Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Little More on Soltis's "Studying Chess Made Easy"

ChessAdmin commented on my review:

Could you share some points on the parts you highlighted, particularly on openings and the "two and a half move" chess? I'm interested in what you think is the most practical advice from the book for study in those areas.

Regarding openings, I believe Soltis has hit the nail when he says that memory and understanding are ideally in the proper balance, depending on the opening. The sharper the opening, the bigger the role for memorizing the lines. It's important to dispute the notion that amateurs "shouldn't" memorize openings. As I wrote in my posts on the fascinating old book Secrets of a Grandpatzer, "Dr. G" (Dr. Kenneth Colby) made a great point in that playing a lot of book moves (he was talking around 6-10) quickly gets you to a position you know is good, with your mind still fresh and plenty of time on the clock. Of course, if the opponent varies earlier, understanding should tell you why a move is not the main line--presumably, because it's not as good.

Soltis doesn't frame it quite this way, but he says: "If you are like most players, you have two basic goals when you study the opening: (a) You want to delay the point in the game when your book knowledge ends, and; (b) You want to prepare yourself well to carry on from there." (p. 113). So his approach is aimed in a similar direction. Soltis has a section on "tabias," positions in the main lines of the popular openings that have occurred in thousands of master games, after 8-12 moves. These are the positions you should work to be familiar with. Generally if the opponent varies earler, fine. Knowledge of the strategic principles of the tabia and your skills at calculation should keep you going into a decent the middle game.

Another valuable point Soltis makes (p. 101) is that you shouldn't look exclusively at recent Grandmaster games when studying an opening. If you do, you'll miss out on the "instructive mistakes" that were made in the early days of the opening, mistakes that your amateur opponents are also likely to make. I think it's good to study an opening in chronological order; for instance, when I took up the Tarrasch Defence, I looked at games and comments by...Tarrasch. Later I looked at a few from the 1960s and '80s where Spassky and Kasparov "revived" the defense. Finally, I looked at some games from Aagard and Lund's very good Meeting 1. d4. As proof of some of the commentary above, in scores of blitz and tournament games I have rarely met the "Main Line" tabia that goes through 9. Bg5. Be prepared for weaker early deviations and rejoice in them!

Regarding "two and a half move chess" I would just add that Soltis makes the excellent and little understood point that calculation is much easier to improve through training than evaluation. Just playing as much chess as you can, going over the games, finding your and your opponent's mistakes and searing the right move into your memory banks, or doing tactical puzzles, or playing over master games and trying to find the right move will all improve calculation over the long term. Since we are not computers, the best way to improve evaluation is to look at games and positions where strong players give thorough explanations, in words, of how they evaluate. If you can find a cheap copy of the old, out-of-print Point Count Chess you might be intrigued by its approach, which works pretty well as a first approximation. Don't spend a mint on it, though.

In the weeks since I wrote my review of Studying Chess Made Easy I've worked with it a bit more and am still convinced it's worth the money. Not that many chess books really are, so that's actually a pretty strong recommendation.

1 comment:

tanc(happyhippo) said...

Thanks Wahrheit for the additional explanations.

That is a most interesting concept ie. learning the opening via chronological order.

These days, I notice that most opening books do tend to list side variations first (although not in great detail) but the odd few moves which are instantly losing is not often listed.