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 Yusupov’s Chess School. 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 more difficult books. Currently on Pandolfini’s Endgame Course, up to topic 100 of 239.

Sun, Tue and Fri:

  • Manual of Chess Combinations, Vol. 1a – 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.

12 thoughts on “Review – June and July 2016

  • 3rd August 2016 at 12:01 pm
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    The Yusupov books are wonderful if you have the willpower to use them as prescribed (which it sounds like you do), and you are just at the right level to start with them. You will find some tests (the strategic and positional ones, probably) much harder than others; don’t despair, just do the best you can, try to learn from the correct answers, and move on to the next one.

    Reply
    • 3rd August 2016 at 4:17 pm
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      Thanks for the encouragement. Yes, even in the first few chapters I’ve struggled with some questions. But that is the whole point; I need that stretch challenge (I’ve not got 100% of the questions correct}, at a level that is appropriate (I’ve still passed the tests) and increasing in difficulty.

      Reply
  • 5th August 2016 at 3:50 am
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    Thoroughly enjoying your blog and following along with your progress and suggestions re: improvement path. Thanks for the reference to John Bartholomew’s Climbing the Rating Ladder youtube series – I was not aware of this series of videos, but have taken a look and now worked through the first one and it looks like a great series. All the best for further progress.

    Reply
  • 7th August 2016 at 11:58 pm
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    Great blog mate!

    I follow you some time and I find your dedication is truly inspirational. I’m not as systematic as you, but I’m crave for chess improvement too. I wonder if you can give me some advice.

    I read Dan Heisman article on chess improvement named: “An Improvement Plan”. He advocating six steps of improvement. For every step he suggested a books for studying. First step: Wollfs “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Chess” and de la Maza’s “Rapid Chess Improvement” for practicing board vision. Second step books: Chess Tactics for Students by John Bain, Logical Chess Move by Move by Irving Chernev and “Everyone’s 2nd Chess Book” by himself. Of course for notable progression follower of those improvement advice should play as much slow games as possible.

    I would not list entire bibliography through all steps because I’m way behind advanced steps (and maybe behind first and second though).

    I’m curious whats is your opinion of Heisman’s improvement plan and did you try it?

    Also, I would like to know is chess.com worth the money in your book? I consider purchasing diamond premium membership because of videos and tactic training. Do you think I can get from chess.com videos, Chess mentor and Tactic trainer approximately the same value as if I purchase Tiger chess videos and ChessTempo tactics?

    Reply
    • 8th August 2016 at 6:15 am
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      Hi Ivan. Thank you for the kind words.
      I have not tried Dan’s plan, but have just read it and it seems very logical. I have used a few of the books he mentions (Chernev’s two, Pandolfini’s endgames, Bain’s tactics book) and have found them very useful. I would recommend focusing on some key points Dan makes: 1) Reading should be progressive, i.e., don’t be tempted to read a book from Step 4 before you have finished the first three steps. 2) There is no point in reading 200 extra books if you do not apply what you have learned in your first book. 3) There is no easy path to improvement; it will take hard work no matter which improvement plan or books you choose.
      In terms of chess.com, I have not renewed my diamond membership this year. I used the videos and to a lesser extent the Mentor, and I suppose it is not too expensive for what you get. However, in my opinion there are enough other, free resources to not have to pay for chess.com. There is not a direct equivalent of the Mentor, but if you choose a book at a time from Dan’s list and properly work through it, that will provide that training aspect. For tactics you do not need to look beyond ChessTempo. There is enough in the free version, but if you pay, you can create custom sets on spaced repetition in Seven Circles style. ChessTempo also provides endgame training. And you still get 5 free problems on chess.com’s Tactics Trainer if you feel you need it. In terms of videos, there are many good resources. The best ones in my opinion are St Louis, ChessNetwork (the educational series, not the blitz games and tournaments, which are just for entertainment) and IM John Bartholomew’s channel (again, the educational series, although he usually analyses even his blitz games).
      So my personal opinion is to stick with ChessTempo, free videos and good books. The key is to actually use them well and make sure you apply what you learn. For paid services, my preference is for Tiger Chess over chess.com, but that is partly because I also use Nigel’s opening repertoire course and I use him as a coach. On chess.com you’ll get videos from a wide range of coaches, so you may prefer that. I’ll repeat though, the best video/book/improvement plan is the one you use properly; there is no substitute for hard work.
      Best of luck.

      Reply
      • 8th August 2016 at 10:27 am
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        Tank you very much for your detailed answer, I appreciate it!

        I will probably follow your recommendations regard ChessTempo, but Tiger Chess is a bit problematic for me. I purchased one month of TC site a while ago, and I find the content are great, but IP address issue is currently unsolvable for me (in my country dynamic IP addresses can change several times per week).

        I just checked your free video resources recommendation and I subscribe all of them, hope they’ll help if I manage to use them properly.

        Thanks again for your advice, I hope you’ll achieve your goal!

        Reply
  • 13th August 2016 at 11:18 am
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    Hey there! Congrats on your new highest rating. Keep up the good work. I look forward to reading your updates!

    Reply
      • 13th August 2016 at 12:16 pm
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        Hey I had a chance to read the post a little more completely. First off, Pandolfini’s endgame course was my first endgame book! I enjoyed it quite a bit and learned a lot. Also, I was curious as to why you stopped using Chess Position Trainer and switched to Chessable? I did a review on Chessable and am currently using/evaluating CPT, so I’m curious as to your reasoning. Thanks!

        Reply
  • 13th August 2016 at 2:07 pm
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    Bryan, I stopped using Chess Position Trainer because the software played up sometimes. There were a few quirks which I can’t remember the detail of, but the final straw was when it started jumping between positions. For example I would be going through a line for White which includes 9.Qe2. Then after Black’s 9th move, my queen would suddenly be on b3 or c2.

    I started using Chessable when it came out in beta, but have since stopped using it. I think the concept is great, but what I do not like about it is the random single positions you get on the spaced repetition schedule. I’d rather go through all of line a, then all of line b, than have move 12 of line c, then move 8 of line f, then move 5 of line a. You can overcome this to some extent by using the overstudy function, but moving between lines is not simple.

    As I mention in the post, a friend recommended Perfect Chess Trainer and I now use that. I use it on my phone (for breaks at work and during my bus commute) and my Nexus tablet (bigger format for when I exercise at home; while cycling and in rest periods while weight training). It has an opening function which plays the other side and scores you on accuracy. With a single click you can repeat the same line, or move to the previous or the next. It also shows progress in the pgn file with a percentage score against each line, so you know where you got to when you last put it down.

    Reply
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