Wills Chess Blog
Adventures in chess in Cambridgeshire

A long think....

By Will
Like most of the bloggers I have followed over the last few years most have been searching for the method(s) to improve their chess that do so in the most effecient manner. Before I put a plan together to work out how to improve I decided to read as much on the subject as possible and then try to create a synthesis of the advice. It may of taken a couple of months of reading but I finally feel able to share where I am with it right now.

Firstly, a number of authors (Ziatidinov, Soltis and Wetzell) talk about memorising (or words to that effect) key patterns. Though only Wetzell offered a system to do so (flashcards) the other two seemed to be alluding to the famous card indexes popularised by the Russian school of chess. I'm not really a great fan of generating huge amounts of cards (according to Soltis Laslo Polgar had 200K) the modern equivalent would be to use Anki and its spaced repetition. Blunderprone seems to have gone down this route to and Chess Position Trainer is built around the same idea.

Secondly, analysing your own games is key. Not the way I had in the past but taking this much further and creating flashcards with key ideas I missed. Also, Grivas advocates analysing them in a quantitative manner to see if where your weakenesses are. I'm going to head down this road since I am always looking for further insight into my weaknesses.

Finally that it is going to be a long process which will require more than obsession to get anywhere. Ziatdinov talked about 15 years, so master by 48 in my case...

What I am intending to do is to take alot of what Wetzell said and add it to the process of analysing my own games. To have a Standard Operating Procedure of what I want to do and to follow it for all of the analysis because the truth is I am sure that in the first three games I have played over the board the key errors have all been about things I already know rather than things I don't. Adding more to the information I know isn't going to get me back to where I was; it is down to the absence of a thought process.

Once I have finished the analyses I will post them here to create a record of the journey.

And now for the pain

By Will
I played my first proper game for three years two weeks ago and my god I got slaughtered. All of the blitz games have gotten my tactics to roughly where they were but I have no clue about the openings I play.

Flicking through some of the last games I played is depressing since I am pretty sure that my standard was a few quantum leaps from where it is now. But anyway, I am not the type of person to give up so its time to get down to the graft to improve.

So far I have rememorised 24 GM ram games which is starting to pay some dividends in Blitz and in my long training games on FICS. I have aquired Chess Position trainer and am trying to get the first ten moves of my openings burned in so I can reach a middlegame position that I can study / prepare for. I've wolfed down a few books so far, usual suspects like logical chess, Power chess for kids and one of McDonalds talky books (which I can't remember the name of for some reason). I'm trying to plow through Chernev Most instructive games at 2 games an evening and I have a pile of similar books to follow this.

Tactics is going OK but I think the patterns are a long way from being burned in since I am on cycle 3 of 7. Looking at Weteschniks Chess tactics from Scratch might highlight that I am doing them alittle incorrectly in that I am not verbalising the basis for the tactic. Maybe I'll go through them and add them to Anki to maintain them in my RAM.

Still along way to go before I get to a systematic and planned study regimen but it is coming together to an extent and I have a clear idea of what I want to fit in. I'm mainly opting for the memorisation approach advocated by Ziatdinov in GM ram and the Silman website articles. The basis for this pursuit was an article onWired about SuperMemo and spaced repetition. I have a feeling that this approach will work for me well since I have a good memory.

More to follow when I work out a schedule,

Coathangers, Visualisation and mental anguish

By Will
Having memorised 33 games from GM ram last time around I thought it would be pretty simple to do it again. However this time I realised I needed to understand alittle more about aspects of learning to make the process more efficient. Last time I put together a simple repetition plan so that in a typical period I played through everygame at least a few times which, inevitably, became a monster to try to actually do.

This time I discovered an article on Wired magazine "Want to Remember Everything You'll Ever Learn? Surrender to This Algorithm" By Gary Wolf:


I usually am distrustful of such things since I have read a whole pile of chess "improvement" articles and books. However, the most interesting thing is that the algorithm is used in a free program called Anki which some kind soul has created a pgn plugin for.

My experience so far is that using the program with the game details is enough so organise the memorisation of the games in an efficient manner. I add 2 games a week and play through these everyday then they are graded by difficutly of recall and hey presto! the algorithm tells me when to review them. So far I have added 14 games in half the time it took first time around.

And like last time the other things I am reading about chess seem to stick much better. I am also reading the Yusupov Chess Fundamentals Build Up Your Chess and adding this to Anki to recall.

My head hurts.....

By Will
As most chess players know there is always the itchy feeling that we don't have the right chess books or that we are studying the wrong ones. I am (again) having this feeling after buying the Yusupov books on The Fundamentals Build up your chess and Boost your chess. I am now truly torn again having pulled my previous training plans apart several times over in the last couple of months.

I think I understand why this is. For the past ten years I have been married to a nice woman who I think is pretty attractive. However, whenever we go shopping there are inevitably younger and prettier women in the vicinity. How many guys have been busted checking out these alluring creatures without the usual emotional baggage of years of being together? Pretty much all red blooded males I guess!

So, by analogy, the pretty chess book you bought and promised to be faithful too looses it's lustre and eventually you eyes wander to a "new" way of doing things with the promise of faster improvement or more fun.

Back to chess study and enough book promiscuity.....

And now normal service will resume....

