An Experiment in Rapid Chess Improvement

Record of my experience in undertaking Michael de la Maza's "Rapid Chess Improvement" program.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Lesson Three and a Chess Club

I had another lesson with Dan a few weeks ago (Dec. 31) and I'm just now getting around to blogging about it. As in prior sessions, we went through a game I'd played a few days prior with OJ. I had black in a Qd6 Scandinavian. As for as the game itself (sorry I'm too lazy to post it), after a few inaccurate moves by OJ I won a pawn about 10 moves into the game, and after the queens were exchanged I picked up another pawn but had to surrender the initiative. I then dropped a knight to an oversight and had two connected passed pawns for a bishop with two rooks on the board. A draw was most likely with accurate play on both sides, but Caissa smiled and I made off with the full point.

Anyway, we spent most of our hour looking at how I spent my time during the game since time management is one area in which I need to improve. Dan noticed that in the tactic where I won a pawn there were two possible captures. I saw that too during the game but quickly discarded one. Of course it turned out that the other capture led to a winning position instead of merely being up a pawn with most of the game still to come. The interesting thing was that when he looked at the time I spent on that recapture. (This is where my DGT board comes in really handy- I hook it up to Shredder during the game and it automatically tracks the time per move for me and saves it as a comment in the game.) It turns out that of the first 10-15 moves I made, the recapture was the second or third fastest move I played (25 seconds or so), including the book moves I played. His response was that there was no way I could possibly have fully analyzed both captures in such a short time, which I agreed. So the takeaway is that (as he's mentioned in his Novice Nook columns) when you have a tactical position, slow down and really take your time since that may be a critical moment. In my defense I was trying to play more quickly, and didn't think winning a pawn was much of a critical moment. But had I spent the time like I should the game would have only lasted another 20 moves or so (since OJ likes to play all the way to mate).

Another thing I did was slow down a lot after I'd dropped the knight. His comment (summarized) was I should have spent more time earlier ensuring I didn't drop the knight in the first place. Better to spend your time trying to maintain a winning position than trying to pull some miracle save after you are already losing.

Finally, we discussed why I dropped the knight. Basically OJ attacked a pawn with his rook which I saw, but my analysis of his move stopped there. Had I looked at it more carefully I would also have noticed that the pawn had become pinned and no longer defending my knight. So the moral here is that you need to consider everything a move does, not just stop after identifying the obvious purpose.

In general I've not been so good at consistently analyzing my opponent's moves, so I thought of a framework to help my checking process. Every time my opponent moves, I should ask:
  1. What is his piece doing now that it wasn't doing before?
  2. What was his piece doing on its old square that it is not doing now?
  3. What are other pieces now able to do after the move?
  4. What are other pieces no longer able to do after the move?
I have found I often overlook things that would be covered in #3 and #4. While I realize that having a rigid though process like this is not always possible, I'm still going to try to use it until such a process becomes automatic, then I can stop consciously going through the list. Incidentally, this list is also useful for blunderchecking my own moves so I may use it there also.

Anyway, I have two more lessons scheduled, one on Saturday and one two weeks later. Overall I've been fairly happy with my lessons and plan to continue them for the time being. The only downside to the lessons is the cost, which are now up to US$70 / hour. I'm happy with what I'm getting, but I do have to wonder if there are cheaper options. I've not tried anyone else, so I have no idea what other instructors might be like.

Chess Club
In other news, Austin is getting a new chess club. I don't know all the history of the chess scene in Austin, but there used to be a sparsely attended club I went to once many years ago. It was reasonably fun, but I never managed to make it back (for all I know it is a big group these days). Anyway, I got a mailer a few weeks ago informing me of a new chess club meeting every Sunday night. They have a schedule of events so I'm definitely planning on participating in the March slow chess tournament (30/90, SD/1) if nothing else. I'm hoping it will be a good opportunity to play more people just to get more exposure. They are having their opening night this Sunday, so I'll probably make an effort to attend even though it will mostly be G/5 blitz. OJ may come as well, but he's mostly interested in the free pizza. :-)


At 11:46 AM, Blogger Chris said...

