Friday, July 28, 2017

Practical Chess Study

Most of us study chess from a book or a computer by ourselves. We play through stuff, openings, tactics puzzles, famous games, endgames, and generally accumulate knowledge and some level of expertise. But it can get much more effective if you study in a group or with a partner. There are more brains at work, hopefully with different ways of looking at positions.The only trouble is that we have little time to get together with others to study so most of what we do is alone. It is possible to play online, but I don't think many people study in a group online. Perhaps with a coach, but not in a group.

When I was running an endgame group at the Melbourne Chess Club a few years ago, we'd meet at the club and go through a type of ending each week, first looking at some practice and theory, and then playing from positions that related to the evening's theme. This is a really good exercise, learning and then putting the new found knowledge into a practical setting.

I recently decided that I could try this at home using a strong engine (probably a weak engine would be good enough!). Find some positions and play them out against the computer. Good positions to play would be practical endgame positions that are fairly level, or even theoretical positions to test your knowledge (try mating with king and queen vs king and rook against a comp, or defending rook vs rook and bishop).

But why limit it to endgames? Let's take 2 famous quotes as a starting point.

"The hardest thing in chess is to win a won game"

"The remainder of the game needs no further comment"

These 2 chess cliches seem to contradict one another. So how about setting up a position which requires no further comment and trying to convert to a win? Here's an example.

This position is from the game Euwe-Capablanca London 1922. In the tournament book, Maroczy criticises Euwe's last move. 17.g3 "This loses a pawn". But that is it. The remainder of the game gets no commentary as if it is all self evident. Apparently.

Working out how Capablanca as black wins a pawn in this position isn't that difficult, but to convert after might seem tricky, especially against a computer playing to at least 2500 standard. I wonder how many of us could do it 100% of the time?

This is the sort of exercise that would be of huge practical benefit to players, certainly below master standard, and playing against the clock would also help practically. I will not be playing much chess in the second half of the year so I'll be looking at ways to keep in touch. This might just be one such method.

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