Monday, July 05, 2010

There’s Always a Silver Lining

Because I was sucking wind so bad in my section ( 4 losses in a row) I was sitting at a table that was either kids under twelve or grumpy old codgers trying desperately to salvage some dignity after a rather humiliating performance in the first 5 rounds. I was fortunate enough to discover my opponent was of the older type. It just so happened that Dan Heisman was coaching several of these adults and one of the kids around me. After I finally broke a perfectly good losing streak, I struck up a conversation with Howard Stern’s coach.

Dan Heisman is a very personable and approachable NM. Since he was in a waiting mode for his students he offered to go over a game of my choice and give me a free lesson! He covered a lot of ground and I did my best to jot down everything he had to say so I could share it with you. I’ll talk about some of the general advice he gave me and finish with some analysis on one of by Badness games.

Activity Safety and Time Management (A.S.T)

Dan’s first bit of advice had to do with making sure my pieces were active . “ Think of it like being a manager. You’ve got four of your who already moved once. The rooks haven’t moved yet. They are like new employees, you need to spend time with them.” Unless there is an obvious tactic, your first priority is to get your pieces active.

Safety is another consideration that needs to be adhered to. Counting techniques can eliminate most one move blunders. Knowing which side of the board your opponent is coming after you helps in determining which side to castle sometimes.

Time management was a strong topic Mr. Heisman drilled in me. Though I don’t have some problems with this, he pointed out the difference between what he called Micro Time Management versus Macro Time management. Micro time management is knowing when you can get away with making moves with less time versus using your time for critical positions. He advocates making the most out of the clock during each move. Most of my time management technique falls under the macro heading where I basically lump my playing into targeted time limits in 5 move increments. This discussion lead to the following topic.

Criticality Assessment:

What? This is knowing when a position is critical. “But isn’t this the Holy Grail for us patzers?” I asked. “How does one develop this skill?”

According to DH, the best to do this is to (1) PLAY BLITZ games and (2) Play over lots of annotated games. Now, he did say that just playing Blitz alone doesn’t do any justice unless you go over your mistakes. However, you develop a sense on when to spend your time on critical moves and decrease the time you spend on non-critical moves. Check your openings with the book after 3-4 games and see where you need to make improvements and go back for more. Sooner or later you will develop a sense for when critical positions come up. These are worth spending the time on.

Going over annotated games is the other half of this. In his words, “ After you play over hundreds of annotated games, you will have this voice in the back of your head as if it were your father telling you sage advice you never wanted to listen to when you were young. Only this time, you should listen.” He mentioned that its not a matter of memorization of the games, rather, with good annotations ( the verbose kind for us Class players), you get a better understanding of positions.


Dan didn’t have a good thing to say about CT-ART 3.0. “ How many times in your games do you get to sacrifice a queen?” He suggests John Bain’s book where there are more “removal of the guard” and gradual basic tactics. They may seem simple but getting to the point of really KNOWING these like your multiplication table gives you an opportunity to see the these kind of tactics when they come up in your games. Even if tactical shots only occur in 5% of your games, you are best to know them cold. It works the other way as well. Being able to see tactics coming at you will also save you from tripping up.

Now, on to my Badness game that he graced me with for analysis:

I had white, my opponent played a Benko Gambit. First off, he says “ You play 1.d4 2.c4? You know you need to know the tabias of 10 openings with that.” Of which I had about 7 (kind of sort of) under my belt given the latest series of posts ( QGA, QGD, Benoni, KID, NI, Grunfeld, and Dutch). The Benko-Gambit was not one of them and I gave it my best shot but underestimated the fact that Black has all his energy on the Queenside. With my passive moves and positional missteps, White was playing a totally defensive game.

Editor's notes 7-6-2010: Dan corrected me in that he is an NM and was coaching several of the adults around me and only one of the kids.


es_trick said...

That's pretty cool that you got to meet DH and that he went over one of your games with you. Heisman is probably my favorite writer at Chess Cafe.

BTW, have you noticed that really little kid, Awonder Liang, who's making some waves near the top of your section? I was seated next to him one round at the US Open last summer. I'm absolutely in awe of talents like him. I barely knew how the pieces moved when I was 7, and he's already better than we are.

LinuxGuy said...

On move 23, your program suggests a3, that is interesting.

This is a good position to take stock. White must be winning, being up the pawn.

I like Qc2-d1-f1 to trade queens or grab the light diagonal. One problem, Black could play ..Qb4 followed by ..Bd4, when after BxB..QxB, White's knight is still gumming up the position a bit and White's queen is still boxed-out. I am guessing that this is the reason for suggesting a3, otherwise a4 if needed, would seem fine.

It looks like that position blew-up on you and you decided to go "jungle-ball" with the position after that.

