Thursday, February 02, 2006

Son of Tom's Chess Improvement Program, and Mine

A reader comments:

Robert-Found you via the Maverick Philosopher's site, which I visit from time to time. My 12 year old son and I enjoy chess very much. I'm a tOtal amateur. If I want to help my son improve, avoid bad habits, develop good skills, is there a book I can get for him? He examines things well, understands very few of the basics (what I was able to tell him), but neither of us have gone much beyond that. However, we'd like to. What would help?


Tom, I'm flattered that you asked, though I'm certainly no expert on how best to teach a beginning player. I had to teach myself out of a book called Chess in 30 Minutes when I was 11. To get a solid grounding in chess both of you will need to combine plenty of playing with some studying. I've heard it said that to become a chessmaster you need to lose a thousand games (the number varies, depending on the source). By losing, you find out what losing moves (aka blunders) look like, and you make less and less of them as time goes on.

As for a book, a quick web search turned up this page, which says it has books and software for beginners. I don't know much about the rest of the items, but the top one caught my eye--Irving Chernev's Logical Chess, Move by Move which happens to be the first book I thought of when I read your comment. It's well worth it to learn how to read the notation, if you don't know it yet, and then play through these games, mixing study in with playing each other, local neighborhood kids, and relatives, if some are available.

If either or both of you start to like playing chess a lot, find a local chess club through the US Chess Federation (if in the USA) and start playing with the stronger players there. Join the USCF and get the magazine and play in rated tournaments.

But for now, just play for fun. If you like, get a program for the computer that you can set to a beginner level. Once you start beating it more than half the time, turn it up a notch.

Again, and above all, have fun!


And now, as promised below, I want to record my program for achieving good results and raising my rating to over 1700 by the end of 2006.

There are two components, the physical/psychological part and the chess study part.

Psycho/Physical--I'm already able to relax and concentrate at the board much better than I did 10 or 20 years ago, when a better position against a higher-rated player often caused an adrenalin rush and heart rate jump that were not conducive to continuing the good play that had got me there. Nowadays I don't get too high or low during the game. I'm in reasonably good health and condition, so these are not important factors. The biggest problem, by far, over the last couple of months has been lack of sleep due to an infant in the house...during some of my recent tournament games I had great positions until about 2.5-3 hours in, when it got to where I could barely see the pieces, much less calculate well. Not an excuse, but a reality. The best news I have to report is that the little slugger is getting older and recently has started to sleep much longer and more quietly. I'm already getting more quality sleep, and I think this will cease to be a major factor for the rest of the year. Thank you very much...

Chess Prep--I only have a few hours of study time per week, outside of my weekly 30/90, G/60 rated tournament game at the club. I am also playing what amounts to correspondence chess on the Red Hot Pawn site, usually at 3 days/move. I'm getting some good opening practice there, and have a current rating of 1646. I'm starting to play some stronger players, all of which is good. I'm going to keep this up, playing my main tournament openings whenever possible and taking the time to understand the positions before I move. One thing I haven't done enough of in the past is to play over master games, and that is going to be the second main component of my improvement program. I'm going to use my chess library and the web to find good games in my openings by the very best players and, using lunch hours, get in at least six games per week at 30-40 minutes per game. I'm also going to use spare time on the shuttle bus to do tactical puzzles whenever possible.

That's what I currently have the time and resources to do, and I'll report on progress here from time to time. I could say I wish I had 20 hours a week for chess, but it wouldn't be true; I have a beautiful family and a great job and a house that needs attention from time to time. And as much as I love chess, I wouldn't change any of that.


Bill Vallicella said...

Chess in 30 Minutes when you were 11? Amazing. That is how I learned chess at about the same age. Still have the book. Taught myself and had nobody to play with. Ddn't play a tournament game until I was 37.

Newvictorian said...

Bill, that's striking...I still have the book, too. It's a pretty good one for learning the moves on your own.

I'm going to do some posting about chess books here soon. It's intersting how closely the game and books are tied together.