Thursday, December 16, 2010

SATISFACTION

Sometimes I wonder to myself what would be the most satisfying moment for a chess trainer? Is it the huge amounts of money that he can get from dishing out lessons, or rather, just the joy of the students' faces when they have achieved their goals?

So far, 2010 has been a good year for me. Most of the students that were with me for more than a year have achieved mostly 50-60 rating point increases. The ones that joined me this year, some for just 5 months or less, have also performed well.

I would rather not mention their names (mainly to protect the innocent) but display their photos.


S has been with me for more than 2 years now, he has seen steady improvement from the days of scoring 3 to 3.5 pts out of 7 back in 2008.  His latest  SCF rating stands 1358 as compared to 1008 when he started. 350 pts in 2 years. He has just scored 5.5/7 and finished 6th place out of 120 registered players at the recent Toa Payoh West CC Primary School section. 

The chief factor that propels him is his diligence. He has played over hundreds of online chess games, made many mistakes and learnt from them. Well, not always, but he did correct many of his bad habits he had prior to studying with me.


I had N recently for the last 3 months. Though he is only 8, he displays great determination to succeed and has the competitive instinct. His last result at the Cairnhill Under 8 tournament? 6/6! He won it and now he's really hungry for more.Though he scored 4/7 in the Toa Payoh West  Primary School section, last  Sunday ,in all fairness, there were games he had to play with U12 or U10 boys. That's really quite an achievement. 

SH (no photo) was a son of a long-time chess junior friend of mine who recently switched to private coaching. He has managed to score 5/7 at the Major Rapid section in the Cairnhill tournament. I was really amazed as he only averaged 3.5-4 pts for every tournament result previously. After a drastic change of opening repertoire, he plays now with confidence, though not completely tuned into the thought process I showed him as yet. But I'm sure that in time, he will be ok as he already possesses a good endgame foundation taught to him by his father. 

These are 3 of my most-improved students for this year and I want to commend them here for their good effort. Well done boys!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Art of Chess Thinking

Apart from the books that I have recommended, there's some works that the aspiring chess-player should at least read, once, in his career:

This is the pioneering work by GM Alexander Kotov that explores the idea of how one should conduct his game in terms of thinking. Though a little dated in approach perhaps, one should at least attempt to start thinking systematically first before branching out into other methods. The Tree of Analysis indeed gives one a structure to organise a player's thoughts. So I highly recommend this book as a starting treatise before venturing to other books.

It is indeed puzzling to see some marvel about joint analysis of positions as a possible training method. Kotov has explained that he embarked on this discipline, filling his notebooks with variations he calculated (without moving the pieces of course) over complex positions derived from actual games. It is propelled him from a finalist in the Russian Championships to GM. So honestly, deep analysis of games is not a new thing.

However, techniques in choosing a move have been discovered and here Andy Soltis gives a comprehensive summary of methods currently used. He points out to the shortcomings of the Kotov method, but honestly, this applies mainly to games of higher level say from FM to GM level. For club players, they should still attempt to apply the Kotov system first. 
This is also an interesting book, however I would recommend this to players who have already been playing in international competitions to consider working on it. It is rather complex and not that easy to understand.

 Dvoretsky's manuals are of course among the very best there is in terms of sharpening one's analysis of positions but then again, I believe one can learn a lot more by deeply analysising one's own games first before attempting to do games played by others.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

MALPROPISMS

It is indeed hard for a non-chess player to write about chess if he does not speak the lingo of chess-players. Little wonder then that all of us chess-players will tend to misconstrue his intentions.

Analysing why an outcome has occurred after the event, piecing the pieces of evidence that led to the outcome is called post-mortem analysis, not technical evaluation. All good chess players do that at the end of each game for it is rare that both players would arrive at the same conclusions at every juncture after each move, maybe except for the 1st few moves of the opening where it is accepted conventional wisdom. Aided by a reasonable thought process, it is mainly the evaluation of the position after analysis to determine if the move or idea is playable. Through analysis, one learns a great deal about his/her strengths and weaknesses, particularly in the area of chess study and character shortcomings which need to be addressed.

Any amount of analysis will reveal, for the loser, errors in the following:

a. Strategic errors  - Misjudging a position due to the over-estimation  of one's positional factors over that of the opponent. Or it could be trading down to a lost endgame without knowing. Or choosing to delay the decisive blow hoping for more gains, which turn out to be illusory.

b. Tactical errors - Simply missing a tactic that loses material, or failing to calculate the position to quiescence (ie no more checks, captures or threats present in the position)

c. Off the board errors - Nerves, panic in the face of time-trouble thereby leading to b. Other character flaws such as lack of guts or over-estimating the opponent's strength may also attribute.

If one reads Mark Dvoretsky's writings at the Chess Instructor 2009, you will then realise that  purposeful chess training can fix most of the errors outlined above. If someone is weak at calculating, keep putting  complex positions and analyse all variations each move. Over time, you have to get better as your mind subliminally learns from the various patterns and possibilities presented. For time trouble weaknesses, learn to find ways to delay the battle by perhaps exchanging to a slightly inferior endgame and take your chances. Many who have endgame phobia will shun this and rather play to lose in the middlegame, well, that's a choice.

