Category Archives: Nigel Davies

Blindfold Chess

A controversial improvement method is to play blindfold chess. Blindfold exhibitions were banned in the Soviet Union in 1930 because they were thought to be a health hazard, though I have yet to see any evidence that this is true. And I’ve found that it has helped my own game to practice visualizing ahead in my mind rather than moving the pieces on the board.

Here’s a recent blindfold exhibition by Magnus Carlsen in which he takes on three opponents simultaneously. A bit of a walk in the park for him, but entertaining nonetheless:

Nigel Davies

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Your Chess Environment

Something that chess improvers rarely consider is the quality of their chess environment. Who are they playing against and mixing with? And are these influences good or bad?

This can be a huge factor in an overall improvement plan, it’s important to be part of the best peer group you can find. Without this a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings can creep in. Are the Latvian Gambit and Morra great for improving because they develop tactical skill? Are you sure about that?

For some there’s no such problem of course. A nationally recognised talent will, in many countries, be well looked after and groomed for success. They’ll get the best trainers, be flown to the best tournaments and receive a good helping of support. At least they will in India!

With this in mind here’s a name to watch out for, young Nihal Sarin. He’s been blazing a trail at U10 level and in a country that loves and respects chess talent he’s an odds on favourite to do very well.

Nigel Davies

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Does Chess Require Intelligence?

One question that occurred to me during recent controversies about the ‘female brain’ was whether chess required intelligence in the first place. There is a widespread assumption that it does and there are many players who are very smart. Yet on the other hand I’ve met many excellent players who are not particularly clever at all.

Searching around for studies I came across this one by Merim Bilalic and Peter McLeod. Amongst their surprising findings they discovered a negative correlation between intelligence and rating in their ‘elite group’. On the other hand there was a strongly positive correlation between rating and practice.

This is what I figured, the essence of skill is dedication and practice. This in turn will be most significantly affected by the drop out rate, and it does seem that chess is not always a girl-friendly environment.

Here anyway is a documentary from National Geographic which features Susan Polgar. Interesting:

Nigel Davies

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Sun Tzu, Chess & War

I found this documentary interesting, especially the comparisons between chess and go in their applications to warfare. My view is that chess wasn’t actually designed as a war game at all, and that instead it evolved from fortune telling rituals. This would certainly explain why chess thinking doesn’t necessarily work so well if applied to military scenarios.

Nigel Davies

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Rules And Fair Play

The news last week that Wesley So was defaulted for ‘using notes’ during one of his games came as a shock to many chess fans, and especially when the full story emerged. Here are details of what happened from Chess24 with So being interviewed:

Q: What happened yesterday?

A: I wrote something beside my scoresheet on a piece of paper – just to focus during the game, which was a reminder for me to play hard – but apparently the rules don’t allow it so I lost the game yesterday.

Q: According to the arbiter he had warned you about it before…

A: I wrote it on my scoresheet before. He told me you can only write draw offers or the times or the results on the scoresheet, so I brought a piece of paper with me this time, but my logic didn’t work out.

Q: Is that a normal habit of yours?

A: Yes, unfortunately it has been a habit for me for a long time – for years actually – and I did it a lot in the past, in Tata Steel, almost all my tournaments. Nothing was working for me in this tournament, so I thought I’d go back to my old habit. This tournament has been a nightmare for me, so I just want it to be finished.

Was what So did illegal and deserving of a forfeit? Well the FIDE regulations can be seen here, with the following being the relevant rule:

“12.3: During play the players are forbidden to make use of any notes, sources of information or advice, or analyse on another chessboard.”

Is it just me in thinking that this would this seem to be about chess notes, such as a file of opening variations? Was the arbiter being sensible and measured in giving a forfeit when lesser penalties such as a time deduction were possible? And was it fair of So’s opponent to seek arbitration rather than just playing the game? I will leave it up to the reader to decide.

As far as chess improvers are concerned I’d suggest trying to stay on the right side of the law wherever possible so as to avoid hassle during your games. Meanwhile it’s better not to distract or lower oneself by trying to use technicalities unless you have been genuinely affected by your opponent’s actions. It should be the moves that should count with the rules serving the goal of fair play.

Nigel Davies

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Chess Improvement Takes A While

Chess improvement takes a while, just as you can’t master the violin overnight. The 10,000 hours rule, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell still seems reasonable for chess, despite studies that show it may not be universally applicable. Ability counts as well of course, but there’s no substitute for dedication.

So why is it that most people look for short cuts, despite the evidence to the contrary? I suspect there’s a lot of hope in this, plus the fact that most adults struggle to find time for pursuits such as chess. It tends to be a lot easier to find time when you’re young and don’t have other responsibilities.

Of course it’s possible to study the right things more efficiently, and I do believe we can shave a good percentage of that 10,000 hours away. It’s also possible to make good progress with less time than that, as long as the focus is on what counts. This was one of my main motivations in creating my Tiger Chess web site, I wanted to shorten the process for serious improvers.

