Sunday, November 30, 2008

Chess Tactics Server

As tactics are one of the best ways to improve your game, consistent study of tactics is important. There are many ways to do this and one of the most common are tactic books. The problem with many tactic books is that they can have a host of errors in them. My absolute favorite way to study tactics is the Chess Tactics Server.

While overall it's not perfect (which I will discuss later), It is the best and most enjoyable way to study tactics. Not only are you trying to solve tactical issues, it sets you up like a real game. The server shows you the board and them moves for your opponent after six seconds and it becomes your turn. You are also timed on how long it takes you to move and your score for solving the problem is altered by how long it takes you to solve the problem. This includes getting a negative score for taking too long to solve the problem!

There are currently almost 24 thousand problems to solve (way more than any book you can buy!) all of them pre-rated on their level of difficulty. The ratings used at the Chess Tactics Server are based on the Glicko rating system.

The negatives of the server are minimal, but sometimes annoying. First, it doesn't check for legal moves. Of course if you're studying tactics, I'm sure you actually know what is a legal move is. Sometimes you may accidentally click on a square adjacent to the correct square causing an incorrect answer. While this is something I would fulled accept if I clicked on an actual legal move by mistake, I find it extremely annoying if it wasn't a legal move in the first place. While I understand it was my mistake, in an actual game of chess you are not allowed to make that move and are required to correct the problem. Though if you place a piece on a legal square by accident, you aren't allowed to correct that problem.

Even though I don't like it allowing illegal moves, that doesn't detract my overall enjoyment of the Chess Tactics Server. I would love to get a version of this for my mobile phone that I could update with any new tactics that may come out. My commute on the train to and from work everyday would become so much more enjoyable!

On that note, I give the Chess Tactics Server a rating of a 5 out of 5 stars. I would give it a 4.5 out of 5 stars due to my one issue, but with every other tactics studying tools (books, etc) being so poor in keeping my attention, it's hard not to give it 5 stars. The dimensions it adds like showing opponents move first, having fully rated problems, rating your progress and even basing your ratings on how long it takes to complete a problem make it truly enjoyable. It creates a challenging game out of tactics study.

The Chess Tactics Server is a first class study aid and first class enjoyment!

Until next time.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

REVIEW: Rapid Chess Improvement (Michael de la Maza)

First thing I want to note is that I have not read this book. I have on the other hand read a pair of PDF files from called 400 points in 400 days that was written by Michael de la Maza and appears to be exactly what is in the book from what I saw scanning through the book at Barns and Noble. The only difference is the PDFs appeared to only be the meat of the subject without all the page filling fluff.

The first thing I would like to say is I agree with de la Maza's methodologies of training tactics and the fact that early on the better you are at tactics, the better you will be at Chess. What I disagree with is his philosophy that about learning openings, middle game, and endings. He believes they are not important until you begin training to obtain Master level. de la Maza states that if you setup a Chess game with two computer opponents and set one to master level on positional Chess and the other at master level in tactics that the master level opponent in tactics will win most games. I agree with de la Maza, but that doesn't make it the correct philosophy to train at Chess!

Look at it this way. Say we have two players who study Chess 10 hours a week. John only trains tactics for 10 hours a week. Bob trains tactics 9 hours a week, but also studies positional Chess like openings and middle game the last hour of each week. John maybe a bit stronger at tactics, but his tactics are going to be harder to implement when Bob has a much more soundly defended position. Bob on the other hand will have his strong tactical knowledge and what will amount to a less sound position to attack because of John's lack of knowledge when it comes to the positional Chess game.

One of the first things you are taught in Chess is that any advantage you have over your opponent puts you in a better position to win. Having at least a basic understanding of positioning in Chess is a great advantage to have over an opponent that doesn't. Even if it cost you an hour a week of tactical training.

You want to improve your Chess quickly? Train long and hard at tactics. That I agree with de la Maza and recommend his book. Just do not completely discard what positional Chess can do for you. If you're serious about Chess, you cannot discard it.

Until next time.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The failure of books about openings

I find most books about openings or even books that talk about openings almost a complete failure. Openings are so much more important than (Ruy Lopez) 1. e4, e5 2. Nf3, Nc6, etc. You find books that talk about the Ruy Lopez and they talk about other Ruy Lopez variations. What most of them don't tell you is that say you decide you want to play the Roy Lopez, your opponent doesn't have to follow the Ruy Lopez or any of its variation's pre-written moves.

What does that mean to the player? Well, if you following the opening even though your opponent is doing something completely different, there is a chance he/she could exploit a weakness in your position. Different variations in openings are created to protect or exploit different weaknesses in your or your opponent's defenses. It means if you don't understand the opening and its positional consequences then you are in a position of weakness. The weakness can come in two forms. Positionally on the Chess board and the fact that you do not understand your position. Your move could be positionally sound and considered a strong (!!) move, but because you don't understand it, you may not be able to exploit it as well as fall victim to its weakness.

My problem with books that show openings but do not explain the positional meanings is that they teach you nothing. The algebraic notation for Chess openings are all over the Internet and you do not need a book for that. Walking you through almost an entire game using an opening is not necessary either. In my opinion, a book should be about a single opening. It should explain the opening, the theory behind the opening, its positional strengths and weaknesses and best moves for at least the top 10 most likely opponent moves, the best counter moves per game turn up until development is pretty much complete.

Understand, this would make for a huge book and yet it would pretty much only discuss a single opening with a few variations based on your opponent's decisions. Understanding all aspects and theories behind an opening should lead to better positioning when entering the middle game which will lead to better Chess.

The reason I write this post is because never once in my minimal amount of Chess playing have I ever had someone follow more than four moves into an opening. Well, at least an opening that I know the moves of anyway. When that happens, I tend to get exposed in my positions. Sometimes I'm able to recover and maybe even pull out a win. Other times my position gets exposed and it turns ugly quickly. Especially against players over 200 point above me.

Until next time.