Questions by the Mysterious NNs

Questions by the Mysterious NNs

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NN asked (he’s a reader but I left his name out since I took some liberties with his question):

I would like your opinion on how to study the middlegame? At the moment I rise at 5AM, eat a 4,000 calorie breakfast, do training tactics with daily puzzles, study the book KILLER CHESS TACTICS, and go over strategy with cutting edge software. There’s also intense Planning and Assessment training as well, and I’m using the method of pattern recognition going through games and deep analysis. By Noon I power down an 8,000 calorie lunch, run ten miles up a mountain and 10 miles back, take a sauna, and zip through several endgame books. After this, 3 hours of weight training follows, and then a 10,000 calorie dinner. I rest a bit and look over a few math problems, and then I do a couple hours of opening study before going to bed and watching various chess tapes. So, am I on the right track?

Dear NN:

Okay, I must admit that this question exhausted me. One read-through and I fell into a fitful sleep. But when I woke, I found that the trauma wasn’t completely healed, so I downed 2 pints of Haagen Dazs ice-cream (pistachio and cookies & cream). Now I’m stoned out of my mind on sugar. Thanks a lot!

I think your real question should be, “How come I’m having trouble meeting women?” But since you made it clear that middlegame study was what you wanted, I’ll abide by it.

Isn’t all that training a bit frenetic? Doesn’t it wipe you out? Are you actually having fun doing that? Don’t get me wrong: you’ll learn a lot by looking at all that stuff. But I feel you’re mixing too many things at once. Doing a few tactical problems a day is always fun, relaxing, and sharpens the mind. But I would recommend a simpler, more to the point, calmer, program for yourself. Here’s how a real chess pro studies the middlegame:

* Rise at Noon (occasionally at 1 or even 2).

* Drag yourself to your computer and look at the latest chess news while eating breakfast with a big mug of coffee covered in whipped cream.

* Take a short nap.

* Wake up and exercise! This is a very important part of chess training, and the pro makes a point of walking the 3 blocks to the local market to buy food – he also attempts to start conversations with various female shoppers. This multi-tasking training (i.e., reaching for groceries while chatting up a young lady) will prove to be very useful in your chess studies.

* Take a cab home (no reason to overdo the exercise).

* Having decided that today you’ll study the isolated d-pawn, you fire up your ChessBase along with your 4.5 million game database. You set up a position search for the iso while also only allowing games that feature players with ratings over 2500. Then you let the ChessBase magic begin. Thousands of games turn up and you begin to go through every one. Clicking your way with one hand through a few games, you reach for that pie you picked up at the market and start shoveling it into your mouth with the other hand. You build up a cadence: 80 quick clicks … forkful of pie into mouth … 80 quick clicks, forkful of pie into mouth. This goes on and on for a few hours until all the games, or at least partial games (no need to play to the end if a particular contest ceases to be interesting), are consumed.

* After all this hard work, you take a two-hour nap.

* Then it’s time for dinner, a movie, and if you still have any energy left, perhaps a bit of opening study.

I hope this clarifies how real chess professionals improve their game. If you (Mr. NN) give up all that crazy, over-the-top study and also cease that bad-for-your-health excessive exercise, you too can eventually take on a nice pear shape, gain rating points, and revel in the life of a real chess pro.


NN asked (a question voiced by many readers):

Everyone talks about openings all the time, but how does one study the middlegame?

Dear NN:

I think specific middlegame study is extremely important. I won’t add tactical training because I think that’s a separate issue.

In general a player can make a study of all aspects of the middlegame, or he can simply place his energies into improving the areas where he’s at his worst. For example, a player that excels in kingside attacks but is clueless about positional niceties really needs to come to terms with that weakness and fix it.

Here’s a serious complete middlegame study program for those that want to mend every aspect of this phase from the ground up. Many of my recommendations are old classics that can be found in used bookstores (since many readers complain that newer books can be quite expensive):


The Art of Attack in Chess by Vukovic – A classic that will give you a complete crash course in attacking techniques.

For further research on this topic, you might consider giving Aagaard’s excellent new Attacking Manual books 1 & 2 a shot. Or you might want to buy them, take out your gun, and shoot both books. Either way you’ll get your money’s worth.


Pawn Structure Chess by Soltis

It’s about one thing, which is what you’re looking for.


The Amateur’s Mind by Silman, for players under 1000 – 1600.

How to Reassess Your Chess 4th Edition by Silman, for players 1400 to Master.


The Middle Game Book 1 – Static Features by Euwe.

The Middle Game Book 2 – Dynamic and Subjective Features by Euwe.

Old but still really, really nice.

Reading at least one of these books in each category will significantly tighten your game, and if you add to it by looking over master games and even doing position/structural searches in ChessBase, you’ll improve all the faster.

For those that just want to learn a bit and are more into playing than studying, then the Vukovic book and one of the Silman books (depending on your present strength) would mix attack and positional insights and, together, would prove to be a highly effective middlegame primer.

Of course, there are many other great middlegame books for players of every level. I chose to keep things simple rather than give you an overwhelming list.

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