Chess and the Pareto Principle - part 2 of 2

Jan 12, 2012, 12:03 AM |

In my last article, I explained the potential link between the Pareto Principle – often called the 80-20 rule – and Chess.  This forms part of a series of articles on strategic business analysis and Chess, which, in turn, is part of my plan to set meaningful Chess objectives in 2012

In the article on the Pareto Principle, I suggested that 80% of a 2,500+ rated GM was a 2,000 rated Expert might be achievable, given 10 hours a week study over a long timeframe; quite an interesting observation. To give this 80-20 rule some context, let me share my personal experience of studying Chess. 

This end, I’m learning the French Defence, which, in itself, has numerous main-lines and a myriad of sidelines, including Classical, Winawer, Advance, Rubinstein, Burn, MacCutcheon, Exchange, and Tarrash lines plus bunches of gambits, traps, etc. This was – and still is – too much for my ageing brain to manage, so I’ve applied the 80-20 concept! 

First, I looked at a database of French Defence master games, and saw that the Advance, the Exchange and 3. Nc3/Nd2 lines accounted for 80%+ of French games.  I started to focus on these 3 opening lines within the French, slowly building up my understanding of the Advance, the Rubinstein for Nc3/Nd2 lines, with 1 line to handle the Exchange variation. As a result of this, my 5-min online chess rating has increased, because most - perhaps even 80% - of 1.e4 e6 games lead into familiar territory.

I’m just about to use the same exact approach for endgames; where, for instance, I intend learning King + Pawn and Rook + Pawn, Knight v. Bishop endings, first – before, less common endings, such as Knight + Bishop and Bishop Pair mating techniques. I’d also suggest the very same principle holds true for master games; for example, selecting a critical few games, from the most influential GMs, focussing on games which feature the lines, or endgame themes you’ve chosen to learn.

 Chess is a vast, almost never-ending subject, which can overwhelm us – if we attempt to learn everything at once, without rhyme or reason. In using the Pareto Principle, I’m certainly not saying we should abandon the uncommon, the irregular, and the unorthodox. Far from it! Indeed, there is a wonderful richness in Chess, and obscure traps, wild gambits, and bizarre sidelines are part of the magic of the game.

The proposal is - the 80-20 rule should be seen as decision-making tool, to ensure we concentrate on the critical items first. In my humble opinion, I feel it’s critical to keep in mind that 80% of a GM is a 2,000 rated Expert – this long-term aspiration should, theoretically, be within everyone’s grasp.  If applied correctly, this Pareto Principle – this law of the critical few - should help us in defining priorities, achieving focus and – from a Chess and business analysis perspective  – ensure we use the limited time we have, to achieve the results we desire; that being, higher Chess ratings!


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