You might have heard that Carlsen can remember numbers of positions and recall them over the board in a limited amount of time. In the book GM-RAM, by Rashid Ziatdinov, the author emphasises remembering key positions and games and claims that “if you know just one of important classical games, you will be able to become a 1400 level player, to be world champion you will need to know 1,000 such games”. This may be too much but we can’t deny fact that remembering these games cold will definitely help you towards chess improvement.
I tried different ways to remember games, for example playing them over the board many times, guessing them move by move, using Chess Position Trainer etc. But they didn’t work that well for me.
Then I tried one more thing and succeeded. This method uses lots of time but definitely works; after a month without playing them through a second time I am able to remember the games and their critical positions.
The way to do this is to take a book of your favourite player where he has annotated his games. Now we are going to annotate his games in our words rather than going through author’s annotations first. You can use different software but a pen and paper works best for me.
The most important thing is that your focus must be on one direction but with inherent flexibility (if your opponent blunders you must be able to punish him). This tends to be missing from the play of amateur play as they fight in different directions. Write down your ideas for each move (for both White and Black) and don’t worry if you repeat the same thing over a series of moves. Once you finish it (normally I take 4 to 6 hours) go to the experts annotations and compare. You will find that now it is very easy to understand the author’s points and your mistakes, this wouldn’t have happened if you went directly to the author’s annotations .
It is also wise to go for a second opinion also, if someone has explained the same game. Players who have the time and work like hell will definitely get benefit from this!
If you find this is very hard and time consuming, first watch this video:
You can find lots of material in books which teaches you how to attack the king. However, there are also some key factors I’d like to present, which my own experience has led me to believe are the most important.
1. Removal of key defender: In my city a very popular saying is that you should ‘kill a knight on the castled side you win’. At club level they follow this technique blindly and surprisingly are successful most of the time. Study the classic bishop sacrifice on h2 or h7; most of the time you will find absence of the knight on f3 or f6.
2. Rook Lift: A rook lift can be a very effective weapon. Normally rooks only take part at a later stage of the game, but through the rook lift an extra and important attacker. Here is an example;
3. Open lines: Open lines are important for empowering your pieces compare to your opponent’s. In order to open lines two elements should be examined closely. One is the available pawn levers and another is a sacrifice to access the enemy king. Here is one of the best games of Bobby Fischer which is relevant to our topic:
4. Attention levels: One should always consider the counter blows, escape squares, defensive resources and tension in the center before going in for the kill.
Kids play chess for fun, but we all know that some seriousness is required for them to learn and improve. If you successfully build a motivational environment it can have an enormous effect on their chess development. Here are a few ideas you can use:
Kids love stars and trophies: In each and every session I usually come up with 2 to 3 puzzles with a star value, meaning that if the student solves those puzzles, he or she will get a star or trophy on his or her notebook. Believe me this is very nice trick to get kids involved. I got this idea from one of my student’s mothers. She told me that in schools teachers do the same if the child does good work.
Tournaments on a regular basis and a rating ladder foster a competitive attitude: One of my friends who has more than 10 year experience coaching kids has applied this technique with very promising results. We arrange tournaments on a weekly basis and based on their performance we decide where everyone ranks. If you want to improve your rank in ladder you can only challenge your immediate rival for example if your rank is 3rd then you can only challenge to 2rd rank and receive the challenge from the 4th player. Results will change their positions and the ladder keeps changing. This can also work with team events.
Points system: You can set some points for each right answer and at the end of the day the child with most points will be the winner and get a standing obsession.
Offer the chance to play with coach: It’s like dinner with a celebrity if you get a lucky draw.
Celebrate any success together: This helps the kids in your class bond with each other, despite the fact they’re competing with oneanother.
In business a partnership can bring more mutual benefits compared to being a sole proprietor. In chess too, if you work together with understanding, you can improve efficiently and effectively. But there are a few points which you should consider before working with someone.
First and foremost the partners should be of about equal strength. They should also be very serious about their chess careers, casual players should not be welcome.
