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The Q & A Way by Bruce Pandolfini

This and That

Question In one of your recent Q & A's you suggested that a good exercise in endgame technique and learning to win "won" games is to take a resigned position from a grandmaster game and play the winning position against a much better player or computer. I wonder if you could suggest some resigned games that would be particularly good for this sort of exercise. (Mark Gelowitz, Canada)

Answer Rather than compiling a list of games I'm going to suggest that you start by tracking down game collections of players known for their endgame technique. Just about any top grandmaster will do, though you might benefit especially from the games of Fischer, Capablanca, Lasker, Rubinstein, Petrosian, Karpov, and Korchnoi. These guys will give you your money's worth while offering valuable insights into other areas of chess to boot.

Question What are some of your favorite Fischer stories? I recall reading in "Searching for Bobby Fischer" about how you would tell Fred and Josh about analyzing with Fischer. What was it like? (Brenan Nierman, USA)

Answer Devotees are willing to do practically anything to be in the presence of their art's true master. Most of us from my group of juniors were Fischer zealots. I was an adolescent the first time he actually spoke to me. It came at the end of a simultaneous exhibition given by Larry Evans at the Marshall Chess Club. My game was the last one left, and though I put up stiff resistance, Evans beat me nicely in a precise endgame. Fischer witnessed the conclusion. I guess he was there to meet Larry. After Larry signed my score sheet I think he motioned to Fischer to sign as well. Reluctantly, but not obnoxiously, Fischer refused (he never liked signing anything). Eventually he relented, however, when Carrie Marshall coaxed him a little further. He didn't quite have it in him to say "no" to her, so he wound up saying "okay" to me. I still have that score sheet and you'd have to kill me to get it.

Thereafter I analyzed with Fischer just a few times, but each occasion was special to me. Probably the instance I remember most occurred after I had done fairly well in some Goichberg tournament. Bobby invited me to sit with him and Bernie Zuckerman at a corner table in the Marshall. We analyzed recent games from Russian journals, and I contributed analytically very little to the session. Fischer did most of the talking and moving, and Bernie now and then suggested this and that idea. I was starstruck, and it would have been presumptuous for me to have done more than merely look on, but I'll never forget how thrilling it was to hear Fischer's comments and intimations on Spassky, Petrosian, Tal, Korchnoi, Geller, Larsen, Stein, and the like.

Question Where is Bobby Fischer? (Jose Lara, USA)

Answer Your guess is at good as mine. He supposedly has been living in Hungary for the past seven or eight years. I know he has a German cell phone. He still keeps in touch with a few friends. Recently there had been a rumor about him, circulating at the National Open, that he had been detained in Japan for deportation to America (something about violating the U.S. embargo on playing in Bosnia in 1992), but there was no substance to it. It was reminiscent of when Beatle fans claimed in the late sixties that Paul McCartney was secretly dead, based on the way certain lyrics from the Magical Mystery album could be interpreted. Something was wrong with the Bobby rumor, too, for on the day of his supposed Japanese detention he was also in Hungary making calls on his German cell phone. I have to get one of those.

Question In your opinion, is there an accepted advantage to playing either Black or White? (John Bara, USA)

Answer This depends what you mean. If you're talking about at the game's start, when it's advantageous to go first, it's better to have White. But if you're talking about at a later stage in a game, when it's mate in one for Black, it's better to have Black. Which of these two situations were you referring to?

Question I am a chess addict. I play as often as possible, owning many good chess books on all phases of the game. I am a lover of chess opening theory, and I specialize in the Scotch Opening as White. When I have Black I rely on the Scheveningen Sicilian. I started playing at age 42, and my present rating is about 1400 USCF. I hope to reach something like 1800. At 44, it's probably too late for me to be dreaming about mastery. What would you suggest I do to improve without losing too much time? (Richard Lefebvre, Canada)

Answer No matter what you dream a good way to improve your game is to play against superior opposition, at least once or twice a week, and to have these contests reviewed by a strong player. You can study by yourself all you want, and surely such efforts might even help, but I can't imagine anything being more valuable to a serious student than the objective analysis of his or her own play. You must be tested constantly in actual competition and then you should follow these efforts by reviewing them under the scrutiny of a sympathetic adviser. Good luck, not just in these upcoming games, but also in your crusade to find such a person.

Question John Nunn and Alex Yermolinsky, in recent excellent books, recommend that you should play main lines in the opening because it basically would improve your chess because you are following in the footsteps of the great players with tried and trusted systems. John Nunn went so far as to take apart Andrew Soltis's and Tony Kosten's opening works on side lines (i.e. Latvian Gambit). Bent Larsen, I do not think, has this approach to chess. What do you think? For your information I play the Czech System vs. 1 e4 (i.e. 1. . . d6 2. d4 Nf6 3. Nc3 c6 (!?). Against 1. d4 if 2. c4 e5 !? or if 2. Nf3 Bg4. My results with the above are averaging 56% so I can't complain. I have noticed that not many GM's play the Czech System apart from Jansa, that is. My ELO rating is 1890 for your information. (Kevin Bailey, England)

Answer I haven't read the recent books of Nunn and Yermolinsky, though the positions they take, as you describe them, seem reasonable. But this is just one side of the table. We also should consider the recipients of this advice. Are they rank beginners, 1200 players, 1890 players, or aspiring masters? It would be unwise to recommend the same course of study to everyone indiscriminately. Nor would we want to ignore a student's personal characteristics, such as temperament, interest, age, available time, and so on. If playing secondary lines encourages one to chess more and with greater enthusiasm, why shouldn't a student play these lines?

