Wednesday, May 06, 2020

A Game of Imbalances: Part 1

When I was first starting out in chess, the book to own was “My System” by Aaron Nimzowitsch if you wanted to understand the finer points of positional play.  He had words like “prophylaxis” and  more words to describe variations of pawn chains like an Inuit  has for snow. This is because his treatise is about the school of hyper-modernism where pawn centers are formed and piece activity is around attacking the center positionally. Quite dated and his concepts mostly holds with some exceptions today. I consider it a historic piece much like Staunton’s or Tarrasch’s  guides on positional play were over a century ago. I’ve read this book long ago, and yes, I could use a refresher. BUT this post will not be about Nimzowitsch’s insights, rather about how Jeremy Silman came and had us re-assessing our chess with the concepts of a more dynamic approach to looking at today’s games from a sense of positional imbalances.

Lesson’s from this amateur seeking improvement:

Don’t do what I did when I first got this book. I read it as quickly as I could passively absorbing the 7 imbalances, rifling through the exercises, not really giving them much thought and going directly to the Solutions section to “reassure” my ego that I knew what he was talking about.  To add insult to injury, I purchased the “workbook” only to try a few of the problems, fail an head directly to passively absorbing the lessons by nodding in approval of the solutions as if “I would have guessed that.”  Take my money please. No… not recommended. Not if you want to really learn and absorb the information. Slow down, genius.

This post will serve as my re-introduction to the new study I did using my slower approach and introduce the imbalances he brings up.  In parts 2 and 3 (I may do this in 4 parts… unsure yet) I will split up what I discovered from an amateur’s perspective on the imbalances.

My approach and fixing a leaky memory bucket:

I posted previously about slowing down and “going old school” as some commenters have mentioned.  There are over 200 diagrammed positions in How to reassess your Chess. I set each and every single one of them up on a chess board.  I used the clock on the end of chapter exercises set to 20 minutes and used the notation mentioned in that older post. Only after the clock ran down and I was through my own evaluation and analysis did I check the solutions section.  Just like I did in my recent studies with Kotov’s TLAG here and here, I created a set of notes using a method I adopted from Cornell University.

This approach falls under  deliberate practice . Rather than rote memorization (I don’t have a Eidetic memory as I posted a few years back) or my lazy  passive absorption techniques, I do find that when I am more engaged in the learning process the better I can retain. Let’s just say, at my advanced age and many years in my misspent youth doing youthful indulgences… my short-term memory plain old sucks. Three is my magic number I can juggle before having a good recall mechanism in my long-term storage which surprisingly survived the rock concerts and extra-curricular activities associated with such. The act of setting up the board, physically moving the pieces.. on a really comfortable and nostalgic set from my youth ( thanks to dear old departed dad)… seem to all help with my learning and retention process.  I’m a visual and tactile learner. I learn best through examples and doing it on my own with the right guidance. 

What I learned from the Kotov experiment is that I can retain more of the information from TLAG  and start to synthesize the material …especially around visual analysis. I knew the roadblock I faced (still) around picking the cadidates but I am getting better and it lead me down the path to “Maybe I can learn from Silman now”.  And I am.

What were my goals?

When reinvigorated my approach to studying back n January it was to improve my over-the-board (OTB) experience in slow tournament games. I wanted to improve my visualization for analysis in 3D like OTB and improve my positional sense so I could find …that seemingly elusive unicorn called candidate moves that seems to come natural to others.  Thank you to all who have commented so far offering advice… and am eventually getting there as well. But first I had to learn what I did not know.. if that makes sense.  Like learning an musical instrument on your own and by ear or listening and mimicking other musicians you like, when it comes to really playing the instrument and improvising and knowing which notes to hit when coming up with your own composition, you need to train more traditional. In this case here,  knowing “principal moves” in certain positions was a huge deficit because for the longest time… and as fallout from the days of the Knight’s Errant and purely tactical training, I had huge gaps of missing information and positional queues which are now just starting to come to light.  

But let me tell you, with state of chess these days under Corona Virus going mostly online, Blitz and rapid chess are the way to stay on game.  I’ll tell you how I’m crossing that bridge and improving my online blitz rating slowly but surely and how starting with improving my positional understanding through deliberate training is a part of that journey that will help BOTH blitz and OTB play in the future.