My learned friend across the Causeway asked a very interesting question: " How does one think at the critical point of decision-making"? What is the critical point? How does one know if the position in front of him/her is critical?

Critical point in a position is dependent on a few factors : Amount of time left on the clock, status of the position (winning or losing), what phase of the game its in (opening, middlegame or endgame), the strengths and weaknesses of the player. All these factors will decide the course of action. As to how, I believe a study of Dvoretsky's books will yield some answers, esp Training for the Tournament Player and Technique for the Tournament Player are 2 that come to mind.Or if you prefer, solve the puzzles given by him at the Chess Cafe under the Instructor. 

How about looking up Colin Crouch's Why We Lose At Chess? Or Jonathan Rowson's Seven Deadly Chess Sins?

There's a good review of the book at http://www.chessville.com/reviews/TheSevenDeadlyChessSins.htm

Both books will serve to uncover the weakness of the mind in a chess-player. Believe me, they will serve you better rather than Dr deBono. After all, who understands chess better than the players themselves?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

WHAT IS TECHNICAL EVALUATION?

I've just come across an interesting remark made by a supposedly non-competitive chess player in that you will need "need the tools of developed judgement, understanding and advanced thinking skills" to come up with possibilities to save yourself when you are in trouble in a game. 

This is under the scope of Technical Evaluation. Highly interesting because I am still trying to fathom the author's intent in the previous statement, as he has often renounced the importance of having the technical knowledge but rather the need of maintaining the right emotional balance to solve problems on the chessboard. What I find issue here is that much of the emotional stress that is generated is often in the player not having found the solution to his problem at hand in the first place. This can be address through good preparation in the realm of analysis of the players own games by discovering his faults and actively correcting them.

After following the TV series "House", I've come to realise that the gruff and eccentric Doctor is purely a man with a good logical deductic set of thinking skills to arrive at his diagnosis. In the panel of doctors with him, most of them will have the knowledge he has but what distinguishes is his cool, calculating ability to remove the possibilities one by one till he zeroes in on the cause of  the problem. He will investigate even domestic living patterns of the patient to sieve out behaviours which may cause an ailment. So the detective in the Doctor often solves the mystery rather than just having tons of medical knowledge. But then, its still the knowledge required to eliminate the right possibilites.

Developed judgement comes in chess through the huge amount of analysis of games where the object is to find the correct solution to any problem in the position at hand. What matters is the thinking process of selecting the right set of moves played and responses by the opponent to arrive at a plausible outcome. The thing that separates the amateur from the master in this regard is the EVALUATION of the final position when all tactical possibilities are exhausted. The master is able to use his vast databank of outcomes he has experienced from analysing similar positions to know what would be the outcome of his position after analysis is done. As to the ADVANCED THINKING SKILLS, it is nothing more than the derivation of moves based on a move-selection algorithm which all top-players will have developed. Perhaps the reader can refer to Charles Hertan's move selection process outlined in the chapter " The Hertan Hierarchy" in the book The Chess Instructor 2009, a book I have persuaded my learned friend across the Causeway to read but to no success. Perhaps I have better luck with you, dear enlightened readers, to try.

Monday, November 1, 2010

MAXIMS

Chess maxims are abound, especially from acclaimed players like Siegbert Tarrasch who was the authority in explaining the importance of chess rules in his time. Today we have a summarised guide of these bits of advice in the form of the 2 books below:

 This is the principles book for the intermediate player rated perhaps 1500 and above. The 17 chapters offer a wide range of advice from Attack, Move Selection, Calculation, Defence, Tactics and even Tournament tactics. I like #137:

 "The most important novelties are hidden in the games of the old masters"

That's why the study of the games of Alekhine, Nimzowitsch and Capablanca will gain you valuable insights on some of the plans they've used and are likely to spin off in positions of current theory.                                                                                                      
Kurzdorfer's book is more palatable for the beginner to 1400 player, as he makes his presentation a little easier to understand coupled with practical examples of his own games rather than adapt them from the old masters.

I highly recommend this be holiday reading for those having some time on their hands before they take part in another chess tournament. General maxims like ' the threat is stronger than its execution' or ' do not create more weaknesses when you are in a  bad position"

Sunday, October 31, 2010

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER

When one talks about confidence, a quiet knowing, what exactly does that mean?

 I can only deduce that this confidence comes with fore-knowledge of a particular course of action leading to a predictable outcome.

In chess, this translates to knowledge - in fact, GMs have about 100,000 bits of this knowledge in the form of principles of the 3 phases of the game, plus other patterns of chess tactics such as mating patterns, even endgame patterns where 1 look at the arrangement of pawns can determine the course of action to take. It is this knowledge that players need to seek, whether through the study of games, or by deduction in the course of analysing his/her own game.

