Chess Training

Right now, I feel like I am standing in the shoes of Michael de la Maza, and looking over the shoreline. I know where he was coming from. Lock yourself in a room with a board, tactics book and throw away the key.

Today I studied 24 diagrams of the pin motif, and solved all of them to a varying degree. Often I missed a motif, even after spotting the first couple of moves. This one problem was like let the queen hang for 7 moves or so, just adding more pins and attacks against he king. Lots of themes in one combo. One I recognized from the Encyclopedia of the Middlegame (combos), it went like this:
Move 1 – remove the defender with a pawn sac.
Move 2 – threaten the kingside, forcing an f6 pawn defense, then work off the pinned bishop on e6 which just lost it’s f7 defender, and win that bishop. In a way, this one isn’t even too difficult, and yet none of them are in some way.

What I am getting at is, okay, yes I am solving the problems, but for all moves combined to solve it, it is often around 10 minutes. A Master can find these in blitz. Little problem I have, a blitz game doesn’t last 10 minutes, no wonder why my rating is only 1400 at blitz! (but 1800 OTB and at Standard).

What does this mean? It means that what MDLM was getting at, I think, with this “board-vision” is that you need to recognize these tactics quickly OTB. It’s not just an ability issue, it’s also a time issue, and so it’s really both. With games at faster time-controls, this becomes a significant difference in practical ratings-strength (i.e., you may be “better”, yet still lose to the quicker player).

Energy can ebb and flow, too. One moment, one can solve a problem quickly, the next the obvious seems to take forever to recognize.

My conclusion is this: Forget everything else, tactics should be number one until you can solve tactics problems quickly.

I like that I have a large set of problems as this is not a perfect system. For example, the goal might be “pattern recognition”, but there is a better chance that you will simply remember the answer to a problem you’ve seen before more easily than you will recognize the patterns in the problem which were the point of studying all this. I even recognize the positions from famous games, but overall it is working as intended, I am working my way through and repairing all of my chess tactics “blind spots”, one little, yet significant blind-spot at a time.

BTW, I don’t think that even looking at an engine’s analysis compares to this. Looking at analysis is great for passive learning, but at some point you have to “make it your own” and become proficient at it. Rifling through a book doesn’t cut it either because you will be too tempted to look at the answer and consider nothing else.

I set the position up at the board, and use clocks. I will set it up haphazardly, since I try to take a photograph of the position as much as I can, but a Master once told me that the best way is to set up the pawns first. I would add that kings are next, then queens, then rooks, then knights and bishops.

Also, don’t be so concerned about material other than to count it so that you know if something is missing. The most important thing is not missing a mating attack or a tactical/positional weakness. (note: I say this, and then miss a couple of problems with double-attacks).

Something that MDLM said is that you should study tactics everyday, even during tournaments. I have to preface this, this is true only if you are used to doing (a lot of) tactics. If you do a mass cram of tactics for the first time, make sure it is a week or so before the big tournament. The most important thing for a tournament is to be fresh.

For me, my ability to calculate (including calculating the wrong thing) outstrips my ability to find simple tactics, therefore in my case tactics study is more important now than is visualizing a particular line. In a similar vein, my ability to see squares is better than my ability to spot a knight fork, because I didn’t do any concentric circle drills, for example Ne5-d7 forks f6 and f8 – one should be able to see that fork quickly, by only visualizing the squares.

There is something else that I should add, and a quite bizarre revelation that I acquired from one of Geller’s games and comment. He won a game tactically, I think it was against Fuderer, or a name like that. He said the guy was tactical, so Geller would attack him tactically. The weird part was that the attack was not sound and was a move from being defeated against, except that he over-respected his opponents attack because it was tactical and he was also a tactical player. This is very weird.

IOW, a tactical player will over-rely on tactics, exaggerating it’s importance, much as an endgame player would probably do with endgames. This is heavy and worth much psychological value. Some of these kids that got to 1900 quickly, for example, I know that they will over-exaggerate tactically, to the point where it becomes easy for me to pick them off because I know they will try to come up with some combo, or lose positional patience. Weird, but very effective to know this. IOW, they will try to force me to beat them with tactics, if they are tactical; just as an endgame player might try to force me to beat them with an endgame, because that is where their comfort-zone is. There is an expression “If all one has is a hammer…everything begins to look like a nail.”


