Review – February 2016

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight
‘Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Joseph Brackett – Simple Gifts

Despite simplifying my study plan and following it in January and earlier this month, I found myself enjoying chess less and less. I felt as if I was spending too much time planning what to do and recording what I did, and studying felt like a chore. So I’ve simplified even more.

For TACTICS, I’ve dropped Chessity in favour of Chess Tempo. The reason is that I can create specific training sets in Chess Tempo. Since my aim at the moment is to drill in all the basic mating patterns and other motifs, I created mate in 1 and mate in 2 sets. I plan to do these in volume over time, so that the patterns become second nature. I will add simple tactical motif sets over time too. I still use Chessimo, as I love the way it uses increased difficulty and spaced repetition, serving the same aim. So my daily tactics training now consists of:

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  • either Chess Tempo or Chessimo for a few minutes;
  • then the 5 free Tactics Trainer problems.

My Tactics Trainer rating went from 1518 to 1588 in February, after a short peak at 1627.

For OPENINGS, I dropped the flash cards and ChessBase printouts I produced. My focus has to be on the simplest and most effective way to memorise my repertoire. For most of the month I used old favourite Chess Position Trainer (CPT), but since the launch of, I have moved to it. CPT has been playing up a bit, for example jumping between different positions, and chessable is backed by the IM behind my favourite YouTube channel, John Bartholomew. The product was only launched a week ago, so there are some teething problems, but David, the programmer, has been excellent in responding to feedback. I will write a longer review in a month or so, once David and John have had an opportunity to work through initial ideas for improvement.

For ENDGAME study I now do 5 Chessimo problems and 5 Chess Tempo Practice mode problems every day. Then two or three times a week I watch a Tiger Chess endgame course video and make notes in ChessBase if required. I’ve dropped training in Fritz, as I feel I get enough with Chessimo and Chess Tempo. There is also of course more variety in these problems. My Chess Tempo endgame practice mode rating went from 1509 at the end of January to 1600 today.

To address my goal of memorising a relevant master game per month, I used ChessBase until chessable was launched. In ChessBase, I would just play through the game, or open a new board, replay the game from memory, then compare it with the database. With chessable, I still have the option of playing through the game, but its spaced repetition method then feeds me with reminder tests at appropriate intervals. So far I have memorised Colle-Delvaux, Gand-Ternuezen 1929 and  Alekhine-Davies, Hong Kong 1933.

It may not sound much of a change, but being more laissez-faire has meant that I enjoy what I do and I do it in less time. This leaves more time for something that I have added. Yes, I know, that seems to contradict the approach, but there is some logic. I think a reason that the only rating that matters (until I start playing FIDE rated games), my OTB ECF rating, has stalled, is that I don’t learn enough new things. Doing tactics, remembering my opening repertoire and studying basic endgames of course add some knowledge, but in the main it is just sharpening the same tools, not adding new ones. So I see those areas of study, those 30 to 45 minutes a day, as the starting point for real study. And that real study is using the many chess books I have. I have undertaken to study my chess books one by one from front to back. I started with Tune Your Chess Tactics Antenna: Know When (and where!) to Look for Winning Combinations by Emmanuel Neiman, a recommendation by IM John Bartholomew.

Of course playing is still the key. I played four games in February, all against players rated higher than my 1473. I managed a win against a 1560, a loss against a 1640, and draws against a 1615 and a 1660.

But most important of all, I am enjoying chess again.

I’ll leave you with Jewel doing her version of Brackett’s Simple Gifts.


10 thoughts on “Review – February 2016

  • 29th February 2016 at 3:17 pm

    The question of motivation is crucial. I love chess, but I’ve found that when I lay down detailed study plans, I often throw them to the winds because enjoyment is more important than structure when I study this game.

    So as long as the plan is motivating, I stick to it, but when it’s no longer, I happily change it, and I do that as often as necessary. I’ve found that as long as I still spend time thinking about chess moves, my chess stays healthy.

    For what it’s worth, GM Aagaard (who is known as a very hard worker) suggests to have a couple of chess training routines ready (I think he suggest three), and pick one or the other depending on your mood on a given day. This semi-flexibility helps keep the motivation intact over time.

  • 29th February 2016 at 9:38 pm

    “Doing tactics, remembering my opening repertoire and studying basic endgames of course add some knowledge, but in the main it is just sharpening the same tools, not adding new ones. ”

    This is a good point! We have to balance sharpening existing skills and adding new ones.

  • 2nd March 2016 at 3:41 pm

    I’ve been getting serious about the endgame technique training. Like you, I’m doing chessimo endgame exercises, but I’m also doing a bunch of endgame positions suggested by James Stripes on his blog ( and playing them out against the computer, using chess tempo’s endgame problems in theory mode, Mueller’s 14-volume Fritz Trainer set, and a number of endgame books that I’m picking and choosing from, since I know a bunch of the content already.

    This last weekend, I was able to transition into a drawn K-&-P ending against a player rated 2300 in the classic control (2190, I think, in rapid, but he’s got his NM certificate), and thus was my first score against an NM in OTB play. There is no small amount of irony in that, since my rapid rating is my worst rating by hundreds of points compared to my classic and blitz rating –it’s only 1437!!! Endings are an excellent route to commit serious grand larceny on rating points.

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