Friday, November 06, 2009

Adult Chess Improvement Seekers ( ACIS)

I will be stepping out of the time machine between now and through the holidays. Partly because I am waiting for Christmas before I pick up my next tournament book ( Dear Santa, I want the Grandmaster Chess: The Book of the Louis D. Statham Lone Pine Masters-Plus Tournament 1975 for Christmas).

There is a large community of adult chess improvement seekers out there. You know who you are. I believe improvement is still out there for us old dogs as long as we are willing to put in the right effort. Coaching is a big benefit but if you are like me, sometimes, the financial resources aren’t there. Which books to buy, what method to choose and how to train vary with the individual ACIS.

In a recent post by Eric, aka Blue Devil Knight. The question of whether the ill famed cult of the knight errants DLM have died off. In brief, and for you new comers, a Knight Errant DLM is basically an improvement seeker who has attempted to follow ( loosely) the Rapid Chess Improvement method of Michael De La Maza by doing what I call the seven circles of hell. There was a blog community that had formed as a result and for the chess blog-osphere… this was a viral moment. Like a moth to a flame, I too, did the MDLM method and saw moderate results ( gaining roughly 300 USCF… warning results vary widely).

Most of us realized the original author was unemployed and could focus the time and effort to reach the 400 points in 400 days idea. The rest of us did modifications according to our real world experience. For instance, I chose a concentric circle method, doing each level of CT-ART 3.0 seven times before advancing to the next level. MDLM, suggests doing all 9 levels sequentially and repeating it 7 times decreasing the allotted time by one half ( roughly). Some felt a smaller set of circles was more beneficial and others used a different set of tactical problems… like How to beat your dad in chess.

The plus side of this method is that it is a brute force way to etch a bunch of tactical patterns in your noggin especially if you score poorly in tactics in the first place. The repetitious nature of the MDLM method is a good way to ultimately a good way to increase your base of pattern recognition into long term memory. In his landmark book, Thought and Choice in Chess. Adriaan de Groot determined the fundamental difference between Master and amateur was the ability to recall these patterns. A master is in order of magnitude greater than that of an amateur thus, underscoring the idea of finding a way to improve your base of patterns to recall. De Groot’s study was lot more complicated than that but I don’t want to digress from the plus side of having some kind of method to increase you ability to recall and play with confidence a certain number of positions.

Aside from the outrageous time commitment ( which can be dialed down to practical real-life terms), the down side to the MDLM method is that it’s like pheasant hunting with a canon. Once the circles are completed you may recall only a few of the patterns. This is because in practice, you only use a small subset of those patterns. The rest never or so rarely occur that they don’t make it into long term memory. Sustaining the 1000 tactical patterns in memory is not realistic with this method. You lose it if you don’t use it.

What should one do? I believe the answer requires picking the right problem set for the individual. The best results would be to study patterns and positions that occur in your regular games based on your opening repertoire. Notice how I also say patterns and positions and not necessarily tactics alone. I believe you have to include the whole game. Making the right choice in an opening, middle game and endgame requires an understanding of position and patterns.

I point back to Adriaan De Groot. He believed players went through four stages to determine the right move:

Stage one: “Orientation phase” requires the player to assess the situation and determine generally what to do next. Now, whether you use a method like Silman’s imbalances or Nimzovitche’s system … there is a requirement to recognize patterns here.

Stage two: “Exploration Phase” is the calculation phase and Kotov’s Think like a Grandmaster “tree of analysis” is a good example of this. Does pattern recognition help here? Sure it does. In order to evaluate a branch in your head, if you can recognize a winning position that can be reached it saves time OTB.

Stage three: “Investigation phase” is where the subject actually chooses a line to play as the “best move” and then Stage four is the “Proof phase” where the player confirms the choice being valid.

Here is what I plan on doing over the next couple months and will blog on my progress and efforts.

1) I will select a personal set of problems based on my recent games and put them into chess base using the training position tool and setting scores based on complexity. These will mostly come from my losses and even some wins.
2) I will create opening training positions where I have difficulties
3) I will use chess base to filter miniatures out of the database based on my specific repertoire. I will create additional problems to add from these.
4) I will select games from my previous historical games studies that pertain to my openings I encounter and find specific middle and endgame positions that are most beneficial to my repertoire.
5) As the data base grows, I will apply the circles training method ala MDLM.
This is a work in progress subject to modifications. My next post will be on the mechanics of setting up my own problems using chess base as I work on the first item.


Steve Wollkind said...

