Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Can a Class A player benefit by joining the Knights Errant?

I have just finished what will probably be my last tournament at the Marshall Chess Club tonight, and I am ending it with a bang-- I beat three 2100 players and lost a tough tough fight against a master to win the 2nd place prize, a 2300 performance rating, a personal best!

Those who have been reading this blog may recall that last time I posted, I was bemoaning my many chess losses in recent months, a losing streak in which I lost 9 of 10 games and almost 100 rating points. While it may be premature to say that I have recovered from my slump, my rating at least has climbed to the 2nd highest point ever.

But I am not posting to gloat-- I am posting to inform. Desperate for a clue to my losing woes, I took a long hard look at the last 50 of my recent games. I discovered something that should have been obvious-- almost all of my games were losses due to tactical mistakes. I was getting strategically superior positions, but I was 1) missing tactics that simplified the game to a win, 2) missing my opponents' tactical chances 3) misplaying my own tactical opportunities (e.g. I would see that I have a pin, but I wouldn't properly take advantage). Also, because I was blundering so much, my confidence in my calculations was horrendous, and I would sink into time pressure again and again.

Having been an avid reader of this blog, I was familiar with the De la Maza method that has spawned the Errant Knights group of chess bloggers. The idea is simple-- to improve from a class player to an expert, do 1000 chess problems in 64 days, then start over and do them all in 32 days, then 16 days, etc. until the whole set is completed in one day. When I read about this, I thought that plan for improvement sounds great for a Class C player, but maybe would only offer diminishing returns to a Class A player. After all, I've built up to the A class on my tactical skill, no?

Well, no. First, all those tactical opportunities I had in all those games -- all wasted! Second, I picked up a book, GM Emms' "The Ultimate Chess Puzzle Book," with 1001 puzzles, and I started doing the easy section at the front. I was shocked--shocked--shocked-- to discover that I got several wrong out of the first easy pages!!!! Other "easy" ones took me several minutes or more. If I skipped ahead to the harder ones, I couldn't even find the tactical IDEAS to begin solving the puzzle.

I had discovered my problem at last. It wasn't a problem of psychology, not an issue of stamina, not a question of being relaxed or nervous. No! During my last few years of chess study, I have been focusing on opening, middlegame, and endgame play, with signs of improvement there. I was capable of making plans. I knew where to put my knights and how to fight for squares. During all that great and useful and interesting study, my tactical brain had shrunk.

And that is how I have become a Knight. I am still on circle 1, but I have done more than 600 chess problems in the last 3 weeks and am on pace to finish the set in the 64 alloted days. It is a struggle at times, but I can already see the difference in my approach, the depth to which I can calculate, the speed at which I see trapped and hanging pieces.

So, thanks knights.I'll keep updating people on my progress. And to answer the question of the headline-- a class A player CAN benefit from De La Maza's program. Only time will tell as to how much.

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