Thoughts from a Party

At a party on Boxing Day I met a former professional footballer, his wife and 13-year-old son. There was a chess set out and the father challenged me to a game. I took White in the first game, won a piece early on and had no problem converting. The second game, though, was different. After a good opening I contracted some weak pawns and eventually just about managed to escape with a draw a pawn down in a rook ending.

Later on I played his son, and something similar happened. Again I won a piece quickly on the white side of a Ruy Lopez, but unlike his father, he resigned at once and turned the board round. I managed to win the second game as well, but only after a long struggle. He told me after the game that he usually beats his dad because he knows his weaknesses. It was clear that both father and son were more than competent players who would be welcomed by any chess club in the country.

Now this may sound surprising but there’s one fact I’ve so far neglected to mention: the family are Bulgarian and have been in England a couple of years. The father told me his son had received training in Bulgaria up to the age of 11 but hadn’t played since coming to England. Instead he’d been concentrating on sports as, like his father, he’s a talented sportsman.

There are a number of cultural reasons why it’s difficult to run a successful (and by ‘successful’ I mean that a significant number of children will become competent players and continue their interest beyond the age of 11) primary school chess programme here in the UK and this is one. In Eastern European countries, I suspect that many adults, even if they don’t play competitively, are reasonably competent players with a basic understanding of what the game is all about. Here in the UK most parents who try to teach their children chess know little more than how the pieces move themselves.

While I was playing the father, his son was engaged in a game of Monopoly with three younger boys whose parents were hosting the party, and who had received the game as a Christmas present the previous day. The children were clearly enjoying themselves, but, more than that, were learning a lot from it, and not just about capitalism. By playing together they were developing social skills, with the older boy helping his three younger friends. They were also improving their maths skills by working out the sums of money involved and trying to give the right change. This is clearly a family that enjoys playing board games together, and quite rightly so too. This, I suspect, is much better for young children’s cognitive development than sitting in front of a screen. There was a Scrabble set on the table, as well, which looked as if it was much used. Again, children will learn a lot from Scrabble. They’ll improve their spelling and vocabulary, develop their maths skills by adding points and multiplying double and triple scores, and pick up some strategic thinking. Playing any or all these games will be, at a low level, beneficial to children, and it may well be that children will gain more benefit from playing a lot of different games rather than concentrating on being very good at one game.

Now you can treat chess in exactly the same way, just as a parlour game, and that’s absolutely fine. Learn how the pieces move, go away and play. But in Eastern Europe they take a very different approach: chess, as a serious game, not just as a parlour game, is part of their culture. It’s all very well putting compulsory chess lessons at the age of 5 into Armenian schools, because many of the parents will be able to help their children at home, but trying to do the same thing over here in the UK will just end up putting most children off chess because, without parental support, it will just be too hard for them.

It seems to me that we have two options: we could concentrate on promoting chess in secondary schools while establishing a network of junior chess clubs to cater for younger children who want to take chess seriously and have supportive parents. Or, if we want to promote chess in primary schools, we need to get the message across that, if you want to do well, you need to put a lot of effort in, just as you would if you wanted to excel at, for instance, playing the piano, or playing tennis.

I had piano lessons as a boy. I didn’t get very far, but far enough to give me a lifelong interest in classical music. My parents didn’t play the piano themselves, but they encouraged me to spend time every day practising my scales and arpeggios as well as the pieces my piano teacher had taught me. We need to provide parents with materials that will enable them to help their children on a daily basis even if they know little about chess themselves. Probably only a small minority of those children who learn chess while they are at primary school will take this route, but we need to recognize that there are parents out there looking for help. And providing that help is what I’m trying to do at the moment.


Chess and Chopsticks

We live in a fast paced society in which success is often measured by how little time it takes to reach a specific goal. Gone are the days when Quality stood above quantity. It’s all about accelerated productivity. Children are exposed to these concepts early on. Children, who once stopped to explore everything around them, slowly taking the world in, are now running on life’s fast track. Nowhere is this more apparent than in a beginner’s chess class. Young beginners often make moves on the chessboard the way they many adults go through life, quickly and with little thought put into their actions.

I evaluate each student in my chess classes on a regular basis. I start by walking around with a stopwatch and recording the average time it takes them to make each move during a game. Not surprisingly, some of my new students are pushing pieces out onto the board at an alarming rate of a piece every ten seconds. I have to remember that my students are children and they are exposed to lightning fast video games where playing quickly is the key. While this may work within the world of video gaming, it has the opposite effect in a game of chess. The idea of taking your time when considering a chess move has to be taught from the start. Patience may be the most difficult lesson to teach a beginner (at any age).

