Review – November 2016

From a chess point of view, October was a non-event. I was away on holiday for two weeks, had visitors for a few days and spent a lot of time on work (a few big tasks all delivering at the same time) and on home administration.

I worked through 18 endgame book pages, watched 16 Tiger Chess videos, did ‘only’ 821 tactics problems and played 3 games. Those were a draw against an 1863 and wins against a 1248 and a 1488. Come to think of it, it is a good sign of intention when that level of activity came from me thinking I spent no time on chess.

November was somewhat better, although still with some reds on the dashboard. Part of the reason was a continuation of work and home commitments, but part was that I rebalanced chess with other interests. I have read barely any books this year, which is not a good thing. I have been reading more and will continue to do so.

The key metrics for November were 20 endgame pages, 3 Yusupov chapters (taking by far the most chess time), 29 Tiger Chess videos (many of them opening repertoire videos; getting there on that long process), 1,035 tactics problems and 4 games. Those were three wins (versus players rated 1248, 1450 and 1518) and a draw against a 1533. That has left my provisional rating at around 1570, up from the mid-year official ECF rating of 1533.

In the continuing effort to make the most of the time that I spend on chess (focus, deliberate practice, deep work, growth mindset and all that), I have been thinking about whether to continue with this blog. On the one hand, it provides an opportunity to reflect, something I suspect played a role in this year’s culling of my training plan. It also makes me think about summarising lessons from books on mastery (few and far between, but see paragraph three above). On the other hand, it takes up time that could be spent studying. Does it really add value to anyone? I don’t know that it does, because bar a few posts, it is not an instructional blog; it just exists to tell my tale of agonisingly slow progress. It would be good to hear what you think, especially those of you who also write blogs, or used to.

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Review – September 2016 – Tactics, tactics, tactics

I am glad to report that I have continued to stick to the undertaking I made at the end of July to not change my study plan for at least the rest of 2016.

This means that I do a bunch of tactics, record my opening repertoire, work through Yusupov’s course, watch some Tiger Chess videos and work on endgames.

For tactics, I still do mostly spaced repetition on ChessTempo, using custom sets that I have created. These sets are all low rated (in the range 900 to 1,100) and split into mates and non-mates. I also do some Mixed Mode tactics on ChessTempo and to engage with a different medium, I use the Manual of Chess Combinations.

In September I did 7,229 tactics. You read that correctly. For some reason I just found myself in a mood to do loads of tactics this month, so I did. The idea is to build up an awareness of and then internalise, as many patterns as possible. So although the volume is huge, I deliberately aim to see the underlying pattern in each problem and make connections across problems. I doubt I’ll keep up this volume, but I do want to at the very least meet my 1,500 per month target every month.

With the huge amount of tactics I did in September, I didn’t do too much on the other areas. I made some progress in recording my opening repertoire and now have 24% to go. Including the opening videos, I watched 32 Tiger Chess videos, a bit short of my target. I did only 20 pages of Pandolfini’s Endgame Course and only one lesson in Yusupov.

dash

The Yusupov book is very time consuming, because I do it in the way he prescribes. This entails setting up every position on a real chessboard and first visualising variations and moves before playing them. For each question in the tests (there are 12 questions in each end-of-chapter test), I also set up the position on a board, then try to work it out without moving pieces, test my thoughts by physically moving the pieces and then writing down my answers. Because I am still somewhat rubbish at chess, but do want to move through the books, I’ve had to limit myself to 10 minutes of mental analysis and then 5 minutes of physical analysis, after which I write down my answers. Including the setting up and writing down time, this means around 20 minutes per question, so around 4 hours to get through 12 questions.

Finally, I planned to play in two congresses in September, but had to withdraw. Therefore I have played only 2 games, a draw against a 1615 rated player and a loss against a player rated 1705.  The loss was a little disappointing, because although I was out of book after move 2 and without a plan for maybe 15 moves, I built up a really good position (Stockfish evaluation +1 for me), only to throw it away. I attempted a breakthrough when I just needed to be patient and create a second weakness. Lesson learnt.

