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Q&A with Coach Heisman Jun 7, 2013

  • NM danheisman
  • | Jun 7, 2013
  • | 6725 views
  • | 17 comments

A few years ago at the US Amateur Team Championship East (USATE) I saw a gentleman who was age 93 playing for one of the teams. Apparently the story was that at age 90 he was advised to take up something mentally pro-active, the idea that those who engage in those activities are less likely to develop Alzheimer's, etc. His first rating was about 900 but he kept studying and playing and by age 93 his rating was up to 1300.

This story was related to someone who asked if it were physically possible for someone to improve after their mid-30's. As I have written several times, it's one thing to say that a grandmaster who becomes strong in his early teens will peak in his mid to late 20's. It's quite another thing to extrapolate and assume that no one, no matter how late they start, and how little they know, can't improve at a much older age. For grandmasters they are already near the peak of their knowledge, so as they age they get diminishing returns on their additional knowledge, while their brain decay, while small, starts to outpace that knowledge gain by small amounts as they get into their 30's. It starts to become more apparent in the late 30's and early 40's. Kasparov and I both retired from competitive play in our early 40's (don't think this is quite analogous but it sounds good Smile).

But if you are a complete beginner, or even someone who just never took the game seriously, unlike a GM you are nowhere near your possible maximum chess strength. So at any age once you start to play and study seriously, you can improve dramatically. That's not to say that if you start in your mid-30's you will become a GM, but if you are 1200 then, assuming you have the massive time needed and have the other requisite abilities, you can become quite a strong player, theoretically.

At the start of today's show I made the point that although the show is called "Q&A with Coach Heisman", questions about chess issues other than how to improve at chess are both welcome and make the show more interesting. To that effect I received two similar questions:

