Sunday, January 01, 2006


I have come to a not so stunning conclusion.
The best way to improve in chess is with a balanced approach.
I certainly don’t regret spending a concentrated amount of time on tactical
study earlier this year. Nor do I regret my time spent on creating an opening
repertoire, which is still an on going process, and after my lessons with IM Predrag Trajkovic I see the importance of studying endgames.

More importantly I have learned from Predrag that chess has to be approached
as a whole. One time I asked him if there was a set amount of time required for a player in each area (Openings, middle games, endings) he replied there are no set rules and no one could answer it with complete certainty, you get better by correcting your weaknesses.
Well since I can only discover those through playing that will be my focus this coming year. Playing and putting it all together.
I didn’t play a rated game during all of 2005 and I missed it.

My plan is to set up a structured approach to reviewing my games and allowing the necessary space to work on areas that need improvement, combining that with opening study, tactical exercises, and endgames.
Honestly I could go ahead and say that I need to improve in every area of my game.

Takchess mentioned something about a book that I had long since forgotten that I owned,
“GM RAM” by Rashid Ziatdinov. I decided to reread it after some of my lessons with IM Trajkovic, since he uses a similar approach in our lessons (understanding positions) I just didn’t put the two together until I finished reading.
Basically the book is comprised of positions that the author feels are essential knowledge for becoming a better player. The author also surmises that all strong players do not look at positions and count moves like “I will play here, he will play there, etc”. Instead a strong player sees a few reasonable moves immediately, and will go from there often without considering variations.
He feels that Chess is a language and I will take the liberty of quoting him directly as not to lose anything in translation. “Most chess players learn the game in a very unscientific manner. First they learn the basic rules-how the pieces move and the basic checkmates. Later they start to learn some openings and learn some basic principles, such as the importance of proper development and control of central space. Then if they become serious, comes deeper study of the openings, and eventually, and often reluctantly, study of the endgame. This is very much analogous to learning a language by learning whole paragraphs, and only much later, if ever, bothering to learn the basic vocabulary and simple sentence structures. Eventually some proficiency can be obtained, but mastery of the language’s nuances will likely never be obtained, since the early bad habits will be hard to overcome. The highly successful Russian school of chess takes the opposite approach. Start with the endings and teaching fundamental knowledge, and then build upon this knowledge.”

The first part of his quote sounds pretty much the way I learned to play, bass-ackwards.

He also states in another section “that logic is more important than memory.”
This sentiment is echoed in Irving Chernev’s book “Logical Chess:Move by Move, and also by IM Trajkovic. Who told me at the beginning of our first lesson that good chess is about correct thinking processes, and not about opening theory.
Little did I know at the time that IM Trajkovic is teaching me how to play by showing me the rules of chess thinking and why also those seemingly trite sayings (knights before bishops, passed pawns must be pushed, etc.) are the building blocks of becoming a better player.
Now the good news, GM Rashid Ziatdinov says that learning these positions is only one part of the puzzle, and that tactical training along with some opening study is required.
(So I don’t feel like I lost anything by spending a tremendous amount of time on tactics or openings the past year.) He states a player should “study the theory of an opening only after playing it. The point is that by playing the opening you will gain first hand experience in analyzing the types of positions that can arise.”

All I have to do now is figure out how to balance correcting my weaknesses. :)


St. Patzer said...

While not at the same level of understanding, I have also come to the conclusion that it is about balance. Tactics are very helpful when you are in a tactical position, or can force a tactical position. But the rest of the time its about quiet moves that improve structure and options for plans. I completely agree that it is better to start at the end game and this is also the approach adopted by very successful coaches of juniors such as pandolfini. I will look up those books you mention, they sound very worthwhile

Jim said...

Yep, I came to the same epiphany and was practically accused of heresy by some.

You're right though - tactics are important and we need to learn them, but the importance of so many other things - development, endgame studies, openings, understanding positional advantages, when to open positions and when to keep them closed, etc. - these are what wins the games ultimately.

funkyfantom said...

Ironically, I am at the point, where,
for my particular skill level, my tactics are better than my strategy.
I am winning games because of good tactics ( actually more often my opponents blunders), and losing games
because of inferior strategy.

Therefore, it seems that I need some kind of alternate, bizzarro de la Maza program for strategy instead of tactics. Any ideas, anybody?

Sancho Pawnza said...

I think playing through games related to the particular openings you use is probably the best way to learn strategy.
I'm doing that with the Nimzo-Indian
and the old saying a picture is worth a thousand words really seems to apply.

Sancho Pawnza said...

st. patzer,
I played a game last year during the time I was heavily involved in the 7-Circles training. According to both my assessment (during the game) and that of the silicon monster (Fritz) I stood slightly better. My opponent’s pawn structure was in shambles and he had zero lines for his pieces. My problem was that I couldn't shut off the "Tactical Shot" search monster, so needless to say I lost on time looking for a tactical brilliancy that didn't exist. If I encounter those types of structures now I just focus on a weakness and start hammering away.
Simple, direct and very effective.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Good post. One of the reasons I like the Tasc Chess Tutor program is that it seems fairly balanced. It focuses most on endgame (mates and some king-pawn endings so far), quite a bit on tactics, and just a little on openings. It seems to be a good ratio...

Sancho Pawnza said...

Yes the Tasc Chess Tutor is excellent. I highly recommend that all new players start there, and experienced players should use it as a periodic review tool.

JavaManIssa said...

Yes, Tasc Chess Tutor is one of my favourites. Although it's not as difficult as something like CT-Art, i find the patterns that are memorized from it are common.

Good luck trying to achieve what you want this year :)

King of the Spill said...

Excellent post. I was a bit surprised you said you didn't play any rated games in 2005. I suspect some game in the future the tactical training will pay off, and if you play cautious openings your endgame training will definitely pay off.

generalkaia said...

hey sancho. do you recommend mr. trajkovic? I was thinking of taking lessons from him. if you could let me know a little about him and what and how he teaches, that would be great. Thanks.

Sancho Pawnza said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sancho Pawnza said...

Hi generalkaia!
Long time no see!
Yes I highly recommend IM Trajkovic, without hesitation.
As for what he teaches, it depends on the student. He tailors his approach to what they need. I have seen him give lessons to players across the ratings spectrum from beginners to full on Masters.
He helped a friend of mine become a Fide Master.
J'adoube takes lessons from him also.