Knight Keystor

A record of my journey of chess improvement.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Few Mini-Reviews

I thought it might be worthwhile to make a few comments and recommendations (a.k.a. short reviews) regarding the products that I have used/am using for my training regimen:

Tactics

Chess Tactics for Beginners - This is a great "first" collection of about 1,300 tactics problems. It is a few levels of difficulty below CT-ART and I would highly recommend it for use in "circles training" before moving on to CT-ART. It has a good mix of mates, material-winning problems, and drawing problems. There are four or five "mistakes" where there is a better move than the "solution," but all-in-all it is a very high-quality collection. It keeps track of your solving accuracy and assigns you a rating to help track your progress. Finally, it has several features that I made heavy use of such as the ability to mirror the position, reverse colors, or view the board from white's perspective even when it is black to move. I found that randomizing the positions in this way helped to further solidify the patterns in my memory. If you buy this program, make sure that you download the patch from the support section of ChessOK's website.

Advanced Chess School - While I did get some benefit out of this program, I wasn't terribly impressed with it and can't in all honesty recommend it. The translation of the explanations is terrible and often doesn't make sense. Also, there is a very high number of composed mate studies that are frustratingly difficult and which I'm not sure were very beneficial to my improvement. It's not strictly a tactics collection as there are also a number of opening-type problems as well as quite a few strategy motifs. I'll likely return to this program at a later date and see if I get more benefit when I'm a stronger player.

Personal Chess Trainer 2.0 - I'm currently halfway through the Tactics Modules in this program. It consists of 4,320 tactics problems, 1,440 endgame problems, and 720 strategy problems (which each give a short explanation of the solution.) The tactics problems have a fairly high ratio of mates (as opposed to material-winning problems) although that improves as you get into the later modules. I've generally found it to be a good choice for a follow-up to Chess Tactics for Beginners. It is very well suited for "circles training" because that is the methodology that the program uses to train you. The first time you see a certain tactics problem you get three minutes to solve it. The next few times you get a minute and a half, then a minute, then 45 seconds, and finally 30 seconds. You end up repeating each problem about ten or eleven times during the course of a module. So essentially you do ten circles and it's all automated. It keeps track of the time you spend on each unit and then further breaks it down into average time per problem. It also automatically repeats any problems that you miss. In short, I'd highly recommend this program. If you haven't yet purchased it though, you might wait a month or two for the new version to come out. It is supposed to fix some mistakes and oversights as well as add an opening section.

Openings

Chess Position Trainer - This is essentially a database designed to store and train you on your personal opening repertoire. Not only is it free, but I've found it to be one of the best programs out there for this purpose. It allows you to break up your repertoire into multiple sub-repertoires for easier organization and training. It has a very large number of configurable options for drilling you on your openings. You can also download user-made repertoires from the site. I use the Dan Heisman recommendation of adding one new move to my repertoire per game. After a game, I look up the opening to find where we went out of book, figure out what the book move was, and add it to CPT. I then drill my openings with the training features until I can play them in my sleep. Highly recommended...did I mention that it's free? Version 4 should hopefully be out soon (the current version has some problems with Windows Vista.)

Endgames

Silman's Complete Endgame Course - I absolutely LOVE this book! It's practical, concise, and easy to understand. The decision to divide the material by rating is brilliant...I can't believe that it's never been done before. There are enough diagrams to go through the material without a board, but I tend to go back and play through the positions against Fritz after reading through a section. I find that helps to burn the information into place better. I'd say that this is likely the ONLY endgame book that you'll need until at least the expert level. I can't recommend it enough. Even if you aren't a big fan of Silman in general, you owe it to yourself to take a look at this book!

Chess Endgames 1 - This program is put out by Chessbase and authored by Karsten Müller. I really enjoy the video training format that Chessbase uses. I've found this to be a good companion to the Silman book. It plugs a few holes that Silman doesn't cover, such as the Knight & Bishop Mate. I know, I know, I know...I'll probably never run into it, but if I do, I'll be ready! It also gives a slightly different perspective on the overlapping material. I've found that learning the same idea/concept/technique in more than one way helps me to remember it even better. I wouldn't say that this is a "must have" like the Silman book is, but if you've got the extra money laying around and want to further solidify your endgame technique, I'd say that the Chess Endgames series from Chessbase is a good way to go (there are four in the series so far: Basic Knowledge for Beginners, Rook Endgames, Major Piece Endgames, and Strategic Endgames.)

Game Collections

I can't give much of a recommendation here since I've only been through a book and a half so far (although I've got a large number of books on my wishlist.) I can recommend the two that I'm familiar with though: Chernev's Logical Chess is a great first game collection book. Every single move is give an explanation. It is a little dated and has a few analysis errors, but I still think that it is a good place to start. The games are great and the explanations do a good job of helping to understand what is happening. His follow-up The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played is also highly recommended (I'm about halfway through it.) It's a step higher in terms of audience skill level (I should also note that it's in descriptive notation.) It doesn't have an explanation after every single move, but still has plenty of commentary when necessary. The selection of games is also both exciting and varied. So far I've thoroughly enjoyed it.

That covers most of the products that I've used so far. I'll try to do mini-reviews anytime I get something new. I hope it helps!!!

11 Comments:

Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

CT-Art is not very good for those who want the bare-bones 'alphabet' of tactics. If CTB is the alphabet, and PCT is spelling, then CT-Art is essay writing. Ya gotta know the alphabet before you can spell.

For those rated under 1300 (ICC) chess tactics for beginners seems ideal for the circles, as it starts with things you can do easily but ends with quite challenging problems for the patzer. I predict I'll hit 1400 level or higher at ICC (I began at 950 and am at 1350 now) if I just stop missing 2-3 move tactics of the sort found in CTB.

