Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Society of Self-Analysis

The Society of Self-Analysis or S.S.A. is in search of open minded applicants that are willing to become involved in a chess improvement group.
The mission of the group is to share experiences, study methods, utilized and designed solely for the purpose of improvement in rated play.
Applicants must be willing to undergo the strenuous task of analyzing their own games in order to identify weaknesses. An improvement plan will then be designed to eliminate said weaknesses, with results to be published.
Efficient methodology and a selfless nature will be appreciated.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Creation of the Thinking Model v1.0

After finishing my first “quick read” of “Practical Chess Analysis” by Mark Buckley (meaning I stick strictly to the text portion, mentally following the variations as far as I can clearly, while leaving deeper analysis of the examples for the second read with plans to use those as exercises utilizing the author’s methods).
This was the book recommended to and by Patrick. I highly suggest you read some of Patrick’s reviews of “PCA-1”,"PCA-2", "PCA-3".
One of the first things mentioned (page 4) is that a player must establish a method. Buckley states “For only with a workable technique can a player hope to improve his analysis-the approach must be applicable to any particular position. This book is the result of my wish to share what I have learned about chess analysis: how to see ahead, how to judge a position, how to study. I have tried my best to present the essentials, the heart of the matter, trusting that you may apply these suggestions and develop your own analytic tools.”
Of course Buckley doesn’t disappoint as the rest of the book is dedicated to explaining his particular methods in a manner that is approachable, though clearly I have a lot of work ahead of me if I want to develop what he considers the basics that are necessary to become good at analyzing. Some of those basics are only obtained through experience and a few more will require some exercises created solely to gain “experience”. For example Chapter 2:“Developing your intuition” deals with ways to increase intuition through pattern recognition. He includes items such as isolated pawns, misplaced pieces, and stock combinations in this family. This quote says it all “Pattern recognition is the heart of intuition. The pattern represents something familiar, something already evaluated. Because the experienced player has often already studied a similar position to the one set before him, he largely knows what to do without thinking. His judgment is sound; he refines and confirms, in most cases what the pattern tells him. This experience saves time and effort over the board and lets the player concentrate on the position’s unique features.”

So obviously “Developing my intuition” is not something that will occur overnight!

For me step one is the creation of a “thinking model” or “workable technique” with the help of this book and a few other resources. This need for a ‘thinking model” became painfully obvious as review of one evening’s blitz game losses all shared the same theme. Complete disregard for my opponents move possibilities, which comes mainly from my desire or focus to inflict my will on the position.
As part of my training to correct this problem I have reinstalled CT-Art 3.0 and plan on using it to help test and refine my “thinking model”.

Yes I hated CT-Art while using it as a training tool for the 7-Circles because I felt the material was too haphazard for effective use in developing pattern recognition. But it wasn’t until later that I realized there is a distinct difference between Pattern Recognition and Calculation Muscle. Since my desire is to strengthen my calculation and increase my ability to accurately evaluate positions CT-Art will be the perfect tool given the wide variety of themes.
Buckley is adamant in his belief that a player must have the ability to accurately calculate variations (one of his basics). He precedes this by insisting one must literally memorize the chess board so each square can be named, identified by color, and located on the lines intersecting it.

I have been approaching each exercise position (during practice) or move situation (in game) with the following mini checklist/thinking model.
While this is extremely crude, the list/model will continually be refined as some of the items move from “new concepts” to “intuition”. Plus practice and understanding will allow a shift in the amount of time applied to each section. For now there are times when just remembering to address the items in order can be counted as a success. Ultimately I’d like to be able to refine my calculation and train what Buckley calls “The Mind’s Eye” to the point where I can visualize variations with great accuracy.
But for now I’m going to work on just developing the habit of mentally identifying the following.

