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 10 steps to raise your game – part 1

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Number of posts : 92
Location : USA
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Registration date : 2010-08-28

PostSubject: 10 steps to raise your game – part 1   Thu Sep 09, 2010 6:02 pm

Once you start playing, you will find chess a lot of fun but it is serious fun, if such a thing exists. The fun that comes from any battle of wits is there in chess also. Where is the serious part? It is in your will to win. In different fields of sports, there are people who grandiosely claim that result is not important, playing the game is. Well, let them have their say but don’t believe if this comes from a chess player. Any player worth his/her name will always want to win at whatever level in which he/she may be competing. If you accept this truth, your only way to win is to take your game a notch higher than your opponent’s. Sometimes you may get away without raising your game but that is because your opponent played one notch lower than you. This happens because of mistakes, not due to any lack of will to win on the opponent’s part!

Given above, how can you keep improving upon yourself? Everybody is entitled to his opinion, here is mine.

1. Know thyself

People come in all shapes and sizes, not just physically but mentally as well. Find out which styles of play suit your temperament. If you like a slap bang type of game (the dominant style in earlier eras of chess) which certainly creates more spectator interest, you will possibly be looking for more tactical opportunities and select opening/defense techniques adapted to such games. But if you are a patient type who builds up advantages move by move through a lot of maneuvering and likes complex situations, your choice of opening/defense will be quite different. In a very broad way, King’s pawn openings will suit the former types and Queen’s pawn openings will help the latter ones.

2. Know thy opponent (if possible)

You are not playing in a vacuum, there is always one sitting on the other side of table. A preconceived set rule will not work against all opponents, so you must be able to adapt your game. If you are playing against someone you know, you should already have some idea about his style. Of course, if you are against a stranger you do not know much but keeping the first tip in mind, you can see what openings and styles he is following. In a tournament, go through your opponent’s earlier games to get this insight.

3. Keep records

Self-analysis is an essential part of improving yourself. No matter if you are playing with your friend or your club member, keep a record of all the moves played in the game. It may feel a little tedious to start with, but soon it will become a habit. When you lose, go through your moves to find out where you went wrong and why. If you win, do the same regarding your opponent’s moves. You learn both ways.

4. Select your strategy for opening/defense

This follows from the first two tips. But the problem is: which ones to choose from more than thousand openings (including variants) that have been identified, as your memory may not be up to the task of remembering most of them? Even if you want to concentrate only on those suitable to your style, that will also be quite a large number. But remember that your opponent will also have the same problem. So choose a limited number you are comfortable with and explore their more common variations. If you keep playing those regularly, they will soon become a part of your repertoire and you will be able to handle the opening phase satisfactorily. You can follow the same procedure to prepare for defense when playing as Black. What if your opponent goes into a territory uncharted for you? If you know your main themes, then such unknown moves will mostly be inferior and you can look for taking advantage of the situation. The other alternative is to mostly keep to your track and bring everything to familiar ground through ‘transpositions’ which often just involves changing the sequence of your moves.

Important point to remember during opening phase:

White is considered to have a slight advantage because of having the first move. When playing as White, you try to carry that advantage to the middle game. When playing as Black, your aim is to neutralize that advantage and once Black is able to achieve that, Black is said to have equalized.

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PostSubject: 10 steps to raise your game – part 2   Sat Sep 11, 2010 9:18 pm

5. Learn the tactical processes

Strategy is the overall plan of how you want to play out the game. Tactics are like battles within a war to implement your plan in varying situations. In chess, you will find that certain themes recur repeatedly if you know how to identify those and your tactical knowledge will help to make the most in such situations. For example, bishops and knights are considered to be of equal value, but most players will prefer to have two bishops rather than two knights because of the ‘long’ leg of the bishops. But this advantage of bishop pair gets nullified when many rows and files are blocked by pawns and bishops cannot move about. In such closed positions, knights often play better because of their ‘twisted’ moves! If there is only one bishop, half of the squares are out of its reach whereas a single knight do not suffer from such handicap. Tactics is your dominant tool in the middle games, but may continue into the end game phase. For example, if you have king and one pawn against your opponent’s solitary king, it should be a winning game for you if, and it is a big if, you know the tactics for putting the situation to your advantage. If you stray and your opponent knows the tactics, you will have nothing but a draw because of the stalemate situation that can be created by the opponent. These are of course very basic examples and you will find many others like pin, discovered check, double check, zugzwang etc. which you can create towards your advantage if you know how.

There are many books on tactics that explain the situations and the techniques that can be applied. You can also try to solve the chess problems published in sports magazines or in Sunday newspapers where they ask you to find how White (or Black) can win/draw in the given situation in specified/unspecified number of moves. These are all tactical problems and trying to solve these will enhance your tactical skills. Books are also available containing only such tactical problems for you to solve and learn the techniques. Take a peek at the solution given if you cannot find it on your own.

6. Study end games

If the game is not decided by end of the middle part, it enters into the end game phase where only few pieces are still on the board and the game often becomes a slow, grueling affair. The initial strategies (tip 4) we discussed earlier does not have any role now and you have to adapt an appropriate new strategy and the tactics that will go with it. Because of small number of pieces, it is possible to make a deeper analysis for the moves available. But if you are aware of the fairly common endings, it will be easier to formulate your strategy and tactics. There are plenty of books specifically on chess endings and you should try to memorize and recognize the situations. Seasoned players can often salvage their games during this phase.

7. Study the games of masters

Such games can be found on the Internet or you may get books on such collections. The books may be a compendium of games by different players, compiled and annotated by other masters. If you are more interested in modeling your game in line with your favorite champion, you will get books like “My best xxx games” by the players themselves, with explanations on the significant (good or bad) moves of both players. If you play through the moves and the variations that were possible, you will start getting the idea on what constitutes a good or bad move in a particular situation.

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