Children (and some adults) tend to play very quickly when they first start. They want to get their pieces out onto the board and start the battle! However, simply thrusting pieces onto the board and hoping for the best doesn’t make for good chess. A good chess player examines his or her options carefully. To plant the seeds of patience into the young student’s mind, I suggest they try to find three good moves before committing to their initial idea. I then remind them of some key concepts we’ve discussed in prior chess classes. I mention using the three primary opening principles; control of the board’s center, minor piece development and castling early in their decision making process. I also remind them not to bring their Queen out early or move the same piece twice during the opening game. If in the middle game, I mention the idea of moving their pieces to more active squares or strong outposts as well as getting their Rooks off their starting squares. As for the endgame, our fast handed students have usually slowed down by then. Again, all of the above mentioned ideas have been gone over in detail (in earlier classes) so the students are familiar with them. With beginners you have to emphasize the most basic principles and how helpful those ideas are.

Regarding the idea of finding three good moves before committing to one of them requires some further discussion with the student. Impatient beginners will often rattle off three moves regardless of quality just to get on with the game. The teacher must patiently point out the potential folly of any bad moves, demonstrating the end result of each move and steer the student towards making good moves, again mentioning the basic principles mentioned above. Young students often become overwhelmed by the position on the board, panicking because they feel the need to think ten moves ahead. Therefore, we look at the position as if it were a simple chess puzzle. Rather than trying to think many moves ahead, we look at how the opponent might react to a single move. I usually remind my students of our lesson on hanging pieces. While the majority of my students tend to slow down and consider their moves carefully after a Socratic discussion, there are always one or two students who just can’t help playing quickly.

I had one student in particular who played a standard game of chess as if he had one minute left on his clock. He would thrust his pawns and pieces out onto the board quickly and more often than not eventually lose the game. One day during a lunch break I sat down to watch him play chess, trying to decide how I was going to break him of the habit of moving too quickly. I had a pair of chopsticks left over from lunch and had an idea: What if my student had to move his pieces with chopsticks? That would slow him down. He might even think about where he was moving his pieces because of the effort required to move them with a pair of chopsticks.

My student was a bit hesitant but I suggested it might be fun and that I’d try it myself. After demonstrating how to use chopsticks, I handed them over to my fast-handed student. Before grabbing a piece with the chopsticks, he paused and looked at the board. I asked him about it and he told me that using chopsticks to move pieces was difficult and he didn’t want to go through all that work only to make a bad move.

The next day, everyone tried playing with chopsticks. Interestingly, the children had a great time and more thought was put into each of their moves. Teaching chess is a lot like playing guitar on stage which I did for decades. You often have to improvise and when you do, you occasionally get great results.


An Interesting Novelty in the English Opening

Having the most recent information about opening novelties is an important recommendation for any one tournament player above 2000 who wants to improve his level and thus have greater success in competitions. This time I will present an interesting novelty in the English Opening that happened in the game played two months ago between Russian Grandmaster Anton Shomoev and German FIDE Master Frank Buchenau in the fourth round of the Chigorin Memorial Tournament.

Robert M. Cuadros
December 2012

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Simple Meditation That Works

Whilst on vacation last week I was reading an old paperback that had been in my library for ages. I don’t remember clearly when I bought it, but inside it says it was printed in 1989. It had lain around these many years, just waiting for its moment…

Dr. Herbert Benson of the Harvard Medical School wrote Your Maximum Mind back in the mid-1980s when he was already quite well known as a ‘pioneer of mind-body medicine’. His book The Relaxation Response was a big seller the previous decade, and introduced many ‘Westerners’ to some of the spiritual and physical feats of ‘Easterners’ like internal and external temperature control, breathing and heartbeat dramatically slowed to ‘near death’, etc. The fact that Englishmen and other Europeans (not to mention ‘Easterners’ themselves0 had been writing about these things many years did nothing to diminish the luster of Dr. Benson’s work, for he had moving pictures and thermometers; this was no longer mysticism, this was science!

