Chess Exam / Khmelnitsky
I just finished Chess Exam by IM Igor Khmelnitsky. It has been a real eye-opener. I decided to work through CE to pinpoint my weak areas for improvement. I also wanted to identify where I was excelling (relatively) so I could devote less training time to those areas. The results are in, and there were a few surprises:
First, my overall rating is very close to my USCF rating, which was 1550 last I checked. I had Excel add color-coded arrows to the subcategory ratings. If the category rating was within +/-100 of my overall rating, it got a yellow. Red means I scored over 100 points lower in that category than my overall rating. Green means I scored over 100 points higher in that category than my overall. Red categories need work, while green categories could use relatively less training.
OK, it should come as no surprise that Calculation and Tactics are both red. If there is any drawback to this book, it is that I did not need to spend $20 and 16 hours of time to figure out that my tactics and calculation are bad. In fact I would wager that most club players will score below their overall rating in this area. Well, at least I'm already working on these.
Surprise! The other red category was Counterattack. I always thought of myself as a more counterattacking player. It turns out that I'm actually more of a defensive player (Surprise #2, Defense was high). I agree with this assessment after reading the book a bit. IM Khmelnitsky sort-of defines counterattack as deliberately complicating the position when you're worse, and defense as solidifying and waiting patiently for counterchances when you're worse. I am definitely the latter. I am sometimes relieved to find myself with some slight disadvantage because that can often make it easier to find the right plan. Whereas a slight advantage in a normal position can leave me scratching my head sometimes as to what I should be doing.
I was not surprised at all about my #1 score in Standard Positions. There were several test positions where I knew from a glance exactly what was the best continuation because I had studied it before, like the famous Philidor rook endgame position. Here is one problem where I earned 100% score because I learned the winning idea from IM Danny Rensch's rook endgame video series. You either know the idea or you don't. If you can calculate the answer without having seen this before you are a genius (or maybe just a master, I dunno):
So that's it. I will keep working my endgame, with a focus on calculation. Meanwhile I'll make a serious effort to improve my board visualization skills since that's my big problem with calculation. More than 3-4 moves deep and everything starts getting fuzzy in my brain, depending on how complicated is the position. Does anyone have any suggestions in this area?