Bending

 

We all know that water will follow the path of least resistance if its runs down a hill. Unless our house is at the bottom of the hill and there is quite a lot of water coming, this will not disturb us much in our daily lives. But if we look at how we calculate variations at the chess board, we will quickly come to the conclusion that if we do not take full control, our calculation will take the path of least resistance as well.

 

How can this manifest itself? Here are a few possible scenarios:

 

• A variation is complicated and offers us resistance. We choose to go with a vague evaluation or guess, rather than going deeper.

• We see a promising variation and choose to go for it without seriously looking for pitfalls.

• We see a problem with our promising variation and we reject it and look for our move elsewhere.

 

All of them come to the same thing. In the face of resistance, we choose a different path: the path of least resistance.

 

In real life, the path of least resistance leads to physical, financial and emotional ruin. We call this mediocrity because so many of us choose this path rather than overcoming our weaknesses as human beings. (Personally I live in the fattest country in Europe and do little to improve the statistics).

 

In chess the path of least resistance leads to mediocre decisions. The only comfort we can find there is that most of our opponent’s decisions will be mediocre as well. The ability to consistently overcome the obstacles we are faced with, overcoming our own limitations, is truly a terrifying ability.

I have little time these days to train individuals, but I do work with a few young people who fascinate me. With the two strongest guys I work with at the moment, the main focus we have is learning to overcome resistance. We do this a lot through exercises. It is not always possible for me to anticipate where they will have problems, but it tends to be in the same places. Maybe we think more similarly than we expect.

A very useful part of the training is to talk through the exercises, to close in on what kind of mistake they were committing. I will not be able to offer this to all of you, but I can offer you one of the exercise sheets I give them for preparation, with a focus on overcoming resistance. The exercises sheet can be downloaded here. The solutions can be downloaded here.

Please look at the solving of these six exercises as a competitive sport. Use 60 minutes if your rating is over 2400 and 90 minutes if your rating is less. The aim of the game is to score as many points as possible in that time frame. The points are rewarded based on which points you saw in the timeframe. Please give your score here as well as your rating to allow others something to compare with. Do not be disappointed if you are scoring far from maximum points. The exercises are hard, so even one point might be an achievement!!

Postscript: John and I have a favourite book called The War of Art by novelist Steven Pressfield. In this he describes a phenomenon called Resistance with a Capital R. I like my description in this article, but I would be dishonest not to recognise where some of the language comes from. In this way many great ideas are extensions of similar ideas in other fields, like Jonathan Rowson’s brilliant quote, “Improvement comes at the end of your comfort zone.”

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  1. Axel
    September 9th, 2013 at 11:51 | #1

    Last post: “The illusion of control.” (Do more decisions on positional grounds.)
    Following post: “…take full control.” (Calculate to the end of the lines.)

    I know that you talk about different things, but the difficulty in chess is knowing if the first or the second method is best in a particular position. There are good guidelines, like you have written in these posts, but there are also many positions in-between where intuition plays a crucial role.
    Intuition comes with experience, and that’s the reason why it’s so useful to use the training method you have mentioned: talking through exercises with an experienced coach.

    Sometimes it is good to let the water take the path of least resistance, but I am afraid that it’s not possible to explain in which positions.

  2. Clement
    September 9th, 2013 at 12:32 | #2

    ”• A variation is complicated and offers us resistance. We choose to go with a vague evaluation or guess, rather than going deeper.

    • We see a promising variation and choose to go for it without seriously looking for pitfalls.

    • We see a problem with our promising variation and we reject it and look for our move elsewhere.”

    I can see this happening all the time in my games 🙁

  3. Indra Polak
    September 9th, 2013 at 13:13 | #3

    Another common theme for me is: after spending lots of energy looking at a complicated line which I sadly had to reject, a different promising line is accepted without much thought (all potential resistance is happily neglected by a rationale like: well I already worked my ass off in that other promising line, if we will have the same story with this line, I will never play a move!). This is the second bullet above in the context of “emotional debt” or something like that.

