"How Do We Get Better?"
"How do we get better?"
"Uh...Follow the Golden Rule?" (The Pope is coming here to Philadelphia soon, so maybe he is a better one to ask...)
After the "Q&A With Coach Heisman" show the above question was nominated by a viewer as best question and answer during the show.
When someone asked the similar, but more "chessy" question "What's the best way to improve at chess?" my answer was...
"I can't fully answer that in 1-2 minutes but, if I had only one sentence to respond, it would be 'Play in as many tournaments and clubs as possible; review your games with your opponents, strong players, and engines; and hang around with strong players and analyze with them as much as you can.'"
I then held up a copy of my book "A Guide to Chess Improvement", which has about 382 pages (and yet still doesn't cover every aspect of improvement...).
The first question does, however, illustrate a basic issue on an open "Q&A" show. Some viewers ask incomplete, ambiguous, or "too open" questions that are either difficult to interpret or have multiple possible answers. But I try to do my best because it is the viewer's show. Here's another example of a well-meaning but difficult-to-interpret question:
"How do you play the Tarrasch?"
Hmm. Is that the Tarrasch Defense (e.g. 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 c5)? Or perhaps he meant the Tarrasch Variation of the French (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2), or yet another line with the Tarrasch monicker? GM Siegbert T was very active during the early years when they were naming many openings and variations after players.
"How do you play the King's Indian Defense?"
Does that mean he wants to understand the idea behind all the variations (we don't have time...), or perhaps just what opening moves define that opening? The latter answer would be 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 and then 3...Bg7 vs most White third moves (e.g. 3.Nc3 or 3.Nf3 or 3.g3 most likely). That would define the King's Indian Defense, as opposed to say a Gruenfeld, which is 3.Nc3 d5. That I can answer in a minute or two, which is about the amount of time I want to devote to the average question on the show.
The following was a very curious question, which took a little thought to interpret:
"My opponent's keep playing the Fried Liver Attack against my Sicilian and I have problems defending. What should I do?"
Say what? The Fried Liver Attack is a line in the Two Knight's Defense, where the first move for each side is 1.e4 e5. The Sicilian begins 1.e4 c5. So it's impossible to play the Fried Liver Attack versus a Sicilian (it has to be the identical position).
So what did the viewer mean? Maybe he thinks any time White plays Bc4 and then Ng5 to attack f7 that is a Fried Liver? Or any time White sacrifices a knight on f7?
In response I compared the sequence 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Nxd5? 6.Nxf7 (The one and only Fried Liver Attack) with the "same" possibility in the Sicilian:
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5?
...when Black can simply play 4...e6 and make White's play look silly. Perhaps the viewer kept losing to a move like 5.Nxf7? here. If so, it wasn't because 5.Nxf7 is good, but because he must have played poorly thereafter.
In any case, I did not see a follow up comment; sometimes finding one - should the viewer respond - would require scrolling way down the chat window so I don't know what he meant. But whatever, it was, my first reaction to "...the Fried Liver against my Sicilian" was similar to what it would be for anyone hearing "...having trouble swimming in the desert sand..."
"How do you best learn the endgame?"
This is another open-ended question but it packs some punch. Most instructors would tell you to start with Q&K vs K, R&K vs K, then maybe K&P vs K, etc up to Lucena and Philidor R&P endgames, and so on.
That will get you the necessary chess endgame knowledge. But it isn't sufficient. I have used the following example before:
To play the endgame well you have to be able to analyze positions like this slowly and carefully.
There is a little bit of knowledge involved to finding the correct move, but the only way to get the answer is to roll up the sleeves and analyze, taking time to see what would happen on the various possibilities. This involves a skills such as visualization, and being able to deduce "If move x is played, what does this force the opponent to do?"
You can't "Hand-Wave" this problem and say that 1.Kxf6 must be correct to avoid doubled pawns. Doubled pawns don't matter. The only thing that matters in this late endgame position is whether the move wins or not. If no move wins, then find the move that gives the opponent the most difficulties to draw. If multiple moves seem to win, pick the one which you are least likely to have made a mistake (i.e., the easiest win). Of course, if only one move wins, that is the one you have to play.
For the comprehensive answer to what White should play, check out my article on the Nov 2013 show.
By the way, one of the best ways to learn the endgame, should you have that ubiquitous strong player/friend available, is to analyze many endgames with him...The key again is to learn how to analyze, not just absorb a bunch of endgame positions (which is very helpful, but simply not sufficient).
"Who are your favorite chess players to watch?"
Spectators love imbalanced games, and I am no exception. So you have to enjoy games of players who play like Alexey Shirov, although GM Shirov doesn't play as much any more. Among our American players the top two are fun to watch: Nakamura, who also likes imbalances and is always looking for "the edge", and Caruana, who plays a wide and classical game, perhaps similar in style to Anand.
Finally, it's enjoyable watching the top player, World Champion Carlsen - how is he going to grind down his opponent in this game? What happens to that grinding style when Carlsen gets older and doesn't have the energy to outsit his opponents any more...?
"Q&A with Coach Heisman" is on Chess.com TV the first Friday of every month from 5-6:30 PM ET. NM Dan Heisman is a full-time chess instructor.