Friday, January 01, 2010

ACIS 2010

I'm back, I'm excited and let's get right to it--to really be one of the ACIS, by Blunderprone's definition, one must post about goals, plans and methods and then follow up with progress reports. So here I go, taking the plunge...

True Confessions

First off, some brutally honest history. I've mentioned here a number of times that I'm really into human performance and "self-help" books and materials. Back in 1995 I was in Northern California, working at a low paying job and basically just getting along when I revisited Tony Robbins' book Unlimited Power, a book I'd owned for several years and had read, but hadn't taken much action with. Rereading the book one night, I sat down and started doing some of the exercises, including thinking about what I really wanted and how to get it. I decided to move back to Juneau, Alaska, go to the university and get a degree, get married and have children and get into politics and government. It took longer than it might have, there were some bumps in the road along the way but I did all of those things, and now enjoy a great job, pretty good income and a great family. You may well think of Tony Robbins as some guy on late night infomercials but lo, he has put out some things that work, if you actually do them. And he learned a lot of them from NLP and through the pioneer Richard Bandler. I'm currently working with Bandler's latest book, Get the Life You Want, which I highly recommmend.

That's all fine, you may be saying, but where's the brutal honesty? Here: I've never faithfully, consistently applied these methods and techniques to chess improvement! Most of my improvement came from playing good players from 1982-90, and that's it! Oh, I have plenty of chess books, and I've intermittedly studied endings, done tactical exercises and looked at some master games, but I've never really applied what I know about performance psychology to my chess in a consistent way. Perhaps chess improvement is not quite as important as work, health, marriage and family, but now is the time, friend, now is the time. I think that I must either just play chess and enjoy it, which is great, or go for the gusto and do the improvement thing to the utmost of my ability:

I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. So because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. (Rev. 3:15-16). I will not let that be me!

So here goes.

My Personal ACIS Program

As I noted in my last post, I have decided to base my ACIS plan on Jeremy Silman's How to Reassess Your Chess (3d. ed). A funny coincidence--this is one of the few well-known chess books I've never owned, but while I was in Anchorage, Alaska recently I dropped in at the fabulous Title Wave used book store and browsed the book for awhile, finally paying just $7.95 for a nice copy. It struck me that one of my weak points as a chess player is the lack of a consistent, cogent thinking process as I consider my move. Though I'm experienced enough to know about weak pawns, weak squares, dropping in a killer knight at d6 to paralyze Black's position, etc., I all too often go pretty much straight to "What threats can I make and how must he repsond to them?" and choose my moves almost exclusively on that basis. Also, I've been playing mostly internet blitz over the last months since I left Reno and its strong club tournaments. The "Reassess Your Chess" method does not lend itself, nor really apply, to blitz. It's about taking the time to really look at the "imbalances" in a position and considering how to nurture the ones favorable to your side, and to neutralize the opponent's. As I browsed through the book it dawned on me that perhaps this was just the approach I needed in my own unique situation--other people may best be served by another book or focus.

While there is a thorough and quite critical review of the book on the Amazon page that might give one pause, I decided that the reviewer's (apparently) legitimate criticisms of some errors in the book shouldn't really be a problem with my intended use of it. I will work my way through every line of "Reassess Your Chess" on a board, and perfect the thinking process presented, and any errors and ommissions I find on my own will just be great practice. After I have made it through the book (and can finally say that I have done so with at least one chess book) I will apply the process to games and positions from other books--games collections, opening books etc.

One other thing that struck me as I looked into the book is a Silman recommendation that I've seen in one form or another many times in many places: to take a rich position from a master game, set it up on a board and really get into it deeply, for 20, 30, 40 minutes or more, writing down all your thoughts, plans and calculated lines. Blue Devil Knight called it Rowsonalysis (see Chess for Zebras), Michael Goeller and Dan Heisman have called it the "Stoyko excercise" after Massachusetts FM Stephen Stoyko. By any other name, this is something I've never really done. I am going to do it as much as time allows and publish the results here.

Playing games is, of course, the other thing one must do to actually improve, well, results in actual games! I'm going to try to play at least two games on FICS at 15/5 or longer each week. That may be all I can fit in. I am going to avoid blitz for three months as an experiment, and see if the ACIS work will result in some significant improvement at blitz. As Heisman says, the best blitz players are the best slow players. I am intrigued by the possibility that this may or may not happen in this case.

Measuring Progress

Only ratings can really say whether one's strength has increased over time. My current ratings:

USCF - 1629 (all-time best 1825)
FICS Standard - 1606 (all-time best 1800+)
FICS Blitz - 1328 (all-time best 1442)

I plan to post something once a week about the ACIS plan and what I actually accomplished. If I miss a week I'm not going to freak out, however. From mid-January to April I am extremely busy in my professional capacity. Any time studying or playing chess will, however, be quality time.

Isn't that really what this is all about?


Temposchlucker said...

That looks like a healthy plan to me. I'm looking forward to your experiences.

chesstiger said...

My life filosophy, or is it phylosophy (sp?), is to be happy with what one has.

This doesn't mean that one shouldn't look for means to improve. Heck, life is all about improving, one way or the other. A life that stands still is dead, going nowhere, a human isn't made for that.

What, in which area, you want to improve is totaly up to yourself. Some choose healty or wealth. Others choose sports. Others dive into voluntary work. ...

We, brothers and sisters of A.C.I.S. seek it in chess. So goodluck with your plan. I hope you succeed.

Btw, if i may make a suggestion? Try to find also the Reassess your chess workbook. That way you have already exercises that go with what you learn in the other Silman book.

BlunderProne said...

Dear Robert,

Balance has always been my struggle. In my “other” life, I have self help and “recovery” based books on my shelf. I also have a copy of that Tony Robbins book you mentioned. A friend lent it to me… and there it sits. I also found a lot of help from David Burn’s “ Feeling Good” book. With me, it’s all about those cognitive distortions.

Related to chess, these distortions definitely fogs my thought process. My inner game has so much more potential than what my current outer game is demonstrating. I play a good opening but squander it in paranoia of attacks that could be but are never there. My head tells me my attack isn’t good enough and best play passively. Sometimes I get over taken with tactic-lust and just want to slam a piece to rip open my opponents Kingside. These episodes seem to be my current trend as I reach new plummets.

Finding balance in my thought process is the key. Playing just the position is equivalent to the Zen philosophy of being present of mind. One other thing I try to do is while evaluating a position, I use the generic narrative “ White’s position is better because xyz” rather than “ I have a good position because of XYZ” I am learning to remove the ego during play otherwise I get caught in the cognitive distortions.

It’s a process not an event.

Vernon R Young said...

Hi Robert - Great post and it sounds like you have a well structured plan. The Reassess Your Chess and RYC Workbook is a great instructional tool to get a solid foundation for further learning. Silman brings up an interesting idea of imbalances on the board and capturing the strength of advantages to mold them into a solid foundation for plans. It was one of my favorite reads ever. Good luck in the new year!