Here, it's easy to see why in general the better tactical player should win, not because the position says so but because it has turned into a skills contest.

It's not surprising that a typical coach may want to give a person a narrow repertoire to preserve their best chances on a practical level. My advice, though, would be for you to stick with the 2.c4. Tactics are going to determine the rating mostly, anyhow, and you are almost done with your openings studies. ;-)

Anonymous said...

He is an IM? I thought he was an NM.

Not to nitpick but in 3 of my last 5 games I've had tactics where I "sac" my queen. If the opponent grabs it, they get mated.

Anonymous said...

The advice on playing over annotated games and recognizing critical positions is very helpful.

My favorite books for this are Fischer's 60 games and Reshevsky's Art of Positional Play. They don't have reams of variations but do have great notes on what's important positionally.

One thing I noticed is that critical positions often occur when initiative hits a point of gain to more concrete advantage or loss of tempo.

I try to get this flow when I play over games.

In your game posted, which I thought you played very well against an unfamiliar opening, I thought some critical points were when I thought you had good initiative 22. Nxb5 through 24...Rxb6 with a pin on the c pawn.

I also thought a critical point was 31. Qg4 to 32..Re8 with initiative though you were at a disadvantage with black's passed pawn.

Unknown said...

Hey, nice to let a lesson with DH. Just recently I've settled into a routine where all I do is tactics and playing through annotated games. Too early to judge results, my goal is for an upswing in the Fall.

I've gone "back to basics" with tactics (DH's new ChessCafe book), and am focusing on Petrosian games, currently reading an old copy of the Vasiliev book.

You got me into looking at games, it's your fault! Actually DH's comments about voices in your head I think my come to life in me. There have been a few games where I've gone "huh? That can't be right" and sure enough it turned into a "lesson" for the offending player. That being said, I am way at the beginning scale of learning how to go through games.

I am going through a few books of Petrosian's games to get different perspectives. I think the next Petrosian book (by Botvinnik, 1963 match) I will then whip out an analysis board for a few positions, step into it lightly.

I am also getting the new "Studying Chess Made Easy" book, Soltis:
I wonder how this can be, I need to read it -- LOL!

I hope you enjoyed the World Open even if you didn't take prize money home. It sounds like a blast. I'd like to do it sometime. Maybe next year?

From the patzer said...

Wonderfull that you had a lesson with Dan Heisman. Nice of him to give you a free lesson, my admiration for him only gets up by such an unselfisch action.

Hope that next games go better for you now that you got this very exclusive lesson of a top coach.

SmyslovTheSlayer said...

Hi hows it going. I am not nearly as good as DH, both as a player and especially as an instructor, but I am not so sure if calling it Critical Positions is the most accurate description. I think it is more just that some positions are really easy to screw up.

Going along with what Anonymous said earlier about the initiative, anytime the initiative is changing hands I think it is important to spend a lot more time thinking about the possibilities.

For me, I do a lot of double checking whenever the pawn structure changes as well.

I think the brain just gets so used to something, like "I am on the attack" or "my e4 pawn is protecting the d5 and f5 squares," that when those things are about to no longer be true, the brain still assumes they are true.

I know I have bungled a lot of good positions because I calculated a pawn taking twice on one square!

My primary means of studying chess has been going over GM or old master level games, and I definitely hear a lot of voices when I play chess! Seriously, though, going over annotated games is good advice for pretty much any chess player. It is actually pretty fun too.

HardDaysKnight said...

I think his view of CT-Art and the comment about queen sacs is a bit disingenuous. Yes, CT-ART has its share of queen sacs, but CT-Art also breaks out it exercises by difficulty and theme. I hardly see how you could get a finer and more beneficial granularity.

Also, at lower levels games are almost always decided by tactics. The lower you go, the more abundant the tactical possibilities.

Finally, while you may not be able to play a particular tactic in a game, the *threat* of tactical shots greatly influences the course of most games, at every level.

I like some of Dan's stuff at Chess Cafe, and I absolutely admire a guy who can make a living teaching chess, but I think he's off the mark in his having nothing good to say about CT-Art.

Geoff Fergusson said...

I was very interested in your encounter with Dan Heasman. His ideas are very interesting - particularly that of learning to solve simple tactical problems very quickly - which he says is the single most important thing we can do. This is a possible future project for the Empirical Rabbit, but I am up to my neck in Reinfeld repetitions at the moment.

According to Gufeld’s Benko Gambit (1988) - most of my books are old - your 5.Nc3 is the Zaitsev variation, and your opponent should have replied 5...ab. 7.a6 would have given you a pawn without the indignities that White usually suffers in the Benko Gambit accepted.

The best advice for studying the opening? Openings should take up 25% of your study time. Play theoretical lines, but not necessarily the most fashionable ones. Buy specialist books that explain the ideas, and give well annotated illustrative games, if you can.