Monday, May 18, 2009

And So It Goes...

A loss, and not only a loss. A really horrid, detestable loss. Losing a competitive game against an opponent who plays very well is one thing, just not showing up is another. The game I played in the last round at Margate was one of the most pathetic I've played in the last year, certainly my worst since coming to Florida. I simply didn't feel like working hard at the board, and I didn't work. At all. And I got rolled. Blunderville.


I did win a game against a strong A player, but it was marred by his being a dick and not resigning for many moves after being a piece down with no compensation.


So those are my recent games. I think I'm going to take a break from playing twice a week for a while. I need to recharge.

On another note, I was asked in a comment what has led to my recent rise in strength. I didn't want to answer in the comments, so here are the reasons I think I've been playing better:

1. Studying. I've been studying a great deal, and that helps. My opening repertoire is much more solid than most players my rating, and my endgames are coming along.

2. Working. Working is different than studying. Chess is math, not history. What I mean by that is that to be good at chess regurgitation is not required, or at least it is not the main thing. Playing chess, like doing math, is the process of solving problems. The problems are novel, but are usually similar enough that practicing solving problems will help you a great deal in you own games. To play chess is to analyze. Practice in analysis makes it easier to go deeper, and imprints patterns that act as shortcuts when you are trying to solve problems OTB.

3. Analyzing. Analysis is not just a question of solving tactical problems, but also looking at positions and analyzing possible moves for both sides. This part of my chess work is closely tied to opening study, as the positions I usually choose are transition positions between the opening and middlegame (though I need to look at middle-to-endgame transition positions more). Solitaire chess is a good exercise at this stage.

4. Critically assess your own thinking process. After analyzing my own games at length, I found that I often did not take enough time to look at my opponent's possibilities. This led to me getting surprised by his responses to my moves. Once I started looking more broadly at the other side's chances, as well as trying to figure out what his plans were, I started playing much more consistently. This has also helped my planning, as often if you are at a loss for a plan then prophylaxis is a good option. Dvoretsky has said that consistent prophylactic thinking bring steadiness to your play, and I agree. You will have to find the flaws in your own thinking process, these are just some examples of mine. This step probably did more to improve my results than anything else.

5. Time. I put in the time, played a lot of games, and really got a handle on how hard you have to work at the board. While natural talent plays some role in chess, it's not that big of a deal for most of us. We lose because people outwork us, both at home and OTB. If you want to get better, assess your play critically and work hard to fix your deficencies. Chess will give back to you what you put into it (like everything else in life).

6. I've never had a teacher, but I have had friends and traveling companions who were stronger than me, and I can tell you that having stronger players assess your play makes finding your weaknesses much easier. I would love to have a titled instructor, or even a USCF master. It can be done on your own, but it's harder.

So that's about it. Work on your openings (though not too much), analyze positions from different points in the game, solve problems, and take the time to really examine your thinking process. If you need some help getting started, hosts a column by the excellent Dan Heisman called Novice Nook. Don't let the name fool you-it's a great column on thinking processes and everyone should read it. Go the Chesscafe archives and read them all. At the very least, they'll make you think. And for those of you who don't know why I've written all this mildly self indulgent prose, my rating has risen from ~1700 to ~1850 in about 6 months, and rose ~100 points the year before that, so I feel that I can pontificate just a bit about improvement at the class level. Can't help you make master though. Sorry.

1 comment:

Tommyg said...

I think your comments about practice are dead on. I am only a year and a half into it but I have noticed that practicing is the difference. You used math as an analogy and I often use music as a comparison.

One must first learn the information from a book or any other source then one must actually practice with that information through setting up positions and analyzing those positions etc etc.

Anyway, congrats on your ratings rise! You are making me feel all the practice I am trying to put in will pay eventually pay off!