It has dawned on me that my attitude towards chess books might be slightly different to that of most people. When some students have commented that one of my top recommendations, Laszlo Polgar’s Chess: 5334 Problems, Combinations and Games, is rather too heavy to carry around I’ve suggested that they tear out a page a day and solve the problems whenever they get an opportunity. On occasion I’ve encouraged them to tear the first page out there and then, right in front of me on Skype. The usual reaction has been a promise that this will be done prior to hanging up on their lunatic teacher. But those who actually do it benefit considerably.
Whilst I’m on the subject let me tell you about another bad habit of mine; I like to write in chess books, adding my own variations as I go. Again this too may be shocking to many but I believe it has helped me get more out of the books I read by developing an inquisitive and critical approach.
Has this influenced the kind of books I spend most time on? I believe so. I love books which give enough raw material to get my creative juices flowing, such as Nikolay Minev’s French Defence 2: New And Forgotten Ideas. Actually I like many books which feature games that are not on the databases, it gives a sense that there are unknown secrets, ideas which lie beyond the 1984-ish collations of known data and the computerized search for solutions. Instead of solutions I like questions; they imply unknowns, ongoing struggle and life.
How does this work within the improvement process? That’s simple. Questions motivate a person to engage their mind far more fully than solutions, orders and certainties. It’s something that lies at the heart of human nature, we just love a mystery.