Friday, November 17, 2006

A Different Approach to Improvement: Chess Master...at Any Age

Some years back I picked up a book with the interesting title Chess Master...at Any Age by a Massachusetts player named Rolf Wetzell. I don't even remember which tournament stall or bookstore I found it in, but it was published by Thinker's Press in 1994. I don't think I did more than skim it at the time, and I believe it has resided safely on the chess shelf since.

Last week I picked it up again, looking for something fun to read--and now I'm committed to trying out Mr. Wetzell's system of improvement, and seeing what I can achieve with it. At 46 years old and with my rating currently at the 1600 floor, after reaching 1825 almost 20 years ago, it sounded like the book was written specifically for me!

Here is an Amazon review that sums up the book as well as I could:

A sad, and true, fact is that most chess players show little improvement in their game after several years of study and play. Why? Because it's difficult to change our thinking about how we each play chess. Old, bad and erroneous thinking habits prevent us from becoming stronger. Wetzell's book does a tremendous service to the chess player by showing how to identify bad and sloppy thinking habits, and then, how to eradicate them from one's play.

Chapter 1 explains the five components of chess strength: images, ability to project positions (see future positions in your mind), move selection method, attitude, and genetic factors. Individual chapters then concentrate on each component. Wetzell explains how to analyze your own game with respect to each component, then offers specific and detailed methods of improving each factor. The final chapter concludes with a long range plan for improvement.

I read a tag line for this book which went: "Wetzell didn't study harder, he studied smarter!". I agree. If you are serious about improving your chess, then Wetzell's book will show you how. Learn to think differently about yourself as a player and about chess as a game. Improvement is sure to follow.

Very interesting...there are some other reviews there that are not as positive, but the whole approach Mr. Wetzell takes intrigues me. A major part of it is to "study one's own games" (which for him includes excercises, puzzles and positions from 'Solitaire Chess' and 'What's the Best Move'), identify mistakes and oversights and the reasons for them, then make 'flashcards' with mnemonic phrases to convert the correct concept into a "durable image."

I'm halfway through just 'reading' the book right now, but the point is it will take time and effort to prepare the materials and apply the techniques he recommends. I'm going to do so, and using the computer to make up the materials promises to make it fairly easy compared his handmade flash card system.

By the way, Rolf Wetzell is still a very active player; I don't know exactly how old he is but from the bio in the back of the book I'd guess at least late 60s, and he's still playing expert-level chess.

Reports on my sojourn with the Wetzell method will appear here in the future, along with games and the usual eclectic mix of interesting chess items. Stay tuned for updates.

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