At any rate, Dr. Benson has helped many people through his work, and I now include myself among them. As I’ve noted before, I have read about and tried many, many ‘self-improvement’ techniques and strategies over the years. Some helped more than others. However, I had never really tried ‘meditation’, or at least stuck to it. Back when I was just a lad I read Part I of Crowley’s Book Four (free here, if you dare) and was quite interested in samadhi and all that, but really, I was pretty busy with girls, parties and chess tournaments then; sitting legs-crossed humming some sort of stuff paled for me before anything big happened. But then Crowley warned of exactly that. So it goes…

But back to last week. I grabbed something I hadn’t read before for the trip, or at least didn’t remember. Your Maximum Mind, sounds good! And I did the ‘relaxation response’ thing and something really clicked. It’s really quite a simple technique, you can see the basic steps here. In the years since, he’s modified it slightly; now instead of saying ‘any soothing, mellifluous sound, preferably with no meaning or association, to avoid stimulation of unnecessary thoughts’ he thinks that phrases like ‘God is Love’ for a Christian or ‘Shalom’ for a Jew are useful. Just something that has real positive meaning for the person. For the non-religious, ‘one’ or ‘peace’ ought to do just fine.

Now the reader would be forgiven for asking at this point, “But what-all does this have to do with Chess Improvement“?

Indeed, what? I’ll just say that for me, this simple, powerful technique has, in one week, produced levels of calm, patience and balance that are quite amazing to me. I am reacting to events with much less physical tightening, less excitement and bodily stimulation. Already, the formula has become ingrained enough that I can just do three slow breaths and receive some of the benefits.

I haven’t played any chess since I started this practice, but given my previous experience with ‘nerves’ during serious games I cannot but think this would be very helpful. In addition, in the second part of the book the Relaxation Response is used as a first step to prepare the mind for higher performance conditioning and training in sports, education and writing. After a bit more practice with this basic and simple meditation exercise, i will move to using it as such and see if it can enhance and improve chess training.

I will happily share anything that works!


Classical Chess Loses Popularity Under Pressure From Computers

Recently Alexey Dreev has given his views on ‘classical chess v/s rapid chess’ where he favours rapid chess reason being… in his words

“What differs rapid from classical chess? In classical chess 20-30 moves made by the players aren’t their own. Not in every game, but in most of them. The recent encounter Jakovenko – gelfand is the best example of it. Dmitry decided to check his opponent; Boris forgot the theory on 41st move! Classical chess loses popularity under pressure of computers… This process has already started, but not everyone pays enough attention to it. Rapid is more entertaining. You should have preparation, but you don’t have time to learn all that variations by heart! So, the one whose overall chess skills are stronger – wins. I consider this to be fairer. It’s absolutely wrong to think that rapid chess is not objective! Only the strongest wins in it. You may play a classical game against the opponent whose rating is 2200, but who has memorized what Houdini has advised him, while rapid shows who is who immediately. What is more important, in rapid the role of computers goes down!”

Here’s what Dreev answered on a question regarding deepness of his analyses:

“Depends with whom you are comparing. Let’s say, Vishy Anand with his team, or Sergey Karjakin if talking about Russia. Sergey’s preparation is focused on computer preparation. He has assistants who do analyze with the computer. Actually that’s just a huge work, hard labor, hellish work. I’ve done that as long as I’ve been helping different players. Those analyses may be just endless. The main problem is how to memorize all that. At least that’s a problem for me. There are people with exceptional memory who have a huge advantage against others. As Garry Kasparov had once. Well, of course I write down some variants, but only to a definite point in analyses, not to absurdity!”

To criticize or to go with Dreev’s views I am not the proper chess person but here I would like to share an advise which has been by my master GM Nigel Davies that rather than going for deep analysis for searching moves or series of moves with the help of chess engine, it is better to go for soft reasoning to find the good moves in the position. This Advise is specifically, gave me relief as to be honest I do not like to calculate much in those cases this is probably the best method for playing good chess. (My opinion)

May be my master would like to throw some lights on it!!


Overlearning Chess Books

One of my 2013 New Year’s resolutions is to overlearn chess material for one hour per day.

I plan to add books to my overlearning list in this order:

–    Tactics

–    Endgames

–    Tactics

–    Openings (see remarks below)

–    Tactics

–    Other topics

In addition to criteria discussed in a previous post, it is important to choose books for overlearning that have these qualities:

1) They are very good books;

2) You will enjoy reading them many times over the years;

3) The sequence of books follows a rough progression from easier to harder; and

4) Taken as a group, they cover the broad spectrum of chess studies: tactics, endgames, openings, and what I call “other topics” (books that do not fall neatly into other categories of the spectrum but are nevertheless well worth reading, for example game collections, primers on positional play, and books hors catégorie such as Mednis, How to Be a Complete Tournament Player and Webb, Chess for Tigers).