I like your plan...I was wondering if you would be interested in doing a post on some of the technical aspects of what you plan to do. For some time I've wanted to make a training database of both "hall of shame" positions where I lost while clearly winning, and others where I was ahead and played poorly/inefficiently. My plan is to get a bunch of these together and then just work through them an d play them against the computer....the problem is that learning to use some aspects of ChessBase can be quite a pain!

BlunderProne said...

Steve, yes... that is what I intend to do. Especially in my next post.

rockyrook said...

Before the Knights Errant, Chessville and Dan Heisman seemed (at least to me) to be the big Adult Chess Improvment advocates. Dan still writes articles on ChessCafe, but Chessville has all but died.

De La Maza's book came out around the same time as blogging became big ('04-'05) and as such the original Don Quixote blog sparked the whole Knights Errant movement.

Now it seems that the fire has died down and everyone is back to tried and true methods of improvement a la Heisman.

The one sure thing I've seen these last five years of blogging is that consistently playing long games brings improvement. For me, that is the toughest thing to do consistently ... play long games. I've recently signed up in the 45 45 FICS league and am trying to get on a team there. I've tried to start a FICS Stand Club Tuesdays and Thursday nights, but I've been failing there too (anyone interested in that?)

I've got the practicing tactics down pretty well. I manage to get on ChessTempo very regularly. But if I can just get some consistent (non-blitz) play in, I think that'd benefit me the most.

Anyway, good luck with the new program ... I'll be following along.

Will said...

I'm glad you shared these thoughts on the MDLM plan, they are broadly in agreement with my own experiences with it. His method is essentially similar to the way I was taught my times tables or how I learned the colours for the flame tests of various substances.

I would say, though, that I do slightly disagree with your buckshot contention. Exposure to such a diverse range of positions that you may or may not encounter adds bredth and should provoke non standard ideas in your own games. Having read Weteschnik's Understanding Chess tactics I started to add words to the more complicated puzzles which seemed to make them stick better and longer.

Your new endeavour sounds very interesting and I look forward to seeing how it evolves.

wang said...

As I slowly trudge through putting all of my games in chessbase format I am gathering up positions that I need to learn from. I have an activated copy of chessbase light, can I do these training positions like you can, or do I need to the big - boy version of chess base?

The Mascot said...

I tried using that method yesterday. My rating is still the same, so it doesn't work.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Now it seems that the fire has died down and everyone is back to tried and true methods of improvement a la Heisman.

Like the Circles, which Heisman recommends (in his book and a few of his articles).

It would be cool to see an ACIS blogosphere, where people do whatever the hell they want: circles, international chess school (which is awesome!), Lev Albert's course, etc..

I am obviously not in the loop anymore, don't really blog, and do very little chess as I'm working on other things for the time being. Blunderprone is the new leader!!!

Temposchlucker said...

Adult Chess Enhancement Seekers.
The A.C.E.S.

From the patzer said...

I recently talked with some of the youth players who passed the 2000 otb rating border at my chess club and with chess players who have already a long history of being a 2000+ player.

They say that solving tactical puzzles help but that they also learn or search for the middlegame plans of the openings they play.

With other words, they all agree that tactics are handy but that a chess game contains more. They also point out that before you have a tactic you must have a position. With other words, positional play to set up a position is also a requirment.

Chunky Rook said...

"They say that solving tactical puzzles help but that they also learn or search for the middlegame plans of the openings they play."

This rings very true to me. So many 2000+ players I listen to, be it at the chess club, on youtube or elsewhere, talk about chess positions in terms of "he may put a bishop there and pressure this and this pawn" or "put a knight there, double rooks on the x-file, maybe bring the bishop to there...". In other words, they instantly see certain potential piece placements and move sequences in a position which, although they don't give you concrete tactical ideas, give you a general hunch as to how the position might unfold. This is something that you rarely learn from tactics. Instead, you learn it from studying openings, reading commentary on master games or by recognising transpositions into known endgame positions.

Robert Pearson said...

My Dear Blunderprone:

I have posted something at Chess Confessions and it might take awhile to be moderated, in brief, love your idea and ACIS acronym, I advocate that it be pronounced like "axis" and we call ourselves members of "The ACIS" and not the WWII Axis, of course, but Jimi Hendrix's Axis: Bold as Love:

Well, I'm bold, bold as love.
Hear me talkin', girl.
I'm bold as love.
Just ask the Axis.
He knows everything. Yeah, yeah.

Thought you'd like that part. I'll be posting about this too, and soon.

BlunderProne said...


Hpw about ACIS of Caissa

BlunderProne said...

Yes, based on the individual, the training should suit that person. We all learn differently and based on personality types ( I’m ENTP in case you hadn’t figured).