  • Who helped you the most in your chess career?" I answered Bob Schumsky, NM Rich Pariseau, NM Rich Lunenfeld, Expert Don Latzel, Expert Jerry Kolker, IM Donald Byrne, Steve Wexler, Ken Boehm, Jim Joachim, Lester Shelton, and Frank Gavlak. I left out Robin Buzby, but I should have included him. The latter part of that group were my chess buddies, who studied and went to tournaments with me.
  • "Who helped you most as a chess author?" My first publisher was Bobby Dudley of Chess Enterprises, here in Pennsylvania. I wrote Elements of Positional Evaluation in 1974 on a typewriter but it was not published til I tugged on Bobby's arm in 1990 (no, I did not need to twist it!). Happily since then it has sold out its first three editions and, after Bobby retired, the fourth edition was tripled in size and published by Russell Enterprises, which also published Looking for Trouble and Back to Basics: Tactics. Besides Russell Enterprises and Chess Enterprises, other publishers included Thinker's Press (Everyone's 2nd Chess Book), Everyman (A Guide to Chess Improvement), Chess Central (Traxler and Fried Liver/Lolli e-books) and Mongoose Press (The World's Most Instructive Amateur Game Book, The Improving Chess Thinker, and the 2nd edition of The Improving Annotator). At Chess Cafe, Russell Enterprises published Novice Nook, which was edited by Mark Donlan, who now is the publisher. I have to thank all my editors - without them my articles and books would not be as readable. A special call out to a non-chess editor: Richard Saad, who was our long-time tech editor at Intermetrics. Rich helped me write about 1,000,000 words for our proposals, and in the process made me a much better writer - thanks, Rich!
     I was asked about the World Championship venue controversy. I am certainly not the leading expert on this issue, but my understanding is that FIDE promised India it would be able to host the next World Championship event after losing out on a previous bid. That, of course, circumvents the normal bidding process and simultaneously gives home field advantage to Anand over Carlsen. Needless to say, the Carlsen camp was understandably upset about this turn of affairs. To say it's the first time and World Championship candidate was unhappy with FIDE would be about the furthest thing from the truth - if you list everyone who ever played for a FIDE championship that probably is a closer list to those that have been unhappy at one time or another...Smile.
     The most straightforward question was "Is it 'a NM'" or 'an NM'?" I think pronouncing the letter "N" sounds like "enn", so that's a vowel sound and thus "an NM" seems correct to me. I don't think too many would howl at the written version of "a NM" but I think using "an" is correct, especially when spoken.
     Someone asked if I needed more than a rating (eg a norm or a certain event win) to get my NM title. The answer is no - if you get the US Chess Federation ratings of Expert (2000 min), National Master (2200), or Senior Master (2400) by playing in 25+ games lifetime, then the associated title is permanent. For FIDE the titles of Candidate Master (CM; 2200) and FIDE Master (FM; 2300) are also rating driven. However, the most prestigious titles of IM (2400) and GM (2500) usually, but not always, require norms as well.
     This led to another question of whether the higher ratings now are only due to the superior quality of modern play due to computer help, better books, etc. The answer is that while this is definitely a factor, there is also definitely inflation as well. In the early 1980's FIDE raised the IM and GM norms from 2350 to 2400 and 2450 to 2500, respectively. IMHO, It should have been raised again once or twice more since then to reflect the same level of play and exclusiveness but, for what I believe are primarily political issues, this has not been done. The USCF Rating Committee keeps close tabs on inflation issues and it's happened several times that deflation or inflation has happened and adjustments were made (usually on the bonus point limit). But there's no doubt that ratings are somewhat inflated today. Some small examples: Dr. Leroy Dubeck is in his 70's and is still a master (2200+; not floored), yet when I started playing there was so much deflation that Leroy, then in his 30's, was only rated in the 2100's, as were most of the best players in Philadelphia. There was only one active master in Philadelphia; Donald Byrne, my coach, was in the high 2400's and in the Top 10 in the US. Today that would not get him into the Top 50. In 1969-1971 Spassky was World Champion with a rating of 2690. Today that would not put him in the Top 40! There's definitely some inflation but, yes, players are a little better today and one thing is for sure: players get better earlier due to access of computer tools (like on Chess.com! Smile) and lots of strong competition on the Internet, if you wish to find it.
     Someone asked me if he could get to be a strong player only playing 30 minute games on the internet. That depends on the definition of "strong player" but, on the whole, if you want to learn the critical thinking skills that help you become a strong over-the-board player, you need to play lots of longer time control games. Maybe someday if all games are 30 minutes or less that might not be as important but today that's still not so. Sure, playing a ton of 30 minute games is better than not playing at all - it can be greatly helpful - but to get titles at important tournaments played at 40/2 and similar slow time controls, learning critical thinking skills is still required. Someone else on the channel added that just internet games don't get you the same experience as OTB; for example, it's more difficult to review games with your opponents and you certainly can't go out to lunch with them and discuss chess.
    Another viewer asked, "What are the conditions for a Lucena"? (IMHO certainly not important knowledge for becoming a good player!). I replied that the rough way to tell a Philidor from a Lucena was that it had to be K&R&P vs. K&R and if the defending king was able to get in front of the pawn, then it heads toward Philidor (a draw), while if it can't and the offensive king (the one with the pawn) can get in front while the offensive rook "cuts off" the defending king by one rank then, if the pawn is sufficiently advanced, that gets toward Lucena (a win). I also cited the "Rule of 5" I learned from FM Matt Bengtson: If the rank of the pawn plus the number of ranks the defending king  is cut off from the pawns file equals more than 5, then it's likely a win. If it's 5 or less (less than 5? - could be) then it's likely a draw. Of course, there are many other factors, but this is a good rough one. As I mentioned earlier, this type of knowledge, while vaguely helpful, is not much use to you until you get to be a very strong player. I cited GM Soltis in Studying Chess Made Easy where he says to study general endgames, not specific ones like Philidor and Lucena. He suggests that players rated under 2000 probably don't need to know more than 20 specific endgames (like K&Q vs K, K&R vs R, K&P vs K) and I concur.
     A 1300 asked what he could do to improve. I said that without knowing why he is 1300 I don't know, but almost assuredly he would primarily benefit from improving The Three Show Stoppers. I also said that pretty much everyone under 1700 plays "Hope Chess" (makes moves without consistently checking to see if the opponent can reply with a check, capture, or threat that can be safely met on the following move; instead they wait and see if the opponent makes such a threat and then figure out if it can be met, hoping it can - but sometimes it can't); until you do, a barrier of roughly 1700 will remain...That article on Hope Chess was the first one I ever wrote for Chess Cafe and it eventually led to me being asked to write the Novice Nook column, a request for which I am forever grateful.
     A viewer asked me about being nervous going into a tournament. We discussed this a while but I ended with Don't be worried about losing a game; be concerned about losing a game and not learning anything.
     BTW, if you missed it, I recently posted a blog I'll Never Forget the Brilliant NM Alan Baisley. I think you might find it interesting...
     At one point on the show my computer seemed to freeze; it was probably only the battery on my wireless mouse going bad but to be safe I rebooted the computer and put in a new battery. This caused about a 7-minute delay in the middle of the show - for that I apologize but I did run the show over to give everyone the full 90 minutes. Unfortunately the first 30 minutes was lost for the show recording, so you can only see the last hour on replay. [PS: Apparently it was somehow saved; see NoRematch's comment below]

Comments


  • 10 months ago

    carvilesp5

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  • 10 months ago

    carvilesp5

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  • 15 months ago

    NM danheisman

    Zezpwn44 - Thanks for your question. Last I heard, USCF titles are permanent, like FIDE titles (GM, IM, etc).  I have been told that on multiple occasions by USCF officials (I guess the latest officials could change that policy, but not that I am aware) and once received it in writing, in case anyone wanted to see proof. I think you are confusing the "Life Master" title, which requires a number of games over 2200, with the "NM" title, which requires an established (25+ games) rating over 2200 posted on any official rating list. I have my NM certificate even though I retired before I could play enough games to qualify for a Life Master title.

    Also, your USCF rating class (which is based on your current rating) is different than your earned title: For example, if you have been rated over 2200 but are floored at a lower level and drop below 2200, then you can play in U2200 (expert) sections of tournaments and still retain your NM title; similarly, in FIDE GMs don't lose their title just because they get older and possibly are no longer of GM strength. Hope this helps clarify.

