14 December 2017

DVD completed: Crushing White with the Caro-Kann Defense

The "Crushing White with the Caro-Kann Defense" (Reloaded Edition) DVD by GM Maxim Dlugy contains a series of lectures on suggested lines to play as Black in the Caro-Kann, along with a brief (2-page) summary of the main points of the four chapters in PDF format, and 10 games in PGN format on the disc.  Not all of the games/variations he presents are contained in the PGN files.

The video lectures are grouped into four chapters:

Chapter 1 - the Advance Variation, featuring Morozevich-Dlugy (2015).  Dlugy advocates the usual 3...Bf5 response by Black and looks at some of the more aggressive options for White featuring the g2-g4 advance, as well as the standard Nf3/Be2 development (Short System).

Chapter 2 - the Main Line with 4...Nd7, including four games from various points in Dlugy's career.  This is valuable for anyone who plays that line, but it is no longer very popular.  I've never been interested in playing it, in part because it makes development of the light-squared bishop more difficult.  Anatoly Karpov used the variation for a long stretch as his main defense, probably its greatest claim to fame.

Chapter 3 - the Exchange Variation and the Panov-Botvinnik Attack.  There is no actual database game given regarding the Exchange Variation, but Dlugy spends some time looking at an offbeat but effective-looking treatment of the line, using a maneuver with 6...g6 followed by ...Nf6-h5 as the main idea for Black.  After that is finished, the lecture includes two database games on the Panov-Botvinnik Attack that feature the solid 5...e6 variation; the other two main approaches are 5...Nc6 and 5...g6 (a gambit).  The PDF notes for this chapter are also quite helpful in outlining specific ideas, for later reference.

Chapter 4 - Dlugy returns to the Main Line with 4...Nd7.  This section has three more database games, including the infamous 1997 Deep Blue - Kasparov game where the computer won in 19 moves; this probably is the real reason (if not a completely valid one) for the variation's subsequent unpopularity.  The centerpiece of the chapter, as a somewhat strange choice, is a blitz game Dlugy played against Radjabov.

Comments and observations:
  • This DVD isn't comprehensive enough of an intro to the Caro-Kann to stand on its own, if that is what you are looking for.  For example, it doesn't cover some of the White variations often encountered at the club level (Two Knights, King's Indian Attack, Fantasy) and the PDF lecture notes are of uneven helpfulness (Chapter 3 being the best).
  • As basically a repertoire-based lecture on the main lines, it does offer some good ideas in the particular variations Dlugy uses.  Chapter 3 was particularly valuable for me, as Dlugy offers concrete strategic, tactical and even "philosophical" insights into Black's play in the Exchange (which he calls the "Fischer" variation) and the Panov.  The first part of the Panov variation presentation I found valuable, following a particularly instructive Karpov game, but the second part featuring one of Dlugy's own games was not as convincing or well-organized.
  • I found it annoying in a video lecture aimed at the Black side to still have a board with the White pieces at the bottom.  It would seem that the software used to record it would not allow for flipping the board, which is simply antiquated.  While having White on the bottom is still mostly standard for diagrams in Black-oriented repertoire books (if not 100% of the time), it felt rather awkward watching the board from White's perspective for the whole video. When you're reading a book but have a separate board set up in front of you, the diagrams are less of an issue, but using a separate board is not practical to do with a video lecture.
  • The presentation quality is uneven, with some segments flowing well and with insightful integrated commentary.  Others however show Dlugy being somewhat unprepared and having to check his notes.  I don't really understand why presenters don't simply do a retake when this happens, but it's a common phenomenon with chess videos across different publishers.
  • Dlugy sometimes plays out the (relatively few) games to the bitter end in the endgame, commenting along the way.  Sometimes this can be good when typical structures for an opening are presented, but other times it just seems to drag things out, for example with the last blitz game.
  • There are 10 pages of PDF puzzles also included, with two positions per page, but which variation they are taken from is not referenced in the text.

28 November 2017

Training quote of the day #12

From GM Walter Browne's The Stress of Chess...and its Infinite Finesse (end of Chapter 4):
Almost fifty years of success can't be an accident. Many of the same skills needed for chess are equally necessary at poker, like patience, pattern recognition, control, vision, intuition and timely aggression. In poker it is absolutely vital to outguess your adversaries and put yourself in their minds...
But chess is in a different category. There is in the struggle a subtle, sublimated aggression, revealed in the game by the players in a one-to-one confrontation. There is a uniquely complex beauty within the intricate moves that cannot be compared with poker.

26 November 2017

Learning from a Prodigy - the science behind Magnus Carlsen's success

"Learning from a Prodigy: The Science Behind the Feats of the Greatest Chess Player of All Time" may be slightly hyped (is Magnus Carlsen really the greatest of all time?); occasionally breathless in tone; and not fully cognizant of standard chess training procedures (e.g. lots of people of all skill levels use computer analysis).  But the other 95% of the article, which was composed for a UCSD-hosted course on learning, offers a number of good observations.

The primary methods covered are:
  • Chunking: Building Actionable Knowledge
  • Diffuse Mode: Learning Through Reveries
  • Deliberate Practice: Kick-Starting Our Brain
  • Interleaving: Switching It Up
  • Transfer: Solving Parallel Problems
  • Health: Building on Solid Foundations
My comments:

I would say that chunking is probably the most relevant to gaining chess knowledge and skill, since it's the fundamental process in building pattern recognition and the intuitive base for position assessment and decisionmaking.  We learn things like openings, typical middlegame strategies, and endgames in this manner.

On this blog I've emphasized deliberate practice (or effortful study) as the best way of making progress in training, which basically means taking on difficult tasks (or opponents) that push your boundaries and therefore make you learn, rather than repeating the same tasks over and over.

Physical training (health) is also fundamental to maximizing our chess performance, especially in tournaments where your personal energy management and focus is so important to maintain at the highest level possible.

The subjects of Diffuse Mode and Interleaving are useful in highlighting why you should switch up study topics and take periodic breaks to let your brain make the necessary connections (literally) to achieve the next level of understanding.

I'm not completely sold on the "Transfer" idea of directly improving chess as a skill via other activities, although it can't hurt to have some broader interests and practices that also stimulate your brain.

All in all, worth checking out in detail.

24 November 2017

"Analyze This" at chess^summit

Analyzing my own games has long been the centerpiece of my training program and it still is paying dividends, in terms of improving my play both conceptually and practically.  On a related note, I recently ran across the "Analyze This" post at the chess^summit site, which discusses the benefits of analyzing games, starting with a more basic view of the process.  They also highlight two things that are worth knowing about for all levels of improving players:
  • The simple way you can now use online resources for game analysis, with an illustrated example of copying and pasting a PGN game file into the Chess.com analysis board.  I think it's important to have your own database set up to store analysis and training references, which you can obtain for free with the Scid vs. PC software and (champion) Stockfish engine. That said, the ease of use of online tools is a welcome evolution. 
  • An offer by the site to do free game analysis, if you would like to solicit a more expert human take on your game.