Games, analysis and discussion

Becoming a 2300 player (Part 1 of 3)

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Becoming a 2300 Player
By Kevin Pacey – Part 1 – From En Passant #81; October 1986 pp. 7-8
In EP #66, Larry Bevand reported the results of a revealing interview with Kevin Spraggett. Mr. Bevand noted that “Many players spend an incredible amount of time studying chess but don’t advance because they haven’t developed proper study methods.” There is also a startling claim made by Kevin: “Before you are 2300, all you are doing is learning the rudiments of the game.” Having recently reached 2300 myself, it is safe to assume that I have learned many of the rudiments. I stopped to wonder: how did I do this? Perhaps I can explain some of what it takes to reach 2300 starting from 1400.
I must first say that there may be uncountable ways to become a 2300 player, but I know well only the way I did it. I took ten years to reach this level, and I expect that a player with average talent can achieve the same rate of progress. This is due to my belief that I rarely progressed rapidly unless due to study of fundamental, yet sometimes complex material. Such a rate would advance a player by about one rating class in two years. I played an average of around six CFC-rated tournaments a year. In the following account, you will find mention of the most beneficial and essential material that I studied. A number of suggestions are included, as are some episodes that I recall as leading to my progress as a player.
In 1975 I was fourteen, with a rating of 1431 after three CFC tournaments. At that time I had just a handful of books, none of which I had read carefully. Then I began to read two very important books slowly from cover to cover. These were Lasker’s Manual of Chess and My System. It took a long time to reap full benefit from the former book. As a youngster, I found that Lasker was not explicit enough on some topics. Some difficulties were later resolved when I took the trouble to consult a dictionary! Little things like this can make a world of difference. Additionally, I had little reason to suspect, until after some careful reading, that a book containing raw basics would also have advice of great importance, useful even to highly skilled players. Important parts of My System were often easier to understand, rapidly leading to many insights concerning chess strategy.
At the time, a main concern was to find a defence to 1.e4. The answer came to me almost by accident when I won a copy of Botvinnik’s One Hundred Selected Games. I found not only good games and notes, but also a weapon Botvinnik had used – the French Defence. Added to that were examples of French strategy in My System and my adoption of the French led to dynamite results. Many opponents were poorly informed on strategy generally and compounded this problem by getting into completely closed positions against me. By 1976 my rating had reached 1623 and I fancied myself a “positional player”, but all too often my games were decided by tactical “accidents”.
In 1976 I began regularly playing in the Intermediate Sections of CFC tournaments, where I encountered better informed and more experienced opponents. My next large rating gain was due in part to reading Basic Chess Endings. It took a while to obtain full rewards from this as I (or my opponent) still did not get through many middlegames in a satisfactory fashion. I read BCE over the course of 1976-77, using two procedures in order to reduce the sheer weight of the material. I usually only played over the diagrammed examples, those with bold-faced numbers. By seeing many examples of sufficient variety, I made sure of learning how to apply many vital methods and principles. All the commentary must be read, even if it refers to the minor examples, although comments alone cannot always adequately show the way things are. Note also that I played over the examples from BCE in my head whenever this was feasible. I use this method for most chess material.
After mid-1976 I began indirectly working on my tactical skills. The French Defence, which I thought to be fairly mild-mannered, proved to have a complicated, tactical side as well – the Winawer Variation. As I attempted to fathom some of the trickier lines, it was useful that I had had the odd misfortune in some theoretically recommended lines. I began to really believe that the “authorities” could be badly mistaken in the analysis or the assessment of an opening variation, or overlook transpositional possibilities. This belief was reinforced by Petrosian’s chapter in How to Open a Chess Game, a fine book for understanding the big picture in the openings. Even if crude mistakes comprise only 1% of theory, there is a lot of room for discovery, even by amateurs. For the first time I looked at an opening (the French) through my own eyes, taking a critical view of many printed assessments and performing home analysis. I would have been on the right track ages ago, though, had I realized that Lasker’s warning about “uncritically taking over variations or rules discovered by others” applies in modern times. I had supposed that crude mistakes by chess authors shouldn’t happen any more, with today’s deeper investigations.
How should one conduct home analysis? Such work took many sessions, starting from a “crucial position” which I did not understand. I would look at many possibilities, including moves that might not appear sensible, trying forcing moves first. This generates many lines of play from the crucial position. It is important to look at all sorts of moves in home analysis, since one cannot fully claim to know when it is correct to violate general principles. I tried to formulate strategies before and after generating moves; odd moves should be discarded only after it is clear that they have no point. Allowing myself to move the pieces, I tried to analyze a crucial position until understandable positions were reached, and assessed, in all the important lines. If a line or position resulted in a forced disadvantage for one side, finding even better moves for the superior side became a low priority. As new crucial positions resulted from earlier ones, I would generate moves from the new position, or first look at some other lines arising from other crucial positions. Usually I looked at shallow lines or easier positions first. Gaining an understanding of just one crucial position (let alone the original one!) during one session (1 or 2 hours) is by no means assured, but progress does come, even by refuting some of one’s attempted analysis.
I usually chose an original crucial position where tactics were likely to prevail. It is easier to discover what is going on if you do not have to make assessments of quiet but unclear terminal positions. To make difficult assessments, additional knowledge may be required. If you try to avoid this by continuing to generate lines from a quiet position, the number of possibilities worth considering tends to multiply. Maintain fairly complete notes and mistrust findings from other sessions. Regard all previous sessions as “exploratory” and check (and recheck) lines and positions that seem resolved. These checks usually took up a portion of each session that I conducted.
I often longed to say to myself that I had finally resolved this or that line, perhaps because I favoured one side, but persistent checking helped maintain my objectivity. This was due to giving both sides a fair chance: I imagined that I was my own opponent, searching desperately for a way to refute my prior analysis. Using this device, I became more resourceful. I also found it helpful to turn the board around during some sessions. This brings a different perspective, and helps fight monotony. You will find that possible refutations of some piece of analysis may come at any time, whether on the board or not. Study is prolonged if the positions examined are complex. All this, however, did not daunt me, since I undertook such work over long periods of time, with big breaks between the longest sessions. I knew that, even if I quit prior to finishing all the analysis, such work pays off. Experience with major projects (several original crucial positions in a complicated opening variation, for example) will also enable you to find plenty of minor improvements to opening theory. Analysis of sharp positions will give you a better and faster ability to gauge the danger or soundness of an intuitive sacrifice.
All my practice in home analysis starting in late 1976 led to an increase in my tactical ability. After reaching 1704 in mid-1976 and then wallowing in the low 1700s for about a year, my rating jumped to 1869 at the start of 1978. All this was the result of following good advice that I had read earlier. Botvinnik, in his 100 Selected Games, claimed that those who perfect home analysis become able to play outstandingly over the board. I coupled home analysis with constant checking, heeding Botvinnik’s warning that it is easy to lose your objectivity if you don’t publish your analysis to allow criticism.

Below are links to Parts 2 and 3:

Link to Epilogue (my becoming a 2400 chess player in 2010):

Updated 07-06-2018 at 07:38 PM by Kevin Pacey

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Becoming a 2300 player