Thursday, September 25, 2008

A New Season

A new season in the chess blogosphere, now that the Summer is over various bloggers have returned to an active status. Full of energy and ideas they start with new series of posts. A few of special interest to me.

Likeforests: The Strategy of My System (in the sidebar of his blog) and now tactics, or was this just this one?

Blue Devil Knight: Chess for Zebras.
He's reading the book so at least someone will be able to tell us what it is about, since most reviewers only tell us about the first chapter.

Transformation: Tools for Structuring. It's not going to be about chess databases, but the first post already is full of useful information.

I would also like to put your attention to the great mystery of the disappearance of Tommy G, who after publishing a second article in a series on How To Study From A Book seems to have disappeared completely. He, his comments and his posts will be missed by me and probably others. Does anybody know what happened to him?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Using reviews for deceiving book titles

Walking trough a bookstore I noticed a special discount on Plaskett's Could You Be A Tactical Genius? I flipped trough the book a bit but put it back. I don't really need other chess books at this moment [1] and I sure don't need chess books that I might not be able to use in the next six months.

As I found out with Nunn's Learn Chess Tactics, titles of chess books can be most deceiving. Dan Heisman suggests this book after his Back to Basics: Tactics as one of the last books in the intermediate section on his site.[2] Also the many books that refer to "kid" in the title can be of various levels and most are very instructive to the adult beginner or improver.

Six months ago I bought Fischer's My 60 Memorable Games, of course in descriptive notation; the only genuine version at the time. I won't be needing this book soon, but today I found out that in a couple of weeks Batsford will be publishing an algebraic edition of this book, but this time round they promise only to change the notation from descriptive to algebraic instead of the rape of the text that was committed earlier.

What I did do when I got home was consulting some reviews. In my opinion a good review (perhaps even a good chess book) should very clearly state who could use this book and even narrow it down to who would benefit most from it.

This is what I found:
Chessville (Leopold Lacrimosa): "Overall, I liked this book and would recommend it to students rated 700 - 1500 ELO"

Silman (Randy Bauer): "The author provides plenty of extras to make the book workable, but the exercises themselves will provide a challenge for just about every level of player."

Seagaard: "I would say the main readership is for intermediate players up to people with ELO 2000."

ChessCafé (Bill Kaleher): "GM Plaskett's book appears to be aimed more towards the intermediate player. AND In my opinion it is most suited to players rated below 2200 FIDE, although the more difficult problems would challenge even the most advanced players."

Most out of the mean seems the first one, but even the rest of them aren't very clear.

Now I can understand that it is hard for a chess writer, often a NM, FM, IM or GM to determine what level of student can understand material that is so far below there own level. Being in chess teaching an/or working with lower level players can obviously help here, but there might not be a universal agreement on what goes best with what level.

Also, on every aspect of the game (tactics, strategy, endgame, opening) there is a certain barrier that needs to be crossed before one can continue to the next level. On all levels these differences can be huge. Someone with a lot of opening knowledge might be less strong in tactics or endgame, otherwise he may be on a different level.

Thankfully with the Internet it is always possible to find more than one review and there are always articles on chess improvement where there are hints to be found on the book levels.

Also asking around to people who are also into chess, say chess bloggers, who are not as advanced as writers and reviewers and who may have a good view on the book searchers need can be of great help and motivation. They might even advice a better one!
[1] At this moment the Steps Method books, TCT and Gillam's books are enough, after that there is LC and I'm also still doing CTS.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Am I slowing down?

Tonight while doing some mixed exercises ones on 2/3 of Step 1 in TCT I noticed that I was slowing down, for one particular exercise I even took nearly a minute.

I went on with my 25 exercises on CTS ranging in a difficulty between 904 and 1465. Here I took my time as well. Funny thing, I ended with the exact same rating as I started with. Great thing, I had a 100% success rating! (I of little faith, only now I believe it's even possible.)

I am slowing down, and it feels just great!

What has changed, am I just taking more time? No, I'm just trying to look at positions differently. Call it real chess, call it frustration on not "instantly" seeing the tactic in the second diagram and realising that I can and should, call it anew found instruction, especially the a-e and a-d lists and reading some older blogs that discussed looking at the squares that are "covered" when looking for a mate. Probably it's they sum of all of the above and a few things I don't even know.

But no matter what you call it, I think that once I get used to this I will be able to do it faster.

Besides continuation there is only one thing left to do: play games and see if I can apply this.

Guess what, I have a FICS account ready and waiting.

To give credit where it should be given
It was Bleu Devil Knight who showed me the way to what was lost, he provided the very link to the article in this post on his excellent blog that seems to be a bit active once again. But there is also much te be learned from his old posts for beginners, improving players and other chess minded people.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A New Toy

This week the TASC cd 2 arrived containing TASC Chess Tutor (Henceforth known as TCT) and Chessica (a chess playing program). Chesstiger is currently using the very same program.

TCT is based on the Steps Method and as some of you might know, I got stuck in Step 3 of the Step Method working from books. I did start all over again earlier this summer, but this now got easier using the TCT on the computer.