There will always be some positions where it will be impossible to calculate owing to the many ramifications of the variations pending on the player's understanding of the game. In fact, some of the correct moves may not even be discovered during the course of the game as that possibility may not have existed owing to the player's ignorance of the pattern / know-how. Hence, a strong player ought to have good erudition of what's been uncovered by past masters and how they are applied in today's competitive context.


Though computers can be a big help in terms of charting the variations from the opening to the middlegame, I don't think they can be of much help in the endgame as we all know, they do not reason the same way as humans do here. Countless examples have been found where the computer can actually derive nonsensical plans based purely on calculation whereas the human has better bearings based on heuristics derived from past experience.

Ultimately, the study of chess will be rewarded if one focuses on the relevant bits pertaining to his/her playing level and reinforces it in attempting to apply them in competitive games.

Friday, October 29, 2010

STUDY THE CLASSICS!

What are they? I am afraid some of these names below may be alien to young chess players, who may not have even known who I am talking about. Let me just flash out the titles first, then I will go in depth on my next posting. I own most of them by the way.














BOOKS FOR SELF IMPROVEMENT

 Books that teach yourself are abound in the 80's and I present some of the well written ones, such as Zak's "Improve Your Chess Results".

I chanced upon this book while playing in the Merdeka tournament in 1990 at the Times bookstore in KL. The title attracted me so I started to pore over its contents. It was a revelation. Zak is a famous Russian chess trainer having coached many top players, such as Boris Spassky the 10th World Champion, Yermolinsky among others. He was a believer in the attack from the first move and advocated a thorough study of the Two Knight's Defence for young players.  

The major topics covered were: How Skill Develops, Typical Mistakes by Young Players, Developing a Repertoire which are relevant to the chess coaching nature in me. Let expand on the topic Typical mistakes by Young Players. The main sub-title under this chapter was " Playing openings without understanding the ideas". I quote:

" If a player learns variations without understanding the basic ideas of an opening and its characteristic type of middlegame, the result is that when he encounters something unexpected he loses confidence in himself., commits errors, defends weakly. Once in an unfamiliar situation, he is unable to think independently, racks his brains trying to remember book line. In such cases his alertness is abruptly diminished; this, as a rule, leads to mistakes and defeat".

Under Developing a repertoire, this is what Zak has to say: " Whereas in ordinary systems the basis of a correct approach is not the the learning of variations but an understanding of opening ideas, in gambit systems a precise knowledge of variations is quite indispensable...This is illustrated when we consider how to build an opening repertoire to 1 e4. There are 2 ways of solving this problem. One is to select some half-open system and study its hidden possibilities thoroughly enough to remove any fear of surprises by the opponent. Granted a certain rationale in this method, a more purposeful approach from the point of view of improving your play most rapidly is to opt for 1..e5!. Admittedly, this entails much more work."

Tisdall's pioneering work runs along the same lines as John Nunn's Secrets of Practical Chess below. They both deal with the problems of self-improvement, such as calculating ability, learning how to learn from reading chess books, the necessary endgame knowledge one needs to know etc. Tisdall deals with the topic of calculation better, as he explains how to go about it in detail. Nunn gives more examples, even expanding on the role of computers in today's chess preparation.

Of the 2, in terms of advice on how to improve, my vote goes to Tisdall as his 2 chapters on the calculation are already worth more than Nunn's material. There is also the chapter on Pattern Training which I find most fulfilling as it stresses the need for the student to accumulate 'patterns' (whether tactical ones like mating patterns or
positional ones like play against the different opening pawn structures) and group their study under these patterns. 

By accumulating these bits of knowledge, it makes a lot easier in contemplating a plan and backing it up with analysis. Interestingly, this is the same approach advocated by Karpov in his latest book " Finding the Right Plan".


Some of the above books are meant for adults, but for those  aged14 and under, try this book. It was recommended reading for the Australian women's Olympiad team by the then-coach GM Ian Rogers! I love the approach by Simon Webb when he deals with how to play the man, trapping Heffalumps (or stronger players) or catching Rabbits (how to play weaker players) and most of all, how to swindle! Very entertaining in its approach and you'd learn in a fun way. Sadly, Webb was brutally murdered by his own son while retiring in Sweden some years ago. The man should not deserve such a fate for having brought this wonderful book to us.

Hope that suffices for the time being.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

SO YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT CHESS PSYCHOLOGY?

I've engaged someone across the Causeway in his postings about the process of creating a GM or grandmaster. Though he approaches it from the motivational speaker point of view, it is laughable ignorance on his part perhaps that several bloggers have tried to dispel  his thoughts which they think will only serve to misguide. So I guess its time to prove myself in what I know about his area of expertise (motivation and mind training) when it comes to chess players.

He is not wrong in that there are components in chess by listing the 2 player's minds, the chessboard, the clock. So I shall attempt to recommend the various books below which can help him understand the subject of chess better.

