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Friday, May 30, 2014

3 Ways to Get the Edge in Chess (Part 2)

Question: What does flossing and chess training have in common?

Answer: They are both easy to do, but if you neglect them, your teeth and your chess skill will decay!

In Part 1 of this series, I talked about the importance of your philosophy in your attitudes and actions towards chess and other parts of life. In this installment, I'm going to discuss how mastering the mundane - the simple, little, sometimes boring things - can dramatically improve your chess results over time.

Master the Mundane


Many chess players I know (myself included at times) are always looking for the "quantum leap" - that new opening gambit, that chess software or book - that will propel them into the next class of chess. Unfortunately (or fortunately once you read this article), the answer is often found in the simple, routine things we do every day and every week that truly matter in improving at chess.

I recently played a FIDE master online. The time control was 90 30 (90 minutes plus 30 seconds for each move). However, I used less than 30 minutes of my time while my opponent had used about an hour by the time the game was over. I lost and after the game my opponent asked me, "Why didn't you use more of your time?"

The actual answers to his question is a topic for another article perhaps, but the question he asked was very insightful. Notice that he didn't ask, "Why didn't you play X in this opening variation?" OR "Didn't you notice the long term endgame inferiority you would have incurred when you played Y? "

I have observed that sometimes I look for something external to blame for my losses - the next move in opening theory that I didn't know, or the endgame position that I haven't learned. Of course, I do believe that we need to increase our knowledge in chess especially at beginner and intermediate levels.

However, I think sometimes we overlook the internal reasons for our losses. This would include things like being careful, doing a safety check before we make our move, and managing our time wisely during our games (in my case using more of my time to make better decisions). It also includes more subtle things like focus and attention, eliminating distractions, and being well rested. I think we need a to balance improving both the internal and external factors in our pursuit of chess improvement.

Easy to Do, Easy Not to Do


There are several reasons that we undervalue or ignore the mundane in our chess training. The first is given pretty plainly in Jeff Olsen's The Slight Edge. These things are easy to do. How hard is it to use more of your time on your chess clock? They are also easy not to do. We can see this clearly in other parts of our lives. For example, think about flossing, going to bed on time, exercise, and even saying "I love you" to your children.

Another reason we ignore the mundane is that we don't see the effects right away. I was reading a thread on a chess forum (I will not link to it to protect the innocent) about analyzing our own games - which inspired another article I will write soon. One of the people wrote that he only analyzed the games where he thought both he and his opponent played well. I thought to myself, "What percentage of your games is that?"

His point was that he felt that it was not worth analyzing a game in which he or his opponent blundered really badly. However, I think these are exactly the games that we need to pay attention to and analyze the reasons we make those mistakes! Now...maybe a grandmaster doesn't need to necessarily analyze a big blunder he made if he only does it in 2% of his games, but for an amateur player this probably happens in at least half of his games. How much do you think your strength would improve if you reduced your blunders by 50%?

It is perhaps painful to do some of these mundane things, but over time, day by day, these little things add up to dramatic changes. Consider the following picture:

Imagine all of your study, training, and habits filling a cup. For a while, you may not notice a difference (although you might). However, after weeks and months of doing something simple to positively improve your chess, something "clicks" and you see a sudden rise in your playing strength.

One such jump happened for me several years ago. I had a chess lesson with GM Greg Serper. I was fortunate because he lived in the same city I did at the time and had the lesson in person. We only had one lesson, but I learned many insights. One of the things he said to me that has stuck with me was "we should not be so concerned with our opponent's mistakes as with our own." Ever since then I was an avid annotator of my games, especially my losses. I was rated around 1200 at the time, but rose steadily over a year to 1400. The following year, I made a similar rise from 1400 to 1600. Although I did a lot of things at that time to improvement chess, including reading several key foundational chess books, studying tactics, and playing good competition, that mundane (and sometimes painful) practice of studying my losses was essential to my improvement, and continues to be to this day.

Some Good News


It is always difficult to suggest that someone change what they're doing. However, the changes don't need to be extreme, and the more you do them, the easier it gets. Experts in the field of behavior change universally agree that about 21 to 30 days of practicing a new habit will make it fairly permanent and habitual. In the realm of chess (as well as fitness and other endeavors), the practice also becomes easier.

