Confessions of a Serial Chess Problem Solver
Excerpts from the minutes of the 2005-04-29 Meeting of Chess Problem Solvers Anonymous (CPSA):
Hello everyone. My name is fussylizard and ...
Excuse me, Mr., uh, "fussylizard" was it? Here we all use our real names, not our internet chess handles. Can you please start again but use your real name?
Uh, sure. Hello everyone. My name is fuss-, er, I mean, Chris, and I am, well, supposedly addicted to solving chess problems. I'm really not sure why-
OK. That's enough for now. Recognizing you have a problem is the first step to recovery.
Yeah, that's what I've heard...
Why don't you tell us why you are here.
Why I'm here? Well to be honest, I'm not really sure. This woman that claims to be my wife made me. I mean I've seen her around the house and all, but I didn't realize we were married, you know? I've been a bit busy lately. She said something about being a "chess widow" and was quite insistent that I attend. She seemed nice enough, so here I am.
OK. Why don't you tell us about your "chess improvement plan".
Oh, the MDLM plan? Yeah, sure. In December 2004 I started this chess improvement program recommended by this guy named Michael de la Maza. For four months I spent nearly every spare moment outside of work solving chess problems. I did the same set of 1100 or so problems over and over and over. At first it was difficult, ignoring my friends and family while bathed in the cold glow of my laptop's LCD. Hundreds upon hundreds of problems…so many. At first I was overwhelmed, but ever so slowly I grew to enjoy it. Each pass through the problems got faster and faster, more and more. Slowly, enjoyment changed to need: the need to spend every spare moment in front of CT-Art, solving, solving, solving.
And then what happened?
Things were going really well until, well, I finished the study program. The final day I took the whole day off from work to spend in front of the computer, solving from morning until night. And then suddenly…it was over. The joy was indescribable, suddenly being freed from the invisible shackles of the study program. The next day I didn’t even load up CT-Art on my computer at all. Nor the next day. But then...
Well, I began to ask myself: was I really free? Hour after hour I spent listlessly reviewing chess games played by the masters of yore, but somehow it just wasn’t enough. Sure, there was the occasional combination or kingside attack I could play through at lightening speed thanks to the plan, but outside of this, I felt…empty. Something was missing. My life was meaningless. I felt the atrophy slowly eating away my hard-earned tactical skills. There must be more. I have to have more. I must have more, More, MORE!
At this point the minutes say something about a scuffle and Chris being dragged out by a bunch of guys in white coats while he screamed, "I am the king! I am the king!!" More on this on the 11 o'clock news tonight.
Having finished the MDLM plan, I feel really lazy. I’ve spent pretty much every night for the last four months doing tactics problems. Now that I’m not doing that, I feel very lazy, like I’m throwing it away since I’m not keeping it up. I’ve actually been going through Chernev’s Logical Chess book, but it’s just not the same. Life has also sort of caught up again as well, so between working late at the office lately and going to see the midnight movie of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Thursday night I’ve not been able to dedicate as much time to chess as I would like.
It’s funny what having a schedule does. With a schedule, you make time for things. Without it, the things you want to do get eaten up by the zillion other little things that just come up. I need to come up with a new study schedule so I will have something to stick to.
One thing I will mention about going through Chernev’s book: I had gone through about half of it before years ago, trying to guess each move of the winning side before I read the move and notes in the book. I did rather poorly overall in my guessing percentage. Now I am doing a little better on the “regular” moves, but whenever there is a tactical sequence, it’s like my brain goes into turbo mode and I can calculate out things with lightening speed. It’s a bizarre feeling to be going along and then suddenly have my brain shift into tactics mode and zip through the upcoming combination. I hope this bodes well for my OTB play.
Another thing to mention is that I find it interesting to go through other tactics material now. I have the book Chess Tactics for Juniors which relative to CT-Art is basically 534 level 10-50 type problems. When going through it (usually for 15 minutes or so before bed) I notice that some problems I solve almost instantly, whereas others I agonize over for minutes. This tells me that many tactical patterns, even some relatively simple ones, are still not “instant”, so I think I need to continue studying a lot more tactics, even after the MDLM plan with CT-Art.
I have to admit it but Thursday I ordered Convekta’s Total Chess Training II set which includes, essentially, a boatload of tactics and endgame problems. I’m not sure if I will take an MDLM approach to it or not (or when I will start on it), but somehow it is comforting knowing there is more material to go over.
A quick note about CT-Art- I had no idea you can have it randomly reverse the piece color or “mirror” the board left to right so as to diminish the role memorization plays in solving the problems. I did 20-30 level 10-50 problems last night just for fun and found that swapping colors made essentially zero difference in my solving times, but the mirroring required me to think for a couple extra seconds in general to recognize the pattern. I think all the review work I will do in CT-Art going forward will use this random mode, at least for levels 10-60.
The Narrative of My Experience
I’m still working on my summary about my experience with the MDLM plan. I hope to finish it this weekend. When I’m done, I’ll be sure to post a link here.
Thanks all for the congratulations on finishing. I hope I can inspire others to do the same.