Wednesday, March 27, 2013

CHESS IMPROVEMENT DIY

Someone asked if I had a coach when I played competitively. It does stir up some memories...hence I decided to answer this question in a blog post.

I started getting serious in chess when I was in Sec 1 in RI. There was a chess club in the school, so Friday afternoons were spent in the club playing casual games. I had discovered then that there were books published in chess a year ago, so I started combing the Hullett Memorial Library in RI and found a big treasure trove. Informants, Batsford Opening manuals, game collections were abound and I started reading everything I could get my hands on. For that reason, I became a Librarian.

Even that could not whet my appetite for more chess material. I stumbled upon the National Library in Stamford Rd and found more books and chess magazines! Each    issue of Chess Life, Chess (Sutton Coldfield) puzzles section was religiously photocopied and that became my daily chess breakfast. Reading interesting stories of the young emerging Garry Kasparov and his victories in the late 70's gave hope that the Karpov era of dry endgames would soon pass.

Though I worked hard at chess on my own, there were no chess computers or anyone offering chess instruction. Everything is in the books and you'd need time and some intelligence to sieve out what's best. So for 3 years I could only read and  memorise the variations of every opening text I came across, till the plateau of stagnation finally hit. There was no further improvement.

I had to search inside myself why this is so. What had I done wrong? It finally dawned on me that I had merely amassed a huge pool of INFORMATION but not really understanding WHY and HOW they can be applied. So I ended up rolling back my chess education and went back to basics. That took me another 2 years, this time I was in Pre-University 1. Again the same stagnation feeling. I had to ask why as my rating was stuck at then in the 1500's in 1980.

Finally I realised that I had not had good fundamentals in the ENDGAME which impeded my progress in understanding the mechanics of winning a game. I was too fascinated by the literary wins of Alekhine and Tal that I realised these were but a means to an end. Some good books I read helped - The books by Irving Chernev, Euwe and the best endgame book that I could get at that time, Paul Kere's Practical Chess Endings. I diligently went through the pawn endings, the Rook Endings in detail and that firmly shaped my understanding of the pieces. My tactical play was sharpened by the solving of Fred Reinfeld's 1001 Winning Chess Combinations coupled with a revamp of my repertoire - playing 1 d4 instead of 1 e4.

What got me to understand positions better was the playing over of master games - the games of Fischer ( I bought his 60 Memorable Games 3 times, after someone borrowed and never returned it), Spassky, Korchnoi and Botvinnik. Loved his volune of games which described his thoughts well. Then came Mikhail Tal's classic "Study Chess with Tal". It truly describes the pains taken by the master to concoct all his classic smashing attacks, the preparatory feints and most often the attention to detail of his own King before he launches the attack. Another such work was Paul Kere's Master Class by Neistadt. Then Shereshevsky's Endgame Strategy completed the education.

Today my teachers all rest in my shelves and they continue to inspire, guide and point me to examples that I can refer to explain chess concepts better to my students. A lifetime collection of 400 odd books that is still growing. But I have to say I owe it all to the early ones that I collected for keep my interest in the game alive till this day. Man, who needs computer games??

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