Targets, Time Pressure, And Reaching Expert

Targets, Time Pressure, And Reaching Expert

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SPOTTING THE ELUSIVE TARGETS member speedyg2 asked:

“I have been reading your book How to Reassess Your Chess 4th Edition and I was wondering if move 23 for White (Rfe1) is following the imbalances. My imbalance breakdown was that Black's e-pawn and the b-pawn were the main targets in this position.” 

Mr. speedyg2:

You lost a pawn early but life (and the game) goes on. Before I look at move 23, I have to point out an important error in the following position. Black, a pawn up, decides to “kick” your queenside structure with the good move 13...a5:

Why did you hand the c5-square to your opponent? Much better was 14.a3 making sure c5 doesn’t fall into enemy hands. Remember: you should be striving to create weaknesses (vulnerable pawns and holes) in the opponent’s camp. You do NOT want to inflict these weaknesses in your own camp unless you’re getting something just as good (or better) in trade. After your 14.b5 Black can (whenever he wants) place his knight on c5 and/or he can pile up on your backward c4-pawn.


If Black chose to play 14...b6 he would hope to place his bishop on b7 (taking control of the a8-h1 diagonal) and a rook on c8, eyeing the target on c4. HOWEVER, he should only play 14...b6 if he understands that he’s creating a hole on c6 and that White might try to make use of that by Nd4 followed by Bf3.

As it turns out, White can’t really grab the c6-square: 15.Nd4 Bb7 16.Bf3 Bxf3 17.Qxf3 Qc7 18.Rac1 (18.Nc6 Ne5 19.Nxe5 dxe5 20.Rac1 Qc5 is pretty bad for White) 18...Rfd8 and Black should win thanks to his pressure against c4 and his extra pawn. So 14...b6 was quite good, but you shouldn’t play a move like that without making sure the c6-hole won’t be a curse.

Let’s return to your question: “My imbalance breakdown was that Black’s e-pawn and the b-pawn were the main targets in this position.”

Of course, I would be remiss if I ignored 23.Nxa8, winning the exchange and turning a pawn-down inferior position into a material-up favorable position. Your 23.Rfe1 is certainly reasonable (if 23.Nxa8 wasn’t possible), and b6 is certainly a weak spot in Black’s camp (you intend Nd5, hitting both b6 and e7). Though you can, temporarily, put some heat on Black’s center you have to realize that Black has his own central dreams (thanks to his central pawn majority). Let’s see how things went and what could have occurred: 

All in all, you were worse (unless you ate the offered a8-rook) and you pretty much did the best you could under the circumstances (targeting b6 and Black’s center). However, with best play your threats could have been pushed back and you would have suffered for a long time. You hanging a pawn in the opening put you in the doghouse, and you handing Black the c5-square (14.b5?) made things even worse. Black’s blunder (26...e5??) saved you. 

Please do your best to fully understand why 14.b5 was a bad move. You’ll be stronger for it.

TIME PRESSURE member devansh123 asked:

“I have severe problems in time control. I lose very often due to time pressure even in very strong positions. I request you to provide a detailed article on time management.”


Mr. devansh123:

You are asking a lifelong time pressure junkie to tell you how to avoid what I never could cure in my own games! You can find time pressure addicts in every spectrum of the game (everyone gets into time pressure now and then, but we’re talking about those that have an habitual time pressure problem).

Sammy Reshevsky was always in time pressure. Pal Benko was another victim of this disease (he was famous for hanging rooks when he got low on time…not pawns, not minor pieces, just rooks!), Walter Browne lived in a permanent state of time pressure agony, and Alexander Grischuk has a home on Time Pressure Boulevard. And on and on it goes. They never found a cure and I didn’t either.

Having said that, there are some obvious fixes:

  • If you use too much time in the opening, that means you haven’t mastered your opening systems or the typical positions/situations/plans that occur during and after the opening. If you gain a solid grasp on these things then you should be able to get through the opening with minimal time spent.
  • If you understand the typical middlegames that occur in your games, you’ll be able to make use of common plans and strategies without eating up the clock.

Of course you should also tighten up every other part of the game (endgames, tactics, imbalances, etc.), but that takes devotion and endless work. Sadly, if you aren’t conversant with these things (and most players aren’t) then you’ll either make sub-par moves quickly, or you’ll agonize over what’s going on and, even if you find reasonable moves, your clock will turn into your worst enemy.


