Friday, December 19, 2014

Here we go again

I want to thank Jason Oliphant ( at for helping to chisel me out of some sticky amber with his question on whether there is still anyone out there keeping tabs on Adult chess improvement seekers (ACIS) or like the now defunct Knights errant.  His email, blog post and the other pertinent bloggers that posted in response to this hot topic prompted me to write about what I feel is still a HOT issue for the adult chess community trying to break the chains of the “class” struggle.

When I asked my readers about the curiosity I have towards what contributes towards retention of skill, I was pleased with the debate that was generated both here and on  I liked the NM’s response of “just play don’t memorize” as it attempts to be Zen like but comes off more like a “field of dreams” approach to improving.

Let me talk about tactics after doing over 10,000.

The bottom line is that being a “successful” knight errant back in a day and completing the 7 circles of hell over and over and over again… is that I still score mediocre to just above abysmally. I can’t do speed solutions.  AomoxomoA also seemed to hit a “wall” after over 4000 problems.  Another NM over at prompted this response:

“I'm puzzled when you say that you are missing tactics even going through 10,000 puzzles. I think it's time to revamp your tactical training...”  NM Linlaoda (

Buzzing through the MDLM CT-ART puzzles testing per level had me blindly hitting or missing patterns that would stick in my long term memory. The repetition was good to build the elemental and more obvious one or two movers. But the complex combinations were becoming best guesses. I found myself spending considerable amount of time doing more positional evaluation and not looking for “the seeds” as Heisman would say.  In retrospect, I can see that part of the problem was what I did with the failed puzzle.  I merely moved on… get to the next one.. VOLUMES …MUST  DO VOLUMES... hoping it would come eventually. What I needed to do was STOP, understand what I just missed. Figure out why I didn’t see it. Create a memory marker ( more on this later…but basically it’s a label I understand), move on but retry at an interval later. That last part is critical as it’s part of a deliberate training.

I still like CT-ART despite it’s limitations and seeming a bit dated. As I am  taking off rust, I am going through the “test” but using the setting that parses them according to motif. So I know I am solving “removal of defender” tactics of various levels.  This is a subtle but deliberate shift.  I think doing these according to motifs and stopping when I fail to understand what I missed and label it, might be the right tweak suggested my online friend.

A rally cry: Looking for Improvement Seekers

I am in the process of preparing  a separate post on how I plan to revise my approach to chess improvement  which is shaping up to  include some research in Neuroscience, more memory mapping  from working memory to motor memory and some new  deliberate practice technique for this busy adult chess improvement seeker ( ACIS… I used to lead this topic in various circles post Knight’s Errant).  I want to make a more efficient learning and retention process tailored specifically for my skill level, goals, ability and commitment. But don’t we all?

In that light, I want to open my blog as a rally point for those brave enough to put it out on the table and declare they, too,  are willing to blog about the methods they are trying to employ in the search for chess skill improvement.  Some are already on the path.  I started to link them on at my blogspot home under “Improvement seekers” ( I need to cull the list a little). If you want to be part of the New Improvement Seekers  ( NIS? New ImpS? We’ll decide later) send me a request in the comments and a link to your blog.  Creating an online support community  is how one breaks out of just “dabbling” to making a commitment. Once you have others supporting your efforts, contributing to a symposium of ideas on how adults CAN, HAVE and WILL improve in chess skills, a synergy will take place.

This is not a revival of the fool’s errand of the knights E which primarily focused on tactical improvement.  I believe this is only a part of the equation.  I want to have discussions and consensus on multiple areas we all seek to improve our game. 

If you sign up, the only requirements are:
  •           You are over 21 with some road weariness about life
  •           You are actively looking into ways to improve at chess
  •           You can commit to a post at least once a month on your efforts
  •           You create a cross link on your blog as well
  •           Optional: if you have a plan that is really working, be willing to share it.

So who’s in? 


AoxomoxoA wondering said...

tactic -skills consist of several sub skills.
Detect weaknesses ( Heisman say "Seeds of destruction"

If you see a weakness ( like unprotected pieces ) you need to find a goal ( like win material )

Calculation with several further subskills: Memorising move sequences, visualisation of the final positions
and so forth.

Now you need to think about where memorisation of puzzles and their solution makes sense.

If you memorise complex puzzles you dont exercise "thinking process", "search of weaknesses", Visualisation, evaluation ....
That is the reason why Heisman suggest to "learn" simple tactics.
My personal experience with learning complex tactics where negative.
Its like leaning by heart the result of 1529473*94728054
that is of very limited use.
to learn the multiplicationtable and that up to super high speed makes more sense, and then with this knowledge learn how to solve

BlunderProne said...

@AoxomoxoA: I am starting to sway from the pure memorization process in favor of some of these subskills you mention. I'll be posting about this a little later.

Tommyg said...

One of the best books I have read lately.. (ok I am in the middle of reading it it) is Move First, Think Later. All about patterns but demystifies the thinking process.

Count me as an imp!

