Friday, October 29, 2010

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.

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