The Comeback Trail

During the last few years I’ve played very little chess, having wanted not to lose out on time with my son. But as he’s getting older, and starting to play in adult tournaments, the time is rapidly approaching when we’ll play regularly in the same events. As he gets older I won’t have to worry about him waiting around should his game finish before mine, and with him moving more slowly this is less likely to happen.

So it seems I’ll be making a comeback, at least in local weekend events, and later on we may venture further afield depending on how things go. This of course means that I’ll need to don my chess player hat again, rather than being a coach. What does this entail?

I got my first test of this last Sunday at the Halifax Chess Club charity blitz tournament. Playing with my son there worked out just fine, he just waited patiently if his games finished first. The chess seemed to go OK as I managed to win the tournament with 8.5/9. But my observations contained some negative points as well as the positive:

  1. I had plenty of energy throughout, probably because of extensive tai chi and qigong practice.
  2. There didn’t seem to be a huge amount of rust, though playing rather than teaching was somewhat disorientating.
  3. I made several serious tactical oversights.
  4. My endgame play seems to have shown some improvement, probably because this one of the things I teach quite a lot.
  5. My opening knowledge felt as if I was a jack of all trades rather than a real expert in anything.
  6. It was useful to have the lunch prepared in advance, especially bringing a sandwich for my son rather than a pot noodle, which is more complex to prepare.

What are the improvements I can make? Well some of them seem obvious, for example it makes sense to keep in regular practice as far as playing is concerned, and during light periods to play some games anonymously on the web.

Missing tactics bothered me quite a bit more and indicates that I should at least try to get some daily practice in. There are plenty of ways to do this, for example there are even tactics challenges you can have on your phone. A suitable puzzle book is also a good idea.

Re the openings, there are many levels at which you can study them, the most important thing being that there are no massive gaps. A good way to shed light on such deficiencies is to adopt an approach I learned from Steve Giddins, which is to write down exactly what you intend to play against every possible opening, and do it in some detail. If you don’t, for example, have an answer ready for 1.b3 then this would represent a hole in your knowledge. And something should be done about it.

As with everything this will take time, though there’s a lot that can be done with the lost moments in a day, for example the time that’s normally wasted whilst waiting around can be profitably employed doing tactics. Playing is much harder, especially if you need to travel to strong events, though the internet makes a bit of regular practice a whole lot easier. As for the study of openings that’s probably the most complex issue of all, but only when you get to a high level (eg 2500+) at which a broad knowledge needs to be supplemented by a degree of specialization.

Nigel Davies

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About NigelD

Nigel Davies is an International Chess Grandmaster living in St. Helens in the UK. The winner of 15 international tournaments he is also a former British U21 and British Open Quickplay Champion and has represented both England and Wales on several occasions. These days Nigel teaches chess through his chess training web site, Tiger Chess, which has articles, recommendations, a monthly clinic, videos and courses. His students include his 15 year old son Sam who is making rapid progress with his game. Besides teaching chess, Nigel is a registered tai chi and qigong instructor and runs several weekly classes.