I used to blog as the Prodigal Pawn. Now back in a different chess mode. Already cross linked your blog!

linuxguyonfics said...

Count me in! Link to mine, and I'll link to yours as well.

I agree with a lot of what's been said on your recent posts and the comments, if not all of it.

Tactics book are rarely that. Usually they are books on combinations from Master games, and ripping the resolution-phase of the game straight from them, and then acting like it's "an exercise" for the reader.

Nowdays I might go straight to the answer of the "tactic" (or more like 7 move combo) and then treat it as a visualization exercise instead of a "tactics" exercise.

I have quite a good memory for chess, although not like in books where chess authors seem to quote stuff like "14.Nd2, the first new move in this position. Polu vs Arbitrov, Palma de Majorca in 1872 went like this ..."

I avoid the Open Sicilian, for example, due to theory, but then everyone I see playing it is usually flubbing it up badly regardless of rating, or at least as bad as I would. Once, 20 years ago, I beat a player in a Sicilian, a kid who spent all summer memorizing MCO on it, and could show you OTB the proper continuations. I beat him as a 1300 player as White, but he was maybe just under 1200.

I think visualization is the valuable skill here. Look how fast Magnus can move in the opening vs Anand for the World Championship. It is because he can visualize the separate lines quickly, and doesn't struggle with this process for example, IMHO. This also saves him not only clock time, but perhaps more importantly energy for later in the game.

I tend to find my focus late in a game, but this is also when I have much less clock time and energy available. Clock time can make up for lack of energy, which can be particularly useful later on, and this is very important when it comes to not ditching games and rating points needlessly. Sadly, I have not taken my own advice here, so have learned the hard way.

Aoxo MoxoA said...

a proper thinking process is a type of training. If you add a thing to your thinking process like: i should inspect all pieces if they are overprotected or not ( just an example ) then you will do this "exercise" at every game and every move. after a while this habit will be processed subconsciously, it becomes a skill. ( i guess !)
Munich did had a similar experience with the "mandra" : "To take is a mistake". Most master try to "keep the tensions" as long as possible for that reason.

BlunderProne said...

To all my followers here on Blogspot:

I have created a group on
This is mainly for those who have a account and are looking for an easier way to keep track rather than cross link. I can add you only if you have a account already.

Mirroring my posts on have really expanded the discussions.

ChessAdmin said...

You're welcome to include me on the list. I routinely link to your blog here whenever it's active.

Jason Oliphant said...

I am totally being on board with being a new imp... (and I will contact you on within the next couple days)

Several new thoughts were brewing that I thought had potential as an interesting blogpost.

but I'll add to perhaps an emerging consensus; there was nothing wrong with the noble cause of the knights errent- but there aim, to live Breath and fitfully sleep with tactics running through the thoughts, perhaps is not the most efficient aim at significant chess improvement.

almost NO author has ever said, there's no balm in working out reams of tactics. but then there's no author EXCEPT for perhaps Maza that have said it was entirely sufficient for massive chess improvement.

Its NOT good enough IMHO to JUST have a Tactics Only program.

linuxguyonfics said...

I haven't figured out how to make links appear on my Wordpress blog, so you'll have to pardon me for this.

The most important tactics in chess are the ones that your opponent can do to you. So you cut them out, win a game, and then it looks easy because generally no one feels compelled to know about all of the pitfalls you avoided in your game.

If your opponent missed a tactic and you have been studying up on them, then you will generally find them at near blitz speed LaMaza-esque like.

However, positional situations, unlike tactics, can practically lend a player to haven an existential crisis at times; which the clock, BTW, doesn't allow for.

Anonymous said...

I think it is Axel Smith who notes that has friend saw a marked improvement by solving THE SAME 250 tactical puzzles over and over. Idea being that you start to recognize patterns.

James Stripes said...

I've been blogging my ever changing approaches to self-improvement for several years at I briefly flirted with MDLM's approach after his articles appeared on ChessCafe, but quickly realized that his method was incompatible with marriage and employment. So, I follow a number of different paths.

My current course--planned for December 2014 to January 2016--has me working through Rashid Ziyatdinov's GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Knowledge. I have no illusions about becoming a GM, but still see USCF Expert as a reasonable expectation. I'm currently down a little more than 100 from my USCF peak rating of 1982. I was 1627 when I started my blog in 2007.

I've sent a request to the group.

Tomasz said...

A month ago I made the decision to achieve 2100-2200 status at chess tactics. I really want to know what it means to see tactics and combinations "deep enough". To achieve this goal I selected a bunch of workbooks and a few manuals and my deadline is July 2020. To this time I will have been solving until I finish these tactical tasks (puzzles).

If you think I am a New Seek Improvement you can call me this way. However take notice I am not going to solve the puzzles with de la Maza approach. My goal is to solve puzzles rated 1700-2100 and see how much impact it will have on my games. And I especially interested at finding problems at my tactical recognition system as well as with visualization of the positions and counting variations.

Let me know what do you think about it!