Monday, 3 October 2011

Chess: Why we lose and how to fix it!

Time Trouble
If you're constantly getting into time trouble then it is advisable to play at a quicker time control than you normally would in order to acclimatise to playing quickly under pressure. For instance if you normally play 90 minutes each on the clock and you are experiencing time trouble, then it is advisable to play some 15 minute games to adjust to thinking quickly and making some timely decisions. Certainly it is useful to analyse where in the game unnecessary time is being spent. If too long is spent getting out of the opening, then it is advisable to learn some openings that rely on a few hard and fast rules - rather than loads of theory. Those players that have prepared their openings invariably have the advantage of time. If you are spending too much time looking for tactics in the middlegame, then perhaps you need to spend more time in training solving tactics according to Michael De La Maza's 7 circles study plan, which will sharpen up your calculation speed.  Too much time spent on the ending means more practice in training specifically on endgame tactics puzzles only.

Hanging Pieces
Everyone does it! We all leave pieces hanging from time to time, but if this is a frequent occurrence, then it is necessary to consciously pause before every move you make and perform a 'blunder check' - a check to see whether or not the piece you are about to move leaves another piece undefended or whether the piece you are about to move will itself be 'en-prise'. Top players rarely need to blunder check because they have excellent 'sight of the board' and instinctively know how to coordinate their pieces and pawns.

Failure to see checkmate against you
Mate against you is easy to overlook. Really it is necessary to check for mates against you on practically every move. Mate can occur on move 2 in chess (Black can mate White) therefore it is necessary to remain vigilant from the outset. Mates against you commonly occur when you move a piece away from a square that had previously been guarding against a mate threat. E.g. Nf3 guarding against mate on h2 etc. It is advisable to play through the exercises in the following book to get into the habit of checking a situation first of all before being tempted into moving a piece or pawn that you shouldn't. I reviewed this book on Amazon some time ago.

Practical Chess Lessons: 600 Lessons from Tactics to Strategy - Ray Cheng

Failure to see checkmate that you could have played
As a chess player you should always be looking out for mating combinations. It is quite unlikely in long-play that your opponent will reward you with a mate in one, however, a forced mate in two or three should not be overlooked! Practice by running through mate in 2 and mate in 3 problems. Solve several of these for between 10 to 20 minutes per day. You will find great improvement in solving these if you stick to a daily regime.

Failure to see a tactical combination against you
I chatted to chess colleagues in the car recently on the way to a match about how they look for candidate moves without blundering. The overall concensus or opinion and advice is this: When you are looking for a candidate move - check and double check what your opponent can do once that candidate move has been played first and foremost. In fact you should spend as much time analysing your opponents possible combinations as you should your own! There is a strong grandmaster that recommends looking at "squares you leave behind" once you move a pawn or a piece. This is a kind of retrospective way of looking at the situation but nevertheless very effective.

Failure to see a tactical combination that you could have played
Really there is no substitute for practice. Again, dedicate up to 20 minutes per day solving tactics problems and stick to a training regime that gauges your improvement and encourages you to 'speed up' progressively (E.g. De La Maza - 7 circles). Mates will come easy once you know the patterns to look for and the type of position where you can help to bring that pattern about. I train during the week with a strong intermediate player who, when solving chess tactics, advises me to "look for all the crazy sacrifices" even if they look ridiculous - they may actually work!

Queen sacrifices for instance, are often overlooked by most amateur players because their mind is telling them "never lose your queen - it's your most valuable piece" - but if losing their queen leads to mate in their favour - then why worry?  I recommend the following books strongly:

Sharpen Your Tactics - Arkhangelsky & Lein
(reviewed on Amazon)

Find the Checkmate - Gary Lane
(Reviewed on Amazon)

Inferior Opening leading to weak position
Great advantage can be gained from having a deep understanding of the openings. Relying on tactics alone in chess can get you into hot water when faced with someone who is clued up and has an encyclopedic understanding of the opening that you are playing. Lack of understanding of the opening WILL lead to an inferior middlegame. Please read this post for a study plan and advice on the openings ...

Inferior Middlegame Strategy
Middlegame strategy is an extremely difficult subject to master.  Indeed some players are brilliant combative tacticians while others are defensive, strategic 'diehards' who like nothing more than to to fight in the trenches until the last man!  Whatever your style, it is important to know the subtleties and characteristics of a position.

Read the following books if possible for a complete study program:

Mastering Chess Strategy - Johan Hellsten

Reassess Your Chess Workbook Imbalances - Jeremy Silman

Inferior Endgame Technique
The chess endgame concepts can be grasped from CM9000 at amateur / intermediate level.  Knowledge of chess endgames is essential if you want to improve ...

Please read this post as well if you are fairly new to chess endgame technique.

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