15 thoughts on “Chess Training

  1. Pingback: Chess Blog on: Chess Training | MiloRiano: Big Sports Fan on my team & players

  2. Hey Linux Guy!

    Your last paragraph was dead on. I have noticed it in my own chessic pursuits. Whenever I feel growth in an area, I tend to want to “push” that area in a game instead of just playing the game itself!

    That is why I try to practice tactics, endgames, and some strategy all the time (and read game collections of course!)

    I want to have an all around respect and admiration (and hopefully performance).

    Is the Encyclopedia of Chess Combinations your main tactics source?

  3. TommyG, hi!

    Here is a cool article on tactics that I noticed:
    I couldn’t believe that I got diagram #1 wrong (actually, I gave up on it), but none of these sort of examples I find easy the first time through. The second time, they would be cake though.

    I went through 32 of the diagrams in Hayes and Hall’s “Combination Challenge”. I would highly recommend this book, yes. It will improve your ability and give you admiration!

    For example, I quickly solved the tactics diagram in this blog, I believe, and I think it is because, well I know it is because I have been studying tactics. πŸ™‚

    I guess my psychological weakness is openings. I freak out and make a big fuss and muss over openings. When someone does one thing half-right in the opening, such as John Irw*n would do in his games against me, I would melt as if I were made of brown-sugar and lose like a 200 rated player would do. I think every player has this embarassing part of their game where they can’t explain how they can lose like in “game X” and then win in their other games. You don’t even want to play these opponents anymore after a while because you know they will embarass you, it’s crazy I tell ya!

    “Is the Encyclopedia of Chess Combinations your main tactics source?”
    Get this book too!

    If you really want to embarrass yourself tactically, you can pick up a copy of Khemelnitsky’s Chess Exam: Tactics. I gave that one away after reading it, but it really stresses the defensive side of tactics, which is really counter-tactics and is the next stage after studying tactics. The next stage is spotting the other guys tactics against you and either side-stepping or refuting them.

    I can’t wait to go through that encyclopedia, though. πŸ™‚ I like the straight, tough combos that win. I’ll figure the defensive stuff out OTB, don’t need to pained to study that at home as well. ;-D

    So ‘The pin’ motif got easy enough after a while, but I had missed that double-attack motif, so now I am on to study that section, because I also know that this is one of the motifs that GMs can be susceptible too as well, on that rare occasion. First example in the CC book I cannot get, am completely “ate up” at solving this problem. That is good because it means it was a ‘hole’ in my knowledge and know it will get easier and I will be a better player. This is really the simplest way to improve one’s game, IMHO. At some point I won’t get a big ratings jump from studying this, but by then I will be onto the Encylopedia. πŸ˜‰

  4. Hey Linux Guy!

    I went through the abridged version of Combination Challenge (entitled Winning Chess Tactics for Juniors) 3 times. I got better each time but I think my tactical training, while persistent and consistent, has lacked some focused. I have just gone from book to book, going through each book 2 or 3 times.

    I feel like I need a regimented study of tactics (including the basics) so that is why I have decided to use the Chess Tactics Levels 1,2 and 3 software. They are all by the same author and gradually progress upwards in difficulty. If I can go through each of those a few times then I think I can be ready for Chess Gems and/or the Combinations Encyclopedia (which I do have))

    I feel I am getting better and I want to really make sure I have the tactics together!!

  5. Hi, Tommy!

    This ‘double-attack’ section is still getting the best of me, so I’m going to stick with it. I just missed one where the opponent has 3 different replies, and they all lose a piece. That is a challenging and more realistic problem than one where there is only 1 line to find.

    I have the tactics book by Maxim Blockh (which was highly regarded and is “old” already), and I think they used his examples in that software that everyone (MDLM recommended) uses.

