A Chessplayer's Strengths and Weaknesses

Feb 22, 2015, 9:07 PM |

Chess is fun, in many different ways. When playing blitz, the adrenaline rush can leave the players' hands shaking. Post-mortem analysis with friends not only teaches lessons, it builds comraderie with our fellow players. When we sit quietly at a chess board and solve a difficult problem, we push our brains in ways most non-chess players will never experience. All of these make chess fun, in different ways.


At some point, though, involvement in chess may move beyond just the desire for a fun pastime. Of course, as amateurs, chess must remain fun! But, when one decides to make a serious attempt at achieving a difficult goal, whether in chess or in another pursuit, there will be a time when progress grinds to a halt. Overcoming these plateaus often requires taking account of one's strengths and weaknesses and then coming up with a plan to address them. This is exactly what is covered in the first chapter of Training for the Tournament Player by Dvorestsky and Yusupov, titled "A Chessplayer's Strengths and Weaknesses."


First, let me say that reading Training for the Tournament Player is my first experience reading Dvoretsky or Yusupov. Their writing, at least so far in this one book, reminds me a bit of the wonderful writing in Best Lessons of a Chess Coach by Sunil Weeramantry and Ed Eusebi. It is serious writing about chess. But it is also interesting writing that compels the reader forward based on the authors' passion for the material. There are no jokes or flippant comments. This is very different from the Jeremy Silman books that I have been reading the past two years. One is not better than the other--just different styles.


In the chapter, Dvoretsky calls out many skills, topics, and personal qualities an ambitious player must eventually master. Openings, tactics, middlegame plans, and endgames, of course, are included. But Dvoretsky also calls out talent (which unfortunately by definition is fixed), character, state of health, degree of preparation, and the abilities to apply knowledge, to act over the board in a competent, professional manner, and to make optimal decisions accurately in the most diverse situations.


That, of course, is only the tip of the iceberg! But with the ideas discussed in the chapter, one can begin to identify their relative strengths and weaknesses in the list above along with any other topics or qualities that later arise as roadblocks on the road to improvement.


Dvoretsky primarily discusses his related work with his very talented and ambitious russian pupils. He shows several positions and games and his student's chosen moves and how those moves illustrate certain weaknesses. That weaknesses would then be addressed by the student and coach through specific, targeted training exercises.


So that is the process. Simple in concept, difficult in implementation, just like chess itself.


Those in the corporate world should be familiar with systems such as Six Sigma, Total Quality Management (TQM), Lean Manufacturing, and others, that attempt to identify the weaknesses in an organization and then improve those weaknesses. Dvoretsky is advocating Six Sigma for one's chess abilities.


Coming from the entrepreneurial and technology worlds, I have taken this same approach to my serious chess study the past 18 months. In that time I've increased my rating over 300 points by trying to understand my weaknesses (through personal reflection, analyzing why I lose games, and feedback from coaches and strong players) and systematically addressing them through training exercises.


18 months ago my primary weaknesses (why I was losing games) was falling for simple tactics, mis-counting trades, and playing Hope Chess. To address these, I did thousands of simple tactics problems and I crafted a multi-step thought process that I tried to practice on every single move.


Now, 18 months later, I have mostly improved those weaknesses so they are no longer why I am losing most of my games. Now my two biggest weaknesses seem to be calculation logic (the thought process of actually working out complicated or lengthy variations) and knowing enough typical middlegame plans for the pawn structures I can expect to see. So, my advisors and I came up with specific exercises to address these weaknesses and I am working on those every week.


As you go through and create your own inventory of strengths and weaknesses, don't forget to include areas like diet, physical fitness, sleep patterns, negative thoughts, and other's that are not necessarily chess specific but can be performance related.