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Saturday, November 01, 2008
“There is no sudden leap to greatness.
Your success lies in doing day by day.
Your upward reach will come from working well and carefully.
Good work done little by little becomes great work.
The house of success is built brick by brick.
Adopt the pace of nature. The secret is patience.
A bottle fills drop by drop.”
I offer the above in hopes that all players will recognize that, sooner or later, games get more difficult and the player reaches a level where the opponents are his/her equal. At this time several things occur:
First, the player’s elo bobs up and down within narrow limits,
Second, the player experiences more drawn games.
And, lastly, the player is taking as many losses as wins.
This point of growth is the plateau. This is a place where the player settles in and enjoys games with peers; with the hope that the experience will increase elo. In fact, it does. But only the right experience works, and, still, the gain is often agonizingly slow.
When a stronger player with experience enters a new chess environment, there are usually early wins. At first, the elo climbs quickly. Then the plateau occurs. The only way the player will move further upward is to improve his game, or play against lesser players. But, the elo system is designed to keep the player on a plateau by the differentiation in elo points won and lost depending on the strength of the opponent. Think of it as a thermostat. If your win ratio gets too high the elo system brings you back!
A player needs to improve in order to permanently move to a higher plateau. At this point, self-improvement is difficult. The player seldom sees the thought behaviors that hold him to that level! (O’ wha’ a gift the giftee gie us, to see oursels as others see us.” – Bobby Burns.) Chess is a game of mental skills and aptitudes. In chess memory is a primary aptitude, reason and logic are primary skills. These are in the mind, and the mind expresses them in thoughts. It is your thoughts, your thinking, that determine your degree of success. Knowledge plays an elementary part, but it must be converted to skill, and knowledge can be converted only with practice. The problem players face is that many practice the wrong thoughts! Practice does not make perfect! Practice makes permanent! Only perfect practice will make perfect. And, so, it is the quality of what you do with the board and pieces, on every occasion. So, if you slack off with an inferior opponent, you have started a limiting habit. Always play your best, regardless of who your opponent may be.
There are ways to find the limiting behaviors, of course. All of the ways require one critical element: Feedback! Feedback can come from a number of sources, the true role of a coach is to provide feedback; to help the player see what is otherwise invisible to him.
If a player seeks continuous improvement, feedback is not something that can successfully be turned off and on. It must be constant. A simple way to obtain feedback is to analyze your own games. I believe it is most productive to analyze one’s losses. A great post-game activity is analysis. It requires an open mind, lest the true reason be dismissed too quickly.
The task is complicated, because there are normally multiple errors in thinking. When encountered, the coach must focus on only one! A person can only give their focused attention to one thing at a time. Here is an example of a player who needs multiple changes. Let’s look and see how it should be handled.
White played: 10. c4
This move is bad because it creates a black passed pawn on d4.
Black makes a note to help White with pawn play. If White improves his pawn play appreciably, he will move to a higher plateau.
A few moves later:
14. … Bb7. This move threatens 15. … Be4, winning the white queen!
15. Qc2?? This bad move was made to save the queen. It loses.
15. … d3 And the fork is deadly!
White needs help in tactical play. Which should be addressed? Both pawn play and tactics are core areas of the game. The coach picks one and focuses on it, causing the player to focus. The other is not mentioned until the first is secure. The player cannot focus if there are two different issues. In an initial game, I often see four or five issues! I just pick one and let the others rest. In this instance, either improved pawn play or improved tactical awareness will improve the players’ elo. It will nudge him from the plateau. Continuous improvement means just that: Working on one thing with the entire mind until it is resolved, then moving to another issue.
The enemy of improvement is denial. When looking at an exhibited error in thinking, many players rationalize or justify the move rather than looking for the thinking that caused it. Much of the denial can be heard in the phrase: “Yes, but…“ Denial prevents gain.
When a player is beginning, or who experiences a plateau at a low level, there are two dominant reasons for losing games. The first is simply timeouts. You can never win a game that has timed out. Games time out for many ‘reasons’, but most of these are under the control of the player. One of the primary reasons is that the player has no true desire to improve, he just enjoys the social aspect and the thrill of moving the pieces around until one player serendipitously gains an advantage.
The second reason is blunders. Blunders are not always easy to stop, they can result from the mind going on vacation (or, in my case: A senior moment) during the game, but they are caused by the player not seeing the position. Seeing the board on every move is not as easy as it sounds. A basic reason for a blunder is not taking time enough to study the position before moving. Sometimes the time is limited by having too many games. Patience is truly a virtue, in chess as in all else.