    It’s like a real game situation, setting it up at the board. Going through and memorizing “the patterns” and recognizing “the patterns quickly” is mostly bunk, IMHO. Sure, I may key in on a certain pattern after a while, like a cross-pin (king needs to be in that pin), okay one pattern over 32 pin problems, besides the pin itself, which is of course in every pin.

    Most games come down to the tactic. GMs like to show off strategy a lot because it’s not as likely that they can sit around waiting for a tactic to fall into their laps without applying lots of pressure first – but they are waiting for it!

    I mostly like hard problems, but I will get around to Blockh’s book as well, which is one reason I give away tactics books. This one for example, CC, will probably give it away to keep me from going over it too many times (I went over Alburt’s book 4 times before giving it away). That allows me to move on to the next book! I could zip through the Alburt book and get stumped on the CC book, so what was the point? It’s still a real “game situation” to solve a tactic. πŸ™‚

    Sometimes I accidentally set up the board wrong (add a pawn, for example) and it becomes a “control question”. Will I try to find/force a tactic where there is none?

    The typical “patterns” that can be memorized (beyond the motif itself) all seem to involve either a check, pin or attack on the king. A lot of those one’s are common in a winning tactical position, I’ll grant whoever that.

    One important reason to study tactics before a G/90 or faster tournament, especially one with a lot of rounds, is for stamina purposes. Stamina affects my ability to find these tactics, OTH, my stamina for tactics study barely had a pulse just a couple of months ago. It’s not taking much energy and time to recover now, as I’ve normalized to it quite a bit.

  6. My stamina for tactics is quite high now, and much, much higher than it was. This will be important for a 6 round tournament.

    If anything, I will need to slow myself down OTB, not make a tactical sequence too quickly that turns out to be faulty. I did this on a game on FICS today I felt I should have won, (should have played g4 and with NxBc7. Black didn’t have a good way to hold, it appeared, but discovering that afterward gave me even more confidence).

    The key to discovered attacks is to identify your superfluous piece (a concept from Dvoretsky’s ‘Secrets of Tactics’ or something like that) and get rid of it. You can spot the motif, but it’s usually a ‘give to get scenario’. to reach the motif position.

    I wish I could study tactics a lot more. It will be important to not be overconfident and make a bad sac, which a lot of tactical players do.

    I studied 42 double-attacks. Now I will try to get in some examples of diversion before the tournament. Once again, with the first example I don’t have a clue. This is what happens each time I start a new section – I’m not used to the new motif and it takes me a really long time to solve any of them. Too bad I didn’t do this training about two decades ago, it’s pretty necessary.

    The tactics study is going to be my #1 training aide from now one until I reach 2000. I ran into a problem in the ‘diversion’ section where I found the first 3 moves, but couldn’t find the last 3. The last three moves could have been the tactic, the first 3 moves where the setup. My intuition combined with calculation were enough to find the first 3 moves for both sides, but I didn’t calculate to a quiescent position, plus the 4th move was a must-find !! move, or loses. This study is nearly as helpful as playing, and more helpful tactically. For me, this is the most helpful thing, as G/90 is too short a time to practice combo strength OTB, need to bring it with you to some extent.

  7. A question for the bored, but interested. How many people did second FIscher in 1972 at Reykjavic?

    Kavalek(??) (I have to put two ?? after the Rowe with Kavalek and Nigel Short suggesting Kavalek didn’t provide much help).

    This is sort of right up there with “Elvis sighting”, but I think that number could only grow (in legend).

  8. I wish you success with your training.
    My exercises on Chess tempo ended some time ago, maybe I didn’t see any immediate effect.
    I will see how your training is going.
    I played yesterday and missed tactics, then after he went along the wrong line I didn’t see the best reply, so lost a pawn. This is finding and calculating together.
    Then I lost another pawn, but luckily for me he decided to go into opposite-colored bishops endgame, so finally I drew.

  9. RollingPawns, excellent that you drew your “bombed-out” game. πŸ™‚

    It may seem horrible, but draws are important in big tournaments in particular. I was looking at MDLM’s last tournament, and he grabbed a key draw which allowed him to play much weaker players after that than if he had actually won the game. When he ran into another top player in the last round, he was able to draw and still take first.

