Q&A with Coach Heisman Aug 3, 2012

Q&A with Coach Heisman Aug 3, 2012‎

NM danheisman
13 | Other

Hi! Glad to be able to communicate with the chess.com members! Tonight was our first show, and after each I will be providing a quick summary, including the best question or two and the most pertinent answers.

Since this our first summary, it might be good to briefly explain the logistics of the show: Every two weeks I go live on chess.com TV and the viewers can ask “live” questions to me thru chess.com. Judging from the first show, these questions come hot and heavy, so I am limiting the questions to one per viewer. Therefore, if your question is taken on the show, please do not ask another unless I announce that everyone can. Since the questions scroll fairly quickly, it is not possible for me to see or answer all of them, so I try to pick ones from different viewers about various relevant topics. But this is a very wide set of issues, which is good! Questions can be about anything: from chess history, to computers, to how to analyze, the role of books and videos and other tools, to how to get better (plenty of those!).

As always, I got several questions about the openings. There is a big difference between memorizing openings and learning how to play openings well. In my 16 year experience as a full-time chess instructor, almost every time an inexperienced student complained they need to know openings better, investigation revealed that they are not following opening principles, i.e., moving the same pieces repeatedly or erroneously playing the opening like the middlegame. The opening is the only part of the game sure to occur every time you play; if you follow the main goal of safely, effectively, and efficiently activating all your pieces, and learn about important concepts like break moves, that is surely more effective than learning another line in the Caro-Kann. I conjectured that a 1400 player taking a pill allowing memorization of MCO-15 would know ~1,000 times as much as the average 1600 player, but would still be an underdog in a match because, as soon as they got out of “book”, the 1400 would revert to his old self. Maybe in the long run he could play 1450 strength with all that knowledge, but not likely much more.

A question came up about playing computers and I said "If your goal is to get good against computers, play computers; if your goal is to play humans, play humans." I gave an example of a game Howard Stern played against a computer rated about 1650 FIDE/USCF. The computer was programmed to play safely for 4 ply (2 moves by both players). They reached this position with the computer (Black) to play:

In this position any beginner would move his king closer to the pawns, but the computer played 1...Kg7?? It was not until Howard moved his king close enough to the pawns that the computer started to bring its king over to defend the queenside, but Howard won easily. This crazy example shows two things:

  1. If you can play perfectly safely for two moves (don't lose material/checkmate and can win material/checkmate) that you can play 1650 "FIDE" chess even if you know nothing about strategy, openings, endgames, or principles, and
  2. Computers that are programmed to play badly don't play much like humans with the same ratings. So while it's much better to play computers than not at all, if you want to get good against humans, practice against them. Chess.com has over 5,000,000 members, so there's plenty of humans to play! Smile

One of the final questions asked about meeting Bobby Fischer. Despite the fact that my college coach (Donald Byrne) was a famous student of Bobby Fischer’s coach (John Collins) and lost the “Game of the Century” to Bobby, our paths never crossed. I spectated the first two US Championships that Fischer did not play (1968-1969), and then I traveled all the way to Skopje Yugoslavia in 1972, which became the first Chess Olympiad where Fischer chose not to represent the US! That’s more than bad luck. So, despite working at both Kasparov-Deep Blue matches and running into Garry occasionally (not that he knows me…), Bobby remained elusive to the end…

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