When I first started analyzing my losses, it was like pulling teeth. However, after the first dozen, I started systematizing my work and organizing in my database. It became a creative outlet, trying to understand myself while also trying to increase the quality of my annotations and analysis. The difficult became easier.

I have a good friend who lost about 180 pounds over the course of a year. I asked him how he did it. His answer was profound and yet so simple: "Well, I started to walk as far as I could. At first, it was just to the end of the street. Then the next day, it was a couple houses further. Then after about a month, I started to jog. After three months, I walked a 5K..." His program didn't involve doing interval training or scheduling rest periods and perhaps exercise trainers wouldn't necessarily think it was the best way to do it. However, I found it quite elegant in its simplicity and we can't argue with the results. He did something mundane - He walked as far as he could every day. And he did it for 365 straight days - maybe he took a few days off, but you get my point.

Your Turn


I hope you have found this article interesting and insightful. Now it is your turn to take some action. Here is a list of mundane practices I have developed and practiced over the years (not necessarily daily, but regularly). Maybe one or two of them are things you can add to your regimen:
  • Annotating my losses
  • Studying tactical problems
  • Going into each game with a couple mental objectives (I'll write more on this in another article)
  • Asking my opponent is he wants to discuss the game afterwards (when time allows)
  • Looking up a master game in the opening variation of a game I just played
  • Taking a short walk before each of my tournament games
  • Not looking at other boards during an Over-the-Board tournament
This is not an exhaustive list. You will notice that each of these things are not very complicated or take very long to do. However, each of these things have helped me over the years.

I hope you will follow-up and apply this concept to your own training. Please comment and let me know what you are going to try and how it works out. As always, I wish you good luck and Better Chess!

Resources


The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness by Jeff Olsen. This book has helped me change my life as well as my chess training. I think it's a must read for any person wanting to improve any aspect in their life, from business to parenting to chess.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What Chess Books Should I Study (for Beginners)

Chess books have been and probably always be one of the primary ways to study chess for improvement. In this article, I will discuss what are the first chess books you should study as you move from beginning chess to the intermediate level of chess. This guide will be useful for players who have just learned the game up to around USCF rating 1400. In a future post, I will discuss how to best learn from these books.


Book Selection


The selection of the right books to study is important. I remember when I was rated around 1300 and I went to a chess bookstore and the owner convinced me to buy Kasparov Versus Anand: The Inside Story of the 1995 Chess Championship Match. Not knowing any better I purchased it and eagerly started to play through the games. It only took me a couple games to realize that although the annotations were very detailed, this book was way over my head and written for a more advanced audience. Your personal chess improvement program will not only include studying books, but also playing (and analyzing your own games), and other activities like solving chess problems and maybe watching chess videos, so our goal is starting with a good foundation, and then after that is built, you can tailor the future books you study to what you need.

Principles


There are a few guiding principles that should help you find good material to study as well as a few recommendations:
  • Focus on books that have more text explanations rather than copious move variations. 
  • For now, books that are more general in nature are more useful than ones that are very focused. For example, a general book about openings is better than a book about a specific opening variation.
  • You only need one decent book in each major category of chess study (and I'll make a list below). As you progress through the books and get better at chess, your specific needs will dictate what further study materials you require to progress.