Thinking Model Version 1.0
1) Material Count on the board. (Pawns, Major, Minor)
2) I treat the position as if my opponent has the move.
3) I look for checks (Direct, and indirect) Buckley recommends giving the pieces an “aura”. The aura is unaffected by obstructions. Similar to what BDK’s coach told him when it comes to seeing through pawns. This also includes mating patterns.
4) Loose pieces& pawns (Anything that isn’t nailed down so to speak)
5) Weak Squares
6) Pawn Structures
7) Piece Mobility and Placement

My particular model doesn’t even come close to the one used by Buckley and is not a representation of the material provided in his book. This is simply a way for me to correct a flaw in my play and to start establishing the habit of refreshing the board after each move in an attempt to create a baseline evaluation. Organizing my thoughts should make my time spent calculating more effective over the board.
My goal is to work towards the model presented in PCA, but like I said before I can utilize the methods described by Buckley it will take a considerable amount of work on the basics.

If you have the chance to obtain a copy of Practical Chess Analysis by all means do so, you won’t regret it.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Play, review, and play some more!

Yes I have been slack when it comes to updating my blogs, I will admit it. :)
But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy with chess, or not reading the other Knights' blogs.(Congratulations to J'Adoube, BDK, and Temposchlucker on their recent tournament participation!) Over the past few months I have been working on learning the openings with the method I mentioned way back in “Minimalist Openings or the “Sketch Pad Approach” “.

Initially it was painful, but I imagine anytime you attempt to change horses’ midstream you are bound to get wet.

Some of the minor setbacks included:
A) Complete negligence as to what my opponent’s pieces were attacking. (Don’t worry BDK mental faux pas occur at every level.) This is mainly because of what I feel chiefly to be a lack of pattern recognition involving the new structures, I repeatedly caught myself focusing/daydreaming more on my piece placement than what my opponent’s possibilities held. Normally I woke up from my nap after my opponent slapped me upside the head with a move I didn’t even consider once!
B) Encountering a sense of “What in the heck is my main objective in this position?” This usually appeared when my opponent played something outside my limited knowledge of a given opening. (I imagine this will continue for quite sometime)
C) Finding that I had a crack, crevice, hole, and on occasion a canyon in my repertoire. (But this is why I chose to approach opening study in this manner, “to find the weaknesses in my preparation”, and fix them.

On the upside:

A) I learned and continue to learn more about each of my openings chosen.
B) Transpositions are my friend! Being able to force pawn structures and more importantly plans into an arena I already understand is so nice.
C) Losing is only temporary, and you can quickly erase it by reviewing and turning it into a lesson.
D) If you “listen” to the opening it will reveal the plans that can and should be played. I struggled with this at first by attempting to force my will on the position. A better analogy would be certain notes and chord structures usually sound harmonious when they are played within the framework of a particular key. Trying to fit in notes that don’t belong to the “family” either by error or over-indulgence (i.e. look at how fast I can play) usually leave the listener with a sour taste.” Finding the plans gets easier each time I review, this is where one should study and memorize master games! Chessbase makes reviewing master games that apply to your own openings so easy it is ridiculous. While I appreciate the “classics” and do learn something new with every game reviewed. I feel like the “nugget of wisdom” learned is something that gets stored away in my toolbox for later use. Though I will be the first to admit if I ever happen to encounter one of those “nugget positions” I happily attempt to apply the learned idea. Sometimes without thinking it through to see if really applies. Hence my comment to Patrick about working to eliminate that particular flaw in my play. (BTW Patrick, the Buckley book arrived and it is awesome! Thank you so much!)

Another interesting milestone is I finally managed to break 2000 with my ICC “standard” rating which seems to be related to playing a bunch and keeping everything fresh. Plus I am forced to learn more about endings, as a lot of my games are won or lost from an equal middlegame. So endgame study has been providing an almost instantaneous return on the time invested while actually being fun. It would appear that Predrag’s comment about learning chess is like flying an airplane and one has to balance one’s approach much in the same manner a pilot keeps readjusting his wings to keep the plane level and on course.

Anyway I hope all my fellow Knights are doing well!
I still owe J'adoube a mini MDLM story, I haven't forgotten. (It's actually more of a side note than a story)