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Monday, May 23, 2016

How to Play Solitaire Chess with SCID

Introduction


One of the best ways to improve at chess is Solitaire Chess. Solitaire Chess is a training method where you play through a master game as the winner and try to guess the move. This training method has been around for a long time and is an incredible tool for improvement.

I wrote an extensive guide to Solitaire Chess on GM Nigel Davies' Chess Improver site, so I won't go into detail about Solitaire Chess here. Instead, I'd like to show you how you can use SCID's "Review game" feature to make Solitaire Chess more effective and fun.

SCID is a free and very powerful database, and I've been experimenting with it a lot lately. For more information, I wrote an introduction to SCID.

Step-by-Step Instructions


Step #1: Prepare your source material.

To play Solitaire Chess on SCID, you need to have a game in a database to play. If you are using a physical book, you can look up the game in your database or an online database such as Chess Tempo or chessgames.com. Then just open up the game by double clicking in your game list window.

SCID's Game List Window

Step #2: Move to the Starting Position

Trying not to look at the game notation (so your peripheral vision doesn't catch too many of the moves), use the right arrow key to move the game to the position where you want to start playing Solitaire Chess. Here are some ideas for where you may wish to start.
  • If the game is within your opening repertoire, you can start at move 1 if you wish, but may wish to move it forward several moves if the game uses a different move order than the one you use within your repertoire.
  • For most games, you may want to play through the first 10-15 moves so that you start in the early middlegame.
  • If you want to focus on the endgame, move foreward until it looks like you are transitioning from the middlegame to endgame. This could be anywhere between moves 30-40 depending on the specific game.
Also you need to orient the board to the side you want to play. For example, if you will be playing the Black side during the game, you need to rotate the board by clicking on the board option button on the lower right of the board module - see the screenshot below.

Rotate the Board to play Black

Step #3: Select the Game Review Option in the Play Menu

Click on the Play menu. Hover on the Training option and it will reveal another menu. Click on the Review Game option. 

SCID Screenshot

Once you select this, the Game Review module will pop up.

Game Review Image
Game Review Window
You do not need to worry about the settings very much. Because you will often be using a chess book to consult after your Solitaire Chess game, you do not need to (nor should you) rely on the chess engine analysis. However, at some points the engine analysis will be useful and you can further analyze it once you have completed playing through your game.

Step #4: Play Through the Game

The computer will take several seconds (depending on the "time" setting) to calculate its response. After that you will see "Enter your move." There is no time limit other than what you may determine for yourself, so play through the game as if you were playing in a tournament or online game. 

Once you make your move on the board, it will let you know whether or not you played the move in the game score. If not, you may have matched the engine's top score, and it will let you know as well. Also, any moves that are within a certain range (that you can adjust) of the game move or the engine move will be indicated with "You did not choose the engine move, but it was a good move."

If you do not select one of these moves or a blunder you will also be notified. This information, including the engine analysis when you blunder, will be added to the game score. This will be essential for post-mortem analysis.

Step #5: Analyze Your Results

After you are finished playing, you will see how many of the moves you picked correctly. If you wish, you can record this in a spreadsheet to see your improvement over time. More importantly, you should go to the moves where you did not select the best moves and using your chess book and the engine analysis, try to understand your mistakes. Check out my Solitaire Chess guide for more details on this. 

Chess Analysis
Analyze Your Performance
As mentioned before, I recommend that you not rely on the chess engine variations, but they may be a good place to start to show you what you have missed in your own analysis during the game. Often, well annotated games in chess books will show you interesting or critical variations. When you are finished analyzing, your game score might look something like the one above.

Step #6: Adjust Your Training and Study

This step is ongoing. As you continue to play Solitaire Chess along with your other training, you may notice some patterns of common errors that you make. If you can find these, perhaps with the help of a chess coach or stronger player, you can adjust your training and study to strengthen these areas of weakness.

Here are some examples of errors you might want to look for:

  • Specific tactical themes - Do you make moves that lead to common tactics such as a pin or fork? Do you miss the opportunity to win material?
  • Specific positional themes - Do you miss opportunities to grab the two bishops when appropriate?
  • Mistakes in the endgame - Are there basic endgame positions you don't know how to play (e.g. Lucena and Philidor positions)?
  • Mistakes in specific opening structures - Do you know what to do in Sicilian pawn structures or which pawn breaks to use in the French or King's Indian Defense?
Chess improvement is an ongoing project, so finding a way to categorize and eventually reduce these frequently occuring mistakes will be very helpful over time.

Final Thoughts


Solitaire Chess is a great way to practice your chess skills as well as study great master games. SCID's Review Game mode is a fun and effective way to play Solitaire Chess. With these steps, you will be able to maximize your learning and results with this training method. This way of training is not easy, but regular Solitaire Chess including follow-up analysis will pay great dividends for your future chess development.

Resources


Measure and Improve Your Chess: Here are some ideas you may want to use to record your progress in Solitaire Chess.

4-Steps to Analyzing Your Games for Improvement: Analyzing your Solitaire Chess game is similar to analyzing your other chess games, and this guide can help you get the most out of the post-mortem analysis.

Think Like a Grandmaster by Alexander Kotov: This classic book explores a lot of chess topics, but goes into a bit of detail about types of analysis. Kotov describes exercises that are actually a variation of Solitaire Chess and attributes much of his development to employing these training methods.

5 comments:

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAf2L_zmEc0

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    1. And thank you for your comment! I have read your comments on Temposhlucker's blog and I enjoy them.

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  2. Greetings,
    Neat. I've used Chess Hero several years ago. It's a great tool. I've been using Solitaire Chess strategically to build specific skills and I like using SCID specifically as opposed to Chess Hero because I can target what positions I want to play out. However, I think random training is good as well.

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  3. To quickly rotate the board in SCID, just hit the period key.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the tip! I've only been using it for the last couple months, so I'm learning as I go.

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