  4. Jacob Aagaard
    September 9th, 2013 at 13:16 | #4

    @Clement
    Strength is built by pushing against great resistance often and hard. There is no upper limit for strength known to man…

  5. Clement
    September 9th, 2013 at 14:03 | #5

    Rating: 2230
    Points:5

    One of the puzzles is absurd. I got full marks in 3 of them and no marks in 3 of them. oops.

  6. Jacob Aagaard
    September 9th, 2013 at 14:13 | #6

    @Clement
    Yes, this is quite a hard set. I promise we will do an easier one soon :-).

  7. GM Rob
    September 9th, 2013 at 14:51 | #7

    Jacob,
    Is the test designed to demoralise your average wood pusher? 🙂
    I thought I had been making progress with my recent studies until I tried this test.

    ELO: 2067
    Points: 6

  8. Jacob Aagaard
    September 9th, 2013 at 15:02 | #8

    @GM Rob
    No, this test is designed to challange you. Do not worry; you will find out that your score is not bad at all. So far you are actually leading ;-).

    Thank you for sharing your score – and to Clement too!

  9. Ray
    September 9th, 2013 at 15:28 | #9

    I will do the test coming friday, when I have enough time to concentrate for 90 minutes…

  10. croflash
    September 9th, 2013 at 16:03 | #10

    Great stuff, Jacob. I haven’t seen the three scenarios as clearly verbalized before, makes a lot of sense. Incidentally, I think this is also why a lot of people chose to play “lesser” openings, shy away from tactical skirmishes or try to avoid confrontation on the board altogether. I’m not sure who said it, but it really seems to me that the ability and willingness to keep the tension on the board and not buckle too soon (or better yet, not at all) is both crucial and yet underrated.

  11. Jacob Aagaard
    September 9th, 2013 at 16:05 | #11

    @croflash
    Indeed.

  12. September 9th, 2013 at 19:09 | #12

    2 points
    Elo: 1818

    🙁

    tough problems.

  13. Jacob Aagaard
    September 9th, 2013 at 22:04 | #13

    @tonifa
    Yes. It will be interesting to see how the GMs are doing. I suspect there will be no full marks.

    As promised, we will do an easier sheet quite soon.

  14. September 11th, 2013 at 01:38 | #14

    Dr. Lasker’s Law of Struggle is centered around “the path of least resistance” as a higher law in Nature. The path of least resistance is physics phenomenon that unites all animate and inanimate systems and their design. Every being is saving time and energy in the way of survival.

    Wherever there is conflict, there is friction. Friction may be of physical nature (effective enemy fire, or some obstacles in the way the opponent put up his defenses that you have to overcome.), but also mental, or self-induced (lack of a clearly defined goal, an indecision over a course of action, lack of confidence).

    In fact, the entire purpose of Strategy is to diminish the possibility of resistance. On the other hand, we want to put the stiffest resistance on their way of advance…

    http://www.iplayoochess.com

  15. Seth
    September 11th, 2013 at 02:15 | #15

    7 points
    Elo: 2350

    Calculated some lengthy variations but they didn’t get credit for points. 😉

    Also, I think I would have gotten the first move in Tomashevsky-Aronian had I not caught a glimpse of the answer while checking the answer for problem 3. 🙁 (Thought it was #1 #2 #3 going down the page, not left to right)

  16. Jacob Aagaard
    September 11th, 2013 at 10:46 | #16

    @Seth
    You committed a big sin here. When you have sheets of six exercises like this: solve all six before checking the analysis. Maybe you even have extra time on your hands!

    Thank you for posting your result, it is greatly appreciated. Regarding Tomashevsky; we should not forget that he played an error there…

  17. Paul Brøndal
    September 11th, 2013 at 12:44 | #17

    @Jacob Aagaard
    Committing big sins is very human. In NIC 5, Sadler in his review of books complains about it being too easy to see subsequent solutions when checking if a position has been evaluated correctly in a book. Afterwards, he praises Yusupov’s books for being good in this respect but also implicitly says that he has not followed Yusupov’s recommendation of first solving all exercises related to a chapter and only then looking at solutions! In general, it makes really good sense to do exercises one at a time, for instance if you have some relatively short transportation… As this is a serious test, I will follow your rules here, Jacob!

