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Can a normal person become a titled player, even a GM?

May 17th, 2016 50 comments

I was asked this question (rephrased) on Facebook a few days ago. I felt that the right place to offer my opinion would be here. It will be an answer with a few points.

a) First of all, the answer is probably both yes and no. John and I are nothing special. I had “talent” for about 2200 and John maybe 1800. What I mean by this is that we got to these levels after playing chess for quite a number of years, but essentially just by playing. We did not study much before we hit the ceiling. This comes at different levels. For Luke McShane it came at 2600, while others face it at 1200 or 2100.

b) If you face the ceiling at 1200, I am honestly not so optimistic about you getting the GM title. I like to play music and I spend a lot of my time trying to improve, but I am not under the illusion that I will ever reach a professional level. This does not mean that it does not have tremendous value for me, it does. I love it.

c) The main issue with my musical ability is not that I do not have the talent of Prince or the educational possibilities of Mozart (home schooled by one of the greatest musicians of the time, his father). The real problem is more to do with the ‘10,000 hours rule’, as outlined by Malcolm Gladwell. (I know this is highly controversial, but let’s at least for the moment say that the idea of 10,000 hours of deliberate practice is a good indicator of how difficult it is to learn something). I do not have five years of 2,000 hours to invest. I maybe practice 3-4 hours a week on average, 10+ hours on a good week and only 1 hour of fooling around the last few weeks. Progress is understandably slow.

The question of talent

We have debated this from time to time here on the blog. It seems clear that talent exists and Read more…

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The stress of moving house

April 22nd, 2016 10 comments

An adult has a resting heart rate between 60 and 80 usually. This is the normal range. If you are unfit, your heart rate is often higher. If you are very physically active, you get a lower rate. Below 57 is called “athlete” in some graphics I have seen, which I think is too optimistic. Let’s call it physically active.

Anyway, moving house is supposed to be stressful, up there with divorce and death in the family. I recently had the easiest house move in history. I moved from a flat to a town house in the same building. Actually, when I moved in, the van was parked further away from the flat than the house is. On top of this I had good time, 10 days to do it in, and full understanding from my employer. I had friends that helped carrying stuff across and my mother came to visit, helping packing everything down and most of the stuff out again.

It was very stress-free, compared to other house moves I have been involved in. Still, there is a markedly change in my resting heart rate over the period, peaking on the last day of moving house. As I wear a Fitbit Surge, I have been able to track it clearly. It was something of an eye-opener.

Strees from moving

 

Only today I am getting back to exercise, so the reason for the heart rate not getting below 60 again is easy to explain. But the leap was rather excessive. Yes, the last 66 was the last day of moving…

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Working with the Grandmaster Preparation books

November 27th, 2015 40 comments

There is a conversation I have once a week, sometimes once a fortnight. It is with a player or the parent of a talented youngster, who would like to have private tuition, either short term or continuously. At the moment this is not something I am ready to do for the payment people are willing to pay. There are just too many projects I need to bring to completion.

But this article is not supposed to be about whining, but a longer reply to the last person who asked me to help her daughter make decisions better and faster. It is, in short, a guide to using my books.

The first point I want to make is the most fundamental one, and thus also the one that is most far reaching and most difficult to implement.

In order to improve your chess abilities, you will have to think in a different way.

There are other ways to improve in chess: physical form (not greatly effective, but it does a lot for your health!), openings (they go out of date and you forget them, still a good position is easier to play), memorising theoretical endings (worthwhile doing, but this needs updating too), calculating faster (similar to sprint training for physical athletes, something you lose if you don’t maintain it) and others.

All of these are worth doing and if you are ambitious, you are probably doing some of them and aware that you should be doing the others as well!

But if you can improve the way you think chess, you will really get ahead.

Read more…

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Nigel Short Seminar Update – Unlock a discount for everyone!

September 22nd, 2015 10 comments

Setting a price for a seminar is difficult. I hope to not lose too much money while organising them, while at the same time I hope to have big attendance, which is the reason I organise them in the first place.

This week we will have a visit from Nigel Short. I set the price at £150 for four days, thinking it is good value and I would not lose too much. While the second part is true, the attendance is lower than I had hoped. For this reason I will reduce the price with £10 per extra participant registering from now on for all participants, of course. It will not go under £100, which is what I have charged for other seminars. But if 5 more people decides to attend, the price will be down to £100…

Jacob Aagaard

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Goal setting – or setting yourself up for failure

May 27th, 2015 25 comments

This blog post is inspired by IM Lawrence Trent’s public announcement that he is retiring from competitive chess, but is by no means meant as advice to Lawrence or a comment on his very personal decision. But it is a small note on goal setting and the way you can set yourself up for failure.

I have personally aimed at the IM title and the GM title at various times in my life. I achieved both rather quickly at the time when I was ready for them, getting all the norms in less than 12 months. It took me an additional three years to surpass 2500 in rating and it is only from this that I learned some quite valuable lessons; what had worked for me and what did not.