How long does it take? Well for people who can dedicate an hour or so a day to chess it’s possible to notch up a thousand hours in three years. If those three years feature a focus on the right things (tactics, strategy and endgames) then quite substantial progress is possible. Who does this? Not many, which is of course why it’s the route to an edge. Generally speaking adult players spend very little quality time actually studying the game, they are far more likely to chat about it online and buy another openings book.

So what does my web site offer? Well I’ve just launched a 160 week endgame course to add to the 160 week strategy course that has been running for a while. Plus there’s a monthly clinic for members games, book recommendations, articles etc etc. But be warned, there’s not a single promise of how you can become X points stronger in Y amount of time, in other words a sales guru’s nightmare!

Not that this will distract me…

Nigel Davies

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Too Many Cooks

One of the lost arts of the chess board is that of adjournment analysis. In the days before computers we used to adjourn games after the first session (normally 40 moves and 4 or 5 hours) and then continue them after dinner or on a separate day. And between the sessions it was customary to analyse the adjourned position as well as possible, recruiting what help was available.

There is an interesting chapter on adjournment analysis in The Art of the Middle Game by Paul Keres and Alexander Kotov, with this particular chapter being written by Keres. Alexander Kotov also discusses is in Think Like a Grandmaster and here there are some wonderful insights.

Kotov suggests that collective analysis tends to be inaccurate, something that was confirmed by my own experience. He suggests that an initial examination with friends can be a good thing, but after that you should work out everything on your own.

These days everything would be checked by a computer of course, but the idea that collective analysis tends to be inaccurate is interesting. I think that a lot of different voices will necessarily create an atmosphere in which participants want to outdo each other, and without their own game being at risk. It’s a classic case of too many cooks spoiling the broth, with one highly motivated cook being far more effective.

How can this help the improvement process? Essentially in immunising us against believing the unknowing collective and seeking instead to be independent. Your own ideas may not be right but thinking them through yourself and putting them on the line you learn something if they are refuted.

Here meanwhile is a funny video about receiving advice:

Nigel Davies

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Guilty Until Proven Innocent

A major issue with an online chess competition recently came to my attention. A student, and a very decent and honest person I’ve known for years, was banned for alleged ‘cheating’. There was no right of appeal and no opportunity to answer the charges. The only option open to him was to ‘promise he wouldn’t do it again’, thereby admitting guilt. He wouldn’t do that because he hadn’t cheated in the first place.

Prior to being banned he had been working hard on his game and was showing an upswing from a previous plateau. He had been working on his tactics and endgames and assiduously studying my Building an Opening Repertoire course that brings PLANNING to one’s opening and early middle game play. He had booked extra lessons and things were starting to come together. Then suddenly (but not unexpectedly) he hit a good patch in which he disposed of some opponents with aplomb. They played rather horribly but a series of good wins was still a healthy sign with regard to his chess.

So what had set the alarms off? Essentially a computer algorithm had detected unusually good play in a series of games, well above his expected level. It wasn’t a question of him choosing the top computer pick in each position, it just judged his play to be way better than it was previously. So how was it decided that he was cheating rather than improving, or even just having a good run?

After writing in to vouch for his honesty, hard work and an upswing in his chess, I had several approaches from people saying how great and reliable the detection system was and how, by implication, my student had to be cheating. There seemed to be a certain lack of willingness to discuss the exact nature of their procedures but in one conversation I learned that the validity of the computer algorithm that flagged him was partly based on ‘admissions of guilt’. At this point I saw a problem.

When players are flagged and given the option to ‘promise not to cheat again’ to re-enter the competition, denial will mean that they lose any fees they’ve paid to participate in this competition or on the server on which it is hosted. If these ‘promises’ are then taken as ‘admissions of guilt’, the detection software may seem to have amazing results, at least via the ‘admission’ criteria. Of course it doesn’t take a massive understanding of statistics and testing to know that this is not fair. Those accused are being put under pressure and being given a clear incentive to admit they cheated, whether or not they actually did. Smack on the wrist and then back to the tournament with the system being given a slap on the back for its ‘accuracy’.

I have been assured that other methods have been used to verify the algorithm’s accuracy but details have not been supplied. Could it be ‘human judgement’, that most flawed of tests? In any case I would welcome a fuller disclosure of testing procedures, as I’m sure all chess players would.

Why should a chess site be using such a clearly flawed criteria as a coerced admission? A certain amount may be just ignorance about legal and testing procedures. But they also have a problem that many unscrupulous individuals may be using outside help, and possibly in very subtle ways. Meanwhile they need to make it look as if internet chess is being fairly played to attract people to it. So there must be a temptation to smudge the legal and scientific integrity of tests because a ‘greater good’ is at stake.

Meanwhile I reckon that a lot of innocent players are probably being falsely accused and banned, and will leave internet competition because they won’t lie and admit they cheated. Obviously this is a gross injustice, so if you’ve been one of them then I’d like to hear from you via the contact form. Discretion is assured and your stories may help open this can of worms. If I get enough new material I will revisit this issue in a later article but keeping names out of it.

Nigel Davies

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