Having been around the chess training scene since 1982, although a volunteer then, I have researched quite a bit on the thinking process of the chess player and how it affects his/her  game. 2 landmark books come to mind:


Adrian De Groot's classic thesis on the thinking of chess players (from club player to World Champion) gives us an insight of the workings of the different class of chess players. What is interesting is his experiments by getting Grandmasters and World Champions to talk out loud what's in their heads as they see a position. We then realise that Grandmasters calculate not much different from the standard way of Check, Capture then Threat but they also are very good at grasping relationships between pieces while thinking. These bits of information (called chunks) allow them to orientate themselves in any position and find solutions to the problem at hand. A updated version of this book is Dan Heisman's the Improving Chess Thinker.

I have the utmost respect for Mr Heisman, who is only a National Master but speaks wealth of chess instructional knowledge in his Novice Nook articles found on Chesscafe.com. NM Heisman further continues the experiment by Dr DeGroot and expands on the peculiarities of chess players when analysing the same positions set by DeGroot 70 years ago. Not much has changed apparently, but it does give valuable information to chess coaches on how to work on the player's thought processes according to their playing strength. If you know how to think, you will play better moves. Not by shutting down 'noise' which should not exist if you concentrate on the what to think.



In the realm of chess psychology, nobody beats GM Nikolai Krogius. A GM himself, he set upon the task of defining the different aspects of the chess mind and how it operates when pondering positions on the chessboard. Some of the topics like Time Trouble and its causes/cures, nerves, visualising, the chess image are very relevant to the tournament player in that there are methods given to correcting such weaknesses. A good book to understanding how to deal with competition variables.



As a chess coach, one must learn and continue to receive good inputs from others. We certainly do not bury our heads in the sand as someone pointed. The 2 authors have given wonderful insights on a training method that has yielded results. I urge anyone who wants to task himself on creating a GM to sincerely read what they have to say, because they have a training system that works. No need to join dots, imagine fears and what not. 

Knowledge is what sets us free from ill-conceived notions of delusion, so I hope I have answered the sceptics who have doubts about my understanding about in the area of chess training.

GOOD ENDGAME BOOKS TO READ

Here are some of my recommendations for good endgame books to read. This covers the area of exact or theoretical endgames. You need only to study the 30 that I have outlined from the huge lot. 

What I like about these books is that they have lots of explanations in how the winning method is achieved. Some are even directed towards the level of players and what they should know - eg Silman.

 

Basic Chess Endings has been around for years as the 1st encyclopedia of chess endgames. Though there are quite a few errors, what I like about this book is that it gives sound advice on what to do when you have no definite idea how to proceed. Take for example pawn endings. So you have 1 pawn more than your opponent. Fine's advice?

" The winning process in endings with a pawn ahead as follows:

1 Force a passed pawn

2 Sacrifice the pawn at a moment to get either

a a pawn that queens by force

b a sufficient proponderence (means more) of material

c a win in one of the basic positions"

So its good to just get the advice. The analysis in the other books below are more trusted.


 For the post beginner about P1 or 2, this is quite a good book to read as Silman carefully divides the material to what you should learn at the level you are playing. The exercises are good and easy to understand.
 



This book is the most concise for the primary school player. It covers many of the methods with an explanation, but you will need to sit down and play over quite a few examples to understand how it works. It is like a cookbook - with recipes but you need the basic skills first. The book is not quite written for children so it does take a little motivation to read.


For the more serious player who's playing for school competition, you should own 1 of the few below:

Grivas's book is known as the textbook of endgames for the FIDE trainers today, rightfully so as he's the main man in planning materials for the FIDE training course for endgames. It is well-explained, but needs a level of 1300 to understand it. Definitely not for those just starting to play chess. 


Before Grivas what do we have? Paul Keres's classic of course. This book is out of print I believe, but if you have friends or relatives who used to play chess in the 80's they may own this book. We carry it to tournaments often as it contains most of what you need to know when you need to win a particular position. Very concise, but again not many like its approach - Keres tests your patience by giving you the same arrangement of pieces in the centre, then shifts it 1 file to the left, 1 rank up toward the last rank just to prove a point. Some of my peers hated this. But Keres is trying to make a point in that not all the methods work everywhere on the board - you need to pay attention to the contours of the board too, as some manoeuvres cannot be executed owing to lack of squares either on the side or up front.



Finally, the KING of theoretical endgames books - the author needs no introduction as he is currently acclaimed as THE chess trainer, having produced world class players like Dolmatov, Dreev and Yusupov. He wrote this to correct the number of ghastly produced encyclopedias from the past 40 years  which he feels has no relevance in todays competitive context. Selecting 200 positions which he believes a serious FIDE-rated player should master, he gives you all the necessary methods and exercises (very tricky ones) to test you. This is a workbook - you should have to read it, practice the examples until you understand the material and then watch your endgame grow. 

Endgame Strategy books are rather hard to come by these days, not many are good. I have these 2 to recommend.

 

I enjoyed this book a lot - it teaches by the student asking questions and the master answering them (and your questions too) on what to focus on endgames. Most players see the endgame as the need to memorise many winning methods and are unsure about how to conduct them. Reading this book will at least remove that fear and give you a new set of eyes when looking at any endgame.



