Monday, December 09, 2013

A Blogger Goes Chessing in Hampstead: Play More

A review copy of the latest GingerGM DVD, Danny Gormally's Improve Your Practical Play, landed on my doormat just before I took myself off to Hampstead last month.  I'll do a proper write up in January (delay in part due to skimpy research at the time of agreeing to do a review leading me to believe that it was an hour or two long when in fact it's more like six and a half).  For now let's just say I really like the first piece of advice.

I've long thought that most amateurs simply don't play enough chess in tournament conditions to come anywhere near reaching their potential. Pleasing to see at least one other person has a similar view.

One of the things that I was trying to get at with last week's post was a consideration of the two roads to chess improvement: practical experience and theoretical learning. As Dvoretsky put it, when commenting on the horlicks that The Norwegian Kid made of Ending 57 a few years back,

Knowledge of endgame theory does not guarantee skill in actually playing endings 
Tragicomedy in the Endgame

Obvious? Maybe so, but for a long time I bought into the idea that 'getting better' meant learning more. Applying my new-found knowledge in an actual game will take care of itself, no? These days I find it hard to imagine a proposition that's more dubious than my thinking back then.

Consider the following set of positions. White's winning all of them if he/she has the move. With Black to play, things get more interesting.


White's winning this one ...

… but shift Black's rook to the side and it's a draw ….

… although if you do the same for White it's a win again …

… as is this …

… although if you go one square further we're back to a draw …

… which is also what we have here.

Put the rook back on f1, but bump to the king to g8 and it's a win.

Return to our first position, but shove everything over one file to the kingside and it's a draw.

And what do we have here? Three files between the rook and the pawn is was a draw before, but the defending king on the back rank rather than the seventh was a win. So which is this? A split point, as it happens.

You can go on and on with stuff like this. So I will.

Flip the original position so the defending rook and king switch sides. The rook only having two files to work with, you might suspect (rightly) that White wins here ...

… but remember how the attacking rook on sixth turned the position into a draw? Well not here. White wins this one too …

… it's a draw here, though.

OK. I'll stop now.

If all this gives you a chessic horn then you might want to drop
Santa a hint re the desirability of either or both of these ending up in your Chrimbo stocking

This is the sort of thing that leaves the average chaser with the erroneous belief that studying technical rook endings means trying to remember the results with best play of loads of more or less random positions. In fact, an understanding of just two things will unlock each and every one of the above dozen diagrams: a grasp of the principle of checking distance and an awareness of a deflection trick.

Ra1 is the (only) way for White to win here

So acquiring the theoretical knowledge to handle any of those dozen positions isn't really that big an ask - and coming to the end of this year of rook and pawn I think I have it now. Does that mean I'd play properly if I ever got one in a real game? I'll find out as and when it happens, I suppose. I'd certainly  hope to do well, but without any practical experience under my belt I certainly wouldn't put my chances at 100%.

And how to acquire that practical experience when even though rook endings as a whole are pretty common, this particular variety are hardly to be expected to come along every week? Play more. It's as simple as that.

Enter more tournaments; play more club matches; don't agree draws until the game is absolutely played out. Easy enough in theory, somewhat trickier in reality with so many competing demands on our time.

Still, Gormally's absolutely right, I think. If we really want to improve our chess results - in rook endgames or otherwise - then playing more chess is a necessary first step for most of us.

Rook and pawn Index
Tournament Diaries Index

1 comment:

ejh said...

Yesterday's Sowray-Delchev rook ending at the London Chess Classic was pretty exciting, if not optimally played by either side. Perhaps all the more exciting for that.