Currently I'm working my way trough Step 1, and I'm making some mistakes every now and then. I really need to take my time doing the exercises! I have to remind myself constantly that it's okay to take more than 10 seconds if I need them, but I'm getting better at it. It's a bit the same as with CTS, forget about the time.

Currently I'm working my way trough each chapter. Reading trough the instructional text and doing the exercise sections. Before moving on to the next chapter I redo the sections in which I didn't score a 100% and the I redo those in which I still don't have a 100% score until I do.

This is level one people, even I should know this by now! But these are exactly the things that should be practiced "until I can't get it wrong"

Thursday, September 04, 2008

A reply to comments, part 2

A lot of you have been giving me advice over the last posts and elsewhere. I have been wondering lately, have I done something with all these good intentions? Have I thought about them, acted accordingly?

Let's find out!

Chess Tactics Server
Chessloser, Chesstiger (aka Logis) and Polly keep hammering not to worry about rating, but about strength. My interpretation of Chess Strength at Chess Tactics Server is the success percentage, a score based only on how many exercises are solved correct. I think this is what they mean with Chess Strength. David K even suggests percentages to aim at, first he mentions 90%, later 80%.

I do think I'm getting better at this, my rating seems to be stabilising around 1150, but my success percentage is still climbing: The other day I broke the 70% barrier with, for me, an extremely good score of 90% (45/50 correct). I'm aiming to keep my average score per session above 80% and eventually get my percentage there.

Playing chess
Chesstiger suggests that I shouldn't forget about playing chess and joins Likesforests in saying that I need a stronger sparring partner.

I have played the friend from the dreaded endgame post again in August, -I wrote the game down, but cannot find it- and I lost. I think I should be playing him every now and then. I will probably keep playing against Jabba and should be able to win easier and easier or maybe he'll do some chess training himself.
Joining a club isn't a possibility now, I don't no yet what my schedule will me for the this year with work and school. Maybe I should play a bit on the Internet, but I want to play slow games and I've heard it's mostly fast time controls.

Study material
Chesstiger (and a lot of others) suggested Jeremy Silman's Silman's Endgame Course, Tommy G was enthusiastic about Lev Alburt's Just the Facts, but he's now appears to be converted to Silman's church.

I'm not sure when I should be looking for exclusive Endgame material, there is quite some endgame training in the Steps Method, so maybe after Step 3. On the site there are endgame exercises to play against Crafty, that might be promising. Crafty also can be strengthened with Endgame Tables, but maybe it's time for a commercial chess program, because Crafty sometimes just stops annotating or the program crashes while playing over an endgame.

Annotated games
Chesstiger advised using Max Euwe's Amateur vs. Master as a game collection to work with.

I already own Chernev's Logical Chess: Move by Move, so I would rather not buy yet another book; I do have the tendency to buy more and more and yet even more books, who doesn't in the world of chess, so I should rather use what I have.

Training & Tactics
In addittion to the Steps Method I'm using the TASC cd2, mentioned by Chesstiger. It uses the same method, but has way more exercises.
Dan says on his site that Nunn's Learn Chess Tactics (I own this book and the title is about as deceiving as the adage "for Kids" on some chess books) is a good successor book to his Back to Basics: Tactics. On that same page he also suggests a circle like approach to a basic tactics book.
Likesforests says that Susan Polgar's Chess Tactics for Champions also is a good follow up to Heisman's book.

I already had the TASC cd 2 on my wish list and ordered it. It should arrive somewhere next week. I will use TASC side by side with the Steps Method and say out loud (or when around others mentally what tactic/motif is used. Instead of buying more tactics books (Heisman's is tempting me very much), I will go trough the books of Gillam a couple of times and of course I'll be active at CTS.

A big thank you
I'm sure I haven't named everyone who has given me advise, or helped me in another way, so thank you all of you out there, named and unnamed!

Questions that remain
1. When should one start specific Endgame training (i.e. Silman's book)?
2. Does it matter if I start with Chernev's book or Euwe's? Who knows anything about the difference in level?
3. What chess program would be most beneficial to me? I want it to be able to annotate as well. For some reason I like Chessmaster IX:The Grandmaster Edition, I haven't seen it.

Instant Update on Question 02:
Heisman gives this order of difficulty on his site (Those which I own are in bold type, hiddenleaf):

"Recommended Instructive Game Anthologies (in roughly ascending order of difficulty):
Logical Chess Move by Move - Chernev
(note: the non-anthology A First Book of Morphy by del Rosario can be read here!)
Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played - Chernev
Chess: The Art of Logical Thinking - Neil McDonald
The Art of Planning in Chess - Neil McDonald
Chess Master vs. Chess Amateur - Euwe and Meiden
50 Essential Chess Lessons - Giddins
Chess Success: Planning After the Opening - Neil McDonald
Winning Chess Brilliancies - Seirawan (after this book I would go to individual game collections)
Understanding Chess Move by Move - Nunn
Instructive Modern Chess Masterpieces - Stohl
Zurich 1953 - Bronstein"