Great news about the chess club!

Your thought-process ideas sound similar to some of mine awhile back. I'd also add that when you notice a piece no longer protects a piece (because the first piece moved), and an initial glance tells you that the "less-defended" piece is still adequately defended, don't necessarily stop there. Many tactics are possible that will remove one of the remaining defenders and allow you to win material. I've missed some nice tactics in games because I didn't noticed what changed and then look a little deeper into possible ways to exploit that change.

At 12:51 PM, Blogger fussylizard said...

Good point. That's the line of reasoning that Dan was talking about. Don't just stop at a superficial analysis, considering only the obvious threat. The sneakiest moves are where you have to move to defend something but at the same time set up some other tactic. Then if you opponent makes a superficial analysis, they will overlook the secondary motive behind your move.

At 12:56 PM, Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Good stuff. I am presently working on a thinking process based on Heisman's articles. It's good to see not everyone thinks its useless!

At 5:48 PM, Blogger Pawnsensei said...

Hey Fussy,

Good update. Thanks for sharing your lesson again. Your insights will help me improve too.

Hey BD,

Who said thought processes are useless?


At 8:13 AM, Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

PS: I have been told that thought processes don't work somewhere on these blogs. I can't remember who or where. It is hard to keep track of all this stuff. I think the majority of knights think that thought processes are useful, but that it is hard to successfully employ a thought process.

At 9:20 AM, Blogger fussylizard said...

BDK- I recall seeing that somewhere as well. The general idea is that if you have a big elaborate process you will spend too much time going through all the steps, forget stuff, etc. I am trying to use a *simple* framework, and then to focus on particular aspects of my thought process during various games. Usually this will be something that Dan Heisman has pointed out to me, so before each game I take a few minutes to review the things I want to keep in mind and try my best to apply them.

In general I think writing out a thought process is a good exercise. Like so many other things, you start with a list and follow it, but after a while you really don't need the list anymore since it becomes automatic.

At 4:59 PM, Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Fussy, that is exactly my hope.

I have spent (wayyyy too much time) the last four days writing up a thought process (I call it the Chessplanner thought process), and also fine-tuning it by applying it while working through problems on the Chess Tutor. IT has turned into an almost 10 page document...I will post a PDF at some point in the next few weeks once it isn't embarassing anymore. My recent post on board evaluation is an excerpt.

I feel very excited by it, as it feels like a turning point in my chess development.

I am holding off on OTB games until I feel more comfortable with Chessplanner, and learn to apply it a little more quickly and effortlessly.

I just read a great quote by Heisman (slightly edited):
Managing how you think affects each move and is thus very important.

He goes on to say the same about openings.

Heisman rocks.

At 8:51 AM, Blogger Chris said...

I agree with Fussy Lizard. Keep it simple. It's fine to be very elaborate and write it all down, as just the act of thinking it through in detail will make you aware of things in a good way. But practically, it must be short and simple. Even the simple "blunder check" thought process before each move can help.

I also go through all my games and try to identify all my mistakes, then determine how thought process could have helped prevent each mistake. I find that categorizing my mistakes helps because 1) It makes me more aware of the exact nature of mistakes I make most often, and 2) It helps me focus on that area to try and not make the same kinds of mistake in the future.

My thought process is basically:

1) What changed? (after each move)
2) What else? (all the time)
3) Blunder check (before moving)

Sure, in certain positions I'm looking for tactical motifs, strategic imbalances, and so on, and there are always (hopefully!) specific ideas I am investigating. But that's more free-form, based on chess experience and how alert/tired/distracted I happen to be. And sometimes you just have to grind through some detailed calculations.

At 11:05 AM, Blogger funkyfantom said...

IMHO, the best of the many valid forms of chess-self-improvement is working through GM games solitaire-chess style.

The author gives you several move choices and you are forced to analyze and evaluate each of them.

Then you get feedback from the author right away about which moves are good and which are bad and why.

This is better than an actual lesson with a GM dollar for dollar, IMHO.


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