Saturday, October 2, 2010

Finish Him

In the game "Mortal Kombat"(or as I affectionately like to call it - More-Dull Combat), the finishing blow to win over your opponent in this computer game is to land a killer blow (called a "Fatality"). So what has is got to do with chess?

Well, is there anything worse than losing a chess game?

Yes, when it's losing a chess game that you know you had a winning position but you could not convert the advantage and not being able to land the killing blow!

History has been filled with such examples from patzers like me, all the way to elite Grandmasters (the Topalovs, Anands and Kramniks etc.). It has also occurred with surprising regularity and at the highest levels (see the Botvinnik - Bronstein World Championship match 1951).

The recent Chess Olympiad is a good example.

Just to show you how bad my calculation skill is, take a look at the following position:

My opponent Black just played

20. ....Qd4?? trying to exchange off my Queen. I meekly retreated my Queen in the game but there is a nice little tactical blow in this position that will give me an advantage.

Can you spot it?

It's 21. Nd4!.

Once you see the move, it's not hard to realise what is happening. If Black takes the Queen with 21.... Qxg4 22 Nf6+ forks both King and Queen and White is a healthy piece up.

If Black moves the King with 21.... Kg7 Then 22. Qxd4 and either 22... cxd4 or 22... exd4 results in the 2 Rooks being forked with 23. Nd7 with a healthy exchange up.

So how does a patzer like me improve my skill in recognising killer blows?

We turn once again to the patriarch Mikhail Botvinnik.

Botvinnik had no chess coach. So how then did he develop his talent?

What he would do is to play over his games, extenuously finding improvements in his play or he can learn to play better. He will play out as many variations of his games as much as possible, objectively trying to seek out the "truth" in each position. By doing so over and over and over again, Botvinnik's chess acumen improved. He start to formulate plans, strategies, and more importantly, he developed his incredible ability to calculate long variations accurately.

This kind of training plan is purposeful. It's training with a plan, a plan that identifies your weaknesses and strengths and how to improve on your weaknesses and to develop your strengths at the same time.

In my case, my weaknesses are in the middlegame and in tactics. As a result, I find myself unable to recognise opportunities when they present themselves. So my training plan should involve solving middlegame problems, and tactical problems and familiar patterns and strategies arising from my typical middlegames.

So what is your plan?

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