Druss Blog

An account of my attempts to try and improve my chess.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Is this tactical training working?

After a bit of a lull, I've started playing more on ICC. Mainly blitz games.

I thought I'd be better after all this tactical training, but I'm not. I was about 1300 ish before I started my training, but I lost a fair number of games and have now slid down to 1100. Have I got 200 points worse?

I think there might be several factors at play. Partly I'm out of practice. Time management is crucial to blitz, and it is all too easy to spend too long thinking, only to get a piece up and lose on time. The opposite can be true as well - too little time and I blunder away pieces. However, I think there is something else going on as well.

Most of my chess in recent months has been focused on CT Art. I've got into a mindset that there is always some killer tactical blow ... some cunning queen sacrifice or such leading to mate ... all I have to do is think about it hard enough and I'll discover it. Dangerous when you are playing real games! I find I am quite reckless now and throw games as a result.

I did calm a bit and playing more sensibly, but it was a struggle. I played an interesting couple of games against a 1750 rated player. I gave up trying just to go for the cheap tactical hit, because he was a lot stronger than me, and tried just to gain small positional advantages. I lost both games, but the 1750 complemented me and said I was exerting a nice amount of pressure.

This lead me to thinking about chess from a whole game perspective. At my level, is it a slow build up of pressure which cracks when one player makes a tactical error? If so, I suppose the key to better play is going to be something along the lines of:
- don't try for anything too rash too soon ... slowly build up little advantages
- have a good enough tactical brain to pounce as soon as there is a tactical play
- avoid conceding tactical plays to your opponent

After thinking this, I remembered MDLM's description in Rapid Chess Improvement of a game he played move-by-move. This seems to be what he is saying as well.

So the tricky bit is how do you spot the tactical play? One way is to train yourself with loads of tactical examples until those patterns just spring out by themselves from the board. The other is to try and work out some rules for when they might exist - common thoughts are: weak king position, unprotected pieces, overloaded pieces. But how much use are these rules? Doesn't it have to be more natural?

Also, how long could I keep using this approach? When do players eradicate tactical slips from their play? Silman is most critical of MDLM's approach and values the strategic analysis of imbalances etc. However, I remember reading somewhere that Kasparov thought that GMs could often tactically overwhelm IMs. So it seems that this approach could stand me in good stead for some time.


At 2:19 PM, Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Ahh, the perennial questions.

MDLM had to add a third stage of training, the thinking process, to translate his tactical skills into OTB improvements.

Also, many knights have commented that they actually get worse for a little while during training. This is probably because their way of thinking is in a state of flux: tons of new information coming in, not integrated with old (not necessarily better, but engrained) ways of thinking, so things just haven't quite come together yet.

As for myself, I fluctuate a lot in my rating. When I am in a down phase, it is usually because I have gotten into a mode where I am moving too fast/playing while tired. Blitz games would exacerbate the moving too fast. However, each person is different. My cousin became an excellent chess player doing nothing but blitz about 10 games a day for 2 years: he never read a book or anything. I think he is the exception, though, as instructors like Heisman think long games are very important for improvement.

At 10:44 PM, Blogger Edwin 'dutchdefence' Meyer said...

My approach is; Try to combine the two (where Silman and de la Maza are concerned). No matter how you look at it, they both have a point. If you combine Silman's criticism with de la Maza's learning approach, it should lead to an interesting way of training. But i probably don't make a lot of sense right now, since i am very tired.

At 4:28 AM, Blogger Pale Morning Dun - Errant Knight de la Maza said...

I think dutchdefense is making a whole hell of a lot of sense. You cannot play chess just looking for tactics. If you go through MDLM's example games, he's actually employing some forms of strategy and positional play. I think you need a working knowledge of both.

At 1:43 PM, Blogger phorku said...

I had a rating dip at the beginning of my tactical training too. I got more aggressive than I usually am and did was not considering the positional aspects enough. I think one of the big failures of CT-ART and this training is that every problem in program has a tactical solution. Many times when practicing my tactics I cannot see what exactly it is or the end of the line. Many times I can guess the first move and see it as it unfolds, but how well would that work in a real game? It would be great if they mixed some positions in there that didn't have any tactical strikes. I think the tactical training is helping me. I still miss a lot but am starting to see somethings I would have missed before. I just reached a new all time high (1584) standard rating on FICS after doing all the problems in my son's kid's chess tactics book (1 month) and working through some CT-ART problems (2 months). I made my previous all time high by studying Silman's books (1 year) but could not maintain my rating and went back down to ~1530. I never made my goal of 1600 by the end of last year. Now that I analyze most of my games with Crafty I can see how tactically weak I am and feel like I should improve greatly with some more tactical training. I think Silman's books are great and are complimentary to the program, but what good is it if I understand B v N but still am missing one move tactical shots and mates in 2?


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