  • 15 months ago

    zezpwn44

    Wait, the expert title is permanant? I have always heard that once you drop below 2000, you lose your expert title.

    I thought you needed 250 lifetime games above 2200 to get you "National Master Cetificate" as well.

  • 15 months ago

    NM danheisman

    SzajaG - For most young, low-rated kids the general advice is never to resign against their peers, who could easily stalemate them at the very end.  However, that assumes they want to maximize their score and not their enjoyment or learning. Most young kids don't want to resign anyway, so that suggestion works (but if they do, they should not be pressured into playing if they wish to resign). For adults wishing to get better and playing more advanced opposition, my resignation suggestions are much different (see my Everyone's Second Chess Book), but with the same goal of maximizing fun and learning. In any case, I use the advice "When in doubt, don't resign"

  • 15 months ago

    szajaG

    Could you comment on whether it is helpful in eliminating blunders to simply resign when a blunder, i.e. dropping a piece, is  committed? I am asking about players under 1300 rating. I am asking in regards to my daughter who is almost 11 and is learning chess.

    Thanks...szaja gottlieb

  • 15 months ago

    tliu1222

    I've played for 4 years and only am 1000 USCF

  • 15 months ago

    Wappinschaw

    Interesting to hear about the 93 year old player,to get to 1300 rating,when you start at 90 is amazing!,fair play to that man!!

  • 15 months ago

    oleppedersen

    Completely agree with Dan when it comes to the age question! I am 44, and only started taking chess seriously about six months ago; and I am certain I can improve for the next five or six years only because there are such huge gaps in my knowledge, that I can fill if I take the time and effort. A player at my local club is now in his late 60-ies, and until very recently I would say he was still improving in his play. I may not end up the 2000+ player I could have been if I had taken chess seriously at 12 instead of packing it in completely for 25 whole years, but I will have a lot of joy and definitely play better and better chess for years to come. Not least thanks to Dan's good advice in his columns and books.

  • 15 months ago

    NM NoRematch

    It looks like the first part of the show got saved too:

         Live Show [Procaster] Fri Jun 7   (21:32)   Smile

  • 15 months ago

    PedoneMedio

    As the patzer I am, I've seen both the Lucena and Philidor positions.

    I don't know them "by heart" (that's what K.Muller form chesscafe's endgame column wants, for all "basic" endgames...), and I might misplay them in an actual game, especially if I don't have enough time to rethink them over and/or my opponent doesn't help me by using the most common (best?) way to play in those kind of positions.

    Nevertheless I think that even for me it already proved very useful in a number of occasions the knowledge I got of the Lucena's tricks of cutting the opponent's King that one more file away and "building the bridge", and of the Philidor's trick on how to expliot an advancing King-and-Pawn-duo's coordination difficulties (or limited mobility).

    I can't wait for the next Q&A, when the show is supposed be open for all members: thanks for your helpful insight on chess in general and on chess improvement in particular!

  • 15 months ago

    anassAlekhine

    Thank you Coach,I really enjoyed your show yesterday, and for the answer to my question. have a nice day!

  • 15 months ago

    mark422

    Thanks Coach Heisman! Great tip in regards to getting over "Hope Chess"! I'm striving to be a National Master (I signed up for USCF late April of this year) and am still in the provisional rating stage. I've played in tourneys with 2100+ and the lowest 1300+ (first win!) and feel I can compete with 1400+. I'm trying to see if I can become a filler to get a "real" rating since the funds aren't there yet. I'm not sure if you could assist with pointing out what would help with analysis and evaluation (as well as what can help to make one patiently ponder before touching a piece?)

    Thanks in advance.

  • 15 months ago

    NM danheisman

    PowerVacuum - Thanks for your comment. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I respect yours. However, hopefully you will allow me to disagree. As a full-time instructor since 1996, I see class players almost every day who lose not because of lack of knowledge but because of lack of analysis and evaluation skills. The ratio of games lost due to these compared to lack of knowledge is relatively high. It seems I discuss this at length each show, since it is an important topic. I mentioned how I lost a simple Philidor R vs R&P draw (the kind I teach now to my more advanced students) when I was 2100. The point is that I got to 2100, the upper 1% of USCF ratings at that time, without that type of knowledge, which only helps in very specific positions. I was that strong because I was good at analysis and evaluation - many players with far more knowledge than myself were much weaker. Knowledge is very helpful in chess, but just picking up knowledge without the analysis and evaluation skills gets diminishing returns, IMHO.

  • 15 months ago

    tiltsa

    [COMMENT DELETED]
  • 15 months ago

    Eternal_Patzer

    @PowerVacuum - It's great to know how to play the Lucena position, but as a practical matter -- How many times have you gotten a Lucena position in an actual game?  How many actual points has winning Lucena positions contributed to your rating?  

  • 15 months ago

    PowerVacuum

    Regarding the Lucena, you said, "IMHO certainly not important knowledge for becoming a good player!" Are you sure that wasn't a misprint? I should say it IS pretty important!

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