Let me hasten to say here, we are now in the twenty-first century, a golden age of chess literature and information, in which printed material is no longer the only source of wisdom. In addition to traditional printed books and magazines, DVDs, websites, databases, and other software are now available for chess. Indeed, chess professionals who naturally are well beyond the basics may consult books only rarely. Instead they may focus on the latest professional literature, both print and electronic, such as New In Chess, Informant, Chessbase Magazine, etc. Some may rely almost exclusively on their computers.

From time to time in these blog posts I may use the word “books” loosely, when actually I am referring to “books and other media.” My own bias, I admit, is for actual books. One reason is that I was born in 1958 and grew up with books, but I contend it is also easier to find and use valuable instructional material in books than in any other media (though chess DVDs are coming on: the best are like getting a personal lesson from a top player, which you can review whenever you wish). Most classics of chess literature are available only in book form. Books are portable and require no electronic device or power supply. (This situation is evolving with Amazon’s Kindle and other electronic readers now available.) The information in books is stable and they last a long time. It has even been said that paper books, if they had not previously existed and were invented now during the electronic age, would be heralded as a great breakthrough because of their ease of use, portability, and relative permanence.

A word about overlearning openings. In an earlier blog post I recommended against doing this, and suggested only referring to opening monographs after a tournament game, when your interest is strong and focused on specific practical issues. Indeed, I still believe it is probably wasted time for most of us to read (or play) through all the moves in any opening monograph. They are best used as reference material, and ideas for further exploration. I say this despite Bobby Fischer’s famous advice to his biographer, Frank Brady, who once asked him for a chess lesson: “For your first lesson,” Fischer told him, “I want you to play through every column in Modern Chess Openings, including footnotes. For your second lesson, I want you to do it again.” What are we to conclude from Fischer’s advice? For what it’s worth, my own conclusion is twofold: Fischer really wasn’t interested in spending any of his precious time giving Brady chess lessons; and Fischer really did value opening knowledge very highly. But Fischer himself had already mastered chess principles, and was now at the advanced stage when he needed a great deal of very specific knowledge to win more games. We may doubt whether Brady or most non-masters would benefit much from following Fischer’s advice.

Attack With The Modern Italian
Attack With The Modern Italian
In a word, here is why I decided to include openings on my list of overlearning topics: DVDs. Today you can buy a DVD with one or two or a few hours of instruction from a GM on almost any opening that interests you. You can familiarize yourself with an opening by watching a DVD attentively, then go forth and try your luck with it. Ultimately you will need to play an opening many times, and analyze your games afterward, to become a proficient practitioner, but I do believe a DVD can help you get started. One of the better DVD authors is GM Nigel Davies. Recently I bought from Chessbase his excellent effort, Attack with the Modern Italian. The Italian Game, or Giuoco Piano as it has long been known in the U.S., is perhaps the oldest and most famous of all chess openings, and GM Davies has given it new life with a new approach. Your opponents who know only the old ideas will find themselves at a distinct disadvantage.


The Boy I Was

Vojin Vujosevic asked why we teach chess. My answer, like Nigel’s, is very personal. It’s also very simple. Chess saved my life, so I could do no less.

This, you see, was the boy I was. I was the weird, friendless kid who sat at the back of the class. The kid who was too shy and nervous to speak to teachers and who rarely spoke to other children. The kid who was the worst in the school at every sport. The kid who wasn’t allowed to stay for school lunch after a meltdown on his first day. The kid who hid from the bullies in the far corner of the playground at morning break. Today, kids like me get diagnosed with something like Asperger Syndrome and Developmental Coordination Disorder, but in those days there was no help or support. You just had to get on with your life.

Let me take you back 52 years: Christmas Day 1960, the tenth Christmas of my life. When I woke up I found a small plastic chess set on the tree. Red and white pieces in blue plastic. I’ve no idea why my parents thought I might be interested in chess, and I don’t think they really knew either.

I quickly became obsessed with the game and as I went through secondary school the chequered board played an ever greater part in my life. At the age of 15 I played in my first tournament and joined a local chess club. By 1972, when I finished my studies, I didn’t know how, given my lack of social and communication skills, I was ever going to get a fulfilling job or make real friends. All I knew was that, whatever else I did I had to keep on playing chess.

That summer, chess was on the front page of every newspaper as a result of the Fischer-Spassky match. Suddenly, everyone wanted their children to learn the game. My parents’ friends asked if, as I played chess, I could teach their children. Teaching was the last thing I wanted to do. I’d spent thirteen years being bullied at school, and had every intention of having nothing to do with children for the rest of my life, but I’d learnt that things were much simpler if you said yes, so reluctantly agreed.

