Thursday, August 29, 2013

Chess Caps!!

I bought another baseball cap.

I have them for the Navy, Marine Corps and New York Yankees plus several hospitals and businesses, so why not chess? I have to wear a cap when I go outside because I have very fine hair and the lightest puff of wind will blow it all over the place. After you spend 20 minutes getting your hair looking just right you don’t want to go outside and get it all messed up, so that’s why I always wear a cap. Go down to the link on the left that says “Caps,” click on it and search for chess baseball caps and get yourself one. Keep your hair neat, let people know how smart you are because you play chess and maybe even pick up girls who are attracted to the intellectual type. I don’t know, but you really ought to consider getting one.

Technique in Chess by Gerald Abrahams

From the book’s blurb: A superb guide to the general concepts of chess technique and the methods for using technique to plan ahead. Early initiative and control of the center, translating an advantage into the middle game. 200 examples from actual play.

      Abrahams (1907-1980) was a lawyer (barrister) in England and a very strong amateur player who published a number of books on chess. In this books he offers a collection of examples of methods of play he says are designed to help the novice although I think it would be too advanced for a true ‘novice.’ Maybe 1400-1600 would be more accurate. 
      Abrahams uses a lot of endgames for examples because he believed this is the area where the function of the pieces can be isolated and examined in more detail. However, he also uses a lot middlegame and complete games for examples.
      Abrahams likens the discovery of strategy and technique to his discovery of prose. When he discovered prose, he realized he had speaking in prose all his life. Likewise, he believed many chess players already have some basic understanding of strategy, tactics and ideas but have difficulty expressing themselves on the board. I think this is true. While reading De Groot’s Thought and Choice in Chess I noticed that on occasion lower rated players looked at some of the same moves the GMs did, but usually rejected them out of hand. I thought that was odd and after some thought decided to begin limiting my candidate moves to the first 3-4moves that occurred to me. Over the years I gradually refined this technique as depicted in the following chart.
OK, that’s a joke, but I did notice my game improved. Maybe not a lot, but if you’re like me, any improvement, however slight, rates as a success.
      Technique in Chess is a fun book to read but like all chess books, it will take some dedication but the reward is that you will get some good, practical advice that is bound to improve your game and prepare you for various situations that will arise during the game.
      BTW…if you don’t know descriptive notation I recommend learning it! If you don’t, you are missing out on some great old books. I learned it as a 10-year old, so how hard can it be? If you have to, print out the diagram shown in the Wikipedia article HERE.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Not a Chess Book but…

maybe worth reading!

Why do people dodge responsibility when things fall apart? Why the parade of public figures unable to own up when they screw up? Why the endless marital quarrels over who is right? Why can we see hypocrisy in others but not in ourselves? Are we all liars? Or do we really believe the stories we tell? Backed by years of research and delivered in lively, energetic prose, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) offers a fascinating explanation of self-deception—how it works, the harm it can cause, and how we can overcome it.

Review from O Magazine:
      "A revelatory study of how lovers, lawyers, doctors, politicians--and all of us--pull the wool over our own eyes. The politician who can’t apologize, the torturer who feels no guilt, the co-worker who’ll say anything to win an argument--in case you’ve ever wondered how such people can sleep at night, a new book by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson supplies some intriguing and useful insights.
      Thanks, in part, to the scientific evidence it provides and the charm of its down-to-earth, commonsensical tone, Mistakes Were Made is convincing. Reading it, we recognize the behavior of our leaders, our loved ones, and--if we’re honest--ourselves, and some of the more perplexing mysteries of human nature begin to seem a little clearer. By the book’s end, we’re far more attuned to the ways in which we avoid admitting our missteps, and intensely aware of how much our own (and everyone’s) lives would improve if we--and those who govern and lead us--understood the power and value of simply saying, ''I made a mistake. I'm sorry.''”

...."and those who govern and lead us--understood the power and value of simply saying, ''I made a mistake. I'm sorry.''” Fat chance!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Chess Tactics for Champions: A step-by-step guide to using tactics and combinations the Polgar way by Susan Polgar

      I’m not a fan of Susan Polgar (or her husband, Paul Truong who supposedly coauthored the book) for reasons I won’t go into, but her activities promoting chess, particularly for women and scholastic players, does have to be lauded.
      In any case, what we have here is yet another tactics book. In the introduction she writes, a tactic is “a tool that helps us gain some kind of advantage. It can lead to material gain or even to checkmate” and she goes on to assert that a player “can get a lot further by being very good in tactics and have only a basic understanding of strategy.” I really must take umbrage with this last statement. Openings have always been a favorite of authors peddling easy wins and these days it’s tactics. I’m not saying tactics aren’t important, but in days gone by, some claimed you couldn’t teach tactics; you were born with the ability to spot them! But guys like Renaud & Kahn, Vukovic, Euwe and Pachman wrote some pretty good books on tactics. Still, back when Botvinnik was “the man” in the chess world, there was a glut of books on strategy and the players who grew up on strategy books by Euwe, Pachman, Fine, et al played some pretty good chess. By the way, I think sometimes lower rated players fail to make a distinction between blunders and tactics. Some players say they are weak tactically and lose pieces and fall into simple mates when in reality they are just overlooking the fact that they are missing obvious replies by their opponents. Hanging your Q to a N fork or overlooking a one move mate is not failing to spot a tactic; it’s just an outright blunder that could have been avoided by looking at the entire board.
      This book consists of an array of exercises, organized by tactical motif and supplemented by examples, but generally descriptions are somewhat lacking. With each topic, she includes a short description of the tactic followed by an example from one of her own games and then jumps right into a set of problems to solve. Some players find the arrangement a major flaw because the tactics are grouped by motif. Personally, I don’t think that's a flaw at all. It's always obvious what kind of tactical solution you are looking for and the ability to recognize patterns and tactical motifs is fundamental for understanding combinations. Her presentation generally makes it fairly easy to find candidate moves that match the theme of the chapter and my understanding is that the Polgar sisters learned by repetition so this format makes sense. But, what would be helpful is a guide to spotting motifs that make combinations possible. C.J.S. Purdy has written some good stuff on this subject and you can download my synopsis, Hints on How to Study Chess for the Most Rapid Improvement here.
      Chapters: Forks and Double Attacks, Deflection and Removing the Guard, Discoveries, Double Checks, Skewers, Trapping Pieces, Decoys, Intermediate Moves, Pawn Promotions, Back Rank, Destroying the Castled King’s Position, King Chase, Two-movers, Three Movers, Four Movers, Game Saving Combinations, Perpetual Checks, Stalemates, Trap and Counter Traps, Sibling Positions, and 25 Famous Combinations
      The back cover says that the book is for "intermediate to advanced" players. That’s probably about right. This definitely shouldn't be your first tactics book if you are rated below, say, 1600, but if you fall between 1600 - 1800, it's worthwhile.