Games, analysis and discussion

Becoming a 2300 player (Part 2 of 3)

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Part 2 – From En Passant #82; December 1986 pp. 12-14
In 1977-78 I completed the large step of filling in the rest of what could be called mandatory middlegame knowledge. I studied much of The Middle Game, volumes 1 and 2, by Euwe and Kramer; later I saw a book with similar content, Modern Chess Strategy by Pachman. This widened the number of opening and middlegame patterns and strategies of which I had some knowledge. Also enlightening was Larry Evans’ New Ideas in Chess, which sets forth a crude but valuable method of assessing positions. Evans also gives a clear picture of players’ styles from a historical point of view. All this study relating to the middlegame paid dividends later on, but I believe that my improvement during 1978 was largely due to the practice of home analysis.
My transition to expert strength happened rapidly. Two large gains in Swiss tournaments put me at 2063 in mid-1978. Evidently I was slightly overrated, because I soon slipped to the low 2000s for about a year. Then in 1979 I swung over and under 2000 a couple of times as I began regular battles with more experienced experts. An expert knows a great deal about the rudiments, but some take longer than others to discover, study, and use them to good effect in practice. This is partially due to the complexity, obscurity or overabundance of information available on some fundamental subjects. I would like to suggest some principles that are likely to be known to any good researcher. First, consider different points of view with a skeptical yet open mind (this is simply being objective). Second, what do you do if an explanation is in some way unsatisfactory? Even the best writers sometimes explain things poorly. The solution is to set a sensible limit on how long to take to try to understand something before looking for a new source of explanation. Otherwise you may take forever to reach an understanding, especially if you assume it is your fault that you don’t see the light. Strangely, many of us forget to set limits, even for important matters.
At the end of 1979, I decided to change my “style” to include more open positions. This probably had only a slight positive effect on my strength in the long run, but the reason for doing so was interesting. It was the appearance of rating stagnation at the end of 1978 that caused consideration of a fundamental change in my approach to chess. I should have added more vital study, though I did not know if there would be more new kinds of knowledge that I needed. The decision to play more open positions was manifested by my switch to 1.e4 in half my games: I had played closed openings in an effort to get a quiet positional struggle and to avoid an early tactical death. The switch to a more open style was done for the following reasons:
1. I needed more experience in tactical situations, which are more frequent in open games.
2. Nearly all games have open (often tactical) situations at some point, even those starting from closed openings. This realization occurred after thinking over a post-mortem comment by Bryon Nickoloff. Strong players can learn from each other, even by seemingly trifling comments!
3. I felt that I was going against the usual order of things (the route taken by most masters!?) by striving for a positional style first. However, it later occurred to me that my exploration of positional methods was fundamental. I had learned things that every strong player should know and that most strong players, tacticians or otherwise, learned or knew early in their experiences.
4. It is widely known that a B is usually better than a N because the type of positions favouring a B (open ones) arise (or can be forced) more often. Hence it seems implicit that a player who handles open positions well will have an edge over a closed-position specialist not similarly skilled.
Some of these reasons seem to support trying to excel in open positions. At least, all this deliberation formed the beginning of my opinion of what a good chess style should emphasize. All of which was small consolation for what happened when I changed my opening repertoire. At the end of 1979, I used my new openings in the Canadian Junior Championship; my play collapsed and my rating dropped to 1899. One cause was lack of experience with the themes (not the bare moves) of the openings.
A person cannot always have the inclination to regularly spend spare time studying chess, even if it is spread over years. My rating went on a roller-coaster ride between 1885 and 2163 over the next five years, as my urge to spend spare time on home analysis waxed and waned. However, my interest in following changing theory in a few openings didn’t wane, and I occasionally read exotic books that had some new and useful advice. While it is one thing to maintain an expert rating, I began to want to advance, especially after hitting another low rating (1926) in late 1982. At least I had built up experience with many types of positions, and profiles of my 2000+ rivals. Perhaps it is wrong to blame only lack of study for my slowed progress, lack of experience or practice were also factors. The transition to master requires a certain amount of experience.
Around the beginning of 1983, I started a campaign to try to improve my tactical ability. While I had occasionally looked at the odd quiz position, most sources did not have enough positions with the right degree of difficulty, variety or appearance of typical game situations. The Encyclopedia of Chess Middlegames: Combinations provided what I was looking for. It has plenty of examples. The fact that sections are organized by themes does not seem to detract from the benefits of study. In solving the Encyclopedia positions, I found myself confirming the usefulness of Lasker’s advice about finding combinations, such as determining the “functions” of each piece. It may have been useful that I tried such study when tired; one is often in a state of fatigue during tournaments. I generally determined the probable first move and peeked at the solution, rather than writing down the number of the position and moving on. I felt little obligation to adequately solve every position (as one should do during a game). Just seeing new combinations is helpful. I proceeded at a regular rate, looking at all examples by early 1985. The effect of this project, combined with a renewed interest in regular home analysis, had an effect on my tactical vision analogous to the effect of prolonged regular exercise on one’s body. Even a weak body must improve. My rating went over 2150 for good.
The study of tactics, by one method or another, should take up much of your chess study time over the years. It is important and requires practice to maintain at a high level. This is because you not only study methods, principles and patterns (as when studying positional play), but you maintain your power of calculation. This is essential to tactical play, as well as to making positional assessments where they count and in judging the feasibility of particular plans. A player may be defeated by poor tactical ability in more ways than one. For example, in positions where sharp, active moves are called for, weak power of calculation results in selecting “safer” moves, which may be too passive. After losing, the player may simple conclude that his play overall was “too passive”, without taking the trouble to reconstruct what his thoughts were during the game. Reconstruction of your thought process and the causes of a few of the moves in your games is difficult, but gives you a lot to work with for self-improvement.
If you think you can get by with a feeble tactical ability, I would like to draw your attention to the case of endgame technique. Good technique refers to the ability to calculate and execute an accurate sequence of moves. You need knowledge of patterns (in endgames these include book positions, rather than just fragments of positions), methods and principles to know what moves to investigate. A player can constantly fail in the endgame simply for lack of accuracy rather than lack of knowledge. Most endings require both. Endings make a fertile field for gaining calculating and planning skills. I have devoted considerable study and reviewing time to this phase of the game.

Below are links to Part 1 and 3:

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

Updated 07-06-2018 at 07:36 PM by Kevin Pacey

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Becoming a 2300 player