For those who have started playing chess competitions, this is the best book I can find that introduces the strategems of chess endgames to the reader. When this book was first published, it sold out really well as it was the only 1 of its kind - explaining the mysteries of the champions when it comes to endgames. Many of the topics covered are so relevant to the competitive player in that by just knowing them, you've gained so much understanding in how the top-players work during endgame play. Sit through 1 example, read the notes, then try to guess the moves of the winner. This is the best way to work through the book.       
                    

LB Hansen's book was about 20 years late but he makes up by expanding the number of strategems and added more later examples. The later examples may not necessary mean better instructive ones though. Some of them are quite complicated to follow so primary school children I feel should not attempt this one.   


If you are already FIDE-rated and want to go for the FM,IM or GM  titles, this book will be a good investment. You should arm yourself with the full arsenal of endgame weapons given in this book.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

THE ENDGAME

As promised, I shall now dwell on the business of chess improvement based on my experience.

Most players, weak or strong,  fear and respect the endgame respectively. Unlike opening variations where one can devote time to learn 'tricks' to catch the opponent off-guard to snare a piece, a queen or even mate, the endgame does not reward the student in this manner.

 I agree with Andy Soltis when he says the chief phobia about endgames is chiefly caused by the chess authors way of presenting the subject. Tons of exact endgames knowledge (where if you know the moves you can win) in the form of encyclopedic information about  how if your pieces lie within the zone you win, if not you draw, or who wins if he has the move etc. Too much of such information is utterly useless as the when the time does come to apply such information over the board, much of it would have been forgotten.

On the other hand, there's the other area of practical endgame strategems such as the fortress, creating 2 weaknessess, widening the beachead, centralising the King etc that would need to be understood before one can conduct a decent endgame.

So with limted time on our hands, how should one go about apportioning time for the endgame? It depends greatly on the level of the player. The stronger the player, the more emphasis on knowing theoretical endgames and less on strategy. As for the primary school chess player at school level, learning 30 theoretical endgames and knowing about the 10 main strategems should suffice.

Where to get this knowledge? Of course, coaches will know where but for those who do not have them, the internet is abound with such information. What I would do is list the necessary endgames for the student to go do reasearch on.

EXACT ENDGAMES :

1 Checkmate with K and Q vs K
2 Checkmate with K and R vs K
3 Checkmate with 2Bs vs K

Pawn Endgames
4 Opposition
5 Key Squares
6 Square of the Pawn
7 Floating Square rule
8 Outflanking
9 Shouldering
10 Outside and protected passed pawns

Pieces (and K) vs Pawn (and K)
11 Q vs b,d,e,g pawn on 2nd or 7th rank
12 Q vs a,b,c,f pawn on 7th rank
13 R vs P on 4th, 5th rank pawn 

Rook Endgames
14  R and a,h pawn vs R
15  R and b,c,f,g P vs R
16  R and a,h pawn after 5 rank
17  R and b,c,f,g pawn after 5 rank
18  R and central pawn d,e vs R
19  Lucena's position
20 Philidor's position
21 Back rank defence
22 Short side for K, long side for R
23 Using pawn as Shelter for the King
24 Checking distance
25 Rooks behind passed pawns
26 Active Rook and its importance

Bishop vs Knight ending
27 B and pawn vs N
28 N and pawn vs B
29 Good N vs Bad B
30 B vs N and pawns on both sides

STRATEGEMS

1 Centralise the King
2 Activate pieces
3 Pawn structure and weaknesses to avoid - isolated, doubled,pawn islands
4 Principle of 2 weaknesses
5 Creating a passed pawn
6 Playing with the whole army
7 Widening the beachead
8 Zugswang
9 Creating pawn weaknesses by attacking pawns
10 Gaining critical tempo (esp in pawn endgames)

SUBLIMINAL LEARNING

Quite a big word, subliminal. I had just learnt it from reading Andy Soltis's STUDYING CHESS MADE EASY. 

I would recommend this book for the serious player wanting answers on how to improve his/her chess through the various ways of studying chess. There are many methods which I find I had in common with the ones he explained in his book.

The one I liked best was Subliminal learning - using methods to input chess knowledge to the mind subconsciously. How can this be done? Reading chess books and analysing every diagram one comes across. In his book he gives countless examples of top players doing that, Each time the book is read, different thoughts and perceptions are picked up by the player. One such book I find which does this is Nimzowitsch's MY SYSTEM. You can read this book at different phases and it tells you different things.

The other way which Soltis does not talk about and is my own invention, is Chess Game watching. You will need a game-viewer or Chess database like chessbase to do this. This manner of learning I find is applicable to learning openings and middlegame plans right out of the opening, particularly useful in theoretical openings like the Ruy Lopez and Sicilian.

Select an opening variation of say 15 moves deep. Select about 50 games where the same 15-moves  were made and White wins subsequently later. Try to keep the games short, say about 35 moves max. Load them onto the viewer and get it to replay the game with an interval of 1 sec a move. Watch the game like a movie. Once the game is ended, the viewer will automatically start the next game. Sit through this 50 game movie and I assure you, your mind will pick up many useful bits of instruction as to how White went about winning his games.

