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10 steps to raise your game – part 3

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Continuation from 10 steps to raise your game – part 2

8. Practice, practice, practice

Like in any other sports, practice makes perfect in chess also. At least, it will embed in your mind whatever you have learnt in previous steps. But try to play with opponents who are of equal or greater strength compared to you. If you join a chess club which are now available in most towns, you will certainly find opportunities to sit opposite strong players. Try to participate in whatever tournaments come your way as this also gives you valuable practice (and stronger nerves!) plus opportunity to play against some good players. These days, you can play on line with players in different parts of the world. Many sites allow you to play free games with their computers but here you should check the quality of the software running behind the computers. How you fare will give you the idea in this respect. It should also be possible to choose different levels of difficulty and a facility to download the record of the games played by you (remember tip 3?)

If you cannot afford to be on line for long, you can think of getting chess playing software many of which are offered free on the Internet (though I cannot vouch for their quality as I have never used such software – I like to play with someone I can see!). I have seen some software which have selectable difficulty levels and a capability to record the moves also. You have to download and try out. This will help you to practice as long and as often you may want. Playing through the games of masters (tip 7) is also a valuable practice.

9. Build up self-confidence

Confidence in yourself will help you to achieve more wins. You have nothing to be ashamed of when you lose to a better player and even top grandmasters have lost games through silly moves a beginner will not make. If you lack confidence, you will be nervous which will cause you to make mistakes. There are many tournaments which are open to all and not restricted to players of certain levels. Utilize these open tournaments to build up your fighting spirit.

10. A final thought

I have refrained from naming books as there are hundreds, if not thousands, of great books on chess strategy and techniques. But I found one book that takes a completely different approach to teach amateurs. The book contains 25 simulated games played over 25 days between an amateur and a master. Each game takes some different opening variation with an explanation on the underlying theme of that opening, and then continues to show whether the play is consistent with the theme or not. Most moves are annotated with reason for such play, good and bad moves are identified with reasons and tactical situations are analyzed when they arise. The amateur continues to gain in strength though losing the first 22 games. In the last 3 games, the tables are turned and the amateur defeats the master. You will get valuable insight in different aspects of chess and I am sure it will improve your game also. The book is titled “Road to Chess Mastery” and written by grandmaster Max Euwe who was world champion during 1935-37 and regarded as one of the best writers on chess.  As far as I know, the book was published in a paperback edition also under the title “Chess Master vs. Chess Amateur”.

10 steps to raise your game – part 2

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Continued from 10 steps to raise your game – part 1

5. Learn the tactical processes

Strategy is the overall plan of how you want to play out the game. Tactics are like battles within a war to implement your plan in varying situations. In chess, you will find that certain themes recur repeatedly if you know how to identify those and your tactical knowledge will help to make the most in such situations. For example, bishops and knights are considered to be of equal value, but most players will prefer to have two bishops rather than two knights because of the ‘long’ leg of the bishops. But this advantage of bishop pair gets nullified when many rows and files are blocked by pawns and bishops cannot move about. In such closed positions, knights often play better because of their ‘twisted’ moves! If there is only one bishop, half of the squares are out of its reach whereas a single knight do not suffer from such handicap. Tactics is your dominant tool in the middle games, but may continue into the end game phase. For example, if you have king and one pawn against your opponent’s solitary king, it should be a winning game for you if, and it is a big if, you know the tactics for putting the situation to your advantage. If you stray and your opponent knows the tactics, you will have nothing but a draw because of the stalemate situation that can be created by the opponent. These are of course very basic examples and you will find many others like pin, discovered check, double check, zugzwang etc. which you can create towards your advantage if you know how.

There are many books on tactics that explain the situations and the techniques that can be applied. You can also try to solve the chess problems published in sports magazines or in Sunday newspapers where they ask you to find how White (or Black) can win/draw in the given situation in specified/unspecified number of moves. These are all tactical problems and trying to solve these will enhance your tactical skills. Books are also available containing only such tactical problems for you to solve and learn the techniques. Take a peek at the solution given if you cannot find it on your own.

6. Study end games

If the game is not decided by end of the middle part, it enters into the end game phase where only few pieces are still on the board and the game often becomes a slow, grueling affair. The initial strategies (tip 4) we discussed earlier does not have any role now and you have to adapt an appropriate new strategy and the tactics that will go with it. Because of small number of pieces, it is possible to make a deeper analysis for the moves available. But if you are aware of the fairly common endings, it will be easier to formulate your strategy and tactics. There are plenty of books specifically on chess endings and you should try to memorize and recognize the situations. Seasoned players can often salvage their games during this phase.

7. Study the games of masters

Such games can be found on the Internet or you may get books on such collections. The books may be a compendium of games by different players, compiled and annotated by other masters. If you are more interested in modeling your game in line with your favorite champion, you will get books like “My best xxx games” by the players themselves, with explanations on the significant (good or bad) moves of both players. If you play through the moves and the variations that were possible, you will start getting the idea on what constitutes a good or bad move in a particular situation.

continue to 10 steps to raise your game – part 3