Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Improve Your Chess Now by Jon Tisdall

For those newer readers who never heard of him, Jonathan D. Tisdall (born August 26, 1958 in Buffalo, New York) was awarded the GM title in 1995.  A US citizen by birth he later became an Irish citizen and still later, Norwegian.  Tisdall won the Norwegian championship in 1987, 1991, and 1995. Combining chess with his job as a journalist, he often attends major chess events as a reporter for Reuters.
Let Tisdall explain why he wrote the book:  This book is a manual for players facing problems in the development of their skills, i.e., most people.  I will try to explain what goes on when experienced players are thinking, or should go on.  There is a lot of psychology and philosophy here.  Although such serious words are not considered ideal when finding a title for a book, I hope that they will make this book instructive in a less conventional way.
In the course of a long and sporadically encouraging career, I have given a lot of thought to various methods of improvement.  This book is a selection of various ideas, both my own and those of others.
Some classic advice must be repeated, but I have tried to expand on this when possible.  I have tried to list all conscious influences.  During the closing stages of writing I have begun to understand how many subconscious influences there are.  To deal with this you will find an appendix that combines the tasks of bibliography and a review list.
While the book’s title may sound like it is an elementary textbook, it is not.  It is one of the best books on instruction available.
Tisdall offers a lot of tactical and pattern-training exercises aimed at players of 1600-2200 strength, but IM John Watson once wrote he thought it was possible that even GMs could learn a thing or two from it.  I don’t know about that, but this one should be a classic and is a must read.
Right in Chapter 1 he debunks Kotov’s famous tree of analysis theory and points out a lot of flaws in it and then at the end of the chapter he presents a list of tips on how to calculate that is worth memorizing. Tisdall states. "My theory contends that a combination of the natural human approach to the position, tempered with some of the discipline advocated by Kotov, is more effective. The components of this technique are (in this order):

1) To aim towards the choice of a single critical variation (heresy!). Branches are dealt with when unavoidable, and primarily to navigate the chief variation.
2) The constant application of abstract assessment.
3) A scan for critical candidates."
He then moves on to visualization methods, using blindfold chess and the idea of 'resetting the mind's eye' or visualizing intermediate positions as training technique for improving the ability to calculation accurately. He has tried this technique with his Norwegian students and they work.
            The book is filled with practical advice…lots of it. There are chapters on playing bad positions, recurring patterns, the value of the pieces, including a discussion positional sacrifices.
His writing style is very entertaining and the last chapter, Wisdom and Advice, is philosophical. Where else will you read stuff like, “Shave on somebody else's face” - Arnold Denker. "Instead of cutting yourself, try to learn from other people having accidents."
He presents provocative thoughts and observations from various sources and includes practical advice concerning time pressure and there is also a discussion of prophylaxis.  This concept is important in understanding GM chess these days.    He discusses attitude, energy, objectivity, and practical play in general.
The above mentioned Appendix contains useful mating and tactical patterns and  bibliography, complete with a mini-review, of each book.
Highly recommended.

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