  18. Remco G
    September 11th, 2013 at 13:21 | #18

    Indeed, that’s my only issue with the Yusupov books — in a typical session I do say four or five exercises, and then I look up their solutions (no use to look at them days later). And then it’s very easy to accidentally see the solutions of later problems.

    Actually I prefer to look at the solution after each problem, as it’s already a bit annoying to set up the new position for each exercise (but I do do everything using board and pieces with these books). Then setting them all up a second time to see the solutions is usually above my level of self discipline.

    Of course timed sets of problems like these are different, they’re like exams — if you have time over at the end, maybe you can return to the earlier problems to do better on them. But I haven’t found time to do them yet, maybe in the weekend.

  19. Clement
    September 11th, 2013 at 13:43 | #19

    Is it so hard to cover up the rest of the page with another book or a sheet of paper 🙂

  20. September 11th, 2013 at 14:28 | #20

    @Clement
    It’s actually a little difficult because the answers are in a two-column format, so you need either two items to cover all the material you don’t want to see or one with a rectangular hole missing.

    Personally I do all 12 exercises in the Yusupov chapters before consulting the solutions, even if it takes me a few sessions to finish the quiz. Since my answers are written down, it’s not hard to refresh my memory of my thinking process when consulting the solutions. If the solution is very simple or clearly went exactly according to my calculations, I often don’t bother setting up the position a second time.

  21. Jacob Aagaard
    September 11th, 2013 at 15:52 | #21

    @Paul Brøndal
    Actually, there are BIG reasons for not checking before you have done something like a page.

    a) impulse control training
    b) you should write down your solution anyway with the key ideas (for example: …Bxg2 with the idea …Ng5-f3) in a way where you would understand them a few days later or an instructor would understand them if he looked over your shoulder (which is what I do when I do training camps).
    c) you should train yourself into remembering your lines more than 20 seconds ahead! This is a skill we really need at the board.

  22. Jacob Aagaard
    September 11th, 2013 at 15:55 | #22

    @Remco G
    Same answer of course. I would add that a future digital version; should we get one going, will solve this problem entirely.

  23. boki
    September 11th, 2013 at 19:54 | #23

    Elo: 2260
    Points: 2

    deeply disappointed 🙁

    • Jacob Aagaard
      September 12th, 2013 at 10:21 | #24

      My sympathy. We will get a new test in 1-2 weeks to give you a rematch.

  24. Seth
    September 12th, 2013 at 05:23 | #25

    @Jacob Aagaard

    I’ll do that next time! 😉

    By the way, is 7 a good score or should I seriously think about training my calculation skills a little harder?

    • Jacob Aagaard
      September 12th, 2013 at 10:20 | #26

      Indeed; both :-). 7 is fine, but training is needed.

  25. Clement
    September 12th, 2013 at 08:23 | #27

    @Seth

    I predict the answer: both 😀

  26. Thomas
    September 12th, 2013 at 11:57 | #28

    boki :
    Elo: 2260
    Points: 2
    deeply disappointed

    Ok. 2245 and 1 single point is even worse

  27. Jacob Aagaard
    September 12th, 2013 at 13:57 | #29

    @Thomas
    Chess is a tough game :-(.

  28. Ray
    September 13th, 2013 at 09:34 | #30

    I scored 7 points, and my Fide rating is 2224. Especially the first excercise is depressingly difficult… Obviously I need to work more on my calculation skills. Couldn’t you have given some more bonus points for the other excercises? 🙂 Great way to train by the way!

  29. Ray
    September 13th, 2013 at 09:39 | #31

    @Ray
    PS: please don’t tell me the first position will be part of Berg’s Winawer reportoire :-).

  30. Jacob Aagaard
    September 13th, 2013 at 13:12 | #32

    @Ray
    The first position is one where both players have made a mistake! The actual game is in Attack & Defence, but this variation did not fit into the explanations there.

