Well, shit, I haven't posted anything in nearly three years. What should I be doing with my life? Shouldn't I be following the path of career and women (and not necessarily in that order).
Anyway, to get the ball rolling, let me quote an article in full from Tom Rowan, a guy who had some amazing advice.
Turning Your Chess Books into Grandmaster Strength Coaches
by Tom Rowan
[This article appeared in the May 2005 issue of Northwest Chess.]
Learning is difficult if you can't interact with your teacher. The lecturer may be saying brilliant and insightful things, but if all you can do is listen passively it's hard to absorb the lesson, let alone retain it for long.
I think most of us have a similar problem with our chess books. We may have Nimzovich, Fischer, Alekhine, Botvinnik and other greats sitting on our bookshelves, but most of their wisdom stays trapped in the pages. Just as we did with the classroom lecturer, we "listen" to those chess authors passively. We nod in agreement when we see a move or a comment that seems reasonable but we get no great insights.
There's hope, however. The wisdom in the chess books is still there. We just have to be more creative than "watching the moves go by" in order to get it out.
Here's an exercise you can try to accomplish this.
Start with a well annotated collection of classic games, Alekhine's best games for example.
You're going to be Alekhine when you play over these games. Instead of just watching the moves he plays, you're going to "play" Alekhine's opponent.
You'll need a bare game score - the moves without the annotations. You can create this by hand by copying the moves from the book, or you can retrieve the game from a chess database.
Set up the board and your chess clock. You'll also need a notebook to write down your move, why you chose that move, and how much time you took to decide on it.
Ready to play as Alekhine? Then start the clock.
For each of your moves in the game, take the following steps.
1) In the given position, think about which move you would make and why.
2) Write down (in blue ink) the move you chose. Also briefly write down your reasoning behind your choice and how much time you spent on the move. Leave room underneath your notes for additional comments later.
3) Uncover Alekhine's move on the bare scoresheet. Make that move on the board.
4) Uncover the opponent's move. Make that move on the board.
Repeat these 4 steps until the game is over. Stop the clock.
Set aside your pen with blue ink. Any further notes you make will be in red.
Now open Alekhine's book to the game you just played. Step through the game again. Sometimes you and Alekhine didn't play the same move. Sometimes your comments and his will be at odds. Maybe you commented heavily because you thought the position was critical but Alekhine didn't comment on that move at all. Or maybe Alekhine commented heavily but you didn't.
All that is OK. You're not being scored by how close your moves and comments came to Alekhine's. You're not being scored at all. You're trying to learn from the discrepancies you find.
As you replay the moves, make further annotations in red using Alekhine's moves and comments to assess and refine what you wrote earlier. Don't just mark up what you did wrong. Also note where your moves and annotations appear to be pretty close to the mark. Don't automatically assume Alekhine's moves and comments are the answer key. Be skeptical, and look hard at your comments and his before you decide where the truth of the position lies. If you do determine that you missed something important, try to figure out the reason you missed it. Write it down.
After you finish replaying the game, review everything you've written. Do you see any patterns in what you missed? What appear to be your strengths and weaknesses?
Above all, be constructive in your notes. There's no point bashing your play because it falls short of Alekhine's best. Everyone, including Alekhine, will fall short of that standard most of the time.
Instead, remember that the point of the exercise is to learn more than you could by just making Alekhine's moves and reading his comments. By immersing yourself in the game, you're transforming the book from a lecturer into an interactive coach.
Although the mechanics of this exercise are similar to those in the Solitaire Chess exercise that appears in Chess Life, there are important differences. Even in a chess masterpiece, I don't think it's valid to regard the move played as the best move, and I don't think it's very educational simply to try to guess the next move, even if it is the best.
I've tried this exercise with Alekhine games and with Fischer games, and have made several observations.
Having the clock running helps you take the exercise more seriously. It feels more like a tournament game. Also, recording the time you spend on each move helps keep you focused.
Annotating your moves as you go keeps you honest. You can't use your fuzzy memory to rationalize away your mistaken thinking.
Because you're actively participating in these games, you can get many of the practice benefits of playing over-the-board games without playing in a tournament.
I also made a couple of unexpected observations.
Many of these Alekhine and Fischer games are classics that I was semi-familiar with. More than once I chose a move by "remembering" what Alekhine or Fischer played, only to get it wrong. The lesson here is to play each position fresh. Trying to play from memory is hazardous.
One Alekhine game I played took longer than I expected. I was getting tired but I wanted to finish it so I stuck it out to the end. Although I was tired I was pretty happy with my moves and my annotations. Until I looked at the annotations the next morning. I was shocked to find that they were embarrassingly bad. That was a valuable lesson for me. Being tired hurt my play a lot more than I thought. Study is good but any benefits will be more than wiped out if it cuts into sleep time.
This is not a quick and easy exercise. You could easily spend as much time and effort as in a tournament game. On the other hand, it's the only way I know to have an Alekhine or a Fischer comment on the moves you play.
Till next time.