Saturday, September 19, 2009

How to become a better player

THE three phases of the game of chess—the opening, the middle game and the endgame—are all interrelated. In the study of chess systematically they should be closely connected to each other. It would be a mistake to treat the openings in isolation.

This is happening to some of the young generation of players. The symbols in opening literature found in the modern magazines and books such as + or —+ are taken as final by some young players. And then many of them get confused and cannot understand why they cannot reach a decisive position in the subsequent middle or endgame situations.

The opening books are only a tool, to be used properly to one’s benefit.

Certain openings will lead to quite definite middle game and endgame positions and this relation must always be kept in mind. In the Queen's Gambit for instance (1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. cxd5 exd5), White can aim for the minority attack (two pawns against Black's three pawns on the queenside) which usually saddles Black with a backward c-pawn.

Therefore anyone wishing to play this line would do well to study also the endgame that teaches him how to exploit or defend this kind of position. In many variations of the Grünfeld Defense and the Modern Benoni, Black will go for a queenside majority of pawns while White gets a pawn majority in the center. As Black, one should know what to do in a typical Rook and Pawn ending with a queenside majority of pawns instead of finding it out over the board which may prove a psychological disadvantage.

What openings should one choose to lead to what type of positions? First of all one needs to know one’s self — one’s personality, likes and dislikes.

Those who are of the timid type looking for quiet and balanced positions one can stop thinking about studying the Sicilian or the King’s Indian. It's better to take up the Caro-Kann or Queen's Gambit Declined as Black or go for slow balanced variations involving 1. c4 or 1. Nf3 as White.

The following example illustrates the incompatibility between one’s temperament and the openings chosen.

An aggressive player who was good in his/her middle game but had an affinity, whenever given the chance, to fianchetto both his/her bishops, for instance Bg2 and Bb2 as White. Such variations lead to a slow build-up which was inconsistent with his/her style. Once this was pointed out to and was recognized by the player his/her game would be lifted tremendously and gain better results in future tournaments.

Once a player decided his/her traits, he/she needs to work out a repertoire for White and for Black. One needs to study well one or two variations as White and the same for Black. It is not wise to select another opening tomorrow because one had lost in this opening today, unless there are strong psychological reasons. Great players like Fischer, Kasparov and Karpov have a fixed repertoire of openings and are consistently successful in playing them.

One’s study of the openings and the subsequent play is all the more intensive and stimulating when one has a model, a star to revere upon, whose style attracts the player. One could choose Capablanca or Alekhine but we would advise selecting someone still alive, because he will still be creating new ideas for the determined player to follow until he/she is capable enough to be self-creative.

We would recommend that one just buy a basic text on openings for easy and convenient reference, but what is important is to keep a notebook beside one all the time so that he/she can jot down at that time what one had found or recollected whether in a train or in the club or elsewhere. Otherwise a player will tend to forget the vital fact or information that was available to him/her at that time.

The next thing is to keep in touch with what is going on. An aspiring chess player must have a good information system in order to progress otherwise he will find it difficult to survive at the international level.

Together with a good openings book like the one by Kasparov a good magazine to subscribe to is New in Chess edited by Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam and GM Jan Timman. Some national magazines like the British Chess Magazine are highly informative. Australasian Chess magazine edited by FM Brian Jones is likewise informative.

For those who can afford more there are many books to choose from especially from Everyman Chess or Gambit Publications, but we would advise not to have too many. One will confuse oneself and clog the brain with more than one really can handle.

These days one cannot adequately prepare for competitions without a chess database and a chess playing software. We would recommend either ChessBase or Chess Assistant for one’s chess database system. A player needs not have both, just one or the other. For a chess playing software, most popular are Fritz, Rybka, Shredder and Hiarcs. Just like books, these software are instruments only that must be used for one’s benefit. The aspiring player must know how to use them to his/her advantage.

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