Foundational Books


With the preceding principles in mind, here is a list of books I have found helpful as I was moving from the beginner to intermediate level:
  • Game Collection/General Instruction: Logical Chess: Move By Move: Every Move Explained New Algebraic Edition by Chernev. This is a classic that explains the reasons behind every move. The games are older and illustrate a large number of fundamental principles, strategies, and tactics that are the basis of modern chess. After learning the moves of the game, this would be my recommendation on the next book to get!
  • General Opening Guide:  Winning Chess Openings (Winning Chess - Everyman Chess) by Yasser Seirawan. This book is not only comprehensive, covering many major openings, but also very enjoyable and logical to read for beginning level chess players. My general philosophy is that much of your opening study at this point should be general, and that you need to experience a lot of different types of positions and opening structures before focusing on a specific repertoire. This book will help you get that foundation.
  • Strategy: Winning Chess Strategies, revised (Winning Chess - Everyman Chess) by Yasser Seirawan. I admit I'm biased and many chess instructors recommend Jeremy Silman's The Amateur's Mind: Turning Chess Misconceptions into Chess Mastery. However, I enjoy Seirawan's writing style and easy to understand explanations of the concepts. Both books are very good and I would recommend getting one of them to start and you could always pick up the other one at a later point.
  • Tactics: Winning Chess Tactics by Yasser Seirawan. This is a very easy to understand and comprehensive look at tactics. The thing I like about Seirawan's books on strategy and tactics is that at the end of the book he has some very nice annotated games illustrating the principles that he discussed with the book featuring chess history's greatest strategists (such as Capablanca and Karpov) and tacticians (such as Tal and Kasparov). After studying this book and doing the exercises, you can go onto one of the online chess servers, such as Chess Tempo and practice your tactics.
  • Endgame: Silman's Complete Endgame Course: From Beginner To Master by Jeremy Silman. This is arguably the only endgame book you'll need for a long time. Study just the part indicated for your rating class and then put it away and study the other stuff until your rating and strength improve then you can study more. I actually had a different book that I used as I was moving up, but after reading this book, I feel that you should just get this one for your endgame study and after you reach 1700-1800 get the more encyclopedic Fundamental Chess Endings as a reference guide.

Conclusion


If you study each of the books on this list (or use it to fill the gaps of the books you already have), I believe you will have a solid foundation for your chess future. As you progress in chess, your study will go from this general foundation to more specific study, including developing your own opening repertoire and looking up specific strategies and endgames that you find interesting or challenging. This future study will be based on discoveries you make within your own games. I hope your journey is as insightful and enjoyable as mine was.

I hope you have found this guide helpful. As always, I wish you good luck and Better Chess!

    Friday, May 23, 2014

    Who Should You Play to Improve Your Chess?

    Get a Better Tennis Partner

     

    The late business philosopher and speak Jim Rohn said, "You are the average of the five people you hang around most." One of my friends used to tell me, "If you want to get better at tennis, get a better tennis partner." If you want to get better at chess, you need to play people who are better than you are. Basically, in order to get past where you are, you need to hang out with people who have better mindsets and better skills than you do. The same is true in business, tennis, and chess.

    Recently, I was in a discussion on the Chess.com forums. In that forum, one of the members, a beginner, asked how to get better while showing us a game of him trouncing someone who was even more of a beginner. People made various comments, but I said that he needed to play stronger competition to expose his weaknesses. He asked, "But won't that make my rating lower?"

    I answered that perhaps it might in the short run, but as he played stronger players, he would see what he was doing wrong, and do things to improve upon them. Also, he would pick up on the strategies and tactics that his stronger opponents were using on him, and then learn to use them on other people.

    The Benefits of Stronger Competition


    I think sometimes players get comfortable at their level. When I first started playing USCF Rated tournaments, my first published rating was 1071. The main tournaments I was playing in were G/30 Quads (a 3-round Round-Robin tournament with 4 players). I played weekly for about 3 months during the summer while I was in graduate school. I got to know the players in the 1100-1400 range.

    I was on my way up, but there were guys there who were in that range for years. Now, there's nothing wrong with that if you're happy with that, of course. Who am I to judge anybody else? However, one thing I noticed was even thought their ratings were within one class of each other, they had kind of a pecking order. Joe (not his real name) was at the top, with a rating of about 1350 or so, and he kind of talked down to the other players, even though they were within 50-100 ratings points of them. He didn't talk to the stronger players either. In any case, my point is people get comfortable with where they're at. If there's no need to get better (because you're the top of your food chain), then you won't (or at least you usually won't).

    And that's the first benefit of stronger competition - it gets you out of your comfort zone! For example, I used to play a lot of unsound gambits when I was lower rated. I can't blame the gambits, because some of them are played by much stronger competition, but the point was they would surprise my weaker competition and give me a false sense of confidence in my playing ability. As I started playing higher rated players, however, they would play the strongest defenses to my tricky openings and I was left wondering what to do. I ended up abandoning those openings, because I usually ended up a pawn down (my gambit pawn) with little compensation and then just getting ground down and losing a pawn down endgame or blundering.

    My lesson was that I needed to learn the different aspects of chess. I had been spending all my times learning all the tactical tricks in my openings in case my opponent played fell into my traps. It's just that the stronger players didn't fall into the traps! So I had to learn proper openings. I eventually found out that I could get exciting or at least fun positions starting from at least a level position. Also, I learned to use strategy and tactics in different types of positions for a more well balanced game.