  31. Ray
    September 13th, 2013 at 15:13 | #33

    @Jacob Aagaard
    Looking forward to that book!

  32. Daniel Peter
    September 13th, 2013 at 19:52 | #34

    Hi,Jacob! I just get john book ,,Quality chess puzzle book” and i will work with it! You suggested me to work with a easy book that ,, GMP-Calculation”,but i want to alternate!
    Please, suggest me a training plan with those two books!

  33. Peterm
    September 14th, 2013 at 12:47 | #35

    4 points
    Elo 2153

    Some questions.
    The exercise is on calculation, but in a game:
    I would not even look at Qxc2 in the last position, also not with white. Wel consider the move, but then think that cannot be right…
    And in the first position i also came to 1…c4 2 g7 cxd3 but i wouldnot calculate further because to many options. It is the way you have to go, the rest doesnot work. Maybe not good for the exercise, but maybe good enough to be practical?

  34. Jasper
    September 14th, 2013 at 16:29 | #36

    Rating: 1896
    Points: 4

    Zero points from the first 3 positions. Calculated a lot in position 1, but not even half of what is in the solution, did saw some of the themes, though. In position 2 and 3 I got the initial move wrong.

  35. Jacob Aagaard
    September 14th, 2013 at 21:39 | #37

    @Daniel Peter
    I suggest to read the articles in Calculation and do a few exercises till you get stuck. Then move on to QC Puzzle Book. Again, the same principle, when you have a few exercises you cannot solve, go to the next chapter. The book is structured with this strategi in mind.

  36. Jacob Aagaard
    September 14th, 2013 at 21:42 | #38

    @Peterm
    A few points. First of all, not all the exercises are calculation. I never said so! I talked about Bending, which is to move away from troublesome objects. For example, rejecting a move because the c2-pawn is hanging, rather than to look at it just a bit deeper. Doing the work, so to speak.

    Regarding the first position: you can definitely use Elimination – why not? It is the number one method in defence and fits quite well. We never need to calculate anything till the end; we just need to play good moves. But I gave bonus points for those going (too) deep, just to make sure no one made 100%…

  37. Jacob Aagaard
    September 14th, 2013 at 21:44 | #39

    @Jasper
    Well done all the same! As promises, we will have an easier sheet in a few weeks time.

  38. Phille
    September 15th, 2013 at 09:52 | #40

    I took an hour to solve the exercises, but when I looked up the solutions there were only the symbols for the pieces and different shades of black. I remember having the same problem with another pdf from this site.

    So what’s up with that?

  39. Phille
    September 15th, 2013 at 10:24 | #41

    Ok, seems like the mac program “preview” doesn’t like your PDFs. I opened it with an online viewer and it was fine.
    My result: 4 or maybe 5 points. Depends whether you can pick up points for correct variations even if you chose the wrong move.
    My Elo: 2140 (though according to my national rating, my last performances and my improvement rate, I should be somewhat underrated.)

    My feeling is that as a 2000 player a few years ago I would have made the same number of points or even more. But basically the better I get the less (and the worse?) I calculate. So that now, from a very pronounced strength, calculation might have become my most serious weakness.

    To rectify this I’m working with “Calculation” on the way to and from work. But I’m really struggling. I should probably heed the “jump to the next chapter if you get stuck” advice.

  40. Jacob Aagaard
    September 16th, 2013 at 09:25 | #42

    @Phille
    Thank you for the feedback. If you saw the move which the points is awarded for, then you get the point. The move, not what follows.

