There are many ways to do anything


Recently I had a conversation with an IM about the ideal line-up for the 2014 Candidates Tournament. I leaned towards this being a fine tournament, accepting the financial incentive to have a wildcard and not feeling overly burdened by the participation of Andreikin, despite him not winning more than one real game of chess at the World Cup.
We randomly drifted into how we would have filled the eight places if we had to pick them, rather than filling them with players who had qualified. From my perspective it is a bit of a morbid thought experiment, as the principle of majority participation by qualification rather than rating is the only way that makes sense to me. If everything was done on rating, why not just crown the highest-rated player the β€˜Best Player in the World’ and be done with it? The answer is of course that we want a match, which to me also means that you need to have a tournament to pick the challenger, and again tournaments to fill that tournament.
But anyway, in this experiment I picked, among other people, Boris Gelfand. Not because I am on friendly terms with Boris; nor because he supports what we are trying to do with Quality Chess. But because he won three super-tournaments in 2013. One in front of Carlsen, one shared with Aronian (none of the top players care about the tie-break in events other than the Candidates) and one shared with Caruana (the last of the Grand Prix tournaments).
The IM argued that Boris should not be included because he is in bad physical shape. Although I agree that there is a big difference from Carlsen and his six-pack, and Gelfand’s more natural mature look, and that being super-fit is an advantage in chess. But it is only one of many parameters.
Actually, I have always hated selection for anything based on style, evaluation of talent or discipline, hair colour or other rubbish. At the end of the day, what should matter for those picking participants for junior events, national teams and so on, should be all about results. There are many ways to do just about anything in life and chess is no exception.
The time Gelfand is saving by not doing two hours of sport a day is used solving puzzles, analysing the opening or looking at complex endgames (entirely guessing here, but you get the point). Do we know what the perfect balance is? I don’t think so. We know what the perfect system is for Carlsen – and what is much more important – Carlsen knows it too! Gelfand has over time carved out his own routine, based on his personality and perception of his own strengths and weaknesses, as have the other top players.
I am quite sure that both Carlsen and Gelfand would lose a lot of strength if they tried each other’s systems. They are built on their own experience of what they want to do and what works for them.
This leads me to an absolute point behind all of this musing: You will never have enough time to do all the training you think you should do. You should tailor your training based on your own likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses.
Actually, despite being unable to know you so well without spending a lot of time with you, I am willing to put my reputation on the line (well, yours actually, but I can live with that) and advise you to look at two things in connection with chess improvement.

a) the thing you do the best
b) something you do poorly and feel frustrated by
This could be physical or it could be endings. Either way. Develop strengths and try to remove some weaknesses; and feel free to delay working on either at times, if this makes you happier. At the end of the day; that is what life is also about.

32 thoughts on “There are many ways to do anything”

  1. Interesting observations! I think I have a reasonable idea of things I do poorly, but does it sound strange that I’m not totally sure what’s the thing I do the best in chess? If I look e.g. at Pump up Your Rating, Smith advices to make a list of mistakes, which is geared at identifying one’s weaknesses. Also, in analyses of one’s own games one tends to concentrate on missed opportunities, mistakes and the like. I was wondering whether there is an ‘easy’ way to identify the thing one does best? In the Yusupov series I scored the highest in the tests in the chapters on tactics and endgames – can I conclude from this that these are my main strengths? Sorry if this sounds like a stupid question, but I’m just not sure. E.g., it is true that I’m not bad at tactics in a test situation (i.e., if I know there’s ‘something’ in the position), but in a real game I oversee tactics more often than I like, especially opportunities of my opponent.

  2. grinding_tolya

    Thanks for the observation of using the tests in Yusupov series as reference :). Never thought about that. I usually check my games (preferably with a strong friend) and then draw my conclusions.
    To identify your strong points, you can use the inverse method and check why you won certain games. Or where you played strongly.

  3. grinding_tolya

    @Jacob Aagaard
    I would add the word “enjoy” to your advise.

    With limited time it’s difficult to divide my chesstoiling in 2.
    Therefore I like to take 1 chessarea and pay attention to it’s implications.

    For example Learn from the Legends where I take evaluating central, and pay attention to the endgame.

