Friday, 23 November 2007

I've Started so I'll Finish

One of the failings of the way I study chess is my extremely bad habit of starting reading a chess book and never actually finishing it. The list below is just a sample of the titles which grace the shelves of my bookcase, but which I have never actually finished.

  • Pawn Power in Chess - Kmoch
  • The Development of Chess Style - Euwe & Nunn
  • Understanding Chess Move by Move - Nunn
  • Chess Exam and Training Guide - Khmelnitsky
  • Tal - Botvinnik 1960 -Tal
  • Chess for Zebras - Rowson
  • 50 Essential Chess Lessons - Giddins
  • The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played - Chernev
  • My Great Predecessors Vol 1,2,3 &4 !!! - Kasparov

Phew! Just imagine how good I might be now if I'd bothered to finish that lot. They are all, as far as I can tell from my partial readings, excellent books.

So why did I stop reading them? Is it because I have the attention span of a gnat? Partly. Do I get halfway through the book and then get distracted by something shiny? Ooh, pretty...

No, I think the reason I stop reading chess books is because I lack commitment. I'd like to be a better player, but I'm not prepared to do the hard work necessary to improve.

So I'm going to make a promise here now to myself in the presence of my fellow bloggers, that I will damn well finish at least one of those books before next year. I'll start tomorrow. Honest.

Those of you easily distracted by shiny things, like myself, might like to try the games near the bottom on the right hand side of my blog. They are: Spelling Bee, Match up, Hangman, Sudoku and another one without a name (does anyone know if it has a name?). While you're all distracted by them, I'll be improving my chess!


Kevin said...

I suggest finishing Tal-Botvinnik 1960, it's short and sweet. And there's something about reading Tal that is riveting. Maybe finishing one will give you just the kick you need to start hitting the books. Good Luck...

Edwin said...

Before next year? You definitely know how to put the pressure on yourself. ;)

Good luck!

Ryan Emmett said...

Thanks for the suggestion, Kevin. I've decided to finish "50 Essential Chess Lessons" first because I'm up to lesson 35 anyway. After that I think I'll go through Tal's book. I've just been dipping in and out of that one, so although it's short, I'll have to start from the beginning! :)

Ryan Emmett said...

Thanks Edwin. I'll post about my success/failure to keep my word! :)

JS said...

I have more than 100 unfinished chess books and several times that many in history. I'm not convinced that there are many book that need to be read all the way through to get at the pearls they offer. Most books have a few good parts: read those, and let the rest accumulate dust.
As for chess books (as well as any book that is difficult due subject matter or scope), the first reading should take no more than two hours. With a chess book, that means reading the text that is not concrete analysis, while glancing at a few chess positions to get a feel for the author's approach. Only, on the second reading do you slow down and start working through the details. For some chess books, this next process can take years.

Ryan Emmett said...

Thanks JS. That's a good point. I hadn't thought of it like that. Although I haven't read the books from cover to cover, I've read the majority of most of them (sometimes not in linear fashion). Hopefully, some good advice has sunk in along the way.

I still think I need to study them more deeply and finish a few!

Anonymous said...

I suggest that you change your profile picture. Looks too nerdish

Ryan Emmett said...

I've got far more nerdish photos than that! I'm proud to say I have lots of nerd-like qualities and would be proud to call myself a nerd. :)

Dan Scoones said...

May I recommend putting the others aside and reading the Chernev book and then the Nunn book. If you study these books carefully you will soon notice a big increase in your playing strength.

Ryan Emmett said...

Thanks for the tip Dan. As I've promised myself that I'll finish the Giddins book I'm going to do that, but then I'll focus on Chernev.

I found the Nunn book to be a bit over my head, but perhaps if I can digest Chernev then I'll be ready for it.