First of all, no matter how much I desired the grandmaster title, the desire did not give me an inch of competitive advantage. Rather the contrary – the overload of importance my decision making was suffering from meant that I struggled to work things out that should have been achievable for me. Every defeat was a heartbreak and caused immense emotional suffering. I have since then had to hold my ill child in a scanner for 20 minutes while she was crying and begging me to let her go, so I have definitely experienced worse, but where that was probably 9/10, losing to a 2100 in Cappelle in 2005 was about a 7/10. If I had not been entirely demolished, it might have felt worse.

The way I got past it was actually simple. I allowed myself to fail. I decided that as long as I was trying my best, it was OK. If that was enough, then it was enough. And if not, then it was not.

In 2006 I lost a blitz play-off game at the Danish Championship where I was apparently winning. I went from 1st to 6th place in less than 30 seconds. I knew already then that I would probably never win the championship of my birth country, as I had already changed affiliation to Scotland. Still, there was no pain, no regret, no remorse. I had tried.

In 2007 I became British Champion and surpassed 2500 on the way.

What I recommend to students facing such tasks is to play it move by move. If you are close to GM-level, but constantly failing (as is happening with one guy I am helping at the moment), maybe the thing to do is to improve your chess skills and knowledge? To do the work required to be more than 2500 once; to become a GM for life, if indeed this is your wish. Because if you do not like chess, the whole thing seems rather pointless to me anyway…

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Self-help blog

March 13th, 2015 16 comments

John has been referring to some of my recent blogs as “self-help” posts. He always has this nice biting irony that you only find warm if you have known him for 20 years… Well, when I say warm, I actually don’t really mean it, but never mind. Anyway, it is nice sometimes to talk about human traits, as they are so influential on our decisions at the board.

In a conversation with friends over dental practices, beauty salons and other businesses they are involved in, I incidentally thought about our imperfections. We all have them. I, for example, hoard things. I have about 1000 unread books in my flat. I do read a lot, but I cannot keep up with the number of books I buy. I used to feel that I should be able to control myself better – or that this was a serious character flaw. But I have known for about 20 years that I will never spend more money than I have – partly because of the laws of physics – and I accept now that some of this is outright squandered on books I will never read.

So what? Publishing is a business under threat and my support for it is a good thing. Even if it is given for reasons that can best be explained by evolutionary psychology.

Actually I believe that this approach is the right way. Some “flaws” are not as much flaws as a part of an imperfect construction, called “a human”. We should learn to accept that they are what we are. We are our strengths and we are our weaknesses. Some things do not need explaining or understanding, all we need to do is to accept that they are the way they are. There is nothing more to it.

To assist with this Sam Shankland kindly provided a blitz game he played recently in a tournament in the San Francisco area.  Sam was White.

White to play

Here he wanted to play 1.Ne7+, which is mate in 19 according to Komodo 8. Instead he played 1.Ne3, which loses more or less on the spot.

These things are not explainable in chess terms. I am not sure any explanation given will ever satisfy us, whether right or wrong. All I know is that it would be useless. The game is lost and there is nothing to learn from this I fear.

After this game Sam and his opponent were in a shared lead. But as it was double round, Sam got another chance. He won with Black and took first prize. Because this is also a part of what Sam is – a champion who plays on, even after having entered the twilight zone…

Accept yourself for the good and the bad is today’s message. And change as much of the bad as seems possible – and the way to do this is to crowd it out with good stuff.

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Chasing the unachievable

January 5th, 2015 9 comments

White to play – What is the strongest continuation?

I was visiting Peter Heine Nielsen in around 2009. He was on that day in a bit of a low mood, questioning what he was doing and how he was organising his life. As we all do this from time to time, I do not think I break any confidences in saying this. His biggest frustration was professional. He would spend at least 20 hours each week trying to find an advantage for White against the Marshall and the Berlin Defence (later renamed the Berlin Wall – or very recently, the London Defence by Anand…) on behalf of the then World Champion, Viswanathan Anand. Everyone knew that this was an unachievable task. Still the work had to be done, in order that the advantage would exist only for the brief moment in time that is a game of chess…

A similar thing happens when we are practising calculation. Especially these days when everything is checked by computers. I see it clearly these days while I am working with quite a strong student on his calculation before a series of spring tournaments. He is a very strong player, but calculating is still not an easy task for him.

And the issue with calculation is of course the same as with opening analysis. The game is rigged. Chess is a draw; there is no advantage to be found against good defence. And calculation exercises are an even bigger scam. If you are at your peak, all you can do is match the computer’s findings.

At least theoretically this is so. In reality there are some exercises that are “cooked”, meaning that the student finds something the teacher did not anticipate because of his fallible nature, or (rarely) the computer is beaten by the student. It is very pleasing when it happens in tactical positions; but much more likely to happen in weird cases where calculating 10 moves ahead does not give any significant advantage.

Read more…

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A simple Morra combination

December 29th, 2014 5 comments

A friend of mine had the following position quite recently in a team match:

After a long think he played 12.Bb5+, got a worse position and eventually managed to trick his opponent and win. As I walked by the board I saw a simple combination. Is this because I am a great tactician? Probably not. I am the typesetter at Quality Chess and therefore typeset Marc Esserman’s book, Mayhem in the Morra, and probably just recognised the tactic subconsciously.

Read more…

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