  4. I tend to agree with Jacob’s thought that a match-play world championship should be play-in, rather than rating based. I’d take it one step further, and say it should be open to: everyone.

    This may seem like a wild idea, but it’s been used with fantastic success in another sport recently, called crossfit. For the last few years, they’ve run a world championship in their sport that’s been open to everyone in the world for a $20 entry fee. Using the power of local clubs and the internet, they’ve had 100,000 participants each year. There is no question that their champions are deserving, having literally beaten everyone else in the world. And in the meantime, the popularity of their sport has grown incredibly quickly, since everyone can participate and see how they stack up.

    How would something like this work for chess? I’m not sure, exactly. But it’s worth noting that even if you have 100,000 participants, you only need 17 rounds of matches to get to a final pair if you use a knockout system (and matches could have more games in later rounds to avoid “luck” playing too large a factor). You could have rounds go every two weeks, with increasingly wide geographical groupings.

    Maybe others have more useful ideas. But it seems to me that a sport with as wide an appeal as chess could benefit from a world championship that was open to literally everyone.

  5. @grinding_tolya
    Thanks for the advice! Maybe I was just being pedantic, but I was referring to determining my ‘strongest point’ as opposed to ‘strong points’. While I’m aware of the latter, I’m less sure of the former.

  6. Jacob Aagaard

    It does exist already. It starts with regional championships; then the World Cup where two qualifiers go to the candidates.

  7. Jacob Aagaard

    Statistics sounds like the most promising way to determine this; though I agree with others that strong points are more relevant than strongest point.

  8. I don’t know about selection criteria based on “discipline” being a bad idea, at least depending on what kind of discipline you mean and perhaps what sort of event you’re selecting for. When people go abroad to represent the country they’ve got to be able to behave while they’re doing it, as opposed to (say) drunkenly rabbit-punching the world number two from behind on the dance floor.

  9. Having just started Positional Play, I feel that Two Questions for chess training is not enough. We need a third.

  10. It’s kinda funny how Jacob directly contradicts the Foreward of his own book (even though he himself didn’t write the foreward). I just finished a grueling book of his, Grandmaster Preparation: Strategic Play, last night, which puts me at now 3 down, I’m guessing 4 to go now based on what appears to be a 7th upcoming edition based on the the cover color debate back in the winter.

    So next I read the Foreward and Intro to Grandmaster Preparation: Attack and Defense, in which the last item in the foreward suggests, and I quote:

    “3) Insist on doing at least one puzzle a day for at least a month – make it a top priority (say to yourself that you are not allowed to eat anything on a given day before at least one puzzle is solved.)”

    And yet, here, he’s like (paraphrasing/summarizing) “Hey! Ya need a day off! Maybe two, four, or even two weeks – go ahead if that makes you happy!”, and yet the foreward to his book talks about the adult brain unable to absorb after long delays.

    All that aside, I’ve known for years where my weaknesses are. Middlegame! I can nail most openings. Most endgames, except maybe a few of the really tricky Rook and Pawn endings, are usually a walk in the park for me, but finding that Knight Sacrifice, or finding the right timing to open up and advance those pawns (I’m often hard-pressed to advance pawns in front of my King, even though often times it’s correct, like say, g4 often times in the Advance French). Lastly, my defensive skills are better than my attacking capabilities.

    But alas, knowing your problems, and actually fixing them, are two completely different things, and the fact that I’m still stuck between 2050 and 2125 says that it’s still getting the best of me!

  11. @Patrick
    ‘Middle game’ sounds rather broad to me, to be honest. Don’t you need a more fine-tuned diagnosis to work on improving in a targeted fashion? E.g. missing tactical ideas is something entirely different than being too optimistic about creating weaknesses and would require different training to remidiate.

