Saturday, April 18, 2015

Of Moves and Men: Chess Calculation: Soltis books + Tisdall

Lately my biggest stumbling block in chess other than endings has been miscalculation. Therefore I decided to overhaul my thinking method (or lack of thereof).  I did some research  and bought some recommended books to remedy the situation.  These are Soltis' Inner Game of Chess & How to Choose a Chess Move and Tisdall's Improve Your Chess Now! .

As I see it all three books can be read by anyone from 1400 up, but I'm dubious if players under 1800 can benefit much. Let's start with the most difficult which is Inner. To make proper use of the concepts in it, it prerequires the reader to be tactically sharp and be able to visualize many moves ahead. Here it is all about being honest with oneself: do you really know your tactics inside out? If not, you're better off and bound to make more progress honing them first. With visualization on the other hand, Soltis cuts some slack and gives some really helpful hints on how to acquire it. Still, it is probably the hardest part of the book: I can now follow a 23 move game blindfolded , but I had to give myself six months of practice before continuing reading and I'm still aiming higher. (btw, I compiled a useful visualization game collection for myself which I may post later on).

The rest of the book centers primarily on force and its use in calculation. Each concept is illustrated with positions from real games with explanatory text  and and just enough variations. Overall I found it a worthwhile read.

We now move over to Tisdall's book. It covers a wide range of topics which the author feels will benefit the aspiring reader. I just focused on the first couple of sections that deal with  calculation &  visualization. Although less exhaustive than Inner, it does supplement the concepts put forth by Soltis and both approaches meld nicely. A nice bonus is his way to calculate on the defensive. Both authors are critical of Kotov's tree scheme and offer sensible, practical alternatives. Just  100 elo points easier than Inner

Up to this point,  one can have a sure footing with moves that are suitable for calculation. What about quieter moves? To that purpose I also got How to Choose. This one is quite different to Inner, not only in its scope but on its outlook: It is a bit depressing. I for one hoped for a system, but instead, at least on the surface, opens more questions than it answers. It also ends in a down note with Fischer v Taimanov where Taimanov sees an opportunity, mentally does everything right and as recommended and still  loses. Way to go.

It is also more confusing in it's presentation of the material as there is no as clear progression as in Inner. Notwithstanding, How to has valuable material once the reader gets to chapters 7 to 11. Chapter 8, a reality check, is especially useful.

Most of the examples can be followed without board. I'd say it is about 50 elo points easier than Tisdall's.

In conclusion, if you have calculation issues and cover the prerequirements, do get Inner Game and if you've got some extra cash buy Tisdall's book too and compare methods. If you're hungry for more, there is How to, but be aware of its drawbacks. All these three, imo, require you to take notes to get a clearer picture.

Ps. Be sure to check The Creation of a Thinking Technique article by Silman in the August 1998 issue of Chess Life and take a (critical?) look at step 3 in de la Maza's approach at chesscafe: . Finally, the latest wrinkle in calculation books appears to be Grandmaster Preparation: Calculation by Jacob Aagaard which I have not read. However,from what I gather from the net, it is both high level and a workbook.

Pps. A very condensed view of Soltis' view from Inner can be found in a chapter his newer book  How to Study Chess. This last one I recommend for all the wider material it covers.

More on this next time


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