Now use the same variation and select 50 wins by Black. Go through the process and now you will learn exactly how Black defended and won, subconsciously. Your eyes and mind learns at a speed way beyond your imagination.

I gathered that this is how human beings derive what and what not to do when playing computer games, not just by memorising patterns of steps but subconsciously programming and reprogramming themselves to do the right thing till it works out to perfection. Then they proudly defeat the game. However, computer gamers are now re-introducing the human element into the domain and allowing humans to pit their wits and knowledge against each other, so there is a wider dimension of plans that can counter archtypical setups and steps. The computer gamers are learning from chess after all, so why shouldn't we learn from them in how to learn ?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

THE IMPORTANCE OF READING

Back in the last 30 years, most of what's known as theoretical chess knowledge existed purely in the form of the printed word - chess magazines, chess books, Informants. These were the main source of information one can get on the latest trends in opening theory, or the presentation of great games played by the masters with great comments from the authors.

That trend was completely changed with the Computer Age - the use of chess databases, playing programs like Fritz or Rybka and instruction videos. The poor chess student is really flooded with tons of information coming at a ridiculous rate that it is near impossible to find the time to rummage through, let alone study, the essence of the material.

With time controls of 25 mins or less per player to complete the game, one wonders why is there the need to invest time and effort to learn chess when there is hardly enough time for the student to ponder about the plans and strategies one has learnt, hoping to find some use for it in their games??  Most games I reckon would mainly be decided on either tactical blunders or loss of material given en prise. To play well in the rapid 25 min time control, would it not be enough just to practice on tactical shots and play gambits? Do you honestly think the child will be able to do something like " Oh..White has just made the same error as XX did vs YY at the 20NN tournament so the finish goes like .."? Short of the player having a photographic memory (which does help in remembering loads of opening theory), to figure such things out within the time frame of a total 50 minute game is not possible in club play. Hence it is best to have games of 1 hour per side or more per player to give him/her the luxury of recalling the chess knowledge that has been learnt to devise the right plan of action. When this happens, the satisfaction of winning a game is far greater and thereby reinforcing the notion that chess is very much a thinking game, rather than the slow-motion version of an arcade shootout.


Is it therefore any wonder that today's children know next to nothing about reading chess books for improvement, or watching a video they can get their hands on? The chess culture that we've had for the past 30 years, seems to have been eroded over the last 10. How ironical, because it is precisely the last 10 years that chess information has been mushrooming and today I would say there are relatively few secrets left in the chess world of knowledge. Books and videos explain to a T what you need to know to play a specific opening, how to handle play in specfic pawn-structures like the Isolated Queen Pawn, tactical exercises online that you can practice to sharpen your skills. The only realm where knowledge  is not so clearly digestible  is in the endgame. Though computers today can work out endgame solutions of any position where the number of pieces on board do not exceed 5, it is near impossible to expect the human being to play that way. I see the endgame as the last bastion where human ingenuity is still called upon to win a game rather than the reliance of total chess knowledge to dictate the play.

Sadly, learning about endgames is the bitter bit of chess that even strong players do not enjoy,  because of the lack of excitement in such positions and the cold clinical accuracy one must have to execute the winning routine. It is precisely in this realm that we can teach kids about the logic of planning. As in most theoretical endgames, a clear winning solution is presented even against best play by the opponent. Learning the methods can certainly help in understanding how the pieces work together towards the strategic plan. Learning tactics acheve the same end, albeit with a lot more excitement.

Hence I will focus on bringing in useful excerpts of good books that I've had the fortune to read over the last 35 years, for the young budding player in mind of course. I will start with Basic Chess Endings by Reuben Fine. Though its an old book,Pal Benko has revised it but the instructional part of it is crafted by Fine himself. I would not vouch for the analysis of moves as it has been found to have quite a few errors, but what I like about it is the way it offers advice on how to conduct specific positions with a few pieces.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

CTEP for CAS 1996-2006

Thought I'd take this time to document one of my teaching joys, strangely, to my friends in Malaysia! It was a near 8 years but thoroughly worth mentioning.

 One day in 1996 Mr Peter Long called me to ask if I would be interested to train a group of juniors from Chess Association of Selangor for 4 days in Penang, as he was busy and could not do it. It was a tough time for me at work, as my company was going through a split and I had to manage the IT separation task for my department. But somehow the lure of teaching chess was too hard to resist, so I agreed. 

 I met up with Tse Pin and Jason, the coordinators for the CTEP (Chess Training for Excellence Program) in Penang in December with Mr Lee (Samantha Lee's dad) who was the chaperon. The trainees were Lim Yee Weng, Matthew Khor,Yow Keat Tong and Ng Ee Vern. They were selected for finishing tops in the CAS junior tournament in 1996 and were selected for the program to be conducted at Sandy Bay Resorts in Penang. Here's some shots of our sessions.


