Friday, August 3, 2012

Excelling at Chess Calculation by Jacob Aagaard

Looking for an easy way to improve?  If so, move on…there’s nothing to see here.
      I’ve heard a lot of pros and cons about this book. Mostly though complaints seem to center around Aagaard’s taking potshots at John Watson and Josef Dorfman in his books.
      The standard back cover hype reads, “The art of chess calculation is the absolute key to the success of a player. Master this discipline and you can surely expect your results to improve dramatically.” One reviewer warned though, Aagaard advocates hard work and this book has a ton of analysis. So, if you’re looking for a book where everything is explained concisely using words and 3-4 move variations to illustrate the point, read no further.
      The thing is, you can’t study tactics without a lot of analysis. Aagaard writes, “For my other books I have generally refrained from long variations and tried to explain everything with words. But here it was the variations themselves that needed to be explained. Also, for those interested in working with this book seriously, it will be an advantage to be able to follow the author’s reasoning more closely.” Threading your way through all this is where using an engine would be very helpful.  I’d recommend saving the games to their own database as you go through the.  If you take this approach be prepared to end up with a ton of analysis on each game which, when you think about it, probably isn’t all that bad.
The chapters are:

1. Before you can think, you need to learn how to see
2. Candidate Moves
3. When is the right time to Calculate?
4. Important Thinking Techniques
5. Visualization and Stepping Stones
6. When it is time to calculate
7. Creativity and Combinational Vision
8. How to Train Calculation
9. Exercises
10. Solutions

      Aagaard makes the point that it makes little sense to investigate how to develop a tree of analysis based on the candidate moves if the player doesn’t know how to properly arrive at those candidates in the first place. So, he claims that the most important thing is not so much how many moves ahead you can see, but to first check out what possibilities there might be.  When calculating, one ought to first calculate wide, not deep.  I once heard a 2300+ otb player who also happens to be correspondence IM advising this is the correct approach when using an engine.  He said you have to look at a lot of moves before you start weeding out the ones that appear to be unplayable.
      Purdy, Soltis, Silman and others have touched on the subject of knowing when calculation is not necessary.  So does Aagaard but he also covers in detail when you should start calculating.
       In the first eight chapters there are about 80 positions or games and the reader is reminded about making assumptions and examples of desperados, vision, comparison, elimination and prophylaxis prove the point. He warns that sometimes you have to force yourself to calculate sometimes to the point of checking out every legal move in a position. To help with this process Aagaard also recommends some books like Jonathan Tisdall’s Improve Your Chess Now! And Paata Gaprindashvili’s Imagination in Chess as well as some of his own books (imagine that!). 
      As usual with books of this type, the last two chapters include a selection of 100 exercises. What’s really cool is he has a grading system for the exercises.
      One 2300+ player described this book as interesting, useful and practical. But he also warned that you have to be willing to put in some serious work. I think GM Alex Yermolinsky said that, too, in one of his books.  Not very comforting is it?  OK, so a 2300+ found it helpful, but most of us are a tad short of having that many rating points, so what about us?  He opined that for anyone below IM strength, IF they pay close attention and IF they are willing to think and IF they are willing to seriously attempt the exercises at the end of the book, then he thinks their play will improve.


  1. A factual correction, Imagination in Chess is by Paata Gaprindashvili, not Nona.