Once the time outs and blunders are under control, it is time to study candidates. In any position there are multiple candidates for any move. It is important to recognize probable successful candidates and look at their individual impacts on the position and on the plan. To do this successfully, the player needs not only to see the board; but also to have a plan.
Here is an example of a player missing the right candidate, the game is a French Tarrash:
1. e4 e6
2. d4 d5
3. Nd2 c5
4. Ngf3 cxd4
5. Nxd4 …
This is a common position in the Tarrasch. There are a number of candidates for Black’s fifth move: He must develop his minor pieces, he must respect b5, he must consider the center. 5. … Nc6 or Nd7 both keep the white pawn from advancing, and close the diagonal a4-e8. 5. … Nf6 challenges the pawn and can retake on e5, and can move to d4 if the white pawn comes forward. 5. … a6 holds b5. Even 5. … dxe4 can be considered. (The knight moves are probably the best candidates).
But Black “sees” a way to “attack” something:
5. … Qb6 This move is positionally bad. White now has a distinct advantage. 5. … Bc5 is also bad, for the same reason. Black cannot win a battle on d4! He is not well enough developed. The attack on b2 is an illusion. His plan is bad, and so his candidates are weak.
6. c3 Bc5 Persisting, without counting. (“Count who come for the broken meats before thou makest a feast.”- Kipling)
7. Ndb3 … This move blocks b2 and protects d4, it also attacks c5.
7. … Nc6 Still attacking d4. (This move, however has some beneficial features in that it does block the a4-e8 diagonal, and it does contest the center. But it comes too late.)
8. Nxc5 Qxc5 Black should have seen, by now, that he cannot successfully win d4.
9. Be3 Nxd4 Black is still focused on the exchange. The Black queen cannot recapture on d4, so one defender is immobile.
10. Bxd4 … Now the flaw in exchanging on d4 is clear. The bishop is well posted on d4, forking the Queen and the pawn on g7.
Now, the hand of white leaps to the bishop! He has won a rook! Quickly, laughingly, seize the g7 pawn! Bxg7! And follow with the rook capture: Bxh8!!
WRONG! One of the ways we go wrong is when we see a winning move. In this position, capturing the pawn will still win; but it is not the best move. Engage brain before putting hand in gear… Stay away from the bishop, don’t touch it.
Instead, make the zwischenzug:
11. exd5 … Now, with the queen threatened, Black has Hobson’s choice: Lose or move the queen, or take the pawn. Either way, White still gets the rook, but now White also has an improved position.
If you shrug it off by saying: “So what?, I still win.” You will chose the inferior move at a time when you will not still win!!
Remember: When you see a good move, always look for a better one. Even a winning move can be a mistake! We fail to make the best moves when we have tunnel vision, when we rush, when we are following a flawed plan, and when we fail to consider candidates.
For players at this stage, I suggest the player start with simple plans and intense observation. There are a couple of good ways to develop more powerful observation; one is simply to work chess problems every day! It will be frustrating missing the solutions, at first; but by persevering the player will see the patterns in the solutions. And the study will result in improved observation with a consequent improvement in the game.
To improve planning skills, the player can start with simple plans and adhere to them. Follow basic opening rules, make them the plan. It can simply be: I will occupy and fight for a place in the center, I will mobilize my minor pieces, I will get my rooks to open files, or those I believe will open. I will avoid exposing my queen. I will castle before the opponent can prevent it. This simple plan will get a player through even complicated openings. Plan to play an opening with which you are very familiar, so you know what the pawn structure will probably become, and you know which pieces are likely to be exchanged, and you know which lines will probably be open and which will probably be shut. Keep in mind that if you do not know the next move in an opening, you are automatically in the middle game, whether you know it or not! Whether you want to be or not! If you truly know your opening you may still be in the opening when your opponent is facing emerging tactical and positional problems. He may not see the right candidate! I suspect that is exactly what happened in the game above. White was not familiar with his own opening, perhaps being familiar only so far, or only on the main line. You have a great advantage when you know the opening better than your opponent does, and you do not need a vast repertoire. Start with one white opening, one black defense against e4 and one against e5. Just learn these three one at a time. Focus on your
first, then when you know that opening well and are consistently winning with it against equals, you are ready to add a Black defense to your repertoire. Each time you truly learn one, your elo will move upward, this is continuous improvement. No great leaps forward, just steady progress in one element of the game at a time.
Good chessing! Al (alfredjwood)
posted by ChessManiac.com Team Member at
Saturday, November 01, 2008
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