Wednesday, August 15, 2007

How to turn enthusiasm into achievement

If you're anything like me, after reading Michael de la Maza's book Rapid Chess Improvement you were probably filled with enthusiasm, energy and zeal.

400 ratings points in 400 days. That's sounds like something I could do.

And even though de la Maza is very upfront about the time commitment you nod knowingly and say to yourself, "Sure I know it will be tough - but I'm up for the challenge".

Completing seven passes through a block of 1200 chess tactics, each circle getting successively quicker until on the last day of the program you're doing all of them in one sitting seems like an achievable goal.

And then, if you're anything like me, you fail. And then you fail again, and fail again, and again, and again.

After your ninth attempt you start to get the feeling this is too difficult and you give up all hope.

Or you can do what I did, which was. Try something smaller and simpler.

Studying tactics with five, six and seven move combinations is great, but the most powerful idea of the seven circles is about developing chess memory.

Anyone serious about chess tactics needs to have between 600 and 1000 board patterns memorized "cold". Positions that:

  • occur with some degree of frequency in real games

  • form the building blocks of bigger combinations

  • The only two seven circles programs I've been able to complete have been based along those lines - easy problems and plenty of them.

    The problem sets I used John Bain's Chess Tactics for Students (421 basic problems) and Lou Hays' Winning Chess Tactics for Juniors (534 fairly easy problems).

    Doing a smaller set of easier problems is not a waste of time - I assure you.

    Firstly, completing a seven circles exercise with fewer easier problems builds your confidence and gives you a sense of achievement. You can't underestimate how motivating it is to finish something to completion - no matter how small it is.

    Even doing a seven circles exercise on a smaller set of easy problems is not so simple. For me, the challenge of the Bain set was about discipline. Getting into the habit of practising tactics every day.

    The challenge of the Hays set was about focus and concentration. These problems were not trivial and I had to think carefully about possible refutations of the "obvious" moves.

    The other great advantage is that some of the basic problems you memorized in these exercises do appear in other chess tactics books. About 15% of the tactics in the Hays book I'd seen before (and knew instantly) in the Bain book.

    I'm anticipating that in the next seven circles I attempt with Fred Reinfeld's 1001 Brilliant Chess Sacrifices and Combinations I'll instantly recognise many "old friends" from the Lou Hays book.

    So before you quit altogether on the grand goal of completing the seven circles as specified by Michael de la Maza, turn your enthusiasm into achievement, build your base of tactics and make things easier for yourself when you do select a more difficult problem set in the future.

    1 comment:

    Farhad said...

    I agree with what you suggest in your plan, 1-2-3 move combinations is where we need to achieve perfection, at our level. I'm sticking to De la Maza's plan for as long as possible, but considering I haven't even started the circles yet (currently on my 11th day of microdrills), I'm not sure how long I'll survive. So I'm looking for alternate plans (just in case), and yours does look very sensible and interesting.
    Best of luck with the program :)