Can there be commonalities, Common trends to follow or recipes for improvements? I’m sure that can be the case. Currently the top trendy ones can be listed as :

-MDLM’s Rapid Improvement in Chess (Knights errant)
-Silman’s HTRYC
- Lev Alburt’s Chess Course
- Heisman’s lessons from Novice Nook
- Kotov’s How to think like a GM
- Wetzell’s Become a master at any age ( my current trend)
- Rowson’s Zebra and/or 7 deadly sins
- Soltis’ Excel series
- GM-Ram
- Coaches
-Independent study

There are more I am sure. I have ALL of the above in my library which I’ve read and applied with varying results and enthusiasm. I think most of us at least qualify for “independent study”. Finding the right path is always a struggle without a coach. The path of self discovery requires one to be exceptionally critical and objective on ones ability. Most will read this and nod that they can do that. In practice, it’s a lot more difficult and requires a certain level of discipline.

My current ACIS of Caissa quest, is to actually follow a model of Rolf Wetzell suggesting to create patterns from your own experience to retrain you out of the bad habits. It’s easier said than done. First there is entering the games, especially the ones from the losses. Coming to terms with my blundering requires looking in a mirror without flinching and wincing. After I enter the game, then its further self abuse of creating the training positions to study. I sit down with the intention of doing such a thing but find every excuse to avoid it. I answer email, read one last blog, perhaps check facebook… you get the idea… avoidance.

Facing my own blunders requires coming to terms with looking within my own psyche to overcome my natural tendency to use avoidance. Or worse, abandonment. Why do you think I have this HUGE library. I tried various methods, had a short term perspective and moved on to the next, never giving any one of these the time it deserves to grow.

I am sticking to a modified Wetzell method with an MDLM component. I will give this at least a year. Blogging about it for some reason helps with the discipline. It’s an online commitment. “Can’t let the readers down” ( even if it is just my dad … who’s in his 70’s and follows my blog).

Chunky Rook said...

First of all, thanks for posting your last comment on my blog also. Secondly, forgive me if I'm hijacking it to write another and perhaps unnecessarily wordy improvement post...

Linuxguyonfics said...

I read Wetzell's book a LONG time ago. I've thrown out my flashcards, (but I still have some more that need to be thrown out, too).

The thing is, you learn to internalize the advice. For example, my last loss, a flashcard would read "The only defense is to attack!" or from the loss before that "All pawn pushes must be considered!" These were "holes" in my game.

Sure, you would back it up from a diagram from a game, but I personally think even that is overkill. It's about recognizing and identifying your own shortcomings, something we tend to do as we blog, anyway, but that book predated blogs.

The diagram is only used to visually reinforce the meme, essentially. By itself, is this enough? I doubt it because we still have to improve our analysis skills to improve, not simply avoid holes. It's just that avoiding holes is perhaps the easiest way to make realistic, immediate improvements to one's game.

transformation said...

great stuff george! thank you!
warmly, dk

Linuxguyonfics said...

I, too, have added a post of my take on this subject, at my blog site.

BlunderProne said...

@All, nice start of a new movement, I will followup with apost shortly on how I am using Chess base to DIY a CT-ART like training stack.

@Mary, You gotta let me know your email... email me at george dot duval at

Anonymous said... is currently in the progress of choosing chess blogs/clubs to receive recognition from as Top Resources. This award is not meant to be anything other than a recognition that your blog/Clubs gives information about tactics that directly or in directly raise Chess awareness. Simply place the award banner code on your site and your resource will be listed as a Top CHESS Resources on once you place it. is a Private Global Chess Server which offer FREE Chess Games and Guidelines for learning chess and whose goal is to promote Chess (which game has lost his fan base) through the spread of information globally. Thank you for your dedication to your Club/blogs. Please reply me back with the subject line as your URL to avoid spam and to make sure that you only get the award banner.

Robert Pearson said...

Her is my own introductory ACIS post, with suitable links to the revered Blunderprone:

I Would Like, If I May, To Take You On a Strange Journey

transformation said...

i think we all have been duped. i dont hear from mary or whoever it is, nor see any links or awards. :) gosh! i did as you did, george.

sad. somebody will do or say anything for attention, including misrepresentation, mirror web site with different names at BDK, my blog, warheit, wang, tang, you name it!

PetrS said...

You are right with your thoughts. I was also thinking about the method, but a) it is not possible to do that when you have a normal life, work and family because of required time, b) you will not remember all the patterns.
Studying patterns based on one's opening repertoire is much better method.

From the patzer said...

I want to become part of the A.C.I.S. My first post about this you can find at Acis of caissa.

Banatt said...

I am very interested in joining this, Blunderprone. I continue to blog about my chess training endeavors, and I think this would be an interesting community to join!