The list of the 7 Imbalances

  1. Superior Minor Pieces (the interplay between Bishop and Knights).
  2. Pawn Structure (a broad subject the encompasses doubled pawns, isolated pawns, etc).
  3. Space ( the final frontier… no… the annexation of territory on a chess board).
  4. Material (Owning pieces of greater value than opponent’s).
  5. Control of a key file or square (files and diagonals act as pathways for your pieces, while squares act as homes).
  6. Lead in development ( more force in specific area of the board).
  7. Initiative ( dictating the tempo of the game).  

In part 2, I’ll touch on Silman’s approach to thinking process, calculations and the Superior Minor Piece insights I may have picked up as an amateur revisiting this in a more deliberate way. I plan on covering the other imbalances in Part 3 but may even split the last two out in a separate post as it gets into a discussion on static ( first five)  versus dynamic ( last 2) imbalances.   I learned a lot and hope to share this if you’re up for it.  

Note: I didn’t mean to make this a post littered with links of “best of blunderprone’s blog” but I wanted to make sure some of the references were there in case you were curious of either  a) how insane I really am or for  b) educational purposes… hopefully it didn’t create too many squirrels to chase for you.




LinuxGuy said...

The imbalances, of course, are a general concept meant to lead us in the right direction. Piece coordination and square-control are the way that things get done.

In my last reply, I focused on visualization because it could the #1 thing holding back many adult improvers. The most important thing to understand is the logic of a position. Things like square-control, and future combinations. are very important, and also tie into that logic.

Silman's books can come across like it struck you, for the most part, where you ask yourself "Is he talking to a third-grader?" and then you look up the answers to figure out whether or not you are one of the third-graders.

Memorization of a position is important. You can build this up, for example, by blindfold memorizing Morphy's Opera Game. What you can't memorize, per se, but mostly will have to understand is the logic of why a tactic, idea, or whether a move works or not. For example, a person can memorize a tactics problem, but it's more difficult to memorize a solution, and not even all that advisable outside of the here and now when going over them, because your understanding will change and get stronger over time, and you will even find errors or solve past abbreviated solutions. Yes, chess really is harder than most authors let on in their books.

The elusive unicorn of candidate moves, the best exercise for it is the Stoyko method, but it can take half an hour for one position. Last time I tried this was with a game between Kasparov and Judit Polgar from Shankland's book. You'd probably have to do a lot of this exercise to get to where it improves one's OTB game, because no matter how much you try, the clock is limiting and there will always be that one move where you didn't consider alternatives for either side. How strong players have such a rich sense of fantasy and imagination is one of the wonders of chess, but there is logic behind their solutions.

Blunderprone said...


I always love your informative responses. Don't get me wrong, I have been working on my visualization skills as well the stuff I blog about. Silman's books and tone are a bit condescending... but he pokes fun at himself once in a while and ...well I am an amateur but it's guys like us that keep him in business with books so he needs to find a balance and piss us off too much with his snarky responses.

On memorization of a position, a few years ago I did try just that ..with that same game from Morphy. I shifted to tactical studies and found that more effective for developing pattern recognition skills required for this game.

I am finding candidate move selection a little easier gaining knowledge of positional themes in the studies I am currently doing. I may have a post after the Silman series on that.

LinuxGuy said...

Blunderprone, thank you very much for your kind words!

Yeah I agree, tactical studies, and patterns are so important.

I think there is a good chance that you are stronger than you think you are, positionally. It's this way with me, as well. At some level, with enough experience (you've gone through a lot of books, and so have I), I think that tactics begin to drive the positional play, and it's less about finding purely positional moves apart from calculations, or assessments; well, a positional and tactical understanding begin to blend together more.

If I studied openings more seriously, and diligently, perhaps then these skills of recall would come into play more. As it is, aside from play, the lion's share of my time has been spent on general improvement. By contrast, I think the pros study is more specific, such as the games of their opponents, as well as taking the study of their own games more seriously, or the study of topical opening lines.

Studies always get top recommendations from the pros. When I study tactics, a lot of times I feel as though it's almost a study.

When you play, let's say blitz, how often do you get to a position and not notice a simple threat (often your own), and how often does this happen to say the top players(?) Chess is a very observational game, and perhaps that is why both of us have been blunder prone. ;-)