chances. Too optimistic in fact, and Black’s position gradually deteriorated:
Here’s a nice video in which Magnus Carlsen explains his thinking process; he intuitively ‘knows’ which move he wants to plan and then spends some time checking. Other GMs are doing the same of course, though not quite as well as him at the moment!
Players often start out their careers by playing really sharp openings but switch to more solid lines over time. There are good reasons for this, not least of which is the improved positional understanding borne of experience. Once that’s in place the need for memory diminishes.
A lot of players give the sharp Gruenfeld Defence (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5) up, almost certainly because of the level of maintenance required. And I noticed the other day that Lubomir Ftacnik seems to be among them, turning to the ultra solid Queen’s Gambit Declined.
This is actually a very good choice as understanding is far more important than a knowledge of variations. And in the following game he comprehensively outplays Gennady Timocenko.