Category Archives: Nigel Davies

Titles Or Excellence?

FIDE’s recent announcement about the introduction of new titles brought back memories about enquiries I’ve had for lessons in which the stated goal was to ‘get a FIDE title’. I guess those people will be happy that their goal has been placed within easier reach but I wonder whether it is aimed at benefiting chess or just making money by selling certificates.

Martial arts have had this debate for many years with many of them rejecting a belt system because it might attract students for the wrong reasons. Belts are certainly no guarantee of excellence, it all depends on the standards that are required. And if tests come at a cost there must be a temptation to lower standards in order to increase revenue.

So should chess players pursue these titles or not?

My own pursuit of the International Grandmaster title was because I wanted to continue chess as a career and Grandmasters were generally better placed to make a living out of chess. It played a role as a marker for my development as a player, but there were other ways of measuring this. It certainly didn’t mean much in terms of showing off at cocktail parties.

There might be a case for getting one in order to improve one’s CV, potential employers can be impressed by external pursuits such as chess as long as core skills for doing the job concerned are in place. Of course deeper enquiries might reveal that there’s not much substance to the title concerned so pretending it’s more than it is could rebound.

They could also help as a boost to self confidence, a marker of achievement for those who don’t naturally have a high opinion of themselves. The ECF introduced it’s own master points system some time back and it’s served as an incentive for a number of players I know. But the Master Points System seems rather more tasteful in that it avoids using terms such as ‘Grand Master’ and ‘International Master’. These seem too easy to confuse with the real titles and the confusion could lead to a devaluation. I’ve heard of players calling themselves ‘Grand Masters’ without even having gained any sort of title, and marketing coaching services on the back of this.

At the end of the day I guess it’s down to the individual as whether they want to pursue these things and fork out their hard earned cash. But remember that it has little to do with the pursuit of real excellence and playing better chess. That’s down to the board, the pieces and lots of practice.

Nigel Davies

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The Love For Wood

Here’s another interesting Youtube documentary featuring leading Dutch players from the 1970s. There are subtitles available if you click on ‘settings’.

For the young it gives an insight into what chess was like before it became an Olympic sport, and I must say that I feel a certain nostalgia!

Nigel Davies

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The Cultural History of Chess

As I’m interested in chess history I found the following documentary fascinating. Many people talk about ‘modern’ chess as if it’s cast in stone, yet chess has constantly evolved throughout its history. My take is that it’s now essential to experiment with other forms of the game to diminish the effect of that computers have had.

What could be done to make chess harder for machines? My own preference would be to simplify the game by rescinding the double square pawn advance and abolishing castling rights. This would slow the early part of the game down considerably, and this lengthy manoeuvring phase would put the emphasis back on positional understanding over a knowledge of opening theory.

Nigel Davies

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Underestimating Unorthodox Openings

One of the greatest dangers of facing an unorthodox opening is psychological; it’s very easy to feel contemptuous of your opponent’s moves, or even insulted. And it has happened even to the best players, for example when Anatoly Karpov lost to Tony Miles when the latter answered 1.e4 with 1….a6.

Magnus Carlsen manages rather better in the following game, but mainly because he stays objective:

Nigel Davies

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Algorithms, The Movie

Chess movies and documentaries can be annoying for the connoisseur, not least because the spirit of the game can be changed to suit a kitsch Hollywood story line. But this one looks interesting, exploring the World of chess for the blind. A review can be found here, and this is the official trailer:

Nigel Davies

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Chess Me Out

Here’s a nice documentary featuring interviews of different players. Among the featured players are Anatoly Karpov, Levon Aronian, Alexandra Kosteniuk and Elizabeth Paehtz.

Nigel Davies

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Procrastination Vs. Practice

One of my Tiger Chess members asked me an interesting question today about the approach I would you recommend for tactical training. My answer is actually very simple, it’s the one that will be implemented.

A lot of players spend a lot of time talking about improvement rather than actually practising. You can find evidence of this on chess forums in which improvement methods and the value of different openings and books are discussed at length. But do the participants then knuckle down and implement their conclusions? Probably not.

This is of course procrastination, putting off what needs to be done (practice) in favour of chatting with friends. In this case the fact that the conversation is about improvement can give people the impression that they’re doing their best to improve. But it’s still procrastination rather than actual practice.

The truth of the matter is that all openings are playable, and there’s little qualitative difference when you go under 2400. Of course it helps a lot to know what you’re doing, but that means practice. As for the books, they can all be helpful when players actually study them with their minds engaged, but who does that? In a way the ones full of errors can stimulate personal study more than those that intimidate the reader with reams of computer checked analysis.

What about computers? In a way they can be the ultimate tool for procrastinating because the computer can do the work whilst its owner chats online and posts its conclusions. Someone can look particularly authoritative when they do this, but once again no work is actually being done.

What is the answer for someone who does this? Well there are some good books on curing procrastination, but above all self-honesty is required. Did you actually study chess today? And if so, how much did you do?

Nigel Davies

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No Quick Fix

As chess has been cursed with ‘win with’ books for decades, it’s no surprise that there are now plenty of adverts around for miracle chess courses. The claim is that they produce amazing results in a short period of time, usually being available for a limited time only and at a special, knocked down price.

They don’t work of course, it’s all just marketing. Yet the quick fix still has enough appeal to get people to part with their money.

Of course players, even older ones, can improve their chess. But it takes time and effort, as with mastering something like the violin. Is there a ballpark figure of how much work is involved? Well there’s been a lot of debate about the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, as described by Anders Ericsson, and actually that’s not a bad ball park figure. Certainly it’s good to get away from the idea that people can improve substantially at something with just a modest time investment.

With this in mind I’ve created a strategy course on my Tiger Chess site which comprises 160 weekly lessons. The lessons and assignments and ‘digestion’ of the material will probably take one or two hours each, so that’s still not too many hours. But together with concurrent tactics practice (3 hours per week), endgames (another 3 hours per week), 50 tournament games per year (let’s say 4 hours each) and building a solid set of openings (perhaps 2 hours per week), the 160 weeks will contain at least a couple of thousand hours of productive work.

This kind of commitment is usually rewarded, though of course there are many variables. Exceptional talent makes the learning process much easier, as does studying the right material. But what won’t do it is a couple of snatched hours at the weekend.

Since my teenage years I’ve probably spent around 15-20 hours per week on chess and now have tens of thousands of hours under my belt. If I’d been blessed with a bit more talent I might have become REALLY good!

Nigel Davies

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London Chess Classic Blitz

Here’s an interesting video of the London Chess Classic blitz qualifier, won by England’s Michael Adams. I hasten to add that players of this level can play meaningful blitz games, but as you go down the rating scale it becomes ever more destructive to players’ thinking habits:

This great event finishes on Sunday, the official tournament site is here.

Nigel Davies

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