Sunday, 4 March 2007

Climbing the Silicon Ladder

During my second "proper" chess tournament (the 1983 Australian Junior Championships) I was struck by a comment made by one of the younger competitors. I'd asked him how long he had been playing chess and he replied "I've been playing real chess for about 3 years". "Real chess?" I asked. "You know, when you stop leaving pieces en-pris".
From that point onwards I have always considered this a major boundry for anyone learning to play chess. While memorising openings, studying endgames, or learning about pawn structures is all well and good, if you continue to lose material for no good reason, then all the learning in the world doesn't help you win games.
My first serious chess opponent was a chess computer my parents bought for me way back in 1981. It was a Scisys computer and I played it constantly. The most important thing I learnt from it was how not to leave my pieces where they can be taken.
I was reminded of this recently when talking to Shervin Rafizadeh, local Canberra chess coach, and winner of the 2005 Doeberl Cup Major. He described his learning experience as very similar to mine. He said he would play against his chess computer until he dropped a piece. Then he would resign and start again. Soon he developed the "board sight" to avoid playing stupid moves, leaving himself free to concentrate on more complex issues.

So here are some tips to using your chess computer/program to help you get better.
  1. Find a computer program that lets you change the strength. Programs that incorporate player "personalities" with a strength setting will also do. I found both Kasparovs Gambit, and Kasparov Chess will do this, as will the various ChessMaster programs.
  2. Set it on the easiest level or personality.
  3. Start playing it until you are (a) no longer losing pieces for free and (b) beating it more times than it beats you.
  4. Move it up to the next level and repeat the exercise.
Some chess programs will also give you a ratings estimate for your play after each game. You can also use this as a guide to determine which level the program should be set on.
I found that by doing this when I was younger I was able to move onto the more "complicated" stuff, like openings and endings, within a few months of becoming serious about my chess.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting... I found that I started playing 'real chess' when I *wasn't* worried about leaving pieces hanging (i.e. having a bigger threat / not letting your opponent control the game)
Even moving pieces into a 'hanging' position is a good way of removing a key defender.