Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Something Sensational To Read

It seems I am playing Left Back for the team match tonight, (left back in the changing room), so I can spend a bit less time on after-work prep. Not that it seems to make a difference, but there's always the psychology of it. Anyway...

One of the issues with being an adult, trying to learn all the chess stuff I should have picked up in my childhood years when the summer lasted for months and months and a year went on forever, is that I receive a barrage of tuts and groans if I ever sit down with a chess book and board. We all know the false economy of working through a chess book without going through the examples or solving the puzzles, but the luxury of time and space to do that is so hard to find.

However I have been sneaking material onto my battered old Kindle which, in these times of mummy-porn and however many shades of gray, can lead to some interesting marital conversations.

"What are you reading?"

Oh, porn darling, just porn.

"It's not CHESS, is it?"

Oh no, it's definitely porn. There's clamped nipples all over the place, honestly.

"Ok, just as long as I don't catch you reading chess books, or there'll be TROUBLE..."

I'm sure you appreciate my dilemma.

However, being a deceitful and conniving husband, I am reading chess books, especially designed for the e-reader age, one finger on the button to switch over if I'm close to getting caught...

The first book I picked up was Stephen Ward's The Search for Chess Mastery: Chess Vision, which is a very clever piece of work that takes well-known games and encourages you to play through them in your head. The thinking is just as much about the board as the pieces, which is something I often forget to think about. Often when exchanging pawns I simply do not think about what the manouevre has left behind in terms of weak squares or open files, and another weakness I have to admit to is leaving pieces and pawns undefended; Ward's analysis tells you what is attacked, and where pieces are and what their purpose is.

To understand the game you have to understand the battleground.

The onus is on the reader to do the hard thinking however; Ward gives you the information but it is up to you to try to imagine the board and how the game is going. The point is that, in playing these games through I ordinarily pay little attention to anything other than what piece has moved, and forget to look around the board to see the possibilities. Ward does not allow you to do this, and his method has done a lot to remind me of what I am actually doing when I am moving my own pieces around in games. Plus, of course, there's the stated aim of visualisation, which is coming together very, very slowly for me...

The second book I'd recommend is Tactics Time! 1001 Chess Tactics From the Games of Everyday Chess Players by Tim Brennan and Anthea Carson. This is a very simple, very elegant book of chess problems that look and feel very familiar; they expose the kinds of mistakes I make so I can learn to avoid them or capitalise on them when my opponent does something silly. The problems are not atrociously difficult, which means I can spend a minute or two figuring one out then move on to the next.

The sum total of a half-hour's Kindling whilst Mrs Rolpol watches a soap Opera is that I have looked at ten different game-positions and (usually) got some reward for it; and I have sub-consciously taken in what a bad position looks like. If most chess learning for beginners is what NOT to do then Tactics Time! goes a long way to covering a lot of those bases in a very pleasant manner.

Of course there are no short cuts, and there is no substitute for learning in the heat of battle, but both these books do their best to get the reader as emotionally involved as they would be if these were their own games. There's no faffing about with authorial attention-seeking, or fluffy maxims pretending to be hard facts; it's simply the stuff you need to know if you are going to get better at chess.

They are both priced around the three quid mark for Kindle; think about that the next time you are thinking of laying out £19.99 for a slim volume of GM-level instruction that will leave you far behind before the first chapter is done...