    What I also found out from playing stronger competition is that often, they could give me advice about positions that were confusing to me. I would ask them what I could have played differently and better, and many of them would tell me what they would expect. Part of their generous attitude probably contributed to being stronger in the first place - they liked to analyze and talk about chess.


    Hikaru Nakamura has the Right Idea


    Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, the strongest player in the US and in the top ten in the world, has not played in the US Championship in a few years. His reason is that he only wants to play against the best competition in the world, such as World Champion Magnus Carlsen and other top players such as Levon Aronian and Former World Champ Vishy Anand. As much as US Chess Fans would love to see him play in the US Championships, I believe he is making the right move for his career.

    His goal - if I understand correctly from his interviews and articles about him - is to eventually compete for the World Championship. In order to do this, he has to play those who will push him and motivate him to become the best chess player in the world. He can't "waste" his time playing against the other top US players, because they simply aren't strong enough to push him.

    To use a non-chess example, I recently had knee surgery to repair a torn ACL and meniscus. I had to stay off my leg for two weeks before starting to put any weight on it. Amazingly, right before my eyes, my quadriceps and calf muscles atrophied to approximately 50% of their size. The change was quite dramatic, and being someone who was fairly active with martial arts and running, it was a little shocking. I found out the hard way that the body is very efficient at harnessing resources on what is needed most - and cutting off resources from what is not needed or being used.

    For Mr. Nakamura, his chess muscles need to be pushed constantly to continue to grow or to maintain his world-class strength. Even playing other grandmasters who are not in the upper echelon would be the chess equivalent of taking weight off your leg for two weeks.

    So Who Should You Play?


    Of course, since chess for most of us is a hobby, we should play who we want to, and I'm not proposing that you refuse to play anybody except better players. However, if you are trying to get better at chess, on average you should strive to play those who are slightly better than you, with the occasional game against those who are not as strong as you are.

    This is easy to do on chess servers such as the Internet Chess Club and Chess.com. You can set your rating parameters however you like. I usually play people up to about 50 ratings points below me and up to 200 points above me. That way, I know on average that I'll be playing people who are better than I am.

    Summary


    Playing stronger players will do several things for you. They will help you expose your weaknesses, which you can then work on improving. They will provide you with feedback, so you can start to think and play like the stronger players. Finally, they will push and motivate you to improve and reach their levels and higher. Do like Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura and only play competition that will help you become better. Of course, occasionally play those who are not as strong - chess is a game to be enjoyed after all - but maintain a diet of healthy competition and see your rating rise. As always, good luck and Better Chess!

    Wednesday, May 21, 2014

    How to Think in Chess: Better Chess Thinking 1

    Hi there!

    Do you sometimes get lost in a position?

    It's natural, and happens to all players, from beginners up to the World Champion. Of course, the stronger the player, the more capable he is of handling positions that are novel or confusing. They can do this because of experience in similar positions as well as being able to notice positional and tactical patterns even in positions they've never seen before.

    Adriaan de Groot, a Dutch chess master and psychologist, studied how players analyze positions, and did some very interesting experiments in the late 1930's. Chess master and coach Dan Heisman has incorporated some of this research into his own training for his students and has written an interesting article about it in his popular Novice Nook column on Chesscafe.com.

    In this article, he discusses how de Groot took players of all levels, including World Champion Max Euwe, and other top grandmasters at the time such as Reuben Fine and Paul Keres, and had them analyze specific positions. In analyzing the responses of the players, he observed that the top players followed a general thought process which I repeat here (the descriptions of each step in the process are mine):
    1. Orientation of the Possibilities: Getting the lay of the land, including positional and tactical possibilities such as king safety, pawn structure, open files and diagonals, the initiative, etc.
    2. Phase of Exploration: During this phase we take the elements we noticed in the first step and come up with possible moves and plans that can maximize the specific elements to our advantage. This is where we figure out our candidate moves and come up with preliminary plans.
    3. Phase of Investigation: Here, we take the plans and candidates and subject them to analysis, including calculating specific variations (especially forcing ones) and evaluate the positions that result from it.
    4. Striving for Proof: Finally, here we try to prove that the candidate we plan on making is actually better than the others. This is often a step that many beginners and intermediate players (myself included) skip. We often find a move that isn't a complete blunder and we make it.
    We will improve our thinking in chess if we try to incorporate these four steps into our games. There is much to be written about each of these phases and topics such as calculation, positional imbalances, evaluation, and books have been written about each of these topics. However, it's often good to experiment with the concepts and make our own conclusions. Also, it may be helpful to observe the thought process of stronger players.

