Saturday, June 26, 2010

When You Stop Calculating

I am a chess player or at least I used to be. Now I mostly organize and direct chess tournaments plus run the Dayton Chess Club (Dayton, OH) while working full time and taking online classes in a very different field - Christian Studies.

Nonetheless, I decided to pay to attend a lecture by Grandmaster (GM) Alexander Goldin this morning (Saturday, June 26, 2010) at the Dayton Chess Club at the prompting of my wife. Plus I was curious as I had attended GM lectures before and while I was always dazzled, I was also always disappointed. I was disappointed because they frequently talked over my head (and those of others in attendance) while seeking to impress us with their brilliance. That was unnecessary as we all understood what it takes to be a Grandmaster. The GM title does not come easy, the percentage of chess players with the title is a small part (very small part) of the top one percent of chess players worldwide.

That being said, this lecture was different, very different. GM Goldin stretched a 75 minute lecture into a 90 minute lecture while doing his best to communicate with those in attendance what they would need to do to improve their chess game. Like many or most GM's he stressed the study of the endgame. But it was with a twist. The purpose of studying endgames - beyond gaining the knowledge and techniques necessary to draw or win a given endgame - is developing one's ability to calculate. He asked the question, "Why?" Then he proceeded to provide the answer. Unlike estimation of positions which takes years of experience, one's ability to calculate can be improved in months or weeks or even days - depending on one's dedication to practice or in his words, regular exercise. Timed, purposeful exercises are the key. Almost any good endgame book will do, but he recommended starting with "Chess Endings" by GM Averbakh with a specific focus on king and pawn endgames to build up the calculating ability.

GM Goldin did not stop there. He went on to emphasize the necessity to calculate "move by move" throughout the changing position. He was emphatic, stating "The moment you stop calculating you lose your grip on the game." And again, "When you stop calculating and start 'thinking' you lose the game!" In case you are wondering, the exclamation mark is indicative of the emphasis he placed on this.

As an example he next gave a 'simple' endgame position (White: K-h7, p-d2; Black: K-f7, p-c4) with White to move asking how White might draw. We discovered rapidly that walking White's king down the h file towards the pawns did not work as it never really got closer to the pawns. It was a matter of calculation. Then most of us rejected the idea of moving the White king further away from the pawns to h8 as a bad idea (thinking). However, if you calculate it out this counter intuitive move works. Lesson learned. Thinking without calculation is indeed bad. We also saw here an application of Sherlock Holmes' famous dictum, "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Or applying this deductive logic to chess, "When you have eliminated all the natural moves by calculation, then it is time to try - by calculation - the most unlikely moves no matter how counter intuitive or impossible looking."

With one more problem and two of his games - one as an IM and one as a GM - to demonstrate his practice of his personal dictum - "Calculate, always calculate!" There was much more, but if you want to find out what else was covered, come to one of his lectures or take an hour or more of his private lessons. He will be at the Dayton Chess Club every 1-2 months to play in the Game in 25 minutes on Friday night followed by lecture and lessons on Saturday and more lessons on Sunday.

Don't take my word for it, calculate it out yourself. Also take the time to compare GM Goldin's remarks about regular dedicated exercise with "deliberate practice" and what you find on the latter when you Google "deliberate practice."


No comments:

Post a Comment