  41. September 16th, 2013 at 19:20 | #43

    2000 USCF, 0 points. I saw some of the ideas, but none concretely enough to get any credit.

  42. Paul Brondal
    September 16th, 2013 at 20:55 | #44

    Danish rating 1916, points 6

  43. Matt
    September 19th, 2013 at 10:54 | #45

    Elo: 2086

    Points: 4 or 5, wasnt even considering taking on c2 at last one

    anyways, all of them from last 3 diagrams, from first 3 nothing, 1st one, I had idea right, but couldn´t move forward because of one side line, 2nd and 3rd was complete mess for me, cant believe achieving those positions at my own games and thats kinda problem mentioned in this article, I would rather choose more simple lines…

  44. s.hansen
    September 19th, 2013 at 11:19 | #46

    Rating: 2124, 5 points

  45. Gregor
    September 19th, 2013 at 11:49 | #47

    rusty 2150, 2 points

    I`m affraid that in position 1 the silicon monster refutes your main line 24… Nf5 with 26. Qg5 (with 27. Ne1 to come) instead of 26. Nh4

  46. Jacob Aagaard
    September 19th, 2013 at 12:34 | #48

    @Matt
    At times our games become complicated. Whether this is our strength or not. Ideally we should work on all areas of the game. As this is usually not practical, even for professionals, it is often good to work on your biggest weaknesses and on your strengths. Everyone needs to work on calculation on top of this…

  47. Jacob Aagaard
    September 20th, 2013 at 12:42 | #49

    @Gregor
    Oh no. I will have to have a second look!

  48. Jacob Aagaard
    September 20th, 2013 at 12:45 | #50

    @Gregor
    You are right. I think I did too much work on my laptop there. It was only a draft position and had not gone through enough checks. Still the right first move though…

  49. Jacob Aagaard
    September 20th, 2013 at 12:51 | #51

    @Gregor
    The exercise is luckily easily fixed by putting the black pawn on a5 instead of a7. Otherwise White has serious winning chances.

  50. Jose Doval
    September 27th, 2013 at 19:27 | #52

    Elo: 1947
    2 points

    Not disappointed, since in some exercises I narrowly missed the shot. In some others I rejected the good move because I didn’t calculate deep enough, I thought 90 min would be ok but finally I wished I had more time.

    • Jacob Aagaard
      September 29th, 2013 at 08:55 | #53

      Thank you for posting your results.

      I really need to have a more friendly collection up very soon.

  51. Seth
    September 29th, 2013 at 07:45 | #54

    I entitle this post “A Trio of Aagaard.”

    First of all, this article on Bending inspired me to improve my calculation skills.

    Secondly, I cracked open my copy of Perfect Your Chess. I had handled all the puzzles aimed at FMs and IMs but hadn’t really tackled the GM exercises. I tried doing 5 puzzles in 90 minutes with a board and clock in front of me. Using Jacob’s advice of not writing down all the analysis until all the puzzles were done, I proceeded to fill up three pages in my notebook with analysis. The results were most discouraging. 0/5! 3 of which I went wrong on the very first move.

    For the next two days, I cracked open my copy of Aagaard’s Excelling at Calculation book and read up on some chapters – in particular, the stepping-stone method. There was some very good advice in there.

    Eager to try out some stepping stone-type problems, I cracked open my copy of the QCPB (Quality Chess Puzzle Book). I had previously done the first 112 puzzles (blindfolded, by the way). I decided to try the stepping stone method while blindfolded to tackle problem #113.

    After 35 minutes, I came up with a different solution than the one in the book! Although I HAD calculated the same winning line starting with 1.Bxe6, I evaluated the final position after 5.Bxe7 as “Not crushing enough.” I turned my attention to 1.Nxe6!? as this would not give Black the benefit of a …Bxf6 resource OR a …Qxc2 resource.

    This was my analysis: 1.Nxe6 fxe6 2.Rxe6 (first stepping stone – a look around for Black defensive tries) 2…Rf7 (2…Re8? 3.Rxf6)

    Here I stopped for a long time to consider 3.Bd6 Qd7 4.Rxf6 Rxf6 5.Qe5 and dismissed it on account of 5…Qf5 but missed 6.Qxe7 with an unstoppable attack (Rybka says so anyway). So I dropped my investigation of 3.Bd6 and went back to my main line with the more forcing capture 3.Rxf6!