3/29/2007 9:57 AM  
Blogger Ron said...

Hi BDK,

I like that analogy! I might even add another one by saying that Chess Tactics for Intermediates is sentence writing...and another good one to do BEFORE CT-ART. I think that was one big issue with de la Maza's program was that he recommends CT-ART as the basis for the circles. I think there are several other programs with more "basic" tactics that should be tackled first.

I'd agree with your improvement assessment. I rarely miss 2-3 move tactics for either side any more (although I do miss deeper or more complicated stuff) and am currently rated 1875 on PlayChess.com. I was around 1400 before starting my training. Keep on plugging away!

Ron

3/29/2007 10:05 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

LOL on chess tactics for intermediate players. Perhaps I'll do that one next...

One thing I really dislike about Chernev's 'Logical Chess' is that all the queen's gambit declined games are losses for black! If memory serves, there are more than 8 such games. This is simply criminal. For one QGD is solid, and if the book is for beginners they need to be shown a more balanced selection (esp cuz he tells the story more from the winner's perspective in each game).

I chucked that book after this realization and have been working through Euwe's Master vs Amateur. It is a beautiful book, simply inspiring.

3/29/2007 10:44 AM  
Blogger Ron said...

That's a good point that I didn't think to mention. I think there are only two or maybe three black wins in the entire book...but I figured I was reading it for the purpose of strategy and understanding and so didn't pay too much attention to the success rate of the openings that were represented.

I try not to draw opening success rate conclusions based on any book just because it can be so easily skewed (some Blackmar Gambit books come quickly to mind.) I use PowerBook 2006 for opening success rate among IMs & GMs.

Master vs. Amateur is next on my list after I finish Most Instructive Games...I already own it, but have not yet opened it. :)

Ron

3/29/2007 11:53 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Master vs Amateur might be a little below your level. It would be interesting to hear what you think when you get to it.

It is the first in a trilogy, the next two being 'The Road to Chess Mastery", where it is games between club players and masters, and finally 'Master vs Master', where both players are masters.

3/29/2007 1:39 PM  
Blogger Ron said...

Ooh! I didn't realize that it was part of a series...I'll have to add the others to my list...thanks! :)

The main reason I purchased Master vs Amateur is because I am going through game collection books in the order recommended by Heisman in his article "The Four Homeworks - September 2006."

I'll definitely post my thoughts when I get into it...if I find it to be overly basic for my level, I'll probably just cruise through it quickly and then move on. Thanks for the heads up. :)

3/29/2007 1:59 PM  
Blogger Pale Morning Dun - Errant Knight de la Maza said...

A very nice review. My Silman endgame course is in the mail on the way. I have been working with PCT recently, and have to say I am really enjoying the tactics modules. I went through the endgame stuff first, but I'm not sure the timing technique is best suited for the endgame. It tries to break down endgame technique into pattern recognition, which is a bit dubious. However, combining it with a little more endgame theory study might make it more instructive.

4/01/2007 11:18 PM  
Blogger Grandpatzer said...

I've been thinking of Chess Tactics for Beginners. Problems like those in CT-Art and the Encyclopedia of Chess Middlegames/Anthology of Chess Combinations are good at working on your thought process and chess visualization, but I'd like a source of easy chess tactics to practice pattern recognition with, a la Dan Heisman's suggestion.

I've been seeing PCT 2.0 popping up all over the blogosphere...seems to be very popular. Thanks for the heads-up about the new version on the horizon.

How does this free Chess Position Trainer compare to Bookup?

In the middle of Master vs. Amateur now. Interesting how many errors Fritz finds! I remember reading Chernev's "Capablanca's Best Endgames" and in one sideline I thought, "wait, did Chernev miss a queen sacrifice and forced mate?". I fed it into the computer and sure enough, there it was. My proudest moment as a critical chess reader.

I personally suspect that the most instructive chess games for patzers like myself would be where grandmasters beat weaker players. Euwe's book is one of the few in that mold, but I'd like to see something a bit more advanced.

I have Chess Endgames 1, and will get 2 and maybe 3 once I'm done with it (set it aside at the Centurini position, my old nemesis).

If you enjoy the endgame, I can't recommend Soltis' Grandmaster Secrets: Endings enough.

4/03/2007 4:27 PM  
Blogger Ron said...

Pale Morning Dun - Thanks...I agree somewhat with the sentiments on the endgame modules. I've only done the first few units of the endgame stuff, but like you, I'm not sure if endgame study is suited for pattern recognition training (with the possible exception of basic K+P endgames.)

Grandpatzer - I'd highly recommend the CTB software...the level of problems presented is ideal for basic pattern recognition type training. I can't offer any comparison with Bookup as I haven't used it, but I have read a few reviews/comparisons that favor CPT. I've added Grandmaster Secrets: Endings to my "wishlist"...thanks again for the tip!

Thanks everyone for the kind comments,
Ron

4/04/2007 11:49 AM  
Blogger The Rise and Shine Good Knight said...

Wonderful Post!

Very insightful comments too, because I'm not sure whether I'll go to PCT or CT-ART after CTI.

http://theriseandshinegoodknight.blogspot.com/

4/08/2007 12:20 PM  
Blogger Ron said...

Hey Rise & Shine,

Thanks! CT-ART seems to be the logical follow-up to CTI, but you can't complain about the collection of 4,300+ tactics problems in PCT...tough decision :)

I WILL say that the first three modules of PCT tactics problems (out of six modules total) are quite basic in comparison to CTI and CT-ART, so you might factor that into your decision.

Ron

4/09/2007 8:18 PM  

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