As there were only 4 days, I had to balance the training with some fun activities (including visiting Georgetown and exploring the great Penang food stalls). Thanks to Mr Lee who's from Penang, we had a good time and got excellent meals each day. Gurney Drive and McAlister Road was really different then in 1996-7. Plus there was a great Western place just opposite Looking Good (a mall, now gone).

As it was my first overseas teaching assignment, I was trying to find topics that would suit the 4 trainees who were quite different in strengths and styles. Hence I chose to study pawn structures in their openings and the plans they could adopt pending on how the pawn structure would change due to pawn advances and captures. Then the next day was about visualsation of squares and diagonals. Calculation and the thought process was also introduced. That concluded our program for 1996.
  

In 1997 not much changed, except that 3 new trainees joined in - Gerald Soh, Law Zhe Kang and Seto (sorry, can't remember his name). I introduced Jeremy Silman's imbalances into the training syllabus as I felt that the boys were good tactically but not positionally. Overall, I realised that there was little attention paid to openings how they are prepared. For the first time, we got hold of a computer and I also introduced ChessBase as a means of preparation for openings


I was very impressed with Zhe Kang, though not the most gifted,but he was the best student in the 4 days and diligently absorbed my lessons. At the end of the program, I awarded him my copy of Silman's "How to Reassess Your Chess" for being the best trainee.

As he is a doctor now, I guess he has little time for chess. But I am sure he will remember fondly the days we spent in Penang in 1997.


As my computer during the years 1998-1999 had crashed, I had no recollection of the CTEP then but in 2000, a fresh group was assembled and this time it was held in Seri Malaysia Genting. Among them were Marcus and Nicholas Chan, Fariz and Hafiz Shaffrudin, a young Zarul Shazwan, Yeoh Keong Lee,Abel Yap and Pok Wern Jian. This time I decided to look into their games and suggest a repertoire for each player that would suit their style of play. Visualisation of squares is a must - strangely, the guy who often got punished for getting the colour of the square wrong when I called out the name of the square was...Nicholas Chan! But he is the strongest FM today..hmm..The topic of Fighting, Surrendering or Holding the Centre was introduced along with attack against the King with pawns. Evenings were spent examing each player's games to work out a playable repertoire.


In 2002 the same syllabus was used to help Zach Han, Ernest  , Fong Yip Siang and the guys above minus Keong Lee. Additional topics include a study on How to Improve Tactics was covered followed by analysis of the student's games.

2003 saw Yeap Eng Chiam, Ezran, Sumant Subramaniam, Khairul and Faisal KZ, Aw Wai Onn joining the group. Eng Chiam was very strong tactically then for his age, having been taught well by his father. Sumant in my opinion was playing much too fast and skimping on his calculation, but nonetheless the boy was dedicated. Wai Onn was very enthusiastic, very keen to learn but somehow a little timid. Strangely, he was playing the Blackmar Diemer Gambit as White and often lost a pawn without knowing how to recover it.


Pity but I do not have any photos of my 2004 group - Chan Litt Bin, Eng Chiam, Sumant, Izz, Aw Wai Onn and Tan Ken Wei.

My last group was in 2006 with Tariq Amru, Ekwan, Tan Ken Wei, Chiang Ee John, Albert Ang,  Justin Way Ong, Low Jun Jian, Geenish.
My thoughts on this series of trainings? What is important was that I chose not to cover specific areas in the middlegame or endgame but rather, devise methods of preparation and training on visualisation and calculation such that the trainees can apply to their games and benefit from the methods. This year, when I am back at the Merdeka Tournament and saw many familiar faces, including a cheeky Sumant who tried to use Scholar's Mate on his ex-teacher even though it was a blitz game! Meanwhile Eng Chiam lost a rook against my longtime chess friend Jimmy for underestimating the wrath of the Pirc Defence. When I passed Ken Wei who just lost his rook to a double attack, he told me "Didn't do enough concentric square exercises lah!" There's still room to re-learn I guess. 

Before I sign off, my thanks to Mrs Jackie Wong, Encik Shaffrudin, Norhana and the parents of all the boys who participated in the program. Most importantly, my heartfelt appreciation to  Tse Pin who tirelessly saw to the implementation of the longest junior training scheme that had spawned so many talents for Malaysia. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

51st NATIONAL INTER - SCHOOL TEAM CHAMPIONSHIPS

Another year has passed, and going by the records in the Primary School Open, Under 11 and Under 9 sections, Nanyang Primary has done well again. At a glance the winners  in each Primary School category:

BOYS
                  1st                           2nd                     3rd
Open       Nanyang Primary   North View Primary   ACS Primary A
Under 11   Nanyang Primary   ACS Primary A          SJI Junior A
Under 9   Nanyang Primary Tao Nan School A        ACS Jr A


GIRLS

Open       Nanyang Primary       Northland Primary A   Nan Hua Primary A
Under 11  Kheng Cheng Primary  MGPS                     Northland Primary A
Under 9   Northland Primary       Nanyang Primary A    RGS Primary A



The Nanyang teams were at least 2 game points over the runners-up, which indicates their strength and dominance. With a school system that's highly supportive of the game, plus a dedicated pool of parents willing to accomodate their children's schedules for chess learning, it is little wonder that they are dominating the school chess scene. For the U-11s, the team did not even need the services of FM Tin JinYao.

