For the last few days I have been reading about classical war strategies after reading the sections ‘Practical Chess Strategy’ and ‘The Art of War’ from Rashid Ziatdinov’s book, GM Ram. I have summarised a few points for myself which could be useful in improving my chess game and thought I’d share them with you.
1. In order to win, you must have a more powerful army compared to your enemy: This is the most basic principle for winning a war. In chess too, if you’re attacking with few pieces where your opponent has more pieces to defend it is quite obvious that you can’t win. Unfortunately in chess you can’t have more pieces than your opponent in the beginning of the game, so you must create some sort of virtual majority of the forces on the side where you are planning to attack.
2.Resources (yours and your opponent’s) must be evaluated before launching an attack: You can’t have success with a Greek gift sacrifice when your opponent has obvious or hidden resources for defending the h7 square.
3.Whoever comes first in battle field has better chances to win the battle: This is 100% true as if you’re first you will get more time to establish your resources at key positions. In chess we can relate this to the rapid development of our forces.
4.If you prevent your enemy from getting help, you have better chances to win. The simplest way to understand this is in rook endings, if you successfully cut off the opponent’s king you will have better chances to win if you have a material superiority and defend successfully (for example in the Philidor position) with a worse position.
When you try to see chess as war, rather than merely a game, you will see the board and pieces in a new light.
In my last article I discussed a few points which we often ignore while working hard at chess improvement. But those were chess things, so today I would like to highlight some points which are not chess but yet very important. They can also have a huge effect.
The first things that come to mind are to stay self motivated and balanced. Not every day is a good day and when you got negative results or less than you expected, you can become frustrated. This in turn can badly effect your planning. It happens to me a lot when I lose a winning game or especially an equal end-game. I become frustrated and play lots of blitz, which tends not to help. Sometimes we can blame some outside source such as chess books. In these situations it is very important to be balanced and get motivated. How one could do that? You might read some motivational books, articles or movies. For example Knight of the South Bronx is my all time favorite.
Another thing is not to expect too much from yourself. I just read Anand’s interview after winning the candidates tournament in which he clearly mentioned he was not expecting much, yet his results speak for themselves. Whenever you expect a lot from yourself you put yourself under pressure, and this in turn creates all kinds of emotional instability that stops you from playing naturally or sensibly.
One more thing I would like to add is to ‘keep the momentum’. If I talk about myself, after reading some stuff which inspires me I usually work very hard, positively and energetically. But most of the time I don’t keep the momentum because of laziness (hard to admit, but true!).
These are simple things, yet if you maintain them they can have a powerful effect on your chess.
Every chess player wants to improve at chess and for that we already have books suggested by coaches, playing games, doing tactical exercises, endgames etc etc. Yet I have observed a few things among the people who are working hard but failed to improve as much as they might have wanted to or deserved. What are the reasons? I will try to answer.
Here is a position:
Looking at the position you might be wondering what is new in it? It is the Lucena position. It can be won by building a bridge and most of the players know this very well. But how many of you really know that how to reach this position? Are there any rules which can be used? What are the exceptions? My point is that rather than reading too much it’s better to learn few things but try to master them. Quality is always better than quantity.
Now following this example let’s say you have learned everything that has been discussed above for this position. Yet in practical games you don’t reach it for a long time so there are more chances that you forget the ideas/rules. So repetition is a must, but it is often ignored. If I talk about myself, I have read many books but haven’t repeated the process, and I can see that this accumulated knowledge is wiped out with time, not completely but partially.
Accordingly we should look at developing a strong bedrock of knowledge rather than trying to learn lots of new things all the time. And this is achievable if you focus on knowing a few things perfectly and then revise them periodically so that they’re never forgotten.
In Hinduism we have an expression that we should try to overcome certain human weaknesses. Here my intention is not to start a spiritual debate but rather show you how this also applies to chess when you are serious about improving.
Attachment: It is something like you’re playing what you like rather than what position requires. For example a person who loves attack on king will sometimes try to launch an attack when it is inappropriate. If I talk about myself, I prefer endgames, and because of this attachment I have missed many opportunities to launch a winning attack on the enemy king.
Anger: This is related to emotional instability and we all know that a person with unstable emotions can react badly. So I think there is no need to discuss this further.
Fear: This works on all levels. For example if you are going to play match against a stronger player there are more chances that you start playing with some fear rather than playing naturally. How many of us have had this feeling? Probably everyone. But the best way to proceed is to treat your opponent as an opponent rather than IM, GM or super GM. I mean to say that it’s best not to overestimate your opponent.