I will be less active in October as I will be away for a couple of weeks.

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Is Practice Enough?

Anders Ericsson’s work on deliberate practice was popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, the source of the oft-quoted 10,000 hour rule.

I am a partial believer in Ericsson’s work. I believe that nobody could master (not ‘be very good at’, but ‘master’) a subject (or a game like chess) without a significant amount of deliberate practice, but I don’t believe that the same amount of practice leads to the same results for everyone. That means that I don’t put much faith in the mythical 10,000 hours. It may be an average, ballpark figure, but it is not THE figure.

In this article in The New Yorker, Maria Konnikova describes the work of Zach Hambrick, who suggests that practice plays a role, but is not nearly the whole story. Genes, work ethic and environment are just as important.

An interesting read, but I for one will be careful not to use a lack of the correct genes, or the correct environment when I was younger, as excuses for not progressing. I will continue to practice deliberately and focus on my process goals. I may never master chess, but a very large number of hours of deliberate practice may just help me on the way.

 

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Review – August 2016

I made an undertaking last month, and guess what? I stuck to it. Yes, August was officially the first month in 2016 where I did not change my study approach!

That said, I did not spend a lot of time on chess in August. Other priorities in my professional and personal lives kept me very busy and I had ten days away. Being away from chess always creates this peculiar feeling in me. I am not sure if it is a feeling of being rested, or one of apathy towards chess. It feels as if I can take or leave chess and not care either way. Very odd, since I certainly don’t want to give up on playing or improving. Fortunately the regular season starts within the next month or so, and I’m sure that will perk up my enthusiasm.

Here is the dashboard that sets out my activity over the past few months.

dash

My focus in September will be to

  • complete the opening repertoire capturing so that I can move onto the next phase of committing my repertoire to memory and understanding it,
  • hit that tactics target and shoot well beyond it,
  • hit that endgame study target of 50 pages,
  • get the most out of the Yusupov book. It is tough going, but I suspect it will pay good benefits over time.

 

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Review – June and July 2016

Two bits of news for the two months of June and July.

Firstly, the July 2016 ECF ratings list is out and I now have my highest rating yet, of 111 (1533 Elo). Nothing special, but at least I have arrested the slide I suffered at the end of 2015. The next phase is to break out of this range of about 105 to 110 I’ve been in for the past 18 months.

Secondly, the simplification of my study plan continues. I’ve had a go at all sorts of methods this year, including measuring days active, using four or five different tactics trainers, using various methods (flashcards, databases, opening trainers) to study openings, and jumping from book to book across all topics. I started out this year simplifying how I study, and every month since January I’ve tinkered more and more.

In February I dropped Chessity, flashcards, ChessBase opening printouts, Fritz endgame training and Chess Position Trainer. I started using Chessable and expanded my ChessTempo use to include endgame training. I hinted at not adding new skills, which turned out to be a bug which I finally cornered in July – more on this later.

In April and May I added Capablanca’s best endings for endgame study and started watching endgame videos from Tiger Chess every day. I also added Kotov exercises, but dropped memorising games and chess.com’s tactics trainer.

Now back to the bug. What itched at the time has become more clear since. I enjoy structure and progression. Give me the option between a series of 10 videos on a subject (such as John Bartholomew’s Climbing the Rating Ladder series) and 10 random videos (such and John and others’ exploits in Lichess blitz tournaments) and the choice makes itself – I want the progressive, structured series. Tiger Chess offers this to some extent, in that GM Davies offers courses as part of the £5 per month fee, including strategy, endgames, analysis and members clinics. The first two certainly are progressive. However, although they are fantastic value and content, they entail mostly passive training (watching rather than doing).