By Will
Well, I haven't posted for a long time mainly because I haven't looked at a chess board in nearly 2 years. I reached the point that it consumed so much of my time that I didn't have time to do much else and my attitude stunk. I've been there before with my PhD and other pursuits so took the decision to cut it off. Since then I changed job and have been working hard to understand what exactly I am supposed to do.

Now things have changed and I am back playing and studying chess alittle. I've had a proper think about what I enjoy about a chess game and what I want to get out of it. Now I am after fun, tactics and not the pursuit of a GM level opening repertoire (seriously I bought three books on the Sveshnikov, how was I ever going to master such an opening before I reached 90 without understanding alot more about chess and counter attacking??).

So I have chosen to play the King's Gambit against e5 (OK there is a bucket load of theory but it is in keeping with the idea of actually having fun), the Smith Morra against the Sicilian (simplistic and used by players far better than me), the Fantasy variation against c6 (in keeping with the KG I think?!) and the Korchnoi Gambit against e6 (I played this before but it is simple and is pretty universal against various move orders). So far so good...

Against e4 I have taken up the Nf6 Scandinavian which is working out OK so far, d4 I am trying the Fajarowicz gambit which is also interesting (and has few positional lines). Against all else I am going to play sensible opening moves becuase I am not bothered about having a defence against 1 f4, c4 or any other openings since at my level they are unlikely to be played well anyway.

Some games to come....

What happens when the Questions end?

By Will
I've been away enjoying studying and playing chess and just haven't felt the urge to write a single word. Probably the solitary nature of what I was doing didn't lend itself to laying out my thoughts.
Personally I find baring my soul fairly unconfortable but I am finding some small things that are puzzling me.

Since Phaedrus and Tempo have taken the time to comment on my last post I feel it only fair to discuss the matter and explain how I have seen the changes. I would like to point out first, as a qualifier, that I started to play chess in my late 20's and had not played alot before that.

For the past 18 months I have been memorising the chess games advocated in GM ram. In addition I have been studying endgames with Silman's book, Pachman's Modern Strategy for middlegames and playing through a game book. I have been annotating my long games and examining the short games for their tactical errors and opening mistakes. And, when I have time I am analysing the positions from GM ram.

No tactics? Nope, I have been working with Blokh first book on chess tactics having done Chess tactics for kids and Alburt's pocket chess training book.

So how has memorising games helped then? Surely all of the other things are the driver for the progress I am making. Well yes, and no. When I started playing, all of three years ago, I could not move the pieces in my mind at all. I could not remember opening theory without sitting for hours playing though it.

As Tempo alludes to maybe these games for a coathanger for the information. I have memorised 27 games so far, which I have to say I started just to see if I could do it rather than for any improvement reason. However, as I have read through Silman's work and played through the games repeatedly then the reasons for playing or not playing moves began to become obvious. The "mysterious" rook moves began to become clearer as Pachman lit a touch into the darkness of positional play. Tactics prevented or missed became elucidated during the repititous playing throughs.

Which lead me to my thesis. These games are a coathanger and a lesson in the different phases of the game. Answering the questions as to why a knight sacrifice is declined (Andersson vs Staunton, London 1851, French defence) or others. These games show methods to play an attack, defend a premature attack etc and allow the knowledge added from books to be tied into (onto) something memorised. Like learning a language, remembering what a door looks like and what it does. Images, words and ideas come together to allow more to be added in a spiral.

To memorise or not to memorise that is the question

By Will
Sometime ago I read a fascinating post on DK's blog about GM ram, a book that told readers to analyse deeply a number of positions and to memorise 57 key games. I have been trying to lightly anonotate and memorise these games for sometime adding a new one every two weeks. At first it was very difficult to memorise the games and indeed I doubted I could manage 10, now I have memorised 18 and am adding the 19th as we speak.

But what good is this doing? I had thought that it is a way of filling the LTM with patterns that may be useful during games or ideas of how to punish bad play since the games were mostly pre 1930. This view has evolved since I have indeed used some of the ideas and some of the openings have appeared in my games (especially Szabo - Andersson London 1851).

After so many hours work I wondered what the point was about game 5, then a strange thing started to happen. Slowly it took less repetitions to memorise the games, sometimes shorter games could be remember >75% correct after one viewing. More recently I have found that I can go through the games without moving the pieces and blindfold.

During the last round of the club championship I was drawn against the highest rated player in the pool. His FIDE equivalent rating was >400 higher than mine and he certainly hasn't been playing for just two years so I decided to prepare as best I could to give myself a decent chance against him. I found out his prefered openings against 1 e4 and then culled several key games in these variations from various books I have. These had to be trimmed alittle since there were >30 to around 8 key games which I proceeded to play through once a day. By the end of the week I could play these 8 pretty much from memory.

When I sat down and he played straight into the openings I had looked at I felt confident that I would give a decent account of myself. And, as it transpired, I played a number of very strong moves consistent with the opening even after he deviated fairly early on. The key idea I had missed in the sample games was my downfall since my maneuvering became alittle uncoordinated as I lost the thread in the quickplay finish.

Overall I think I understand what GM ram is about. The "300 by hand" is not so you can just play these positions or games from memory, it is to add information to the LTM to allow further information to be stored easier like hooks. Additionally, this has lead me to continue with my quest to have a define repertoire mapped out by key games including where one side has played poorly and to spend time defining the plans for both sides.

You could call it an epiphany but I prefer to define it as a turning point when aimless wood pushing is not enough now I feel the urge to know the plans for both sides in the openings.