My chess club was, in the meantime, being invaded by young children who wanted to play chess but were too young, too weak and too noisy, so in 1975, along with another club member, Mike Fox, we started a junior club on Saturday mornings. We must have been doing something right since, within a few years, we had a lot of very strong members, several of whom became GMs or IMs and a number of whom are now professional chess teachers themselves.

Sharing my love of chess with children gave my life meaning and purpose, so I was excited when the Richmond Chess Initiative was formed in 1993, giving me the opportunity to promote chess clubs in local schools. But it soon became clear that there was a big difference between after-school clubs and Richmond Junior Club. The RJCC members were, by and large, serious about improving their chess and had very supportive parents. The players in the school clubs were mostly very weak and only interested in social games. Their parents often only signed them up because it was a cheap child-minding service. It worked up to a point because we were able to feed the stronger players through to RJCC, but as the years went by, fewer parents were prepared to let their children play more than once a week.

When I started a lunchtime club at my old primary school I asked myself a question: if I had joined a club like this at the age of 7, would I have played, taught and written about chess as an adult? Almost certainly not. The children who start young and do well always have highly supportive parents who are often players themselves. My parents were not chess players. They would not have wanted, nor been able to learn enough about chess to help me and they wouldn’t have understood the importance of my having help. I would, of course, have been too young to teach myself. There would have been no Richmond Junior Chess Club, no Complete Chess Addict, no chessKIDS academy, no Chess for Kids and you wouldn’t be reading these words now. And, less important to you perhaps, but more important to me, my life would have had no meaning. By encouraging primary school chess clubs where children just played once a week during term time, I was, in a sense, taking my own life away from me.

I’m eternally thankful for the way junior chess was run in the 1960s. I’m eternally grateful to my parents for not showing me the moves until I was old enough to teach myself in order to progress and not putting me into competitions until I was old enough to appreciate and learn from the experience on my own.

So, in brief, I decided to cut down my chess commitments and go away to search for a better way of teaching and promoting the game to children. A way which prioritises giving a long-term passion to a few children over giving a passing interest to a lot of children. A system which will work for children whose parents who want to help their children even though they themselves are not interested in chess. A method of identifying children whose lives, like mine, might be transformed by chess. Most of all, something that would have helped the boy I was.


Jacqueline and Sammy

From time to time the bloggers here have described their meetings with famous people of the chess world. Since I have no games this week, I’ll take this opportunity to do the same.

In the 1960’s there were two super-grandmaster tournaments sponsored by Jacqueline Piatigorsky and her husband, renowned cellist Gregor Piatigorsky. Not surprisingly, these were called the First Piatigorsky Cup (1963) and Second Piatgorsky Cup (1966).  The prize funds were at record levels. Participants included many of the strongest players in the world – Spassky, Petrosian, Keres, Fischer, Larsen, Najdorf, Portisch, Benko, other elite grandmasters and, of course, Reshevsky.

At some time around the 1966 tournament, an announcement appeared in the Los Angeles Times for a simul to be given by Sammy Reshevsky. Back then I rarely read the newspapers and was too young to drive, but my mother spotted it and chauffeured me to the event, held at the Herman Steiner Chess Club. By the way, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and many other Hollywood celebrities frequented the Steiner Club, but they weren’t in sight that day, or perhaps they were all in disguise.

As I entered the club, I was greeted with a warm smile by Jacqueline Piatgorsky. I was stunned. Without exaggeration, she was one of the nicest people I ever met. I would have immediately agreed to adoption, but the subject didn’t come up. Although I had no idea at the time that Mrs. Piatgorsky knew much about chess, in fact, she competed regularly at the highest levels and nearly won the 1965 US Women’s Championship!

The chess sets were all lined up for the simul, something close to thirty boards. The pieces were the largest I’d ever seen – in stark contrast to my small set at home. Soon Reshevsky appeared in suit and tie, dressed far better than anyone there, with the exception of Mrs. Piatigorsky. As a bit of trivia, it seems that Reshevsky and Mrs. Piatigorsky were born in the same year 1911 – the year of the sharp dressers.

