My First Year of Chess
My First Year of Chess
This is the first anniversary of my adult entry into the world of chess. I am now 37 years old, with a whife and three children. I learned how to move the chess pieces as a child and as a teenager I had a chess computer program but there was never any formal guidance, any formal playing. Then last year I became interested in the game again after a long absence. The drive now is really to understand as much as I can given the time that I have. I enjoy reading books like Modern Chess Strategy by Ed Lasker, I have My System by Nimzowisch and Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy by John Nunn on tap. Of course the knowledge is designed to help me improve my play and it has. I played 28 tournament games now and my rating has gone from a beginner 989 to a decent 1360 USCF. Naturally my immediate site is set on 1600, will it take a full year? After this introduction, in honor of my first anniversary I'd like to share what I've learned so far.
A key lesson I have learned is that OTB tournament play is quite different from casual play and from online play. My first tournament went somewhat poorly because I lacked the patience to play for that long causing some rash moves, and I wasn't quite physically ready to sit in chairs that weren't the greatest for hours on end. Even now when there are four rounds and I pass six hours of chess I have a lot of trouble focusing, I don't think I've won the last game in a day with more than 3 rounds yet. I did get a draw once though :-). Another difference is that in OTB play the quality is a bit better. Online correspondenc chess does tend to follow more standard openings longer but it's a lot easier to blunder due to carelessness when one isn't focused on the game at hand. This makes OTB a little more tiring. I think it's a reason I tend to try to simplify quickly when I get ahead. I have some desire to minimize what I need to calculate, especially in a winning poition. I also find OTB more gratifying and I do use it as the measuring stick for success in my learning. There's no excuses about focus like one can have in casual games, and there is no question about computer use (Topalov-Kramnik not withstanding). The last point about playing games, it can be really hard to change one's mindset. I had a session with a teacher and the two pieces of advice were to always think about the opponen't next move and to try and avoid reacting to threats. The former souds quite natural, but yet as I tried to pay attention to my though process I realized there were times when I would just focus on my plan, especially when there were no obvious threats or exchanges. Winning with sloppy thinking doesn't help. I did a really bad job at the last tournament all four games on Saturday stcuk in my selective analysis. Only on Sunday when I made an extra effort was I able to follow this advice move by move.
Aside from playing the biggest topic for me has been how to learn. There's certainly a lot of advice out there and much of it is worth what you pay for it. On the other hand there are a lot of good resources that can be accessed for a fairly small amount of money. As for the advice some people say it's all about tactics, some say don't worry about emdgames early on, don't spent time on openings and so on. I feel the truth is that one needs to spend dedicated time, structured time, and one needs to focus on all areas of the game, especially where one is weakest. For openings memorizing long lines of theory without understanding what's happening is unlikely to be very rewarding. But no one wants to come back from a deficit every game. Over the year I've dabbled a lot. With white I am not pretty happy playing a Colle (evolved from a Stonewall after the QG proved too complex). If black moves the light squared bishop kingside I can convert into a QGD type of position and attack on the queenside. I like the Zuckertort variation especially the flexibility of the c-pawn as opposed to the Stonewall. I haven't completely decided how to play the KID. One could play it in the classical style, keep the Zuckertort and seek to trade bishops, or perhaps a Torre attack. As black mosty I'd face e4 and eventually settled on the French. But now I finally figured out what I don't like about the French. If white wants to he can greatly simplify the position and I don't like that. So I've gone back to the Pirc where it's more complex. I don't see a lot of d4. I'm thinking of paying the KID myself. In the middle game it's about positional awareness, strategy and tactics. I do practice tactics but not exclusively. IM David Pruess just made an excellent post and noted the fact that there's a limited amount of information a brain can store. Some tactics training each day is good, only studying tactics is a waste of time. For positional awareness I use my opening books and also Silman's Reasses Your Chess Workbook. The endgame is something I had neglected but it cost me a few points. Now I've gone from Silman's book and have added 100 Endgames You Must Know by Jesus de la Villa. That has helped and I plan to keep reviewing the book until the endgames are burned in memory. I joined chess.com long ago and the video lessons, chesstv and chess mentor are all good resources as are a couple of other sites.
I've also taken a few lessons with an IM. That has been immensly helpful although it does cost some money. But the insight and the ability to focus one;s limited time on the best training tools and methods is worth it. Related to this has been an additional expense, and that is a window's computer system. I have used Linux and Mac at home and it's not impossible to use those computers. Unfortunately some of the most popular software, Chessbase, and many Computer/DVD lessons come only for windows so I decided to get myself a cheap emachines laptop just for chess software. Over a three year period the expense shouldn't be too great. But I have spent a decent amount on software, books, lessons, and tournaments, and memberships.
That's my story for this year and I;m sticking to it! Hopefully the next year will be as rewarding and as fun. I am planning to play in the Chicago open so that will be new.