Greed: There are many examples where even GMs get greedy, and amateurs do this quite often.
Pride: Here it is closely connected with arrogance. Again, rather than giving the example of someone else suffering from this, I will start with myself. I lost so many games against weaker opponents because I took them casually. So don’t underestimate your opponent.
I’m going to ignore ‘lust’ as I can’t correlate it with chess. But what are the solutions? Pranayam, meditation and yoga all fall under the solution list but if you want to dig deeper you may find my other article interesting as we often ignore basics.
I remember many games in which I had a good position but I lost those because I failed to spot some small traps set by my opponent. If you study the games played by players 2000 or lower you will find very few games which are won strategically, but often they end with mistakes. What kind of mistakes are there? Well you set a trap and your opponent falls for it. The trap could be anything from a mate threat to trapping the queen (I did this a lot while playing against French defence two knight variation) or even drawing traps in worse conditions. I believe that you should not play opening traps as most of them are having decent solutions, though they can be played against weaker opponents with caution. But I do believe that in general in makes sense to play for some traps; it can offer hope even in some hopeless situations.
There are a number of situations in which playing for traps can be particularly effective. Here are some that I’ve noticed:
When your opponent is in serious time trouble:
This is the most obvious one; without adequate thinking time it’s easy to make an oversight. I have read many annotated games with a note that says ‘a mistake in time trouble’
When your opponent has various options to deal with the situation, there are more chances they will fall into it:
It is something like when you enter a Chinese restaurant for the first time and you have been offered menu with many choices. Overwhelmed by the different options there are more chances that you will not choose something you like. With a much simpler menu, on the other hand, you will not suffer from such confusion.
When your opponent is winning:
It is easy to overlook your opponent’s tricks in winning positions. This is because you’re already counting on the full point and lose a certain amount of vigilance.
Everyone has fallen for a trap but few give much respect to this skill. But it should be remembered that chess is battle where everything that is legal is fair, and playing for traps can be very effective!
I personally don’t like to learn lots of chess opening theory and some times due to other responsibilities you can not afford to spend such time on it. So how one could reduce one’s work on openings with the greates efficiency? Here I give 100% credit to Nigel who helped me a lot in reducing opening work by the following simple means.
Playing the same positions with both colours
I play d4 with White and the Caro against e4. I gradually came to realize that many branches of the Caro follow Queen’s Pawn Openings, so actually you’re playing the same opening with different colours. Here is an example:
This is typical position in Caro exchange with 7…Qd7 variation.
I love the above position as I feel very comfortable in it. Here I prefer to play 13…Rab8 with an idea of playing …b5-b4, and it is the same plan that has been deployed by great players in the QGD Exchange Variation (Rab1 with an idea of playing b4-b5).
I play the QGD exchange in the same fashion:
So you can see how you can reduce your work.
An opening is not complete if you don’t know its middle game plans, so my advice is to keep your opening simple and try to observe the pawn structure, related strategies and piece placements. Examples can be found in playing with an isolated pawn, playing for a minority attack or fighting against hanging pawns. If you would like to read something more on preparing on middle games, here is another article of mine.
If you like this article, please comment here.
Recently I got an enquiry about personal coaching and the first question was how useful chess is for brain development? I got very annoyed and replied that you should Google it and you will find many other tools for answering. I understand and agree that chess is useful for brain development but this is just a byproduct of chess and not the only reason that you should find a chess coach for your kids. The basic and key thing is kids’ interest in chess, otherwise it will become like more school homework for them.
I usually teach kids a particular topic and give notes about it for them to revise. Once they’ve revised it I give some additional test positions for homework and advise them to play chess games. Many of them don’t follow this path because they don’t have enough time.
I’ve also observed that some of them are genuine while many are doing large numbers of other activities like swimming, dancing, cricket, football etc., the kids are very busy but without particularly investing themselves in anything. They are therefore not able to focus on anything in particular and become jacks of all but masters of none. Well who is responsible for this? Of course it’s the parents, as they want to keep their kids busy.
Some parents know how to play chess and ask me to teach their kids tactics, though this can often be before they know how to move the pieces. What would your reaction be? Parhaps to ask why they hired a chess coach. I say that you should let the expert work without interfering. And give him enough time as chess is not a game that you can become expert overnight.
What about complaints that a kid has been learning chess at your academy for a year and not made any significant progress? I show them attendance where more than 50% of the time the kids were just physically absent. You can’t expect to improve when you are not consistent at your work. And maybe suggest reading the story about the Hare and the tortoise!
