Friday, January 30, 2015

Chess Improvement; Balanced yet Revolutionary

Many Fridays I feel philosophical,  as my weeks chess improvement efforts all get catalogued and scrutinized- just before my weekend; which sometimes is quite chessic; with lots of gameplay and study (Club night is Sunday) and other times can see very little effort, as other family activities take center stage.

I also wanted to rush to print a new chess blog; because sometimes writing the blog has taken too much time and effort; and becomes distracting to my study.  I’m Not an author, and I don’t get either fame or income from my writings.  Fundamentally, The “great Patzer” is just that!  A Patzer!  The title reflects the truth that my take on chess and chess improvement are all just guesses (however shrewd),  and that I speak with no authority on any this. 

The Point of Blogging.  So with that said, one might ask what is the point of blogging then.  Well, its IMHO truly not to assume airs, boast, or build a following.   Blogging, for me is quite personal.   Fact is, its not so easy to routinely give an average of an hour + of rigorous study to chess.   And Most books, frankly, have pretty covers compared to the monumental effort it truly takes to really make their insights your own.   In my mind, then Blogging, is about creating a personal narrative, and holding yourself to a public standard.  Comments and questions I’m sure are always appreciated any where in blogosphere, but the magic is to commit yourself, to all the world, to give an honest attempt at your best effort in improving in this game.   In that regard, carefully scrutinizing what you intend to do- and making the best effort to do it, makes you “great” irregardless of your elo score.

Nevertheless, a few blogs have got me thinking; and one I can’t help to shout out about.  Pawn-to-rook-4 has passed his anniversary with an Elo increase of 700 points.  Which is absolutely an incredible achievement IMHO!  It is Always inspirational to see success of a fellow blogger. 

Personally Speaking; This is  a time of a lot of tweaking.  As you might remember I have pretty intricate and different system for tracking my effort- and motivating me to keep up with my studies.   The whole system might be worthy of a post of itself- but – lets just say that recently we’ve been tweaking things pretty good.   my system is meant to create a motivational ELO scored, from all the effort that I put into it.   There’s a lot of “wild guess” factors in it; and I’ve been looking at them and messing around with the factors.

I see Two important attributes (broadly) of a successful chess improvement system. 

 The first is that, a chess improvement system must have Balance!  Its absolutely not enough to just Play this game and hope to make sustained improvement.  Sooner of later the effort to internalize some set of principles will merely create habit.  And an attribute you wanted in your game will become a limitation in your effort to improve beyond that.   I find the concept of balance Challenging; because I am naturally a passionate guy.  If I find something engaging- I can totally blow it all out of proportion.

The second is that a chess improvement system must be revolutionary.   That is if we don’t take big steps and reach towards an entirely different way of looking at the game; inevitably the law of declining rewards kick in.   one soon gets lethargic and small minded about the game.  perhaps a sense of comfortableness settles in.  Other people’s “big insights are, of course, off and not Right for me.”  It just reeks of a big plateau!  To get beyond it, we are going to have to do some unlearning.   We are generally going to have to accept that the game is bigger that our limited repertoire of ideas, patterns, strategies,and tactics allow.

The Two together Form something of a Dichotomy.   That is, how do I expand my vision without jettisoning current efforts to internalize what I know?   But as I see it, the real answer is that we must reach for knowledge that is beyond us, and skill we don’t currently have.  The ideal, perhaps, force of this is a coach.  And I have confidence that a good trainer has the experience and develops the ability to help his students Reach new understanding in the game, by building upon what he knows.

Barring,a coach, we must look to some Resource (or resources), to find insight beyond our set of skills.  Books are perhaps the least expensive and universal means to get this.  (though in our increasingly digital world, there is insight available in many media).  But a listing of good and useful books; is Far beyond the scope of this blog.  

I want to reach towards my books and look for way to solidify what I know and bring new insight to the game!  Posts for a different day (after a have more experience to offer).

The NEW revolution for me; Annotations.   Again PTR4 brought it up; and he has impressively read through thousands of annotated games.  Contained in all those games is many practical and useful insights; I lack.   It’s not just enough to note that I can’t predict the winning play of an instructive game from Fisher and Capablanca.  The bigger point is that I don’t even understand the point of their play.

So this brings me to two points about playing through master level games  A) I need to continue to work through these kinds of games, since they clearly represent a measure of positional skill I do not have  and B)  I need to Look for Annotations and preferably instructive ones at that- to seek to understand  WHY they played as they did..  Strait up unexplained analysis can be miserably un-instructive.

Oh and C)  (I can’t count just not today!)… I need to make playing through annotations a permanent and repetitive learning experience.  I have been too guilty of just accepting that need to do them and putting them off.

Annotated Games are my Third revolution (and need to follow,)
·        tactical puzzles- started in August and still going on strong)
·        CC- specifically Turn based chess; started in Nov/Dec and has encouraged me to take analysis to new heights.

As I said, blogs are a personal commitment and I commit to working through annotations, at least, every 2-3 days.

I want to lastly add, that this is not necessarily about whole game annotations;   I have seen some great miniatures in several books.  What I’ve not done is take them seriously enough.  Until now.

CHESS LAW #the next one.   Regularly Looking through Annotations, for insights beyond your rating, allows you to leap beyond your current limitations, while solid efforts call for the constant practicing of what you already know.