    Finding the moves is the hardest part, no doubt! This may seem ridiculous or absurd on the face of it, but I believe it’s true.

    When I really blow it, I miss the first move. But if someone told me that the first move absolutely works, I would be able to calculate further down the road. IOW, confidence is huge! Confidence comes from, yes, the tactical pattern recognition mumbo-jumbo, or however one wants to refer to it. It’s not that you can’t calculate it, it’s that you don’t believe you should!

    The other way to get a tactic wrong is to overlook a simple defense. This isn’t the same as “missing” the tactic because it often means you simply needed to sacrifice something first to remove your opponents defense, and _then_ play the tactic which you saw. Tanc, AKA LousyAtChess, nails it, in that one has to get the end right first, and then work backward, even in a tactic.

    In the really tough problems where I try hard, I will get the first 3 moves right and then blow it on moves 4 and 5 because I miss “easy” sacrifices which force checkmate. You would not believe how simple some of these checkmates are that I miss – that’s been my main motivation for pursuing tactics study.

    If you could possess the tactics training (sometimes just a “refresh” is required – AKA “interval training”), along with the same sort of patient, defensive, experienced endgame expertise, you could be almost unstoppable on your march to Expert.

    Have to throw this in, I left a comment on a blog talking about the Fischer special on HBO:

  10. The calculation part is easy to possess or build up, assuming you have the tactical confidence as regards to the specific problem/position on the board at hand.

    If there is ever a difficult part to calculate, close your eyes and calculate the line (looking away from the board also works).

    The most important thing I have found, to really push the “go” button, is to examine the position with your conscience. You can do this by looking either at or away from the board. If one is really listening to their heart, they will know where the pieces will be, and ignore the current setup. This is also a good way to examine whether you think your opponent’s last move was strategically unsound or not. The pros do this in obvious ways (such as Gelfand and Grishuk’s facial expressions – their rough impressions of the many possibilities running across their minds before they began to calculate any of them), but this is not required. I feel that this sort of honesty would make it difficult to switch from chess to poker. hehe.

    In my last game, my conscience told me that his ..Bxg4xNf3 unprovoked, all to let him play Qf6 to win a d4 pawn on a dark-square, was much too aggressive and weakening of the light-squares for Black, and was correct in this assessment of the position.

    And TommyG(drums) is bearing down on tactics too now!

    ChessTempo did help me when I went over those problems (about a year ago, already!) for the next tournament, and I think it did help me in general after that. Perhaps that was only one “interval” of tactics training, though. Another problem with that site is if it thinks your rating is 1100 or 1300, it will keep feeding you those sorts of problems. I saw one guy do his ChessTempo at 2200 level, and I was getting as many of them right as he was (back then). Something is wrong with their ratings calculations, and it shouldn’t be so easy to breeze through problems either. A big problem is you don’t get to drill on a motif; with harder problems from a book, at least acclimatizing to the motif can make them easier.

    Book problems are also famous problems. I recognize many of the games – Kortchnoi beating Karpov with a clever tactic, for example, even though the games are not cited. ChessTempo, pardon the expression, gives me a sorry mistake from a 1300 level players games. Can’t beat finding Karpov’s blunder (which I missed this time). ;-p

    If anything, people would complain about my recommending the book “Combination Challenge” because the examples are too hard and not simply “the tactic” at the end of the combo.

  11. Here is one combo, possibly the trickiest one in the book (to me, at least), where the author doesn’t even explain it fully (but otherwise does a nice enough job on the other ones). The author ended the analysis with 5.NxBf6, as if the rest were self-explanatory, which it isn’t at my level.

    I know solving combos on my blog is not my readers’ favorite past-time, so just look at this combo for example.

    There are actually two different mates at the end, the other one is 8.Rg4+ Rf6, 9.BxR#. I should point out a third mate: 6.Rhxg7+ Kh8, 7.Rh7#.