  12. @Ray

    In essence, Ray, my problems come in finding the “pros” to my own moves. I can sense the “cons” really easily, hence why I defend better than I attack. I’ll miss tactical shots, especially those involving the pushing of pawns, since pawns can’t come back, unlike other pieces. Things like clearance sacrifices are my worst. It’s not that I don’t see the moves, but I underestimate the assets I get for doing it. For example, I can sacrifice a pawn via d5-d4, and open up the Bishop on b7, and while that Bishop is deemed a monster by a GM, I see it as more of a case of “The Bishop has slightly improved as a result of the pawn sacrifice”, and don’t even really realize the nasty factor that Bishop now has, for example. I tend to take “Safety First” to a whole new level that it blinds me of my offensive potential. I’ve had this problem for years now, and while it’s not nearly as bad as it was in 2006/2007, where I scored over 70% wth Black and under 45% with White against equal opposition because I would just sit back and wait for my opponent to overextend and win the long games, it’s still not great. Now that I’m facing mostly players in the 2000 to 2300 range rather than the 1800 to 2100 range, the extra move means something, and I’m scoring better with White than I have before, and Black being more “normal” (in the 40s for percentage), I’m still missing opportunities.

    As for Blunders, the vast majority of my Blunders are of the missed opportunity type, going from winning to equal, as opposed to bad moves that go from drawn to lost. Most my losses come as a result of either a long sequence of second-best moves (no outright blunders) leading to a lost position, or the clock killing me and I make a huge blunder in a time scramble.

  13. @Ray

    And Ray, another problem I tend to have, again directly related to lack of attacking ability, is that there will be a move or sequence of moves that would blow my opponent completely off the board, and instead what I see is a sequence that leads to a transition to the end game with myself being a pawn up and say, the Bishop pair (against his Bishop and Knight, for example), and having to grind out the won position.

  14. Jacob Aagaard

    I will definitely check in which context I wrote that and elaborate. I do not believe my views have changed. For example: I do believe that you should be physically active. And as Anand says, not just for chess reasons. But do I believe that you cannot be a World Champion and overweight? Again we should mention that Anand were winning more matches as chubby than he has done in his new slender frame.

    I do think that when you start a program, there is a better way of doing things. And I think the author should push for this. But if you are doing something else, you chess will still benefit. However, I do not believe it benefits a lot from watching TV and this post should not be misread in that direction :-).

    Anyway, I have to check the foreword and see if there really is a contradiction.

  15. @Patrick
    I see, it seems then that your problem is more of a psychological nature and maybe you need to come more out of your comfort zone and take some more risks.

  16. My weakness is completely the opposite: I always see my own “combinations” but are much weaker in seeing possible shots/candidate moves of the opponent. And another weakness I observed is that when I am better, I want to finish the game as soon as possible. Sometimes this is good (with dynamic advantages) but sometimes this is bad (with static advantages). This makes me opt for the wrong plan sometimes, even though the calculations do not promise much. And I also have observed a tendency to just put my pieces on the right squares completely ignoring calculations (the hand knows where to put the pieces, not the head). This works often, but sometimes…you get punished for your laziness.

  17. Jacob Aagaard

    @Indra Polak
    To think it is laziness or stupidity to make such mistakes is to misunderstand what is going on or not thinking about it – due to either laziness or stupidity :-).

  18. @Patrick
    Having looked at what I have written in Strategic Play, Attack & Defence and he in this post, I do not at any point see where I encourage anyone to take two weeks off.

    What I am saying here is that many ways to reach your goals. I did not say that inactivity was one of them!

    Secondly: I think you need to reread the recommendation in Attack & Defence – especially the headline where it says “Foreword by Sune Berg Hansen”! But yes, I agree with Sune. It is a good idea to set a goal in what you are trying to do, rather than what you are trying to accomplish.

  19. @Thomas
    I see Jacob’s point, but to confirm yours, yes, I was comparing that line that you quoted to the line at the end of the Foreward of Attack & Defense.

    This game from last night is a prime example of my problems. Yeah, I won (I had Black), but not for any good reasons (poor time management by White). Keep in mind when you go thru this game that I recently went thru the games Matulovic – Suttles, Sousse Interzonal 1967 and meant to go thru Foisor – Wang Yue, Gibraltar 2008, but didn’t get time, and as a result, I mixed up lines in the opening, but I still feel that better play by Black was available.

    White fails to take advantage around moves 7 to 12, and after the Queen Trade, I feel like I should be better.