Thanks again.

transformation said...

ryan, i have seen you now and again, but gosh darn it, i am emphatically adding you to my 'links to be added list!'

this work of yours is resoundingly too good not to post haste add among the blog roll there! thank you.

i am methodical with that, and just added it seconds ago. when this is done, it must be done in groups as it is not inextensive.

greetings from across the many oceans, warm regards, david k

(just saw you again, at paul hoffmans lovely blog)

Ryan Emmett said...

Thanks for your very kind words, David. I have happened on your blog sometimes too and it's never dull or ordinary! :)

Phaedrus said...

Hello Ryan,

I do not completely agree with you. The reasons that you stopped reading or even working through these books is because you lack results. Almost no one has the commitment to spend a lot of time and effort into books that do not deliver a significant improvement. And these books don't believe me. At best they are a great read. Nothing wrong with that, but improvement is not to be found in the great reads. At least that was my experience having read most of the books you mentioned.

transformation said...

nietzsche had a saying, in Beyond Good and Evil (i think it was), his best book, if you ask me (read meticulously for an entire year in 1976):

"The Wisest of all Ages All Agree:

'It is no good!'"

and so hear. you are a nice person ryan, and i have seen you around, not least of which at tom chivers fantastic blog, always in good standing.

Phaedrus and i, it turns out, became known to each other quite awhile after i first wrote you here.

also a very fine person. all he is saying is, is that there is only one way: to really do the work. his most recent post, i think, explains this quite well, not to mention the dilusion going for study WE ALL have, the dilusion of effective activity towards improvment way short of the mark.

take care, dk

SonofPearl said...

Thank you phaedrus and transformation for your kind comments!

I think that I understand what you mean. I enjoy reading chess books primarily as entertainment, rather than as a aid to improvement. Self awareness is difficult, but I would guess that I am fairly knowledgeable about the principles of chess, but lack the practical skills to put this into action during the game.

I guess that reading these books is a bit like trying to learn to dance by reading a book which explains the steps. You learn how it should be done, but it doesn't seem to work out right when you try to do it yourself!

transformation said...

Close, but even better or more exactly said, by none of other than top trainers, Mark Dvoretsky, in his recent article, called:

'Cricital Moments, Part III'

(i'd give an html link for it, but in two week s or so, it will link to his series generally, rather than the individual article)
"There are many ways to go about completing yourself as a chessplayer. You can train your combinative alertness and your ability to calculate variations, develop your capability to intuitively grasp the essence of a position, study endgame theory and complete your technical mastery, analyze typical middlegame positions, acquaint yourself with the work of great players past and present so that you may enrich your own arsenal with the techniques and weapons they used, and so on, and so forth. I have often held relatively short training sessions in various countries, dedicated to one or more of these above-cited (or un-cited) problems. And almost always our exercises helped facilitate measurable growth in our students, which they themselves joyfully noted. Now, what sort of heights might they aspire to, if they could do such work regularly?!

"Nevertheless, it seems that I cannot convince anybody that this is the right thing to do – neither by logic, nor by the stability of my training achievements. On the one hand, many players do not understand how they can effectively set up educational or training work, or where they can obtain good materials and quality exercises. But the main problem is this worldwide, insane focus on the openings, this ruling conviction (when it is really a misconception!) in the minds of chessplayers that here – right here! – lies the key to success. Everyone, from the weak to the strong, is doing nothing but endlessly refining their opening repertoire, closing their eyes to the unsatisfactory quality of the play that follows.

"I recall one amusing episode that occurred early in the 90s, during one of my first U.S. visits. One of the local amateurs approached me, saying that he had heard a lot about my work methods, and had enormous respect for and interest in them. He asked me who else among the American trainers made use of my methods, and expressed a burning desire to take a lesson from me. I declined, but this amateur was persistent. At last, we agreed to spend two or three hours at it. I began to explain something; he listened patiently for a while, and then cut me off.

"'All this is interesting, of course; but couldn’t you just show me the best way to play the King’s Indian vs. the Samisch Variation?'

"So there you have it: method/schmethod – concrete opening information, alas, always looks more useful".