To address the itch and to balance the passive training element with an active element, I’ve decided to work through Artur Yusupov’s chess course. This means my study plan now looks like this:

Daily:

  • Anki cards – work through whichever are due. I keep adding to them from my coaching session and other patterns and ideas I think are worth seeing regularly. Current size is 54 cards.
  • ChessTempo – around 50 problems from my bespoke sets.
  • Openings – review in ChessBase to learn lines and plans. On recommendation from a study friend, I now use Perfect Chess Trainer for learning lines while on the move. Great app.
  • Yusupov – work through the book and pass 4 tests per month (24 in a book).

Mon, Thu and Sat are endgame days:

  • ChessTempo – 5 problems in practice mode.
  • Tiger Chess – watch a set of videos.
  • Books – study from progressively difficult books. Currently on Pandolfini’s Endgame Course, up to topic 100 of 239.

Sun, Tue and Fri:

  • Manual of Chess Combinations – around 20 to 50 problems. Still on book 1a at the moment, up to problem 222 of 719.
  • Openings – get my ChessBase notes on the Tiger Chess “Building an Opening Repertoire” in order. I have done it for White and for Black against e4 and will do Black against non-e4 this month. Once that is done I will only do the daily learning and practice to ensure I ingrain the lines and plans and expand on the base knowledge.
  • I will then use this extra time on these days for more Yusupov study.

Here is an undertaking: other than the change explained in the last two bullets, I will not change this study plan again this year (at least). It covers everything it needs to, is spread well across openings, endgames, tactics and general, progressive improvement. I use the Yusupov books in the way he prescribes, by setting out every position on a real chessboard and not moving the pieces until I have no other option. This therefore also contributes to my chess vision, calculation and visualisation; it is proper deliberate practice.

Finally, an update on OTB play in June and July. I played six games in June, including four games in a congress where I scored -1 =2 +1 in the U145 (1788) section. In July I played eleven games, including two congresses. In one I played in the U175 (2000) section and predictably didn’t score well (-2 =2). In the other I played in the U140 (1750) section and scored 2.5/5 (-2 =1 +2) to win the grading prize.

The club season doesn’t resume until October, but I will get a few games in from two congresses in September.

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Current Chess Study Plan – June 2016

Here is my current study plan:

study plan

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Review – May 2016

I somehow missed out giving an update at the end of April, so this will be a double.

I mentioned in February and March that I had simplified my study plan. In April and May I made further refinements and that the plan now looks like this:

study plan

I feel this gives me balance between the various phases of the games and different media. In terms of activity and results, here is a recap of April and May.

PLAYING OTB rated games

  • April 10 and May 3 for a total 27 YTD (target 50 for the year).
  • Some indifferent results; not my best two months.

TACTICS

  • I’ve started tracking how much I do, so I can be more accurate now.
  • April: ~1,300 tactics, mainly on ChessTempo.
  • May: ~2,200 tactics, again mainly ChessTempo.
  • My Tactics Trainer rating remains over 1600, but only just at the moment. I had peaked in the 1670s.

OPENING

  • Spaced repetition training on chessable.com (I have just completed a 100-day streak!).
  • Working with Chessbase, a few books and the Tiger course to consolidate my opening repertoire. Focus now is on documenting and understanding the pawn structures the lines normally lead to and the plans which flow from those. Once I have that in place (it will take a while) I will reduce opening study to say every other day.

ENDGAME

OTHER

  • A lesson with my GM coach around once a month.
  • Memorise relevant games: I have now memorised 4 games relevant to my opening repertoire, so I am behind my target of 12 for the year.
  • Book study: I have worked through Tune Your Chess Tactics Antenna, skimmed through Kotov’s Think Like a Grandmaster (to learn about his training method, not for the analysis tree) and am working through the hefty Chess Strategy for Club Players by Grooten.

I have signed up for a few tournaments over the summer, but am hoping to put in the hours on study to help get me off my current ratings plateau over the next twelve months.

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