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These were answered by USCF Life Master Roger Poehlman
1) What got you interested in the game of chess?
My dad taught me how to play when I was about 8 years old (I was born in 1969), and I got a book on the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match and some other books at a local game store that had chess tables out front. Old men would come and play, and you could sit down as long as you didn't lose. I would call "risers" on games but at first they often wouldn't let me play since I was just a kid. But after I beat some of them I earned their respect. I had no idea there were chess tournaments or ratings or anything like that--I just read chess books and played with the old men. Someone suggested I play in some scholastic tournaments, and within a year I was one of the top players in the state from my age group. I became a National Master at the age of 16.
2) What’s your opinion about the rating system? Does it accurately place players in their rank?
Not at first--in my case I was so nervous I got a very low rating. But the system is self-correcting so if you get a undeservedly low rating, you can gain points more quickly. For active tournament players, I think the rating system is a very accurate representation of their skill.
3) What are 5 to 8 easy things any player master or amateur a like can do to improve their game?
Stop leaving pieces hanging! Sure, you want to have a knowledge of opening principles (play to control the center, move each piece once--making as few pawn moves as possible, castle early on the safest side) and endgame play (know how to checkmate with King and Queen, push passed pawns). But I win the vast majority of my games by making sensible opening moves, capturing something that's left hanging, and then just trading down to an endgame from I win with my extra piece or pawn. For players trying to move up to the 1600-2000 level, it is important to study complete games by strong players (masters and up) that come from the openings that you play. And tactics of course.
4) What’s the best way to learn tactics and then put it use?
By tactics we mean forcing sequences of moves that lead to an advantage, usually the win of material or checkmate: forks, pins, back rank mates, etc. I like books like "1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations" (by Fred Reinfeld) which have 6 diagrams per page and there is a winning continuation. I have my students write down the sequence of moves that they think will lead to a win, and then once the page is complete, compare their written answers to the solution. Most of the solutions will be checks and/or captures, and so their minds get trained to consider these kinds of moves first. Often the first key move by itself looks awful--it might give away a bishop for a mere pawn, but it sets up a strong follow-up move that will win back the sacrificed material with interest.
5) What’s the difference between old fashioned chess and modern chess?
If you mean the difference between the "classical school" and the "modern school" this was a debate (in the 1920's-1940's) about whether it was strategically correct to allow your opponent to occupy the center with pawns early in the game in the hopes to attack those pawns.
But chess has changed much over the years: in the 18th and 19th Century the top players were mostly rich aristocrats (who could read chess books and pamphlets and had time to study). When the Russian Revolution happened in 1917, the Soviet Union wanted to prove to the world that their system was the best, and one way to do this was through the medium of chess. They had training areas in each town, run by a local master, who would recommend that his most promising students get grandmaster training. All this was paid for by the government. So after WW2 the US team of famous tournament players challenged a team of Russians who were virtually unknown at the time, and the Americans were demolished. Until the Fischer era, there was one Russian world champion after another.
6) Which Grandmasters game have you used the most to develop as a player?
I've concentrated on the games of Anatoly Karpov and admire his ability to maintain the initiative. One of his chess heroes was Capablanca, so I've played over many of his games as well. Edmar Mednis is an author of many excellent endgame books and I appreciate his refreshing honesty and emphasis on practical concepts.
7) In your opinion who is the least appreciated master? And what change to the game did they bring?
Howard Staunton is probably best known as the player who ducked Paul Morphy (claiming being busy with an editing project), but he organized the first international chess tournament in London in 1851, bringing chess players around the world together to try to determine a "World Chess Champion". Chessplayers have been playing in tournaments ever since. The shape of the pieces used in tournament chess today is called the "Staunton design" which he standarized.
8) What helps more to teach you chess, the computer or playing against humans? And what do you gain or lose from each one?
