Are you sitting comfortably?

I'll soon fix that...

First, we discussed some statements from Jonathan Rowson (Chess for Zebras), who very nearly said:

Chess is more a game of skill than a game of knowledge.

He did indeed say:

"Improvement begins at the edge of your comfort zone" (p.14)

[Vygotsky! shouted Ish.]

"If you want to get better at chess you need to place much less emphasis on 'study' whereby you increase your knowledge of positions, and place more emphasis on 'training,' whereby you try to solve problems, play practice games, or perhaps try to beat a strong computer program from an advantageous position." (p.25).

"Chess skill emerges from chess playing combined with chess training, where ‘training’ means working things out by yourself.  The main skill a chess-player needs is skill in making decisions, so that’s what you need to do and do repeatedly.  If you want to become a better player, you need better habits, and you cultivate better habits through training.  The best training is the kind that pushes you up against the edges of your comfort zone, where you force yourself to take responsibility for difficult decisions.  It is so much easier to read books that give strategic guidelines, hints and tips, etc., but what you need is ‘know how’ and that means learning by doing." (p.29)

"...The main function of chess trainers should be to guide the training of their students, rather than to teach them directly.  The best thing you can do for a student is to select interesting positions for them and analyse them carefully so you can see the kinds of things that the student is missing.  The trouble with this approach is prosaic, but real.  Chess tutors are normally paid by the hour, and this tends to make you think that you should be showing the students certain things, imparting knowledge, giving hints and tips, etc.  This is understandable, but much more useful, I think, is to give the student difficult positions to solve, to be there in a supportive role as they solve them, and then carefully consider what the student missed and why." (p.66)

We also did a little exercise, under review (watch this space), designed to find your discomfort zone, by giving a grid of progressively harder positions to solve.  I soon discovered that while there are 4798 puzzle books on Tactics, there are only 3 puzzle books I've seen on strategy and a few more that are mixed in approach, and bugger all on the opening.

But mainly we tried to identify some things to work on.  So, name three things you do well, three things you don't do so well...




 - Keeping up pressure in position

 - Going for simplest winning continuation

 - Limiting enemy counterplay

 - Playing moves that will annoy my opponent


 - Using all of my time available

 - Keeping mobility

 * Piece chemistry/coordination

 * Making practice (at club and at home) really helpful in terms of improvement


 - Open positions/tactics in the opening

 - When I have the centre

 - Black is OK!

 - Gambit openings (e.g. Danish)


 - Too narrow an opening repertoire

* Sicilian (one who plays for, one against!)


 - Sacrifices to get a position with advantage

 - Spotting possibilities for tactical combinations

 - Attacking positions


 - Calculating all the tactics out (relying too much on intuition i.e. Laziness)

 - I'm not good at spotting opponents' tactical sequences well in advance (too many surprises for me OTB)

 * Attacking chess where simplification is not the best option

 - Defending

 - Complicated games where no pieces have been taken on the board

 - When you have to defend something and stop your attack


 - Spotting my opponent's weaknesses

 - I'm OK with closed positions


 - Formulating strong/sophisticated plans in closed/tactical positions

 - Strategy: pawn structures and the like []

- Endgame


 - I know very little about principles of endgame play []

DR comments:

As this is the third time I think I've tried to kick us off in this way, you may well want to:

a. reflect on people's responses from 2007 and 2008

b. ask yourself: are these the same things I wrote down last year?

c. ask yourself: have I seen any improvement in the things I wrote down
last year? and if not, why not?

Some of these topics I've covered before, perhaps a while ago [see links].

If you don't think the links help, I'll have another go of course.

I've picked out a mix of themes(*) from your list of improvement targets, some old and some new, and suggest something along these lines:

Jun 30: DR away (volunteer?/video?)
July 07: DR away (volunteer?/video?) 
July 14: Tactics
July 21: Attack/Defence
July 28: Co-ordination
Aug 04: Sicilian Defence [Complicated positions]
Comments/Suggestions/Volunteers invited!

Chess Quotes

"The first principle of attack
— Don't let the opponent develop!"