Today that changes! Yesterday (a few days ago now, as Google created a protocol which prevented me editing and posting this blog last week) I paid up and entered the 2016 Australian Championship and currently the field is strong. My FIDE rating of 2166 is a long way behind the next lowest rating of FM Gene Nakauchi at 2244. I understand that many more players will probably enter, but I'll still see myself in the bottom half (probably the bottom quarter) of the field. So unless humiliation is my one goal in playing this tournament, I'd better get down to some training.
Training vs Coaching
As a chess coach a subject that has always interested me has been the compatibility between coaching others and self improvement. I recently got a copy of Alexander Panchenko's excellent new book Mastering Chess Middlegames. Panchenko was offered a position as a chess coach in the early 1980's not long after becoming a Grand Master, and he set aside playing goals to achieve coaching goals. This suggests that the 2 are not compatible. If one is always looking at the needs of others, preparing training materials for players often at a lower level than the actual coach, and devoting analysis time to improving weaknesses in other players games, then there is little time or energy left to work on your own game.
This is what I found when I started working for Chess Kids as a coach 10 years ago. Working on teaching methods, learning philosophies, presentation skills has enabled me to be a respected school coach, and junior coach, but it initially affected my own game detrimentally and I'm not sure my game fully recovered. I have managed to differentiate between coaching and playing. They are now 2 different activities. Coaching is work, playing is fun, coaching is a job, playing is my hobby, etc. But, of course, as an amateur player, how far can I expect to improve, especially at the age of 49? In fact, should I even be thinking in terms of improvement, or just looking to enjoy the playing side of things?
While I do enjoy the playing side of things, I am still motivated to strive as much as possible to achieve the best results I can, so I'll be putting in as much work as I can spare to my own game, and maybe my students might be rewarded with some new materials that I find! Can I improve? Well, I guess that it is possible, but it gets increasingly harder as the years go by. By assessing my weaknesses I suppose I can strengthen my game, much like the way I try to get my students to improve. However, I am critical of my play in all areas of the game. If I really narrowed things down a bit, I suppose at the level I'm at, I have a weak knowledge of openings, and my calculation is sometimes blurred by assumptions about positions. I'm overly fond of space as a concept (and subsequently a poor defender), and struggle to find reasonable plans in messy positions.
I'm sure other players might have different ideas about my weaknesses, and I know there are many other weaknesses in my game, but these are some big ones to be getting on with.
Here's an example of Panchenko's training technique. In the chapter on 'Defence' he says "one should never forget about the possibility of sacrificing material to create a fortress", and then shows the following classic example:
1.Kd1 Rh2 2.Ke1! Rxg2 3.Kf1 Rh2 4.Kg1 Rh8 5.f3 leaving the following position where neither black's king, nor rook will be able to penetrate.
Panchenko says in the introduction to the chapter on defence:
The defender should strive for a type of position where the drawing chances are greater(opposite coloured bishops, rook endgames, fortress set-ups, etc).
Of course, it takes study and experience to know which sort of positions are more drawish than others. Here's the first exercise from Panchenko's chapter on defence, which I'll give the answer to tomorrow (assuming Google doesn't decide to create protocols which prevent me posting - apologies to you all for taking so long to work out how to overcome said protocols)
|Black to play and draw|