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Reader Questions, Gripes, And Advice

Reader Questions, Gripes, And Advice

I used to do a lot of reader question columns but, for some reason, I haven’t done it in a long time. Why, I don’t know. However, I’m finally in the mood to discuss some of the Chess.com members' thoughts.

THE MAN WHO CAN’T COUNT

Sneakmasterflex wrote (in my article, Beat Your Opponent By Retreating!):

“Most of Silman’s puzzles are just blatantly taken from his How to Reassess 4th ed. This guy has zero originality when it comes to articles, as owner of that book I could have easily posted the same articles as Silman and taken the money.”

JS: There was only one position (Silman vs. Booth) from How to Reassess Your Chess, 4th edition in the article.

Normally I simply ignore a person like Sneakmasterflex, but in this case his rant reminded me to discuss a couple very important points. First off, I DO use a game or two from Reassess Your Chess in many articles, but I also use old games, new games, games by beginners, games by 1600s, etc. If it’s instructive, I use it and, in some cases, use it many times.
Why? Two reasons:

  • Most people on Chess.com haven’t read that book, or seen those games, or they only saw a game once or twice but forgot it (while also forgetting the lessons the game offered). But if I see an instructive game, I want everyone to see it. And if I have to use a certain game a few times to point out a particular strategy, then I’ll do it.
  • People like Sneakmasterflex and many others fail to understand something important: REPETITION IS EVERYTHING (endless repetition is key for any serious athlete, musician, scientist, chess player or…well, you get the picture). If I see a particularly instructive game, I look at it over and over as the years go by (I’ve looked at some games over 100 times!). Simply put: the more we look at it, the more we appreciate its beauty and the more we understand the lessons those moves are trying to teach us.

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TRANSFIXED BY CHESS ENGINES

Ronny8638 wrote (regarding games in my article, Beat Your Opponent By Retreating!):
“All these puzzles have been failed in front of stockfish.”

JS: Ronny, you are supposed to learn what the article is trying to teach you (in this case, improving the placement of your pieces by using a backward move). Instead you are looking at a computer (which seems to be on a low level… crank the poor thing up!) and, as a result, learning absolutely nothing.

First off, let’s have a little think. You are saying that Spassky, Karpov (twice!), Nimzowitsch, Kramnik, and Nikolic (playing Karjakin) are all wrong. Really?
But, okay! For fun, I’ll have a look at a strong chess engine (Houdini 3) and see if it thinks I’m a patzer (I made sure to give the machine a bit of time).
Hmm…in every case but one, the first move I gave was the computer’s number-one choice (hardly a surprise), and one was the computer’s third (the computer’s number-two choice was doing the same thing, and the computer’s first choice wasn’t quite human.). More important, all my examples pushed home the subject of the article.

And that is what I strive to do. I want you to learn various ideas and patterns, and if a computer move steps in the way I don’t care as long as the move played is logical and pushes my article’s agenda.
Now, once we get past the first move (which is the most important for the article), the following moves might or might not be the love of the computer’s life (I just don’t care). For me, all that matters is the moves push the agenda so you can actually learn something, and in every game all the moves by all the players did just that.

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BULLET ON THE BRAIN

Cabuby asked me to look at one of his bullet games. He seems like a very nice chap, but I had to say no. Actually, I’ve had other people send me bullet games and I won’t touch them. The reason is that, in my mind, it’s more about how fast your hand moves than real chess. Yes, it’s great fun, but you won’t learn anything. Of course, everything doesn’t have to be about learning. But I prefer to share things with everyone and I doubt that the chess masses would get much from 1.a4 (The start of Cabuby’s game. Poor Cabuby tried to play real chess moves while his opponent, who always plays 1.a4, simply tossed things out so, I guess, he could win on time.). I remember a bullet game that I played many years ago… I was Black: 1.f3 e5 2.Kf2 d5 3.Ke1 and after that I gave up bullet.

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A MONKEY CONTROLLING YOUR HEAD

Kuroowl wrote:
“Is it normal to have games that are good (like you control the squares, you play positional, you explore the roles on campsite) and ones that look like there is a monkey controlling our head? I’m asking because I have been studying chess (never forgetting the basics) by a book and by your articles but my games keep being rollercoasters of hell.”
JS: Everyone (including grandmasters) has good games and bad games, good days and bad days. I remember (long ago) playing in a big New York tournament and hanging pieces right and left. I was completely out of it. In fact, I might have had the same monkey you had controlling my head. Towards the end of the tournament I asked grandmaster Edmar Mednis if there was any cure for the never-ending blunders. He said, “Yes, the next tournament.”

A similar thing happened in San Francisco. I suffered through two horrific tournaments. Then I won the U.S. Open. We never know what the chess gods (or chess monkey) will give, or when they will take away.

But let’s discuss why you’re having so much trouble. Simply put, there will be positions that you understand (which means you’ll play well) and you’ll get other positions that you won’t understand (that’s when the monkey will appear). Unfortunately, after looking at your games it’s clear that you (and your opponents!) need help in every area. Nothing to be ashamed of since everyone has been there (including me). Many just continue to play for the rush (which is fine), but some actually go out of their way to improve.

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IMPROVING 1: Many players create an opening repertoire and stick with it. That way (over time) you’ll eventually understand its pawn structures, typical tactics, situations where an attack is correct, and situations when positional understanding is the proper thing to embrace. Once you’re well acquainted with all of that, move on to another repertoire which has different pawn structures and different needs. There are quite a few opening books that explain the ins and outs of those particular openings, and they will prove very helpful.

IMPROVING 2: I noticed that you play 10-minute chess. If you like it, keep doing it. But also play some 30-minute or even one-hour games since those games will give you the time to think deeply and, as a result, see what does and doesn’t work in your game. Write down what you think you did right and wrong on paper or in a digital notebook, isolate your biggest weaknesses, and then (if you have the money or a benevolent chess coach) let an experienced voice lead you to the promised land.

Mr. Kuroowl, in the months to come if you have done all those things and think you’ve improved, feel free to send me a couple games that show both your skills and your weaknesses. Also, tell me what those weaknesses and skills are (you might not have noticed them) and explain why you’re having problems with those particular chess flaws. Who knows, I might write an article about your chess journey.

Good luck and have fun!

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