Ideas on Training Part 2

Ideas on Training Part 2‎

WIM energia
22 | Strategy

The past article generated many positive responses and seemed to be helpful for the readers to better understand the training process for achieving better results in chess. That is why I would like to continue upon the previous topic, despite the start of the US Championship, predictions to which I was dying to make. The last article featured the importance of having a good coach to guide a chess player with a developed method to reach high results. Today, I would like to talk about general process and training schedule. Every player or coach has his/her own ideas about how to train correctly, what is the quickest, most efficient way of improvement: there is no universal way of getting where you want to get but there is some common ground that all the methods rely on. And this article will try to address some of the ideas that are the building blocks of this common ground.

Every stage of chess mastery requires different methods of training. Initially, the so called “blunder barrier” has to be overcome, this may take a couple of years. To overcome it means that your chess game will be free of one- and two-move blunders. This is done through intense practice, which is why initially the training should be divided in the ratio of 80-20, where 80 percent are tournament and training games and 20 percent is learning. If you are in the “blunder barrier” stage and trying to learn the concept of domination on light squares when the opponent does not have a light-squared bishop, you are shooting too high. Of course, if your goal is to study chess as a theoretical game and not to play it then any material will be good. But if one’s goal is set to improve one's practical strength then getting rid of blunders should be the main focus at first. The other 20 percent should be dedicated to basic knowledge of opening concepts, endgames and solving tactics. With practice one does not have to mechanically and systematically look for the opponent’s threats and simple tactics, the detection mechanism will come automatically. Once, this element gets such a mastery that one does not have to think about it a player can then concentrate on the finer elements of chess. During this stage playing games and writing down your candidate moves will ensure that at every move you think about different possibilities. One should concentrate on following general strategical principles and on active play too, since initiative in modern chess is as important as conservative principles. With the internet it is easy to get chess practice without leaving your study room thus one can get through this period of learning in rather little time. So, the training would look like a game or two per session, preferably with slow time control, solving some tactics, and looking at typical endgame positions.

There is a great book in Russian written by V. Chekhov and V. Komliakov called “A Program of Preparation Chess Players with first to candidate masters rank” (translation from Russian), that I will use here as a reference. First rank translates to about a 1900 rating, candidate master to 2200. Training at this level requires completely different methods and the authors pinpoint this. First of all, Chekohov outlines the importance of having an algorithm in searching moves. But before one can develop any algorithm the chess player has to learn about technical elements in chess (the authors divide it into two categories): position evaluation, variations calculation, planning and prophylaxis. I guess that prophylaxis is there on the list because Chekhov used to be a student of the famous Mark Dvoretsky who made the concept of prophylaxis especially important. I would like to give an example of how to go through the game only paying attention to positional evaluations. I did not do this training previously but these days I pay more attention to this element and think that it is important to develop a feel for the position. There are many elements that one can look at when evaluating the position. Every coach has his own method of teaching but the elements are usually: king position, activity, pawn structure etc. One way you can train is to take a game; as you go through it try to evaluate the positions periodically, then put it on a computer engine and see how your evaluation differs from the computer’s. Of course, sometimes the computer gives incorrect evaluations and it is better to have some stronger player who can evaluate it too but generally it would be a good exercise to perform to improve on this strategical element.

The authors of the above-mentioned book dedicate a big section on algorithm of searching the move. Kotov was the one who introduced the concept of “tree of the variations”, where for every move you identify candidate moves for yourself and then your opponent and calculate all of it. Dvoretsky introduced more refined method where you calculate a minimum amount of variations and rely more on positional evaluations. Nunn in his system of calculations introduced the concept of lining up the candidates moves, prioritizing them to make the calculations more organized. It is an interesting thought that Bareev expressed: “In big chess for a long time no one already goes through variations by simply calculating all the candidate moves. Strong chess players right away see the main line in any complicated position and strictly follow that main line.” This makes sense if we look at the analysis of the games by strong players in post mortem. Usually, one will indicate some long line he calculated and the other will say he looked at it too as a main line and the line can go as far as 8 moves let’s say. To me it seems rather magical how the players can identify one main line when on every move there are so many choices and candidate moves. This comes with practice and experience. This method was coined by S.Arkhipov as a “tunnel method”, it is very effective and I recommend building your method of finding the moves based on it. In every position identify candidate moves and calculate only the one that you think is the most critical one, then find the best defense by your opponent and look only at his move and then the same for your move. If the final evaluation does not satisfy you then you can return to the previous move and try to find an improvement. The difference between strong players and the ones that are improving is that strong players will know that the line they are following is the strongest line, while the other category of chess players can only guess that this might be the strongest line. The importance of the method is to have a disciplined thought process and to train and perfect it. Let us try to see how it works in practice.

It is not easy to identify the best moves in the position. It requires the correct evaluation and having the right ideas but you should limit yourself to two, at most three, moves when trying to calculate the position. Usually, in a real game there is a mixture of thought process that involves both calculation as done in the second example and positional evaluation as in the first game. There is almost never a game that one can play relying only on positional evaluations or following basic principles. On the contrary, in training one can isolate positional play and calculation to train one at a time. Use complicated/tactical positions to hone your calculation skills and purely positional, simple positions to develop your evaluation skills.

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