Thursday, February 7, 2013

Why Study Chess?

What inspires a player to study? Does one do it to improve, to research, for the fun of it? We are all eternal optimists hoping that we can still improve. I guess the fact that strong players maintained their strength late into their lives gives us all inspiration. However, the fact is that a player like Kortchnoi or Smyslov were absolute greats from a young age, so staying stronger later in life wasn't so much of a problem for them. Most of us aren't going to get much better after we hit 40 so why not just play and forget the study? Well, speaking personally, I find studying the game fascinating, its history, its characters, the games both great and relatively normal and the whole cultural melting pot that makes up this game of kings.

I coach kids and see very different reactions to the lessons I present. Some kids love stories and remember the most bizarre of things. Other kids enjoy puzzles, and even some chess based logical problems. There is an excellent monthly article at the Chess Cafe website by Jeff Coakley with some great testing puzzles. But what about adults? There are loads of products around to help players improve. For instance, there are books, DVD's, databases, computer playing programs, online chess clubs with online coaching. In fact there is so much stuff out there that it is almost impossible to know what will help you improve the most.

In my opinion adults can improve, even those of us above the dreaded 40, but having some knowledge of yourself is a very good place to start. We all learn in different ways, so do you prefer visual, audio or written learning? I love books and a chess board, but I probably learn more from playing through games in a database. I don't really enjoy DVD's, though I find short youtube type reports excellent. I hate playing computer programs, though I don't mind playing games at online chess clubs. What I find particularly useful is watching live games online, especially with Grandmaster commentary. As I said, we are all different so my likes and dislikes will be different to yours, but getting to know what you like can help you devise a program of study that can be enjoyable and rewarding. It may also be a good idea to ask a strong player to help you choose some products if you want to buy books or DVD's. There is so much that it's difficult to know what to get. Employing a coach for a few sessions can also guide you in the right direction.

Saying that, any study is better than none, though study directed at your own level will obviously be more effective. As for me, I enjoy looking at games of great players of the past (instead of beefing up my opening repertoire, or working on my positional understanding). I have some particular favourites who seem to somehow resonate with me. I particularly enjoy playing through the games of Reshevsky and Korchnoi. Both were immigrants, which I can empathise with, and both were great fighters which I fully appreciate. Although both were positional masters, they were both great tactical players and attacking players so when looking through their games you get the full range of types of game. Here's a couple of games that you wouldn't necessarily associate with these 2 heroes of mine, both in that most romantic of openings, the King's Gambit.

Firstly, the young Reshevsky playing a simul in Berlin aged about 8. Sammy was white, though I don't know the name of his opponent.

Secondly a game with Korchnoi as black against a King's Gambit specialist. This was played shortly before he emigrated in probably his last round robin in the Soviet Union before he left.

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