Having said all that, one is left wondering why great players like Reshevsky, Benko, Walter Browne, Grischuk and others were/are always in time pressure. I’m sure there are many reasons, but the three that stand out are:

  • VIEWING CHESS AS ART: When someone views chess as art, that person doesn’t want to make a move unless he knows it’s clearly the best or clearly the most beautiful. Once someone gets into that mindset, time pressure will be a permanent part of his life.
  • THE NEED TO CALCULATE EVERYTHING: Walter Browne had this disease. He would go over one variation after another until he was sure he had everything worked out. As a result, he was always fighting the clock.
  • A BAD MEMORY: Reshevsky studied his openings but was known to forget all his preparations as soon as the game started. This forced him to spend huge amounts of time trying to reinvent the wheel.

The only way to get rid of time pressure is to:

  • Toss out any move and lose most of your games (your terrified time pressured heart will thank you but your rating won’t).
  • Pick up as many opening, middlegame, endgame, and tactical patterns as possible. Doing this will enable you to read a position quickly and save huge amounts of time on your clock.
  • Be practical. You can’t calculate everything. You most likely don’t have all those patterns in your memory bank. So, master basic tactics (which is easy to do), study basic strategic ideas, make the moves you think the position needs as quickly as possible, and let the fates do the rest.



"Big fan of your books. Should I be playing 15- or 30-minute games instead of 5-minute games? I find myself playing mostly all 5-minute games. Is there any value in that? Lastly, how many years did it take you to hit the 2000 rating level?"



Mr. simplyAGGRESIVE:

There’s value in every kind of game, be it bullet or long tournament games. The main value is to play a time control that gives you the most pleasure. For those that want to justify bullet, they can say that the muscles they get from moving so fast eclipses what they get at the gym. If that doesn’t work for bullet fans, tell everyone (after winning 1,000 bullet games that you start with 1.f3, 2.Kf2, etc.) that you are a chess master (don’t tell them that you won most of the games on time while being five pieces down, or that your rating in 2-minute or more is 900).

If it makes these guys happy, they should embrace delusion-central and have a great time! (I play online bullet sometimes, and I can assure you that delusion-central can be a very relaxing place.)

Of course, you made it clear that you would like to play real chess (5-minute up to 30-minute). The 5-minute to 30-minute crowd gets to play real openings and there’s even time enough to spot some nifty combinations or some powerful positional ideas. This means you can actually improve over time (and you mentioned to me that you are studying books, which is good). 

Personally I used to like all the time controls, but when I wanted to be serious I would always go for the longest time controls possible so I could actually ponder the positions in front of me and see if I could solve their secrets.

The real answer(s) to your questions can only be addressed if I knew your goals, your weaknesses, and various other unknowns. However, since you seem to favor 5-minute chess, then study, improve, become a 5-minute monster, and have a blast.

Regarding how long it took me to reach the expert level...hmmm. I didn’t learn how to play chess until I was 12. I goofed around with it, played a few tournaments (with horrible results), and ended up falling in love with the game (my first rating was something like 1050, and I was much worse than that rating!). I think I made 1400 by the time I turned 14.

At that point I got a lot of chess books and studied really hard (every day, seven days a week, two to eight hours a day). Like most kids, I was into tactics (Alekhine was my hero).

This was my first published game. The write-up said this: “ONE piece sacrifice is neat. TWO pieces sacrificed is spectacular. THREE pieces sacrificed is dashing, undaunted, bravado. When one of them is a rook, it’s breathtaking. And add another fourth piece, even though it’s for three pawns -- though giving one back to boot -- ending up with Q and R vs. Q, R, R, B, N, N is practically illegal.”

The 15-year-old me was thrilled to read this. However, the whole game is filled with errors. I was probably around 1900-strength at this point.

So, what was wrong with 26.Rf4+? Take a look at the following puzzle:

I made a massive leap in strength when I was 16. I had master-strength tactics but poor positional understanding and miserable technique.

Here’s another example (against an experienced master) of my great dynamics and tactics being balanced by my pathetic technique.

I think that I was around 2100-strength at this time. In a year’s span I gained 200 points (1900 to 2100). After the Gross game I added some endgame and positional skills and that immediately took me to master strength.

This final example (age 17) shows me in the 2200-range (my opponent was a very strong and revered master).

The formula is simple: Study hard, play as often as possible against players who are a bit better than you, take serious (and honest!) note of your shortcomings, fix them, and the sky’s the limit!

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