Beyond the fundamentals

The Soviet school of chess espoused a diligent focus on the fundamentals. Here’s Kramnik describing the tenets of his training:

 

“Botvinnik’s example and teaching established the modern approach to preparing for competitive chess: regular but moderate physical exercise; analysing very thoroughly a relatively narrow repertoire of openings; annotating one’s own games, those of past great players and those of competitors; publishing one’s annotations so that others can point out any errors; studying strong opponents to discover their strengths and weaknesses; ruthless objectivity about one’s own strengths and weaknesses.”
– Vladimir Kramnik

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Find the time, cultivate the habits and you too will develop a robust foundation of skills. For the majority of players, this program alone will be sufficient to eventually reach their chess goals. It’s reliable, safe and proven by test but it’s not all-encompassing.

There are unexpected factors which influence performance. You are doing chess a disservice to bundle them together as luck. I view breaking down ‘luck’ into learnable skills as a pivotal facet of whether coaching will be successful. Let’s look at how this works, drawing upon best practice from mental game training in poker.

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  • Diagnosis (unconscious incompetence)
    I have a student whose raw calculation ability wouldn’t be obvious from reviewing his games. Curious oversights litter his play and are holding back progress.
  • Awareness (conscious incompetence)
    Before this leak can be plugged, the student needs to know precisely what’s wrong. Having a mentor diagnose and explain a weakness will speed up this process.
  • Harness (conscious competence)
    Concrete strategies are presented to the student. We implemented a blunder check routine, discussed critical positions and measured the number of times he left the board during a game. The specifics here are less interesting than the model.
  • Mastery (unconscious competence)
    Once the routines have been successfully embedded by the student, they no longer require his conscious focus. It’s time to find another weakness and the cycle starts over.

Presented in this way, the journey looks almost trivial but I can assure you it isn’t. Combatting psychological biases is complex and fascinating work. Progress is non-linear and difficult to predict. To help, I’m developing new coaching techniques in tandem with my dissertation research on practice in mathematics. Not yet ready to go public though!

Chess pretends to be a game of perfect information. Disguised within its simple structure are sources of variance. Recognising, harnessing and finally mastering these hidden variables will elevate your game beyond the fundamentals.

(editors note – This article originally published on 14th April 2018 on Makepeace with Chess. Republished with kind permission from the author)


Chris Russell

Chris Russell

Chris is a part-time member of Downend and Fishponds and formerly played for Bristol University. He is now based in London where he co-founded Makepeace With Chess.

 

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