Grandmaster Q&A part 2

In the autumn of 2013 I gave ten hours of training to a GM who has been struggling for years, unable to improve his play and slowly bleeding rating points. I felt he had certain problems in concrete positions, but in general needed to work more on improving his play.

After the sessions he sent me a long list of additional questions that I agreed to answer, if I was allowed to share them with the readers of the blog. As long as I kept his name confidential, he saw no problem with this.

As we are talking quite a lot of material, I have decided to cut up the Q&A session into five posts that will come over the summer.

This post continues from last week’s post.

3) I have been suffering from Openings for many years.

It can be categorised in many aspects

i) Unable to remember existing theory and also what I have seen my own analysis or some GM’s games

It is a common misconception that the strongest players are much better at remembering their analysis than other grandmasters. I used to believe this as well, while now I am not so sure. There is of course a tendency in that direction, but it is probably more like 10-20% better recall on average than 100-200% better recall.

So how do the best players manage to remember the theory much better? They spend a lot of time on memorisation. They do it in various ways; for example with training games and so on. I have personally found that using the TRAINING function in ChessBase is quite useful. If I want to remember something, I go through my files a few times over 1-2 weeks and say the move aloud before pressing on the arrow to see if I have remembered correctly. I only do this with my own moves.

I am sure there are more useful techniques out there, but this is the one I use.

ii) Don’t have any new idea / interesting novelty ready. Just following some games played by some elite players.

A lot of players are like this. I am not sure Carlsen has many great ideas in the opening. I think it is more important to understand the ideas available to you in the openings you play. Studying the middlegame seriously might easily earn you more points than finding a subtlety in the opening.

Obviously things change to some extent when you get past 2600. The difference in level often decreases and in order to win a game, it is very useful to start the game from a better position.

iii) Often I have mixed up ideas of one opening with another or forgot the correct move order

Again you have to invest time in order to gain the benefits. You forget things because you have not invested a lot of time in understanding the nuances of the various lines.

iv) Facing more problems with lower rated opposition in terms of choosing right opening. Always getting into some sort of positions which are unpleasant for me to play. Unable to choose any effective lines.

I suggest that you spend a lot of time, finding players that have similar strengths and weaknesses to you and who have a high score against players rated lower than themselves. I guess it would not take too long to work out. See what openings they play and find out how they win the games. Is it persistence? Is it knowledge of the opening? It can be a lot of things; you will need to make it a study to work it out.

v) Spending too much time even in known positions. Spending lots of time after facing a new move and therefore approaching nasty time trouble.

Learning to make decisions is an important part of chess. One of the ways to do this is to understand what it is that makes you spend too much time, when you should be making a decision instead. If it is fear, as it often is, know that you will need to change your behaviour. Even if you are afraid, you need to act as if you are not. You cannot expect that the tension of a high-level chess game will have no effect on how you feel. What you need is to get to a place where you feel the tension, but act as if you did not.

It gets easier with time.

4) What is the ideal way to study openings?

I would start with learning the ideas of the middlegame, through the best players who have played these lines. But in reality there are a lot of different approaches. It has to be one that you will actually do, and which inspires you.

a) Like many other players I mainly take part in Open tournaments. Sometimes there will be 2 games a day and the question of preparation doesn’t arise due to shortage of time. But otherwise (let’s assume for single round) before a game how much time should one devote for preparing for a particular opponent? What should be the method of work in this case?

I would say 20 minutes. How much time do you actually need if you have already analysed the variations from home and gone over them 3-4 times in your mnemonic training.

b) How to work on Novelties/New Ideas? Is it good to run the engine in the background and think on my own without looking at the evaluation always. Or is it better to think without turning on the engine at all. As for me the way I prepare is just to see what the top players are doing and then try to copy / follow the trend without properly understanding many things I would really like to have my own original ideas ready for certain lines.

It seems that your understanding of the opening is rather sketchy. It is of course a good idea to surprise the opponent in the opening. But to me this strategy is best for closed tournaments, where people would otherwise have a lot of time to prepare. The opening you have spent a lot of time understanding and memorising will not come under serious attack in an open with double rounds. Obviously it is nice to have killer novelties, but in reality very few games are decided on this. Know your core openings well and they will serve you well in openings. How you play the middlegame will be much more important than novelties.

5) What kind of and how many tournaments one should play to improve further? let’s say from my level (2460).

There are two parts to this.

a) If you want to improve it is important to play each game as if it is important. Way too many people play at lower levels of effort when they face players rated a good deal below themselves. I think this is damaging for their chess and also costly in terms of rating points.

Similar question: What is the best way to be in right shape and right frame of mind just before any big tournament (even before a small event) What happens sometimes is before/or during the initial rounds of a tournament suddenly I get the feeling that I am less prepared or unable to see tactics/missing moves sort of thing. This is again clearly lack of professional attitude and low self-esteem. Any suggestion?

Obviously it is quite difficult to train too much. Or let us say; very few people do it. But you also need rest. It is generally believed that we need 7-8 hours of sleep a night. But in reality we might need more. If you are not properly rested in the night, this can affect your play towards the end of the tournament, when you start to get exhausted, physically and mentally.

5 thoughts on “Grandmaster Q&A part 2”

  1. Interesting tips, but a bit generals to be applicable. Maybe you should write a book about it 😉
    I’d would like to know your opinion about how important preparation is when you play against an opponent.
    I mean, in a closed tournament, it is more difficult to see a “surprise”, but in an open tournament, it is not unusual that a player rated 200 lower that his opponent could draw or even win the game.
    ¿Do you think best players are also better preparing his games against his opponent? ¿Do you think it is
    because they have a better background that can apply with some time to “refresh” them? ¿do you have another idea or you are not agree :)?

  2. I think this Q&A is the best series of posts since Yusupov’s Q&A here 🙂 wondering why there’s only one comment so far…?
    Is it just me or is there a “5 b)” answer missing? You say “there are two parts to this” at the beginning of the answer but I see only “a)” part there.. or is the second part actually the answer to the last question?

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