We have been a part of chess.com for the past two and a half years writing opening columns. Today we are making a switch to help you guys by answering your questions. We have personally read some of IM Jeremy Silman's columns and we should say we were quite impressed with the standard he has set. We will try our best to maintain the level of answers up and at the same time add in our perspectives in our replies. Both me (Magesh) and Arun will be very happy to share our ideas and take up this new job.
Seeking is the first step to finding a solution. Simply put, you will not find something until you start looking for it! By sending in your questions you are not only clarifying your thoughts, but helping several other chess enthusiasts enhance their chess understanding as well. Most important things required to succeed in chess or life are very simple, and logical.
We are very happy again to start this new branch of columns and communicate with our readers. Cheers!
Our first question today--
I am generally pretty conservative in my opening choice, I mainly stick to classical lines. However, I have several friends of the same skill level (1800's) that from time to time pull out 'surprise' variations of sorts, and often they end up in better positions, even if with perfect play from their opponent they would be worse off. I have one friend who has played the Halloween gambit and 5. c4? in the Ruy Lopez, Morphy and ended up absolutely fine in both games. My question is, do you think these players are wasting their time learning surprise lines, or do you think it is helpful to know some of these strange openings to use once in a while?
Surprise openings are very much an essential part of one's opening preparation. Playing a game of chess is like being in a one-on-one combat, the more extra and specialized weapons you have, the better chance you have at scoring over your opponent. In my personal experience one might not win plenty of games right out of the opening because of their surprise, but the openings would actually have gained some critical time on the clock which in turn translates into time trouble for the opponent towards the end. Surprises will also lead to good middle game positions mostly like you have mentioned, since your opponent would not be aware of the exact proceedings and the chances are, you are going to find yourself with a very comfortable position out of the opening. If you are able to stay 15 or 20 minutes above your opponent out of the opening with a comfortable position, then I would say you are already successful with your opening.
Given all that, there is always a fine line to balance. Take the example of one-on-one combat in a field. A person does not know how to pull the trigger, but is putting all his effort into getting the best gun available on the market. This would be no use, isn't it? So my clear advice would be that you make sure you are always working on your basics, such as middle game planning, endgame calculation, basic opening preparation, analytical skills, tactical skills and several more such as surprise openings. There is no point is spending hours in trying to get an advantage out of the opening if you have no clue how to convert that advantage and make real use of it!
I am a low ranked club player (British Chess Fed 109) A fellow patzer at my club has agreed to spend some time with me in the close season training. We plan on a once a week 1 or 2 hour session. Have you any tips on how we could get the best out of this time.
Training games are one of the best ways to improve your game. The fact that you are playing in itself keeps you sharp. Every lecture that you sit through and every class that you attend can only give you an idea about what is to be done, but nothing really matches real-life experience. This is precisely the reason why being active is very helpful. Unfortunately real life tournaments come with some limitations-- for example that you cannot try out new ideas or just focus on your problems or even ask you opponent to play a particular opening.
The first thing I would suggest as a part of your training is to fix a goal. This helps tremendously since there are so many minute things that can change the result drastically in chess. Your playing continuously is going to help a lot, but playing to improve on specific weakness would be even better. At your rating level, I would suggest the main thing at this level is to focus on not losing free material. Try to have an incentive or punishment system to motivate you to drop less and less pieces and at the same time pick everything your opponent gives you for free.
The significance of a strategic outpost, a weak pawn or a powerful attacking plan will all be in total vain if one cannot maintain material equilibrium. If you keep going down in material then none of your plans will work since your opponent will have more pieces to counter your ideas. Focus on this heavily for the first few months and then slowly move on to more difficult strategic concepts.
Analysis should always follow training games. There is no point playing continuously if you do not understand where you are going wrong. Just try and analyze every single game and see where you are in terms of your goal. This will be very important in improving your strength as well as evaluating your progress.
Reading books and solving tactical positions together with your working partner will also be a good idea. When you try to work on a position with someone else, there is always a small competitive impulse that will make you perform better. Also, working together makes things much more exciting instead of a dull training session all alone. You are lucky you found someone with similar interest and similar strength, use it well!
I'm a player who started to play chess late - when I was 20 (37 now). I have had long periods where I have not been active, but the last two years I have played many rated games. I have a norwegian rating of 1600, and got my initial FIDE rating of 2083 january 2011. Why this huge gap between ratings I don't have a good answer for, but I think it has something to do with when playing friends at my club I lack the killer instinct.
Do you have any advice of how to develop said instinct when playing chess?
Starting Chess at 20 these days is indeed late, but only if you are trying to become a world champion. The beautiful game of chess fortunately never has an expiration, and in my opinion 'Once a chess player, always a chess player.' There are several reasons why a player's rating varies from one federation to another.
Firstly, there is a possibility that you are not playing enough FIDE tournaments. It is common sometimes for a small tournament to be counted for local rating but not FIDE. The first thing to make sure is if you did play in enough FIDE or local tournaments to make sure your rating reflects your actual strength rather than your form in any one tournament.
The second reason is that some local ratings are inflated relative to others. For example USCF (United States Chess Federation) tends to be 75-100 points above the regular FIDE rating. This is because the fluctuation associated with a win or loss is much bigger with the USCF ratings.
If your rating is inconsistent given all corrections in your local tournament and FIDE events, then it is very much possible that you are not happy with the conditions of the playing venue (if you are playing in the same club every week) or the familiarity with your friends like you suggested. Too much comfort while playing can also be dangerous. It is important for you to understand that your friend sitting right across the board is your enemy until the game is done.
Healthy competition is not a bad thing. The killer instinct that runs inside is just an attitude. Repeatedly telling yourself the purpose of a tournament or a particular game will generally keep your mind in place. Studying your losses will generally help set your attitude right. Generally, your losses will come with some kind of frustration or anger which can be manifested in the right way during your next game. The best part for you is that you have already managed to find the problem, it is that much easier to find a solution now.