  1. Blogging for me is along the same lines you point out. Public commitment or public standard as you point out is an added motivation. It's also an online journal of my journey of what works and what doesn't. I hope I don't come across as one who takes himself seriously with a handle such as Blunderprone... because I am more aware of my proneness to blunder and using these as learning opportunities.

    Annotatated games, I definitely need to get back to this. I started my blog by doing historic tournament studies and review select games I would post with some anecdotes of the players at that time. I did a series on London 1851, Hastings 1895, New York 1924 and Zurich 1953. If you note how I was climbing through the "periods" of chess, you are correct. It helped me get a feel for the "romantic age" the CLassical Age, The hypermodern and the neo-modern. I started lookiing at the games of Lone Pine 1975 but derailed.
    What do I recall from these studies? I recall that I have a really bad memory due to a GREAT time I had back in the 70's adn early 80's :)
    I need to constantly refresh my memory banks as I level off back to my floor when it comes to performance.
    Today, I combine the Chess Notes thing with databasing when I am reviewing an opening. I add to that pawn structure analysis AND THEN I play over master games ... typically unannotated unless its out of an opening book... to see if the post opening theme follows strategies I find in the pawn structure book ( given I tend to play closed positional games).
    I find myself looking for games ONLY in the repertoire I play. I get frustrated with reams and reams of Sicilian games when I really want CK.

    Thanks for reminding me to look for annotated games.

  2. I think its interesting, that, even when we're all on the same page (read through master Game), we still get different approaches to the subject. I think it was Reti, was it not, that said that if we are to improve in chess we must explore chess through each historical period; as the game evolved...
    on the other hand, I have had so many frustrated experiences trying to figure out why grandmasters choose X over Y. that my take on annotations is now entirely practical.

    I want an author that can really drive home a point from the play; and one that can explain the play (be it a whole game or a miniature) in such a way that I MIGHT be able to play the winners moves, without neccesarily memorizing the game.

    IMHO, that limits annotations quite a bite. and so far only a few books meet the requirement. One book is from Heisman and the other is from silman, so I'm also intriqued and would like to compare them as I hopefully try to learn chess from them.

    sometimes I think, too. that I need to face the reality that I'm really a Class D(E) chess player; and my depth of positional understanding is really Limited! and this reality of where I am , means that a simpler, less elegant training program is entirely justified.

  3. Jason

    Maybe you should start looking at the annotations with the simple way: what the move gains and how it threatens to the opponent.

    And be careful of studying too complex games (i.e. modern grandmasters). If you study the master games from 18th and 19th century you can understand all the parts of the game. Of course being D(E) player may mean that you have a low level of positional understanding as much as tactical one. Most often modern masters and grandmasters are playing really complex positions (except some of them). And you are right: you should be looking for the books that explained all the important moments very well. Do not be shy of buying (borrowing) the book for the low level players. It probably may help for the start. After that you can look for a more advanced one. These books pointed out by BP may be a very good choice (much better than downloading modern games of GMs and trying to understand what is going on). That's what I can recommend.

    BTW. I am an average player too - just B class player (retired from chess as I am too lazy to practice and study it systematically).

  4. Annotated games are some of the easiest chess training you can do. Play the move, read the prose, repeat. There are some really good authors out there and Dan Heisman has done an excellent job compiling good books for that purpose.

    To internalize what you know and keep it fresh, you need to play more. I looked at your USCF card, and you're still provisional. You're playing mostly "fast" games on with a time control of 15|10 or 30|0. You should be playing 65+ minute games at least. Your games are how you figure out what you're internalizing. That's why analyzing with a stronger player is so important. You will quickly find out the mistakes you made and you make note of the "I knew I was supposed to do this but I didn't" errors and correct them. Join a chess club that meets weekly and plays slow games. I played over 100 games of slow chess last year, including online and OTB.

    Good luck.

  5. SK, I do appreciate the advice. My OTB play is one of the biggest difficulties I face. I live a good ways away from an urban center and my tournament possibilities are limited. Thus my 'provisional rating' isn't likely to change very quickly at all. There's more to it; of course. but lets just say, I will try to do as much as possible.... and that chess improvement can be more illusive if beyond the struggle to find time to do serious OTB chess- there is also a long car drive to get there.

    in regards to you might notice that nearly all my recent activity is in turn-based chess. which is much slower than 15/10 or 30/0. in fact, in critical moments I've been finding myself spending 30 minutes or more on a single move. my activity on is now centered on Turn-based chess for this very reason!

    it is probably gotten a little unbalanced. I was just exploring that the other day- so expect a couple more 30|0 games this week.

    I couldn't agree more to your suggestion that I seek out a strong player to work through analysis issue. to that end, I've worked with Micheal Porcelli (who is rather active at to help. he's great! but sometimes we haven't been as regular as I had hoped.

    I find it interesting that you call annotations, the "easiest chess training". In fact, (and perhaps this is me) I find annotations, and playing over master games quite difficult. I spend effort at looking for the best move (just like I would with tactic puzzles), but the answers usually suprise me. Easier books, make MORE sense but are still tough. General gm games (even historical ones), and more advanced annotations- are clearly beyond me. Even heisman recommended annotations (for example, Capablancas chess endings by Chernov) are are beyond me.

    your handle seems familiar. and I'm sure I've seen a silent knight or so on, spreading good advice on the forums...since you know who I am - I invite you to drop a friend request at