    Just because a combination is winning, doesn’t mean that it can’t be screwed up royally. Here is just one for instance:
    6. BxQ?? Now which of us here _wouldn’t_ be tempted to make this move?
    6…Bc6+, 7.Rg2 BxR+, 8.KxB RxB and now it is Black with practical winning chances of a rook pair against bishop, rook, and isolated pawn.

    IOW, one had to _see_ that checkmate in order to get the combo right. Now maybe the player as White simply figured he/she had enough going on with the rook pair, bishop pair and two pawns involved in the attack. That is very likely since 5.NxBf6 was unnecessary. They probably did figure that they would calculate the mate when they got to that point, knowing that it was their goal to not be distracted from. But, they probably did know that they were playing for mate, and they probably were prepared to find the mate, should Black capture on f6 with the queen.

    This is the trouble with tactics. If one doesn’t know their checkmates at the end, and I am still not so great at this part, then a great combo or “tactic” can go horribly wrong.

    The key to almost all of the combos that go like this is not to get tired, nervous, give up, or become obsessed with the piece-count. Although this combo is too unbelievable for G/90, 1.Rxh7+ would work, but is not as strong. Anyway, the key is to focus (easier said than done) on the end-configuration of the pieces and pawns; IOW, start with the end in mind and work backwards. The easiest way to think about this is that checkmate is not a piece-count, so it’s not going to matter what the piece-count was after checkmate. Can anyone remember knowing what the piece-count was when they got checkmated or delivered one? A lot of combos (most) aren’t for checkmate, but the same rule applies, calculate to a quiescent position, else you are probably missing some double-exclam move and will simply choose an inferior variation instead for safety reasons.

  12. Hey Linux Guy,

    Chess tempo actually has a preference setting so a person can get easy, normal or difficult problems.

    And with a paid membership you can make custom problem sets by tactical motif, type of endgame etc. etc.

    And they even have some great database functions happening as well.

    I have noticed that they also have a pretty good mix of problems that don’t lead to checkmate.

    I think a good book is important as well (I love chess gems!)

    Have you read Art of the Checkmate?

  13. I loved Art of the Checkmate!

    After I bone up my tactics I am going to go through Reinfield’s Classics, which I purchased a long time ago.

    I also will keep selecting problems from Chess Gems or the Combinations Encyclopedia.

  14. hehe. Yes, you remembered TommyG, CC and Reinfeld’s classic may be roughly the same one. I thought I went over Reinfeld’s about 25 years ago, it was in a library and it had themes like X-Ray attack, didn’t think it was anything quite as difficult as some of the CC examples, but perhaps a lot of overlap.

    ChessTempo sounds pretty good then, if it can do all that. πŸ™‚

    I have once owned Reynaud and Khan – Art of the Checkmate. Read it, and then traded it, this was back in the late 90’s. I am sure it helped me a lot at that time. Covers basic checkmates such as Arabian Mate, Boden’s Mate, etc.

    I just saw a game between my friend Alex and Kurt the 1929 rated kid. This is how it goes:
    Alex gives away pawn
    Kurt gives away piece
    Alex takes wrong piece
    Alex avoids winning ending
    Alex misses mating attack and forces Kurt to checkmate him.
    Argument ensues afterward over who was winning.

  15. Hey, here is a picture of me from a year ago, didn’t even know this existed:

    I am playing Anthea. Isaac, her son 1820ish, is in the red shirt. He is playing a guy around 2100 that I played once and lost to. It was really cold in there that day, I remember (the AC was on full blast). I won that game, BTW.

    Do I _look_ like I’m concentrating? hehe.

    Here is a picture of Alex, on the left:
    He is playing Rhett, who I won against in my last round game at the Bobby Fischer Memorial, which incidentally was also at that same location. Alex won that game, it was hard fought.

    Here is a picture of Dean, with the White hair:

    Buck, the Expert that I managed to win against in our last game, is in the light-blue shirt. You can see how much chess experience he has just by looking at him. hehe.

    Here is a picture of Paul, the 1965ish rated player that I will most likely play tomorrow night as Black.

    My favorite pics are Anthea vs. Buck. Reminds me of Botvinnik vs. Smyslov, a legendary rivalry (although I’m pretty sure Buck wins most of them).

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