Friday, 1 February 2013

Progress Report

Since working my through McDonald’s How to Play Against 1.e4 twice, I have revised Pandolfini’s Endgame Course, and worked my way through his 111 Winning Endgames (as reported previously).  I have also continued to solve various problems of the day from the web, and keep a file of those that gave me more trouble than they should.  (For the more complicated problems, I usually record the position where I failed to see something, rather than the start position itself.)  I have subsequently revised most of the problems that I have recorded so far.  This appears to be a worthwhile exercise.  My memory of the troublesome problems is surprisingly good.  I have also finished my latest pass through Weteschnik’s Understanding Chess Tactics.  My memory retention of these problems is good.  I am now using the same time slot to gradually work my way through Reninfeld’s 1,001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations again.  I am only solving a few problems at a time on an irregular basis, but my memory retention here is also good.

More recently, I have worked my way through Coakley’s Winning Chess Exercises for Kids (the blue Coakley) again.  I previously did as many as six passes for many of these problems, over a period of about two months, but that was more than a year ago.  My memory of these problems had faded greatly, which reinforces the fact that closely spaced repetitions contribute little to long term memory.  I started with the intention of writing down my own detailed solutions before looking them up in the book, as Coakley recommends.  I previously found that this did not help much with Palliser’s Complete Chess Workout, but I thought that the technique would work better with Coakley. Nonetheless, I again found it very time consuming, and was not at all convinced that it helped.  I soon decided to write down just sufficient analysis to convince myself that the combination worked.  That seemed to work better.  Most of my mistakes are arguably mistakes in analysis rather than in seeing things, but these mistakes are probably the result of failing to see things.

My next task was revising McDonald’s How to Play Against 1.e4.  I began my third pass through the book about two months after I began the first.  I decided that I had to limit the time that I spent on this pass, cutting it from three weeks to two.  I had to compromise here.  If I cut the time too much, I would end up memorising moves rather than studying games.  As it is, I am building up long term memory, and my understanding is increasing with each pass.  I have got Shredder on my ipad, which is very useful for playing through the illustrative games and analysing them either manually or with Shredder’s help.  I can often find most of the games on the web.  This avoids errors in entering the moves, and is useful when McDonald does not give the full game.  I have recently also bought Chessbase Online for my ipad.  This is very useful for exploring opening moves and playing over the games that began with those moves, which further increases my understanding.  Chessbase Online has reputation for bugs, but I have not had any significant problems with it.

McDonald’s book is enough opening study for now.  I cannot justify spending any more time on openings at the present time.  The main sources that I have pencilled in for the future are McDonald’s Starting Out: Queen’s Gambit Declined, and Collins’ 1.e4 Repertoire.  I have played the QGD previously (albeit a long time ago), so I should have a flying start there.  I have watched Collins’ DVD a few times over the past year, and should not have too many problems there either.

The current task is revising Albert & Krogius’ Just the Facts!  I also intend to revise Chessimo Endgames 01, and go over Coakley’s endgame problems in detail.  My endgame skill has improved very significantly since I started this study plan.  Revision is currently more than enough here too.  When I do have time to take on more material, I am tempted to revisit Keres’ Practical Chess Endings.  I tackled this book many years ago, but found it too detailed.  It could be just what I need now.


  1. You certainly are determined. Do you see progress in your OTB play?

  2. I still have not started playing again. I do not have time for it with all that training! Currently, I do not even have time for training. I have been sorting out my end of financial year finances. I was told that I would never be as busy as when I was retired, but I did not believe it!

  3. Hello, you mentioned that your "memory of these problems had faded greatly, which reinforces the fact that closely spaced repetitions contribute little to long term memory."

    Do you still believe that the repetitions through Bain problems were beneficial? Would you conclude that learning the basics through repetition and memorization is more beneficial than going through something like Coakley with that method?

    If the memorization/repetition method is effective for only beginner material, how would you treat something like Coakley's Tactics book? More emphasis on solving versus recognition?

  4. Coakley is not particularly hard, and even hard problems can have a pattern recognition component, often in a sub-variation. All learning is useless unless you retain the lessons. Nonetheless, repetition probably works best for simple problems. The point that I was making in the text is that repetitions have to be spaced if the learning is to be of long term benefit.

  5. Hi BrightKnight.

    I like your blog concept of "trying to find what training actually improves your play". I have a couple of remarks that touch on the Michael de la Maza controversy, but I am posting here because I wish to make it more of a general discussion.

    His clarion call was for "tactics and repetition". But I think there was an element missing. What if not all tactics puzzles are not created equal? What if *targetted* tactics is the key? So take the rest of his "do the set, then loop back" concept, but what if the set was designed cleverly to be the most useful?

    My best example is that after years of "winging it" in casual blitz, I am starting to take the Sicilian more seriously as Black. But can you believe that I somehow forgot the famous Rxc3 Exchange Sac even existed??!

    But even knowing it exists, buried in various books are comments like "here the sac doesn't work because such and such is defended", vs "here the sac works great because of the extra threat so that other square".

    So then you design part of your tactics set to include say 10 exchange sacs on c3, maybe 5 that work and 5 that don't. So then the point of your drills is you are training the reflexes to pick up quickly "as long as the Nge2 doesn't move, the sac doesn't work" or such.

    As the appendix to the tactics set, is the explanations that you go over later when you miss identifying which is which. Say you keep forgetting that something doesn't work after White plays Kh1 to escape all the dark square combos. So you maybe spend 5 straight minutes staring at a flash card that says "Where's White's King?" and then go back to the tactics set again the following week. (To see if it stuck.)

    However I don't agree with his aggressive disregard of theory - if you're relying on general tactics skill but have no idea that a pawn sac is the new hotness in the entire variation across a bunch of lines, your opponent will mash you to bits. So then survey the theory, find the hot spots, then go back to make codified tactics puzzles around that aspect.

    However I do agree with his comnments on study time - no one except naturals get good at chess "10 minutes a day". That might save you 25 points here and there with smart clever advice, but then like any other subject, you have to burn time into it. Maybe you do "Chess Sundays" where you get up at 4AM when no one is around and study hard for five hours until daily life chaos descends.

  6. Tactics books do, in principle, provide sets of problems that are designed or selected to be particularly instructive. To learn, you need repetition, and to remember you need to space the repetitions. Most adult chess players spend a remarkably large amount of time trying to improve - and gradually get worse with age!