    3.Rxf6! Rxf6 4.Bxe7! As it turns out, Black’s rook has no real useful square to go to and the threat of Qe6 ends the game. 4…Rf5 (Guarding against Qe5 checks) 5.Qe6! Qc8 (5…Kg7 6.Qg8+ Kh6 7.Qh8 mate) 6.Bf6+ Kh7 (6…Rxf6 prevents mate but Black is down too much material there) 7.Qe7+! Hard to see blindfolded! 7…Kh6 8.Bg5+ Rxg5 9.fxg5 mate!

    I find myself thanking Jacob three times – once for his article on Bending, once more for his Excelling at Calculation book, and the last time for providing us with the QCPB!

    Best regards,
    Seth

  52. Seth
    September 29th, 2013 at 07:50 | #55

    P.S. To clarify the QCPB part – by providing, I mean having Quality Chess publishing the book. A huge thanks goes to John Shaw who is the author of the book. 😉

    P.S.S It’s 3 AM here, cut me some slack!

  53. Jacob Aagaard
    September 29th, 2013 at 08:53 | #56

    @Seth
    John and I wrote the book together. I did the first 80% and John finished it off. I collect exercises all the time and have a few thousands more than we have published at the moment (yes, after the GP series where volume five is close to being finished at the moment).

    I will go deeper into compounding and stepping stones in Thinking Inside the Box. The more I deal with chess training, the more important I find this issue. So, keep up working with this. If you do lets say 250 hours in the next year, you will see significant improvement, though probably not 250 rating points!

  54. Seth
    September 29th, 2013 at 20:04 | #57

    Will do!

    Maybe not 250 rating points, but it might get me over the IM or GM mark…

  55. R. Kroon
    October 6th, 2013 at 21:33 | #58

    Hello Jacob,
    I like your books and also these training tips are a challenge. It takes me a lot of time to do the excercises.
    On this occasion I’ve a question about the first exercise. I went for 1… Qd8 and also saw 2. gxf7+ Rxf7, but my thoughts were that Black could hold after 3. Qh6 Qf8. I miss the way white can easily win this position you mark with +-. After 4. Qh5 Rg7 5. Ng5 Qe7 I think white is better for sure, but he still has to work for the point, as black can try to untangle.
    Please go on with with publishing such tremendous books. I really spend too much money on them.
    Kind regards,
    Roelof Kroon

    • Jacob Aagaard
      October 6th, 2013 at 21:39 | #59

      Hi Roelof,

      Welcome to the blog and thank you for your feedback. I could certainly have included more moves, but this is always the case. And in the end you sit with annotations like those by Kasparov that no one reads and while the amazon is diminishing rapidly. Here I took the view that White has a winning attack. Black has no active play and White brings in the pieces and wins in one way or the other. Yes, more play remains, but there is actually a point to not only giving +- in positions with additional material. Maybe this is a bit high level, but as you probably know, I have already apologised for making that set a GM set, when a strong ambitious amateur set was more prudent (what I had this Monday and will have in the future, the first Monday of the month).

  56. SG
    August 1st, 2014 at 00:14 | #60

    Hi all,

    I have discovered the QC blog several weeks ago. Excellent stuff, I especially enjoy Jacob’s training tips as an excellent collection of no-nonsense advice on good training and playing habits.

    So I took the time to solve this exercise sheet, and decided to post the results even though we’re nine months later (if only to force myself to take the exercises very seriously and concentrate):

    Rating: 2142 Points: 2

    I gathered one point in the first, one in the last exercise. (In my defence, I considered 10…Qxc2 in the last one and felt that White had great compensation, but ‘for the sake of the exercise’, produced the extra move 12.Rc7(?) at the end of that variation, losing a point.)

    Still consoling myself a bit, at least I am in good company since I made the same erroneous first moves as the Grandmasters playing in positions 2, 3, and 4 🙂

    There is still a lot of work to do to improve, both for calculation as for positional play… Seeing my deficiencies in broad daylight here, I am extra motivated to continue the training to play better games and eventually reap the rewards…

    • Jacob Aagaard
      August 2nd, 2014 at 20:49 | #61

      I would not deduct you a point for Rc7. It is over-thinking, but would not have been anywhere close to being your move in the game. Seeing that you can easily give up the pawn is what it is all about.

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