Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Move First, Think Later by Dutch IM Willy Hendriks

Subtitled: Sense and Nonsense in Improving Your Chess

      Many strong players have pointed out that one of the skills one must master is pattern recognition. It’s an important skill because when a master encounters a new position previous experience helps to find the right move. "In this book IM and experienced chess trainer Willy Hendriks presents a wealth of valuable, no-nonsense training material that will rock the chess instruction establishment," says publisher New in Chess.  
      The book is divided into 27 short chapters that cover a wide range of subjects such as psychology, pattern recognition, statistics, small plans, critical moments, chance, general rules, tactics versus strategy, time-trouble, etc. 
      Basically Hendriks attempts to debunk a number of myths about improvement and the short version is he comes down to the idea that, "You learn to play good chess by taking in good chess. There is no way to outsmart a diligent student with some clever way of thinking. There is no short-cut route to the best move by some revolutionary way of looking at the position. The strongest players are not following secret protocols." His point is that first looking at the characteristics of the position and then finding moves based upon that general characterization isn't getting to the essence of what produces quality play. That is, forget Jeremy Silman’s How to Reassess You Chess. He says, "moves are not only the outcome of some thinking process, they are very much the input, the starting point. It's not some clever thinking process that can help you find the best move in any position, but it's the enormous amount of knowledge that you bring to the board, good moves, mainly." (Emphasis mine)
      Maybe he is right. Back in the sixties Ken Smith opined that you should play over hundreds and hundreds of unannotated games at 5-10 minutes per game while trying to guess the next move. Smith said you were going after quantity, not quality (that would come later) in an effort to learn pattern recognition. IM John Watson in Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy and Chess Strategy in Action said to look at the similarity between learning chess and a child learning a language: In language, direct experience, imitation, and accumulation of knowledge is what matters most, not learning formal grammatical rules and then applying them.
      Hendriks discusses a wide variety of things like trial-and-error, pattern recognition, tactics versus strategy, time-trouble, planning, the illusion of general rules, the role of proverbs and maxims, free advice, critical moments, chance in chess, blunder-checking, tactics, the opening and strategy, games collections, puzzles, etc. And all the while, he tries to apply modern psychological theories and neurological research to chess.
      Generally the book has been recommend to students in the 1400-2000 range.

Download a sample of the book.