You can work together on any phase of the game but what’s important is where to focus. What I have learned from experience that it would be much better if you focus on soft reasoning and ideas rather than finding or guessing good moves and concrete variations. For example take a look at the following position:
White can win by playing any pawn move except a4, but for me the important thing is why White is winning with material balance on the board. The reasons are as follows:
– Ability to create a passed pawn
– Position of both kings
– Pawn crippling
Based on this you can find good moves, and it’s merely a matter of time. So focus on soft reasoning and ideas rather than calculating variations.
Keep your ego aside: This is a common problem among chess players who are working together or discussing any position. They want to prove they are right at any cost after which healthy discussion becomes debate (and this sometimes happens between coach and students!). Avoid it by accepting your mistakes.
Knowledge sharing: It is possible to choose different topics, work on them separately and then discuss them together. This can be a real benefit of working together as it saves lots of time and energy, but be honest as it is chess players’ tendency that they don’t want to share or disclose their preparation or knowledge.
Handling a crisis in business and over the chess board are quite different because of external factors, but there are also some unique similarities. Whether it is chess or business, we have to deal with three common elements. These are:
b) Element of surprise those are hidden counter threats
c) Short decision making time
In chess, these elements are sometimes favourable and sometimes not. How you deal with these elements is all about handling crisis. How to handle it? I will try to explain it with the following discussion:
You Must Be Cold Blooded!
By this I mean to say that you should handle the situation calmly in order to recognise all the available resources at your disposal and your opponent’s. If you mix-up emotions you will be nowhere. For example in the following position Nakamura is facing a critical situation as there are so many threats in the air. However he came out of it using the element of surprise, a move which wouldn’t occur to most people. A good annotation has been given on this position in Chessbase’s Megabase.
Changing the Position
Rather than suffering in a difficult position it makes sense to try and change something so as to set your opponent some problems. Creativity is a great asset in such situations.
For example, I once saw a game of Karpov’s where he was unable to save the isolated pawn, so he sacrificed it by playing it on d5 and in return gave his opponent an isolated pawn and saved the game. I tried to find that game but could not.
Keep Away From Mess
This mainly concerns time trouble, and it stands to reason we can avoid a crisis if we don’t complicate when in time trouble or get into time trouble in complex positions.
Once a student is familiar with piece movements, attacks, check and checkmate, my next topic is to teach him or her elementary mates. This was explained by Capablanca in his book Chess Fundamentals.
“The first thing a student should do, is to familiarise himself with the power of pieces. This can best be done by learning how to accomplish quickly some of the simple mates.”
In my view tactics and endgames should be learned in parallel. For tactics it’s best to proceed step by step to develop tactical skills very gradually and effectively. I have had very good results with that. But for the endgame I referred to many books before finally choosing ‘GM RAM’. This seems very strange at first as there are just 256 dry positions to work out without even knowing who is to move! But once you go though the you realise that the first 58 endgame positions are really essential. I realised that 70% or more of my endgame knowledge is based around those 58 positions, and these cover the following topics:
– Key Square
– Rule of Square
– Pawn breakthrough
– Essential Rook ending (Philidor and Lucena)
– Queen vs. Rook endgame
– Essential Queen endgames
These elements are all vital for practical endgame play. And as there is nothing ready-made it can actually actually inspire us to work through them in our own way.
There is a problem when a coach focuses on the endgame. A few of my students see the endgame as boring, insisting that I teach them more and more tactics, but the problem is that they can’t understand that they are not knowledgeable enough to decide what is good for them.
Accordingly I have not changed my way even at the cost of some students going elsewhere for lessons. Quality demands sacrifices.
For us a mistake which turn the table or decides the game is called a blunder, but for kids it’s nothing special. I have seen lots of kids win games with a single piece against a huge army. The reason is that a sense the danger has not been cultivated. We normally teach kids to check the square twice before moving and check what the opponent’s last move threatened. Without experience kids can’t do this instinctively.
