Thursday, May 9, 2019

Video Interview with Australian Chess Champion GM Max Illingworth + Notes

Interview with GM Max Illingworth

GM Max Illingworth is the 2019 Australian Chess Champion (as well as the champ in 2014). We discuss a few areas including his own chess development, his coaching philosophy, as well as training tips.

Below the video, I summarize some major points in bulletpoints.


Chess Development

  • Supportive parents were essential in Max's development.
  • He built a good foundation using GM Yasser Seirawan's Play Winning Chess book series (which I have recommended as well).
  • Coaches have played a key role in helping Max avoid misconceptions and lead him on the right path with his chess knowledge and training.

Overcoming Plateaus and Adversity

  • He hit a plateau as he had other competing priorities when he went to high school, and he learned to overcome his adversity partly through maturing with age as well as realizing that adversity is a part of growth.
  • Part of him breaking through the 1800 level he attributes to studying Andy Soltis' How to Choose a Chess Move.
  • "Sometimes you have to get a little bit worse before you improve." Part of improvement is grinding through adversity.
  • His coaches helped him overcome the chess obstacles, but were not as experienced in coaching the psychological side of chess and performance (which has inspired Max to study these areas in his own coaching career).

Chess Coaching

  • Max is currently focusing his time on his coaching and helping people.
  • Learning the "skill" of silence and really listening to his students is one of Max's secrets to his coaching success.
  • Coaching is an individualized process for Max. He tries to look at each student's individual needs and provide them with the solution - which may include resource recommendations, thinking techniques, or other training material.
  • Lessons over the internet has many advantages including being able to transmit material (e.g. pgn files, etc.) easily.
  • Max seems to be very specific in his recommendations to his students that comes from working very hard to understand their needs. No cookie cutter solutions!
  • Understanding his students' thought process and helping them to avoid mistakes in their thinking is one of his goals in coaching. He has been inspired in this by GM Jacob Aagaard.
  • One of the most common oversights is not seeing alternatives on move 2 - move 1 for many amateurs!
  • He is currently incorporating concepts from self-improvement and sports psychology - this is what sparked our first conversation with each other.

Chess Training 

  • Self-awareness is key to much chess improvement.
  • Max recommends solving problems by theme and then repeating them. (This is very similar to "The Woodpecker Method" that I've discussed before).
  • Books are more about giving knowledge as opposed to giving skills. As players, we need to learn how to apply the knowledge.
  • We also discuss the importance of having the "right" books to study and train, as the wrong books may teach the wrong lessons for a particular student. 
  • Blitz chess can be helpful...just don't overdo it! In particular, it gives you a lot of experience in your opening repertoire as well as endgames.
  • Training with a physical chess board is not necessary, and Max stresses that neglecting the efficiency and interactivity of using phone apps and computer software for training can be a mistake as well.
  • Getting feedback and trying to learn something from every game is a great way to improve.
  • Chess engine analysis can be helpful, but it is important to be actively engaged and asking questions when using it if you want it to help you improve.

Keep an Eye Out

Max has a few interesting projects coming up and I'll be sure to update you and perhaps have Max for another interview of update in the future!

Contacting Max

If you'd like to contact Max:

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

How I Reached 2300+ on Chess.com Tactics Trainer

Six Tips to Improve Your Tactics

Breakthrough!
Recently, I broke the 2300 mark on Chess.com's Tactics Trainer. Although building up your tactics skill is a road of consistent effort and learning, I was able to attribute my recent performance on the tactics server to a few specific changes in the way I train.

In this article, I will summarize six of those changes in the form of specific tips. For those of you who enjoy watching videos, I created a video on this topic

Control Your Environment

I found that I was doing my tactics training in places where I could get easily distracted. For example, on my phone while the kids were getting ready for school or during dinner with the family. One of the major things I changed was to follow a simple rule: No tactics when someone else is in the room. It reduced my distractions, and improve my relationships with my family members.

Improve Your Mindset

As I started to improve at tactics, I found myself focusing too much on my tactics rating. I know the title of this article is focuses on my rating, but it was my focus on the process of training and improvement that produced the results, not the other way around.

Besides focusing on the process more, I also tried to monitor the way I spoke to myself. Instead of getting upset when I got a problem wrong, I would tell myself, "I am learning and growing from this mistake" or something similar to try to put myself in a better frame of mind. 

Build (or Rebuild) Your Foundation

An important factor in improving my tactics was having a command of various tactical themes. To this end, I supplemented my training on Chess.com with several chess tactics e-books on Chessable.com: 1001 Chess Exercises for Beginners and The Woodpecker Method. As of this writing, I've solved about 1000 problems (and reviewed them multiple times with Chessable) covering a comprehensive variety of tactical motifs in these books. 

This foundation served me well as I was able to spot patterns fairly quickly. Since Chess.com's rating is partly derived from the speed in which you solve the problems, this fluency with the tactical patterns paid dividends in terms of higher ratings gains from correct solutions.

Learn from Your Mistakes

Another important habit that I developed over the last year is looking over all of the problems particularly the ones I got wrong to make sure I understood the solution. In addition to understanding the chess aspects of the problems, I also analyzed my thoughts and variations I had when solving the problems. This self-awareness helped me to avoid future mistakes.

On Chess.com, I downloaded the problems and studied them on SCID. If I found a useful pattern, I saved it into Chessable. This has helped me to identify similar patterns in future problems.

Balance Quantity and Quality

I read about people who do 50+ tactical problems a day. However, I wonder how they do these? Are they studying their mistakes? Are they treating these problems like a game-like situation? I think players need to balance quantity and quality when it comes to tactics training.
 
I probably do about 10-15 new tactics problems daily. I do review tactics problems using Chessable, so this probably accounts for another 10-20 problems daily. Additionally, among these problems, I probably do additional analysis on a few of the problems - e.g. if I get a problem wrong - to make sure I understand them. This takes about 20-30 minutes a day. I think this thoughtful training is just as effective as someone who plows through a ton of problems over a full hour.

Of course, everyone's different, but reflect and observe your own habits and see if you are balancing quality with quantity.

Create Your Identity

How do you see yourself as a tactician? Thinking of yourself as "the best tactician in the world" may be unrealistic and is probably more detrimental than helpful. However, if you see yourself as a capable tactician or an improving tactician, that identity can help influence your behaviors. If you identify yourself as a good tactician, you'll be more thoughtful in your training. You'll be more confident both in your training and your games when it comes to tactics. 

This may sound a little farfetched, but I started tell myself that I was a good tactician. I started to take pride in seeing all of the relevant variations in a problem. I started to see more combinations and sound sacrifices in games. Try it out!

Keeping Perspective

Of course, your tactics rating is separate than your overall chess strength and rating. However, for many amateur players, a deficiency in tactics is a big hindrance. I've met many players who "outplayed" me only to drop a piece and then had to resign - and I've been that player as well. If you look at the tactics ratings of title players like International Masters, you'll see they all have incredibly high tactics ratings. Indeed, not all players with high tactics ratings are strong players overall...but nearly all strong players have high tactics ratings.

Your Turn

I invite you to try a few of these tips in your future training. Send me a tweet at @YourBryanCastro and let me know what you thought about this article.