    In this regard, I first recommend checking out Dan Heisman's book The Improving Chess Thinker: Revised and Expanded where he goes a lot more in depth with de Groot's exercises and you can read some of the answers from players of different strengths.

    Secondly, you can check out this video series I'm starting, where I take positions from master games, my games, and games from others and go through the thought process to try to find the best move. I can't guarantee that I'll always be right, but I want to demonstrate that by systematically analyzing your positions, you can gradually improve your decision making.

    Here is the first position that I used, taken from a game of my friend. It's Black to play:


    Take up to 20 minutes and try to see what you would play as Black. See if you can incorporate de Groot's thought process into your analysis. Then, watch the video to see how I did and the solution.





    A consistent thinking process is developed through practice and experience, as well as study of chess strategy, tactics, and positional play. However, having a template to start from is always helpful. There are many books that give various ways to think about chess, but often simple is the best. With de Groot's 4-step Thought Process, you have a simple method you can incorporate with your own methods, refining it as you develop as a player. Try it out, and let me know how it works for you.

    As always, I wish you the best of luck and Better Chess!


    Resources



    The Improving Chess Thinker: Revised and Expanded by Dan Heisman. A very interesting read and very insightful.

    Learning from Dr. de Groot by Dan Heisman. An archived article from the Novice Nook column on Chesscafe.com. (update 4/28/2016: Chesscafe.com is now a subscription website and access to this article is only for members only. However, if you happen to be a member or want to become one, this article is a good one)

    Monday, May 19, 2014

    4 Dimension Model of Learning Chess (and Anything Else)

    How do you know whether or not your chess study (or any other topic you learn) is going to be effective? 

    In today's post, I'm going to share with you a the 4 Dimension Model of Learning (or 4D for shot) that I developed so that you can use it to plan out and monitor your study sessions for maximum effectiveness. I will lay out each dimension briefly and expand on them in future posts and videos.


    Dimension 1: Relevance


    Is what your studying relevant to what you need now as a chess player? Will the material you are studying - book, video, web site - be useful for you in the future? An affirmative answer to both of these questions is critical in maximizing your study efficiency with the precious time you use towards your chess improvement.

    Selection is an important aspect of creating your chess study and training program. Check out this picture:











    You can optimize your chess improvement by studying things that are closer to the bullseye. As your knowledge increases, your target expands as you have to fill in gaps. For example, if you are rated below 1400 and you are losing to knight forks or giving up one or two-move checkmates, then understanding the intricacies of the 21st move of the King's Indian Defense will not help you as much as learning basic tactics. However, when you are rated 2100 and you regularly reach move 20 in the King's Indian Defense within theory, then knowing the 21st move is very relevant for you.

    So choose your study material wisely!

    Dimension 2: Engagement


    The more you engage the task at hand, the more you will understand and remember the material. When I teach classes to adult students, some of them sit there with a glassy look in their eyes particularly after a long day at work. Others will be leaning forward, watching intently, scribbling notes as I speak. Which one do you think will retain more of the information I'm teaching?

    There are many ways to increase engagement in your chess study. Here are a few:
    • Check yourself by asking - I do it out loud sometimes - do I understand this? If the answer ever comes back "no" you can decide what to do from there.
    • When studying master games, try to guess what the winner is going to play (while covering up the moves) - I call this Solitaire Chess and I think it's a great training method.
    • Ask yourself "what if" often and try to determine what would be the best line of play if something other than what the author wrote was played (e.g. in a chess book). 
    • When studying one of your own games or an unannotated master game, write in your own words what you think is going on. 
    • When watching chess videos, pause it often and think about what is going on and whether or not you agree with the presenter's opinion. 

    The bottom line is finding ways to think more about the material while your studying it will help you learn it better. Another way to put this is to be a more active learner vs. a passive learning. Years ago, I had a chess lesson with Grandmaster Gregory Serper. He told me that one of his assignments was to correct a collection of annotated games by Garry Kasparov - without the use of computer engines. He was given this assignment by Kasparov himself. Let's just say his level of engagement to complete his assignment was very high!

