Saturday, November 17, 2012

Jason's Lesson Corner - End Burnout! part 1

Jason graciously gives Mike N advice on how to get out of his 'chess burnout'!

If the joy has gone out of your game, and you're dropping pieces right and left, it might be time to “Re-Access Your Chess”, as IM Jeremy Silman chose as the title of his well received book.

GM Viktor Kortchnoi once remarked that one does not play "understands" chess. It could be that it's your understanding of the game at a fundamental level that needs an overhaul. To improve, IMHO you first have to be brutally honest with yourself and really commit to scrubbing your play of any biases, bad habits, and misconceptions about chess. Then you have to fill in the holes with correct knowledge and a ton of practical playing experience to reinforce that knowledge until it becomes second-nature. This is where I fall down since I just cannot commit that time to go higher now.

But assuming that you do have the time, energy and will, ask yourself how frequently you're doing these things in your games:

1. Making bad minor piece trades
One skill that I've noticed that separates masters from amateurs is their knowledge of the relative value of bishops vs. knights: when one is better or worse and how to bring about positions favorable to one or the other. Whether a bishop is better than a knight or vice versa is function of the pawn structure. Having an open center, multiple "pawn islands" ,and/or pawns on both flanks favors the bishop, while having a blocked center or pawns all on one flank favors the knight. It is absolutely wrong to always favor bishops over knights, and trading them indiscriminately without regard to pawn structure and king placement is a sure-fire way to lose against a stronger opponent.

2. Neglecting development (often for winning dubious material)
Watch GM games... GMs almost without exception (OK.. there are some greedy ones who tempt fate) will not grab minor material (e.g. a pawn or two) for the sake of falling behind in development and losing the initiative. That's a sucker's bet, and they won't do it. This reluctance to not grab material can be used as a weapon in and of itself in the form of the "positional pawn sacrifice". Here a master will offer a pawn (a relatively small investment when there are lots of pieces still on the board) for the sake of disrupting his opponent's development, his piece coordination, or to break up his opponent's pawn structure into attack-able chunks.

3. Giving up control of the center
Probably one of the most over-mentioned maxims in chess without a clear explanation of why it's important, control of the center (or lack thereof) has a lasting influence on the course of all games. Knowledge of central pawn structures will improve your understanding of where pieces belong in relation to them, and this will in turn lead to better middle game planning. Giving up control of the center means that you directly attack less than half the real estate of d4, d5, e4, e5 with pawns. If you're giving your opponent a majority of pawn controlled central squares, your game will be cramped, your pieces will lack maneuvering room, and you will not be able to coordinate attack and defense on both wings. There is a reason why 1. ... d5 and 1. .. e5 are the most logical replies to 1. d4 and 1. e4 respectively: they fight for the center immediately and in equal measure. Making pawn captures away from the central squares is the most common way to give up the center, and though it is generally against principle, there are positions where it is a viable strategy (e.g. Queens Gambit Accepted).

More to come!


  1. I love chess but it can still be hard to find time to practice and study.

  2. I also love chess, but in terms of this article, can't find the time to "understand" it. However, I still play computer chess and one way to try to beat computers is #2 above. Computers always tend to be greedy and want to gobble up material even if its position suffers.

    Your club is doing great things! Keep up the blog as I love to see how things are going, even if I don't have the time to attend.