Although not a tall man, Reshevsky had a “presence” and seemed tall in stature. He was very serious. Without much fanfare, he got down to business, making a move with White at each board, moving down the line towards my board, where he firmly played 1.d4. When he came back around, I played 1…Nf6 and soon we were in a NimzoIndian. Little did he know that he was playing into my favorite variation, as I had been reading Nimzovitch’s My System during lunch breaks at the school library … To my everlasting regret, I did not keep score of the game. The following “reconstruction” is based on key features of the game that I do remember.

Samuel Reshevsky
Samuel Reshevsky

I believe that it was the Rubinstein variation of the NimzoIndian. Before too long Reshevsky planted a bishop on d6, right in the heart of my position. I didn’t know enough to be afraid. After all, the bishop didn’t seem to threaten anything, although its presence did make things a bit inconvenient for my queen and rooks. They couldn’t use very many of the dark squares. Well, I reasoned, that’s why they invented the light squares! I tried just “working around” the dark-squared intruder.

Some time after my opponent played f2-f3, I nervously responded …Qb6, setting a “trap” involving pawn advances and a discovered check. For the first time, he actually stopped at my board, and I thought: “Will he see it? Soon, Reshevsky said in measured words that I will never forget, “And so, ….you want to trade queens, eh?” I had no idea what he was talking about, but I smiled, knowingly.

So he played Qf2, seeing through my little swindle, and we did trade queens. Suddenly, without apparent reason, my King’s Rook went by itself on a fishing expedition, and got trapped on h5. Nowhere to go! I was losing the exchange. Only one honorable thing to do. When Reshevsky returned to the board I quietly announced, “I resign.” But to my great surprise, he then started studying the position! The seconds went by. Seconds turned to minutes. It seemed like an eternity. I began to wonder, “What if he refuses my resignation? I’ll look like a complete idiot, resigning a non-resignable position!” But at last he started to nod in affirmation – indeed, I was lost. Resigning was the correct decision. I breathed a sign of relief. I’ll never forget the feeling of that moment, forty-six years ago, as Mr. Reshevsky moved to the next board. He took me seriously; he treated a kid with respect.



Another Correspondence Chess World Champion!

Normally, at this time of year, I like to write a blog which is not as serious as usual, but I could hardly ignore another correspondence chess World Champion, so you will have to wait for my lighthearted blog!

GM Fabio Finocchiaro from Italy is the latest ICCF correspondence chess World Champion after scoring 10/15 in the 25th World Championship Final Category 14 tournament which started in 2009.  Yes, there was another World Champion only a few weeks ago, I know you are thinking, who might be feeling a little disappointed in having such a short reign.  That is because it is difficult to know exactly when each tournament will end when they are played by post.

The crosstable of the tournament can be viewed here: –

There is still one game outstanding between England’s top GM Richard Hall, currently on 8.5/14, and Germany’s GM Frank Schroder, currently on 8/14. The result of this game will not affect the final outcome, although if GM Hall can win, he will come second. England’s GM Dr Ian Brooks has finished with 7.5/15.

The World Championship games have not been released yet, so here is one recent game from the Italy v Germany Match: –


Best Games v. Own Games

I’ve been thinking about a couple of older posts here, Tim’s Is Age Relevant to Chess Improvement? and my somewhat responsive Chess Master at Any Age? A Reply to Tim Hanke. The part that interests me is the idea in Rolf Wetzell’s book Chess Master…at Any Age to mainly study one’s ‘own games,’ though he includes playing through master games ‘guess the move’ style. I suppose that in a way that makes them one’s ‘own.’

Many a chess author has recommended that the chess improver obtain a volume of the ‘best games’ of the great players, like Botvinnik’s, Alekhine’s or Kasparov’s and play through them. While this method can hardly hurt your game, these days I wonder if it is the best way to spend the majority of one’s limited study time. It seems to me is that ‘best games’ books, as beautiful as they are, have certain flaws. First, they generally (with the exception of Fischer’s My 60 Memorable Games) contain only wins by the player; there’s not a draw in sight. Second, they universally exclude games where the opponent blundered or played weakly. After all, they’re Best! Third they often (though not always) are annotated to show the Great One in a great light; errors of the winner are not always pointed out.

I am emphatically not here to tell you that you shouldn’t spend time with these classic books, games and authors. I am just wondering what the proper percentage of effort should be for it, versus tearing apart your own tournament games. And I wonder if it might be best to obtain a grandmaster tournament book and study ALL of the games, decisive and drawn, great and blunderful.

Not ‘guessing the move’ but thinking hard, as if the game meant something, and playing with positions, exploring alternatives. That method is undoubtedly the most important aspect, rather than which games you are using.