    Solving tactical problems is often very effective for quick improvement for beginning and intermediate students since by forcing the student to produce the solution, he is forced to engage the material at a very high level.

    Dimension 3: Challenging


    Like Goldilocks, the level of difficulty of the material you learn has to be just right.

    If the material is too hard, first off you won't learn anything. Second, you will just get frustrated and perhaps quit. Even if you do plow through and think you have it, it may not be applicable to your level of play.

    If the material is too easy, you will get easily bored and won't learn anything new. Unfortunately, this can also lead to overconfidence.

    Material is just right illicit the feelings of being challenged as well as stretching oneself to become better. This material should have elements of things already known material to build upon. At this level, you will often feel an A-HA! moment during your study session.

    This is also the reason that it is important that a majority of your opponent's should be within 50-100 rating points of your rating. Of course, it is good to play stronger players and occasionally to play weaker players, but you will learn best if your opponent's are just slightly stronger than you on average.

    Dimension 4: Time


    Chess author and coach Dan Heisman has stated that amateur players often lose not because of knowledge they didn't learn, but because they didn't apply it at the right time. Also, have you noticed that it's easier to play an opening after you've just studied it or played it recently than if you hadn't? Dimension 4 if focused on the effect that time has on our learning.

    After we learn something, we should review it - fairly frequently at first, and less often as time goes on and the material is more strongly connected in our brains. This type of learning is called Spaced Repetition Learning and I will be discussing it more in future posts because it is one of the cores behind my personal training program.

    Here's a picture to illustrate:


    Each upward spike represents someone learning or reviewing the material. After each presentation, the downward sloping line represents the forgetting that happens between presentations. As time goes on, forgetting slows and retention increases for each repetition. There are factors that effect this of course, including Dimensions 1, 2, and 3 as well as things like emotional state during learning, fatigue, and other factors.

    To maximize Dimension 4, we should have a regular routine of reviewing material we've learned in the past. You can use spreadsheets, calendars, and other tools to do so. There are also some commercial programs that use sophisticated algorithms to determine the optimum spacing (not too frequently or not too long between repetitions). I use this type of program - Supermemo - in my own training regimen.

    Summary


    I hope that you will use the 4 Dimensions of Learning in your own chess endeavors. I didn't create 4D to come up with a new theory of learning. Instead, I needed a practical way to know whether I was getting the most out of my chess study. I checked that the material I was studying was relevant and challenging, I monitored myself while studying to make sure I was engaged in the material, and I put the material through systematic review over time to make sure I retained it and could apply it. I wish you success in using it as well. As always, I wish you the best of luck, and of course Better Chess!

    Resources


    The 4D Model of Learning is not a sophisticated model based on some academic theory. It is simply a result of asking myself what elements need to be in place for learning to be most effective. I have been influenced by several books and authors, including:

    Supermemo: Based on Dr. Piotr Wozniak's research on memory, it is a program that helps space out learning repetitions for items of learning. This site includes some of the research behind spaced repetition. I will be doing some tutorial videos on how I use Supermemo in my training.

    Brain Rules by John Medina. This book has a lot of neat information on how our brains work and the types of things we should do to maximize our brain's performance and memory.

    The Talent Code: by Daniel Coyle. This book discusses (although he doesn't use this term) the concept of engagement in one's training. He looks at it from the viewpoint of world class athletes, musicians, and authors, but it's very interesting and relevant to chess as well.

    Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoffrey Colvin. This is one of my favorite books that I have read through several times. In it is he describes Deliberate Practice, a process by which someone gets better than something. If you do read it, notice the similarities of the first 3 Dimensions. I will be also doing some posts describing Deliberate Practice and how it can be applied to chess training.

    Friday, May 16, 2014

    3 Ways to Get the Edge in Chess (Part 1)

    Do you sometimes get overwhelmed by the amount of work and knowledge it will take to get to your chess goals?

    Well, if you feel this way, which I have and do at times still, I'd like to introduce you to the concept of The Slight Edge. The basic idea is that simple choices that you make and small consistent actions that you take over time will create big results. I learned this concept and how to apply it to my life and chess from a book by Jeff Olsen called The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness. In this two part series, I will discuss a few of the most insightful ideas and how we can apply these to our chess training.