However, we see signs that the other schools can pull up their socks and give a better showing, eg ACS Primary ,Kheng Cheng Primary and SJI Junior. I would say that the chief factor that separates the boys from these schools to their Champion counterparts is the committment to playing rather than the amount of chess training received. My perception is that chess is exalted as a intectual game in NYPS while other schools see it as another CCA. What a major difference in motivation and morale! My fear is that in the following years to come, it may be well a foregone conclusion as to which school will yet again win the Primary Schools section. When that happens, many of the other schools may not see the point of taking part in school chess competitions should they end up as passengers year after year.

So can the playing field be levelled? Here are some of my ideas:

 HAVE  2  DIVISIONS

Like in football, why not have 2 divisions whereby the top 7 teams can play in Division 1 and the others in Division 2? The top 2 winners of Division 2 may be promoted to play in Division 1 and the bottom 2 of Division 1 can also be relegated to Division 2. 

This system in my view beats the Zonal system of prize allocation because it is based on merit and not location. It also allows the Division 2 and 3 teams some chance of garnering accolades which is also important for the schools that may be good but not reach the top. It will also encourage more teams to join as we can expand the number of teams in the top 7 if need be over 2 weekends instead of just 1. The main logistics are tables and chairs and equipment plus arbiters and helpers, not insurmountable issues in my opinion.

SCHEDULE THE COMPETITION IN END-JULY

This competition was traditionally scheduled during the last weekend of July or 1st weekend of August as long as I can remember. Over the last decade, it is now staged in end August or September. Why should it be changed? Setting the competition in September is totally unfair to schools with the majority of players who are in Primary 6 and would have to compromise their PSLE studies in order to prepare for it. Is the late staging really necessary?

If it is a question of finding a suitable venue, surely 1 year is long enough for the organisers to search and confirm a centrally located school for the purpose of hosting the competition, or in the last resort, pay for a sports stadium to host it. I am sure that the Sports Council will assist in whatever way to secure a venue.

With an event date that  is tailored to suit the needs of  teachers and students, there is no reason why there can't be more teams taking part and therefore more divisions which will see more teams taking honours, though it different categories. This will entice more schools to have chess clubs and aim towards excellenc, step by step from the lower divisions and moving up.

LONGER TIME CONTROLS

To decide a scholastic tournament on a time of control of 25 minutes per side seems ludicrous. In my time as a student, it was 1.5hrs per side and spread over 3 weekends. Now that's tough by today's standards. So what about 6 rounds, 2 weekends, 1 hour per side? The Secondary and Tertiary can take place on 2 Saturdays and the Primary sections over 2 Sundays. The Under 9s can have theirs in 25mins but certainly not the U11s and Open sections.

We need to make the game a little more serious at the school level or else, school principals may wonder why they should spend on chess training when much of the game can be decided less on strategic planning but more on tactics and luck? Is it any wonder that our students cannot match up with the rest of Asia when it comes to playing longer time-controls as we simply do not inculcate it even at school level?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

ABOUT THOMSON CC CHESS CLUB

Where does one get to play a human opponent face to face Friday ?

Fret not, Thomson CC Chess Club opens its doors on the 3rd floor activity room next to the elevator. The Chess Club starts 7.30pm and ends 10.00pm. Members are advised to sms 97985479 to check if the club is open for that day as we depend on volunteers to open the premises each week.

Chess sets are available, players with chess clocks are advised to bring one.

Address : 194 Upper Thomson Road (Opp Long House Eating House)

KASPAROV AT THOMSON CC

Ah, what a day it was for Thomson Chess Club. The arrival of the chess King with his old friend Zurab Azmaiparasvilli and others receiving him.

The crowd at Thomson CC listening to his every word 

As Kasparov gathered momentum by explaining how chess beauty cannot be created by oneself alone, he gave equal credit to his opponent GM Topalov for taking up the challenge by producing the diagram below:

 

Yes, that brilliant move Rd7! which refutes Topalov's notion that Black is winning ...in 1 move!

It was enough to entrall the audience of the greatness of chess beauty coupled with brilliant intuition on the part of the 13th World Champion, who confessed that he was acting on a hunch when he first sacrificed a rook, then two to reach the above position.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

More Controversy ??


This is the followup article following Aug 14's report from the Straits Times (see earlier post). For the interesting exchanges between the SCF and the Straits Times reporter, you may visit the SCF Website. Note the SCF's reply to the reporter's Question 4 where he asks about the President intention to relinquish his post and reasons for  doing so or not.

Different views about Kasparov's visit


   For the benefit of our foreign readers who may not be aware of the happenings leading to the Kasparov visit, this may be worthwhile reading. Readers, I would like to hear your views.