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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saturday Chess Thought: Keep it Simple, and THINK

I so often hear that people want to get better at chess, and what books they should buy. Books? Yes, they can be beneficial, but it starts with you, it really does. No book in the world can fix your faulty thinking if you don’t want it to. Here’s what I mean.

Let’s say you’ve adopted an opening. Like the rest of us, you’ve probably skimmed a book, looked at a few master games, and even watched a video on the thing. You are ready for battle. Watch out, opponent, because I’ve got a few moves up my sleeve!

Then you lose. A lot. You get angry at the opening, and abandon it, but why?

Every expert, master, FM, IM, and GM in the world will tell you that memorizing lines is almost 100% useless. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You need to understand the IDEAS behind openings or certain setups, rather than just their existence and move order.

If, for instance, you adopt an opening which thematically fights for the d5 square, but you don’t realize that, you are bound to let that d5 square go to your opponent more often than not, especially if he understands the goals of the opening you choose. Or, maybe you’ll choose to fight on the sides of the board, while your opponent reroutes his men to take control of d5.

You will never understand why you lose game after game, because the d5 square is a mystery to you. That’s why I always recommend playing s-l-o-w chess, and analyzing what your foe is trying to do, each and every move.

If he wants a square, take it away. If he sets up an attack, defend. If he leaves you an opening, launch your own attack. But, bashing out the first ten moves of your pet opening in three seconds is going to lose, and it’s going to lose often. Chess is a thinking game, and if we don’t think about each move, we aren’t thinking about the game. That’s all there is to it.

Remember, when studying a chess book, the goal isn’t a certain amount of pages per day; the goal is to understand each page before you move to the next. If you average one page a day, so be it. You either want to improve at chess, or you do not.

Here is a sample thought process from the very *first* move, if you can believe that:

“Hmm, e4, eh? Okay, so he controls d5 and f5 right away. As black, I have to get as much out of the opening as he does, theoretically. So, what can I do, here? If I move my pawn to e5, I control d4 and f4, and claim equal stake in the center. If I play the French with e6 and d5, I’ll control these particular squares, with the idea of c5 in few moves, challenging his center...” etcetera., etcetera., etcetera.

This really is what you should be doing as a beginning or intermediate-level player. If you don’t think critically about chess, don’t get upset when your opponent does and whoops you. Just saying.

If you complicate your game with ideas and moves you do not or cannot grasp, you don’t have a chess game. You have an experiment. Which is fine, if you are ready to lose as often as you win, and tread water.

Chess really is simple. When your opponent makes a move, try to figure out why and if it was good or bad. If it was a good move, cook up a good one to counter it. If it was bad, show him why it was bad and come up with a plan. Chess is about plans, not moves. Once you get to thinking like that, your rating will soar.

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