There are many books written on finding right move or best move that also have a huge amount of analysis As these just bounce off the amateur’s head how, as a chess coach, can you guide them in finding good moves? Here I use the word ‘good’ as often on the chess board it is not possible to find the best moves. There are limitations imposed by thinking time constraint and a limitation of one’s knowledge. So I will try to recapitulate a few points which might help you in finding reasonably good moves.
1.Tactical awareness: One can not dream about achieving some kind of positional advantage if it’s going to be checkmate in a few moves. And whilst it is also not possible to calculate everything on the board one can become aware of tactical possibilities by just glancing at hanging pieces, checks, possibilities of giving checks, captures and the pawn structure around the king. For example in the following position 1. Rxf6 is not important but spotting the vulnerability of the rook on b8 is. So I always ask my students to take look at hanging pieces, checks and captures.
2.Pawn levers: This is perhaps the most vital thing to consider while looking for a good move as without considering levers you won’t be able to place your pieces on right squares or lines. For example while playing the Queen’s Gambit Declined you must prepare the …c5 break to free your position. Many times pawn levers are very helpful in activating your pieces.
Here is an example taken from Hans Kmoch’s Pawn Power in Chess.
3.Forcing moves are not always good: Of amateurs look for a forcing move on every move without the position justifying it! Often the right thing to do is to improve the position of your pieces, shield weaknesses and regroup pieces.
4.Sometimes you have to create a weakness in your own position: Chess often features an exchange of advantages where you have to offer something in order to get something. The most important thing is that you get more than you give, for example accepting an isolated pawn will often give you more than enough in compensating advantages.
I write those points after some brain storming. It would be great if you can add something more by commenting at the The Chess Improver page on Facebook.
Learning elementary checkmates is a first step towards learning endgames. Today I’m going to discuss the checkmate with rook and king against the king. Students must have a prior knowledge of checkmate with a queen and king and also stalemate. In case you need some guidance here is the nice article written by Richard James.
In order to do checkmate with rook and king, I have divided the process into 3 parts.
1) Reduce the box. For example your rook is on a1 and opponent king is on d5 then the opponent king has freedom to move in (from b2-b8-h8-h2-b2) box and our aim is to reduce that box to force the opponent king to move to the edge of the board. As we all know that a queen is alone able to force the opponent king to move to edge of the board, but the rook can’t do this so you need your king to be there to support the rook.
2) Once the opponent king is at edge of the board, keep your rook away.
3) Try to force the position where both kings are opposed to each other with a distance of a square.
Here is an example to illustrate the process.
An enormous amount of research has been done on chess players’ selective thinking (humans don’t need to calculate each and every move) and as a result we are now in the era where computers can beat humans. Along with this they have researched how experts play in familiar positions as well as random positions (see Chess Players’ Thinking: A Cognitive Psychological Approach) and concluded that they are better at pattern recognition and recalling known position types. These days this is common knowledge, and it’s also important to note that such experts are not as good at other activities as the are in chess. This means that they are not born geniuses, they have worked hard to gain their expertise.
How can we improve at pattern recognition? Well I spent couple of hours surfing the internet but didn’t get any satisfactory answers, but when I thought deeply about it the answers were just in front of me.
Repeating the same material: This can sound weird but the more you see, the more you remember and the more you do the better you understand. Here is the example from real life; one of my friends is very good at mating combination and his tactics rating has crossed 2500 whilst his actual rating is not good. He told me that he has been through Laszlo Polgar’s book, 5334 Problems, Combinations and Games, 5-6 times. While writing this I remember my primary school days when, as a punishment, I was told to write particular lessons for 5 or 10 times, but afterwards I was not able forget it for a longer period of time :).
Discussions: Discussing any kind of positions with your friends (even if he is weaker than you) will create more chances to recognise it for a longer period of time rather than doing it alone. I can’t give any proof of this but it is 100% true in my case.
Triggers, incidents and stories: This one can be very useful while teaching kids and adults also benefit from it. For example, while discussing a game with Nigel told me that even if you prove that this is the best move on the board he still didn’t like it (I had captured an opponent’s piece with f-pawn rather than the h-pawn). From that day, whenever I came across a similar kind of position, I am able to recognise it very easily.
Get proper sleep: Although this is not directly linked it has a significant effect on your working memory which you use for recalling positions. A few weeks ago I visited the doctor because I was forgetting very important things quite frequently, including my marriage date, and he advised me to get more sleep. For further information you can look at this article.