    1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.c4 d6 4.Nc3 e5 5.d5 Nd7 6.Bd3 h5

    (Against 6.Nge2, 6…h5 is recommended, but here, 6…Ne7 7.Nge2 f5 is supposedly better, as in Foisor – Wang Yue, Gibraltar 2008)

    7.Nge2 Nh6 8.O-O Nf8 9.Be3 f5 10.exf5 gxf5 11.Bxh6 Rxh6 12.Ng3

    (After White misses moves like 9.c5, 10.Qa4+, or 11.Ng3, Black is fine now. But here is where I run into my problem. …f4 to me doesn’t open up my LSB, it opens up e4 for the White Knight. …e4 doesn’t push his Bishop back and open up my DSB, it opens up d4 and f4 for his Knight after Nge2, etc. Notice how I don’t push either pawn until I’m almost forced to. Based on brief engine analysis, looke like 12…e4 was best here, answering 13.Nxh5 with 13…Bxc3)

    12…Qg5 13.Qc1 Qxc1 14.Raxc1 e4 15.Rfe1 Kd8 16.Bb1 Be5

    (Again holding back on 16…h4. Now be forewarned that I’m working off memory, so some of the moves from 17 to 21 may be out of order, so ignore tactics here, but the position is definitely right after White’s 21st)

    17.Nge2 Bd7 18.Rcd1 Ng6 19.Nd4 Ke7 20.g3 Rg8 21.b3 Nh4 22.Nce2

    (So we have a position that the engine is giving as about -1, so better for Black clearly.)

    22…c5 23.dxc6 bxc6 24.Kf1 c5 25.gxh4 cxd4 26.Nxd4 Rg4

    (The engine likes 26…Rhg6, which I considered, but I also considered 26…Bxh2, which is the worst of the 3 moves, supposedly)

    27.f3 Rxh4

    (Supposedly my other candidate, 27…Rf4, was better)

    28.fxe4 Rf4+ 29.Ke2 fxe4 30.Ke3

    (And now that I’ve dwindled it down from almost winning for Black to equal, I go in the tank at this point. Here, White is under 2 minutes, Black has over 40 minutes. Not for long!)

    30…Bg4?? 31.Rd2 Kd7

    (I felt I had to keep the DSB more than the pawn)

    32.Bc6+ Kc8 33.Bd5 Rf1 34.Rxf1 Rxf1

    And now I’m down to about 4 minutes, he’s got about a minute, and Black won on in 62 moves. I swindled a fork of the Rook and King with my DSB, and one position I do recall, with White to move, was:

    [fen size="small"]8/6k1/3N4/2PB4/6b1/1K5p/7r/8 w - - 0 1[/fen]

    And the last few moves were 59.c6 Rd2 60.Kc4 Rxd5 61.Kxd5 h2 62.c7 h1=Q+ 0-1

    I played bad, White played worse! But notice how moves 12, 16, etc, I’m seeing the detriment to each pawn move, not the benefit. I figured maybe a recent game (last night, in this case) would illustrate what I was saying before about the middlegame being my biggest problem. This one I messed up the opening as well, but that’s more rare for me. What I failed to do around moves 12, 16, and 26 are far more common issues of mine!

  20. @Ray
    Well, I don’t have a coach. I’ve been trying to avoid the flashy stuff, play simpler openings, and put most my focus on the middle game. So, instead of the glorified 2.a3 against the Sicilian, I’ve been playing the Colle, Torre, Dangerfield Attack, and Slow Slav as White, openings where fundamentals beat flash, and the Modern as Black, and I’ve been going thru Aagaard’s Grandmaster Preparation Series (just starting his 4th) along with other middlegame books. Already read “Chess Lessons”, currently reading The Grandmaster Battle Manual (or whatever it’s called), and going thru a book I already read as I’m tutoring another chess player who doesn’t understand how to handle minor pieces, and trades them off too quickly, so we are going thru an old classic from the 20th century, Bishop V Knight: The Verdict.

    As for Game collections, I’m mostly going thru games by Carlsen and Suttles.

  21. So I guess basically you’re training on all aspects of your game rather than focussing on your #1 weakness and # 1 strength, as advocated by Jacob in his article above πŸ™‚

  22. @Ray
    I would like to emphasize that the main importance is that he is working on chess. And when he goes through the GM Prep books, he will be working on various aspects of his game in a somewhat isolated setting.

    Keep it up!

  23. @Ray
    Not at all. I do not have time to wrap everything up in maybes and so on. I am sure that people will know the difference of a blog and of a book and the amount of time that has been spent pondering the various topics :-).

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