The tactical problems I assign my students could be solved in a few seconds by strong computer programs. I use computers, or "engines" as professional players call them, to find tactical opportunities I may have missed in my games with humans. But strategically they are not very competent--especially in positions were the center is blocked. If heavy maneuvering is required to engineer a strategic breakthough, the computer will just aimlessly shuffle pieces around in a comical way. But once the position opens up and tactics predominate, the computer will find all the tactics, and quickly!
So playing humans teaches you far more and improves your play, but the computer will "proofread" your tactics.
9) Which grandmaster has had the greatest impact on openings, and every other aspect alike to the game of chess?
Many players have introduced new opening ideas, but Alexandar Matanovic, the editor of the "Encyclopedia of Chess Openings" (ECO), invented a reference system in the 1980's that players still use today which continues to grow and evolve as new opening lines are discovered.
10) What methods do the Grandmasters or yourself use to focus through out the year? How can one master these techniques?
At this point I feel like I'm treading water while I watch the next generation of up-and-coming junior players moving up the ranks. When I was that age I had a 10-year-old chess book and a magnetic pokcet set and I would play over the moves.
But now these "kids" use computer databases to click through a dozen games with a 2600-rated engine running in the background to check for tactical opportunities. So it's no wonder that we are seeing young players getting the master's title at younger and younger ages, even as young as ten.
11) What steps does a master do to think so far ahead of each move?
We don't think that far ahead; mostly I can "see" about two or three moves ahead and beyond that it gets fuzzy. I have some general strategic goals that are based on the position. Before I move I try to examine all the possible checks and captures that I and my opponent can do, and if there's nothing dramatic either of us can do then I'll play a move to improve my position or further a strategic goal.
A. Do you know anyone locally around Contra Costa that can help me with another interview?
You might consider going to a chess club and asking some questions and see who wants to talk. The Berkeley Chess Club meets Friday nights in Berkeley. Some of the strong young junior players would probably talk your ear off!
B. What is the easiest way to absorb a chess lesson and use it effectively?
Best way is to write down questions and do the best job you can annotating a game you've played, then show that to the teacher. Write down your thoughts in as much detail as possible and that way the teacher can help you see where you're on the right track and where you are in error.
C. Were can one find a chess evaluator to improve as an amateur player?
The best way is (after a tournament game) to always ask your opponent if he'd like to go over the game afterwards. You opponent is the #1 expert in the world on the game you just played, so make use of that!
Roger Poehlman is a USCF Life Master. Not a grandmaster but he seems like a grand master. Nice interview!
thats what my teacher told me he's Rogers friend
Nice article and interesting responses, thanks for posting
Nicely done article. Most of what he said is in line with everything I've always heard or read. I will point out that the 'Staunton' set design was only endorsed by Staunton. I believe it was originally a Nathaniel Cook design, and Jaques of London cut a deal with Staunton to endorse it. Many say it's probably the first example of a 'sports' endorsement. If anything, the set should be called 'The Cook Set'.
11c. Good question, good reply
We don't think that far ahead; mostly I can "see" about two or three moves ahead and beyond that it gets fuzzy. I have some general strategic goals that are based on the position. Before I move I try to examine all the possible checks and captures that I and my opponent can do, and if there's nothing dramatic either of us can do then I'll play a move to improve my position or further a strategic goal.-------------------------
That surprises me.
From "Studying Chess Made Easy" by Andrew Soltis:
"Every student hears tall tales of grandmasters who can look 10, 15 or 20 moves into the future. A GM annotating one of his games may claim he visualized the winning ending while he was still in the early middlegame. Or when he was in the late opening. Or when he was having breakfast that morning. You should be skeptical about the way GMs embellish. But what is more important is knowing that you don't have to look far in your own games: Most of the time you can find a good move - if not the best move - with a low level of calculation. How low? Two and a half moves into the future. "
From same book:
"The greatest myth of all is that the easiest way to play better chess is to learn the 'proper way to think.' Masters claim they discovered the right way. They describe it in books with titles like How to Think in Chess and Think Like a Grandmaster. But the truth is quite different: It's better to learn how to spot the good and bad moves without thinking."
well i personally guess its not impossible to see the winning ending in early middle game.
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