    Get a Better Philosophy

     

    Don't worry, this isn't about some esoteric philosophical system that you need to learn to get better at chess. It's about your beliefs about yourself, your ability in chess, and how you can improve. Jeff Olsen defines your philosophy as what you know, how you hold what you know, and how it affects what you do.

    Your philosophy about chess (and anything else in your life) creates your attitude, which drives your actions, which determines your results.






    Understanding this, does your philosophy empower you or limit you? (I think this is a similar concept to limiting beliefs which I will discuss in more detail in another post).

    Here are two chess philosophies:
    • You've either got it or you don't.
    • No matter where I am currently, I can improve myself.
    Which of these philosophies would empower you to have a positive attitude about chess training? Which of these philosophies will help me to get past your tough chess losses? Which of these philosophies would provide more enjoyment over your lifetime of playing chess? I hope the answer if obvious.

    Your Philosophy Creates Your Attitude


    Here are some attitudes created by the philosophy of "You've either got it or you don't."
    • Studying chess is a waste of time
    • I don't need to analyze my games
    • I'm probably not going to get any better than I am now.
    On the flip side, here are a few attitudes  that a philosophy of "No matter where I am currently, I can improve myself."
    • Everything I do to study and train will help me to get better.
    • By analyzing my mistakes, I will avoid them in the future.
    • I'm not where I want to be, but I will be some day.

     

    Your Attitudes Drive Your Actions

     

    We can see that these attitudes will each drive different actions. People with the first set of attitudes will probably tend towards doing the following:
    • Mainly play games (and not study or analyze their games)
    • Try to play opponents who are weaker than they are (since they see no point in playing tougher opposition where they are more likely to lose)
    • Eventually quit playing chess as they get more frustrated with their lack of progress 
    And the actions that would flow from the 2nd set of attitudes might include:
    • Going over your own games (including and especially your losses)
    • Try to analyze after games with opponents to try to improve
    • Balance playing games with study and training
    Finally, your actions determine your results. Whose results do you think will be better over time? The person who believes that you've either got it or you don't? Or the person who sees chess improvement as something that is attainable?

    Your Assignment

     

    In The Slight Edge, Jeff Olsen teaches that it doesn't matter how good the information is if we don't apply it. So I invite you to do the following as soon as you can:
    1. Determine what you current chess philosophy is? Write it down.
    2. What attitudes does your philosophy create? Write it down.
    3. Do you need a new or better philosophy? Guess what? Write it down.
    4. What new actions can you take with an improved set of philosophy and attitudes?
    I hope over the coming weeks and months you can enjoy the results!

    Please share your insights with us in the comments section and check out Part 2.

    Resources 

     

    Here are a couple books that you might find helpful.

    The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness by Jeff Olsen

    Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
    This is a great book that inspired me that despite my age and state in life (e.g. parent, businessman, etc.) I could improve my chess. Carol Dweck describes how your mindset - similar to your philosophy and attitudes - help to determine your success. If you are interested in self-improvement in any area of life (and chess), then I highly recommend this book.




     

    Thursday, May 15, 2014

    Better Chess Tactics 2

    Greetings Chess Friends,

    I have published the 2nd edition of Better Chess Tactics. If you find the video helpful, please let me know. If you don't find the video helpful, let me know so I can improve the videos! The goal is to improve you tactical vision and calculation by solving the problem and reviewing the solution.

    I will be creating an article about how to study tactics for different levels of player, so check back again.

    Best of luck in your chess games!



    Tuesday, May 13, 2014

    Better Chess Tactics 1

    I am starting a new series of videos to help explain how to solve and look at chess tactics in your games. In each video, I will be presenting a tactical position for you to solve and then I will not only give the solution, but also the thought process that you might go through to find the answer, including relevant analysis and calculations. I hope you find it helpful.

    Here is the first one!



    Here is a link to the Better Chess Training YouTube channel.

    Welcome

    Hi there,

    Thank you for visiting Better Chess Training. Here, I will be presenting some training ideas that will help you take your chess to the next level. There will be articles on chess training methods, chess psychology, motivation, as well as other articles that I hope you will find helpful. So please come back often because I plan on adding new content several times a week!