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.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book Review: Studying Chess Made Easy by GM Andrew Soltis

(This review was posted at and references some other reviews of this book. If you're interested you can read my reviews of some other, non-chess books here).

I am an experienced tournament chess player, and came to this book from that perspective. I have a number of Grandmaster Soltis's earlier books including "The Inner Game of Chess" and "Pawn Structure Chess." All are worthwhile for those striving to improve their game. However, Soltis does write his "improvement" books with a certain structure or formula and this book follows that formula: Wittily-titled chapters, each containing a few fairly long examples from grandmaster chess to illustrate the points he's making. The style is conversational, enjoyable and easy to read, but the amount of information per page is not enormous.

Still, for players with a little tournament experience up through USCF Expert (2000+) this book could be a very valuable resource about what NOT to spend your study time on, as well as the more conventional "How to study." His insight that chess study must be enjoyable to be effective may seem obvious, but it bears repetition. He does a good job in this book showing you how to make it so. In my opinion, the strongest chapters are on how to study the opening, "two and a half move chess" and how to benefit from master games.

I agree with some of the other reviewers that the book could be more specific in places, especially about the best ways to use computers, databases and Web resources. That's why it gets four stars instead of five. There are several books on this topic already in print, but I don't own any of them. That may be my next purchase!

Ultimately, playing and studying "real" chess is never going to be easy, but it can be a lot of fun if done right. This book's title may be a little misleading, but it's utility is well worth the price asked.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Tommyg Rocks the World

The Prodigal Pawn lists his Top 15 Rock and Roll Albums of All Time!

I smell contoversy in the water!

Okay, his is a great list of great music for sure, and as he notes, these "greatest" lists are always going to be very personal.

Here are a few things I would note: There are really 17 albums (good one, Tommy!). There's nothing that was released after 2001 (the Radiohead) so I wonder if Rock is Dead? To be honest, that's about when I stopped keeping up with the pop music scene myself, and I don't have any suggestions for after that without an internet search of some kind. All my picks are from around or before that time too!

A few suggestions for additions to Tommy's list (I wouldn't dream of replacing anything):

System of a Down, Toxicity (2001)

I well remember seeing the video for the title song at a friend's house, having no idea who these guys were, and just being completely blown away. Completely. This album has more drive than a Ferrari and more intelligence than 99% of rock!

Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)

A magikal mix of killer musicianship, energy and styles.

Rolling Stones, Some Girls (1978)

Tommy, Tommy, Tommyg, how did you make a list without the Stones, man? This is the album that made the Stones relvant, after they threatened to become a bunch of jaded rock 'n' roll zillionaires. It also contains my all-time favorite song of theirs, "When the Whip Comes Down."

Queen, A Night at the Opera (1975)

To my mind, this group had some of the best musicians on the planet, and it was tough to chose just one album. The greatness for me is the ability of the band to nail multiple styles of music and produce an album that is a unified whole, not just great collection of songs.

There's my take--what say you, Rock and Roll Reader (yeah I know we got off the chess theme here, so sue me).

Monday, August 08, 2011

Some of the All-Time Chess Wisdom, Courtesy of Nigel Davies

I rediscovered this, which is more useful than any of my long-form blatherings:

It really doesn’t matter what you study, the important thing is to use this as a
training ground for thinking rather than trying to assimilate a mind-numbing
amount of information. In these days of a zillion different chess products this
message seems to be quite lost, and indeed most people seem to want books that tell them what to do. The reality is that you’ve got to move the pieces around the board and play with the position. Who does that? Amateurs don’t, GMs do.

Read the Whole Thing in the Chess Cafe Archives.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Back From Vacation, August Chess Blog Carnival

I went on vaction for about 10 days and didn't post a thing...I even missed submitting something for the Summer of Love Chess Carnival, put on by Takchess.

I did have a great time, recharged the batteries and all that, and managed to make some progress in Ray Cheng's excellent Practical Chess Exercises. I'm really enjoying it, and recommend it highly as an airplane, on-the-go book to keep the mind tuned into chess. Beats the hell out of bad bestseller novels, anyway.

I've also finished reading Soltis's Studying Chess Made Easy and will have a review of it posted soon. In order to get you to come back, I won't say anything more here...