Tuesday, June 19, 2007


In advance of a more complete review of Daniel King's Power Play 2/3 DVDs, I'd like to express (or maybe, re-express) an opinion of mine on selecting study material.

Obviously, the biggest payoff for improving your chess strength is to focus on your weakest area or areas... the facets of your game that are costing you the most points. For most of us that is probably playing "real chess" and tactics. For some people it may be the endgame, or maybe it's playing reasonable opening moves (less likely). However, I think there are two caveats to this approach:

1. This approach ignores synergy between different areas of chess knowledge. A little bit of positional understanding (a la Silman, Nimzovich and Kmoch), endgame knowledge, and basic opening principles goes a long way. You may understand that a certain opening move is bad because it creates an understandable pawn weakness; a tactical threat may only be parried if the opponent allows you to have the two bishops; you may be able to tactically sacrifice the exchange to force a winning endgame. I can't tell you how many master games I've played over where a kingside attack is converted to an endgame advantage.

2. You may not realize what some of your weaknesses are unless a stronger player looks over your games. Fritz can spot the more glaring tactical boo-boos but it can't tell you that you habitually ignore the center, routinely overlook attacking possibilities, or commit cardinal sins in your rook endgames that "every Russian schoolboy knows about".

One example of point two : Only after re-reading My System, did I really come to terms with how little I appreciated the center. I mean, I've known for a quarter of a century that it was important, and I would think about the center in vague terms as I played, but it wasn't often that I would think about it concretely (e.g. "If I trade off the Nc3, I weaken White's control of d5 and can push d7-d5"). Now this is becoming more natural. There are fewer instances where Fritz looks over a blitz game and says, "dumbass, your opponent played a weak move and you should've pushed d5, der!" The games I'm playing over from the 1920s are constantly harping about the center. In the Daniel King DVDs, he's constantly pointing out that such-and-such an attack was only possible because the center was under control, and so on. It's like in the movie "They Live", where I now have these special glasses that allow me to see (or, more accurately, pay attention) to things I was oblivious to before.

The thing is, I figured this out the hard way. If you can, take advantage of stronger players at the club, or lessons if you can afford them, to periodically check if you have hidden weaknesses you were unaware of.

Returning to the subject of synergy: I'm sure I had a lot of losses that I wrote off as "tactical blunders" or "mishandling the opening" where central control was the main underlying factor. Maybe it was the tactic that ultimately cost me the game, but it was exacerbated by the difficult position I got into because I didn't act in the center when I should have. So, while studying tactics may be the most important area for most club players to work on, a little bit of work put into other aspects of chess can have disproportionately large payoffs.

This is one reason I'm enjoying studying master games: I'm working on spotting tactics and visualizing variations, but I'm also getting small doses of opening ideas, strategic principles, execution of attacks, and endgame technique. In particular, I think that once you're familiar with the basics of chess strategy that you're better off playing over master games than buying more and more books on chess strategy.


wang said...

Funny that you mention the center in this post. I started messing around with the Torre attack in a few blitz games and I noticed how easy it was to get an eventual e3-34 push in against most of my opponents. A swift and violent kingside attack usually followed after said push. What is sad is that it took me to play a d4 opening as white to appreciate the center more myself (even something as basic as an e4 push) when I have been playing e4 for seven years now!

Good post by the way.

Grandpatzer said...

I know. I also talked about the center here. You learn early on that if White gets to play d4 in an e4 opening, or vice versa, that that's generally a success, but tend to overlook it in practice.

Actually, it's playing on the black side that makes me more aware of the power of these moves for White. As black against 1.d4, I'm always having to watch out for the e4 push and/or for the N hopping into e5...white's play seems so easy in these d4 openings.