Reader Questions: Agenda, Study, And Analysis

Reader Questions: Agenda, Study, And Analysis

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From time to time I put together various reader questions and comments (while ignoring the, “Die Silman Die!” raves) and share them with the good folks on I try to give a heady mix of subjects so that there will be a bit of something for everyone.


I wrote the following in an article:

Pushing your agenda should always be the first thing you strive to do, only defending if you are 100 percent sure that there is no other choice. member kaptenk said:

I would dispute this. I suggest one picks the best move. That move is, by definition, the most aggressive one, regardless of its being defensive (or attacking). I am not even sure that the concept(s) defensive (or attacking) moves have any significant meaning, but if so, I would argue that there is no correlation with bad (or good) moves, respectively.

Dear Mr. kaptenk,

The “best move” has no meaning if you have no way of finding it. It’s like telling someone to go to Timbuktu without telling him how to get there or what it is or why he should go there in the first place. One person might think Timbuktu is a new fast food restaurant, while another might think it’s some form of sport.

What I’m trying to say is that your view of “the best move” is uninformed gibberish. Nobody can find the best move in a vacuum, and looking for the best move without understanding the needs of the position is indeed a vacuum. To find that mythical animal (the best move), you have to know what the position (for both sides) needs (NOT what you want the position to need -– that’s a huge difference), know what’s expected from you if you take that path, and then and only then (once you decide that this path is the correct one) do you come to terms with what the best move should be.

Computers find the best move by calculating millions of moves a second. If you can do that, I tip my hat to you. However, we both know you can’t. Thus you will need to find the “best move” by making use of pattern recognition (which, in many cases, instantly tells you, at a glance, what the position needs for both sides). Then and only then should you look for the best move.



I wrote the following in an article:

I’ve long insisted that the best way to improve (aside from playing stronger players) is to look at reams of grandmaster games. member kwikkwik said:

Grandmaster games inspired by chess engines? Or grandmaster games without the help of chess programs? Or both?

Dear kwikkwik,

Chess engines are very useful for after-game analysis (it will show you many missed tactics, but it won’t teach you anything about positional chess), for practicing various basic endgames, and for practicing certain openings.

For example, if you’re a beginner, set up a king and pawn vs. lone king situation (you have the lone king, which is in front of the enemy pawn), put 60 seconds on your chess clock, and do your best to draw the machine within that timeframe. Once you can draw it in 60 seconds, give yourself 30 seconds. After a while your handling of that endgame will be effortless.

However, chess engines shouldn’t be used when playing over thousands of grandmaster games (at least for the purpose I’m recommending). What I’m looking for is turning those games into pattern teachers. So, play through them quickly, watch where the pieces go for both sides in the opening, let your eyes pick up the middlegame pawn structure and the piece placements for that structure, and then note how the endgame was played.

“Quickly” means 30 seconds to two minutes. After going over many thousands of games in this manner (could take months or years...don’t be in a rush), your subconscious will pick up all those patterns without you even being aware of it.

When you’re not doing that, you can add to your pattern training in two ways:

1) Read middlegame books that discuss structure and proper use of the pieces. This will be a huge help, and after a while you’ll start noticing the book patterns in the grandmaster games you’re playing through at warp speed.

2) Pick a chess hero, find a book specializing in that person’s games with each game packed with instructive notes, and (over time) look through each and every one. When you finish that book, do it again with another chess hero.

Do these three things (plus my recommended use of chess engines in endgame and opening study) and in a couple years you’ll be strong like a bull.

I’ll add a bit more: while doing all this (at whatever pace is right for you), decide on an opening repertoire and find some books that explain that opening’s ideas. Also, find one instructive endgame book (nothing too advanced!) and make sure you master the endgame basics (opposition, all king and pawn vs. Kkng positions, the Lucena position, the Philidor position, etc.).

If all that effort doesn’t sound appealing, just play chess and have some fun! Pick up a few basics, find opponents that are close to your level, and have a great time.

QUESTION 3: member OperationOverlord asked:

You’ve said many times that the best way to improve (aside from playing stronger players) is to look at reams of grandmaster games. I’ve always wondered from which side you look at the games. From the winning side, from the side of the opening you are studying, from the side of the player you are studying? Or some other way?

Dear OperationOverlord,

If you study a particular player, you would be bonkers to take the side of your chess hero's opponent. Same goes for opening study (you want to be comfortable sitting in front of that opening setup). As for master games, most would prefer the winning side, but since our quick-look games don’t have notes, you won’t really know if the winner got lucky or if either player blundered. Still, I always took the winning side.

Remember: The point of going over grandmaster games quickly is to absorb patterns. And trust me, every grandmaster relies on pattern recognition. He might blunder, but he’ll know how to make use of his pawn structure, he’ll instantly be aware of tactical patterns, and he’ll know exactly where the pieces belong in relation to the structure.

QUESTION 4: member CommonElk asked a question In relation to my article, The Deadly Attacks of Romantic Chess, Puzzle 5. I gave a note after Black’s ninth move, which ended in me saying, “though White’s also winning here.”

Here’s the position he’s referring to at the end of my move nine analysis:

CommonElk said: 

Regarding the game William Lewis – N.N., England 1820, are things really that easy at the end of that variation?

 He then gave the following moves:

I have to applaud CommonElk since most players take it for granted that if you lose your queen, the end is near. Instead, he noticed that Black had a lot of dynamic potential, especially against White’s king.

He is quite correct that Black is holding his own after 4.Ne2, 4.Qd3, and just about everything else. I said “just about” because White has one move that keeps him on top. Let’s take a look at it in puzzle form.

Can YOU find a way out for White? This is very complicated, but it will be fun to give it a shot.

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