For example, in the following position you will often see kids play a bishop to f5 with Black or f4 with White:
I have tried to find the cause and came up with following conclusions:
1. We coaches are not focusing on that area as we believe that, some skills come only with time.
2. If I tell the parents of my private students that they are playing very few games, they are not particularly bothered. They are much more interested in the by products of chess training than the game itself. They believe that chess is a tool that will help their kids develop their minds so they ask kids to learn chess even if they’re not very interested.
As a coach we can’t do much about the second factor except increase playing time during the class. But we should try to work on the first factor, that with proper attention we can reduce the amount of time in acquiring a sense of danger.
Normally I prepare very simple diagrams to explain how piece moves, attack and capture. Now I am going to add some diagrams where kids have to mark where his or her piece is not safe. You can start with very few pieces and gradually make it more complicated, for example:
Once he or she is doing reasonably well we should focus on his or her real game and should compose new positions from them which can be presented in the next class.
Recently I went through a book on the middle game where a nice explanation was given on material imbalance. I have distilled these down to a few of points which might be useful to readers.
When you give up some material what should be the compensation?
1. Strong attack on opponent’s king: This is well known and don’t need any explanation. Any kind of material sacrifice can be given if you are getting a mating attack.
2. When your pieces are nicely coordinated and on the other hand your opponents are not. Here is the game Spielmann vs. Moller where Spielmann had sacrificed a queen for two minor pieces:
3. If you have a lead in development and can force your opponent king to stay in the centre, you can give up some material. Here is a nice game of Paul Morphy, normally I use this game for explaining use of pin in practice but it applies here too:
4. You get a strong passed pawn or pawns and your opponent can’t create a real blockade. I really enjoyed the following game when I was preparing against the Sicilian in the past. Rauzer sacrificed a piece sacrifice just to play better endgame. A nice explanation is given by Garry Kasparov in his DVD Play the Najdorf using the game Bronstein against Najdorf:
You can get different kinds of pawn structure out of any opening, for example isolated pawns, pawn majorities & minorities on different sides. Today I will try to focus on how to play with a pawn majority & minority.
In earlier times a queenside majority was thought to be an advantage, but this is not true 100% in every stage of chess game. In the middle game a minority can be advanced against a majority in order to weaken opponent’s pawn structure and levering fully open a half open file. That is the reason that in the QGD Exchange Variation White normally attack on the queenside while Black attacks on the kingside. Of course if one of the files becomes fully open it is crucial to control the open file.
When we talk about the endgame then a queenside majority can be a winning advantage; with both kings castled on the short side it it can lead to a dangerous outside passed pawn. How should one play in such situations? Here we can learn a lot from classical games, and I present two examples:
Play With A Majority
Play With A Minority
In chess & business you usually have to consider alternatives. How should one analyze them? Are there any methods? Well Alexander Kotov has already given one method with his tree of analysis, but this only works well when you can easily differentiate the outcomes. When there are similar kinds of outcomes this method doesn’t work.
In business this method called systematic analysis or, say, cost benefit analysis, but when outcomes are quite similar we must use intuitiion instead. Capablanca’s technique & Tal’s sacrifices are the best examples. Now comes the question of when to follow intuition and when to follow cost benefit analysis.
When outcomes are uncertain or similar and if you have to decide quickly you should go for intuition based decision. Why? Well here is the answer:
Intuition follows general principles: When you have two choices to capture on g3 with h pawn or f pawn. Almost all will go with hxg3. Why? Because experts say to do so and in practice it is almost always right. A complex case is when you exchange bishop against knight or vice versa, and here too the decision will usually be based on general principles. Why do you avoid keeping a piece hanging? Because all this knowledge & experience is already in your subconscious mind, so whatever decision you take in such situations there are more chances that you will be successful by taking intuitive decisions. To prove my argument, take a look at anyone’s blitz rating where almost all the decisions are taken based on intuition.
What should we be careful of when taking such decisions? A major factor is one’s emotional state and whether one has strong positive or negative feelings about something. For example it’s known that Janowsky loved the bishop pair.
How can we improve our intuition? Only with knowledge & experience. However if you want to do some serious work on it, you should do some research on programming your subconscious mind.