Even unsound variations have a time and place. Playing them forces one to become more resourceful just to survive. Moreover, by getting crushed repeatedly one eventually senses the advantage of turning to sounder lines he or she has avoided. I agree with the argument that it can't hurt to try to follow in the footsteps of the giants, to paraphrase Isaac Newton, especially if one is young and talented. But you say you've scored 56% with the above lines, so you must be doing something right. I'd like to know what Larsen thinks.

Question I have a daughter who will be three in March and I am trying to teach her to play chess. So far she knows the names of all the pieces and can set up all the pieces except she has problems putting the queen on the right spot. Anyway, I would like to know if you could recommend any books for teaching chess to kids. (Jerry Bodman, USA)

Answer Let's be clear here. Do you mean books for your child to read on her own, books for you to read with her, or books for you to read for yourself so that you can learn how to teach her? Unless your daughter is John Stuart Mill incarnate, I'm going to assume you're referring to books falling into the latter two categories. Any clear instructional book with large diagrams should do for the two of you working together. Among others, take a look at some of the books by Gillam or Walker. They've put out some really helpful texts. As far as showing you how to teach effectively, try George Francis Kane's "Chess and Children." I think it's a terrific book, which should provide the needed structure for your endeavor. I also saw a current book by Murray Chandler which looked quite impressive. You might check this out as well. But why settle for my opinion? Go to a major bookstore, one with hundreds of chess titles, and spend an afternoon or evening looking at all the books. You're bound to find one you like.

Question My name is Miguel Delgadillo and I learned to play when I was 6. I am a beginner level player and seriously want to improve my skill level. My question is this: have there been any studies to see how long it would take a player to improve to a certain skill level within a given period of time? Is there a student you had that was the most improved player in 1 year from a beginner level? If so what rating was this player able to achieve? (Miguel Delgadillo Jr., USA)

Answer I don't know that I would call them studies, but all kinds of records have been kept and monitored on the rise and fall of scholastic ratings. Let's consider the age bracket between 6 and 13. In my own experience, those falling in this range should aim to add at least 100 rating points a year to show meaningful progress. Championship students should strive to gain at least 200 points a year. I know of one student who gained 900 points in a year, going from about 500 to 1400. If memory serves me right, I believe that Yasser Seirawan, as an adolescent, once improved some 600 points in a year. Yasser eventually became America's strongest player, at least for a period of time. But let's face it. We're talking about people, not numbers. Numbers can do things that people can't, and people can do things that numbers can't.

Question Who were the first people to play chess and where were they from? (Jamar Jones, USA)

Answer Unless new information has been unearthed recently, the game of chess can be traced to the fifth century A.D. and the Indus Valley, between India and ancient Persia. Presumably it was played by those living there and others passing through. We don't really know how the game was invented, though there are suspicions. As soon as we discover the culprits we'll let you know.

Question What do you think of the following openings: The Zilbermints Benoni, 1 d4 c5 2 b4!; The Zilbermints Grob, 1 g4 d5 2 e4 de4 3 Nc3!. (Lev D. Zilbermints, USA)

Answer Interesting. Very interesting.

Question I first must tell you how much your books have helped me. Though I am unable to play in tournaments, I don't get beat as often on the internet and around town. My question is this: I am using Michael Yip's Books "Checkmate University Books 1 and 2" to teach my students at K-7 school. They will soon be through with these and much improved. What books or exercises should I use now with them? Again. Thank you so much for your down to earth basic books. (Warren Nyack, Canada)

Answer There are so many good books these days it's hard to recommend one in particular. Most teachers seem to like problem books with large diagrams arranged in sections of four to six examples. This makes it easier to give lessons and to offer homework for reinforcement. Some teachers photocopy diagrams, cut them out, and rearrange them for their own purposes. Others use software, such as ChessBase, and print their own diagrams. I know of one teacher who has a stockpile of more than 10,000 diagrams. He spends so much time sifting through them that he has almost no time for lessons. I've always admired him.

Question What's an effective way to improve positional understanding and strategic planning? I'm a 1,600 rated player, and even though I get a superior position out of the opening, most of my losses are because of planless play or bad plans. Any suggestions? (Scott Kerns, USA)

Answer Why don't you start with two old books: Nimzovich's "My System" and Kmoch's "Pawn Power in Chess." They'll give you some ideas. You might also play through Alekhine's "My Best Games," Botvinnik's "One Hundred Selected Games," and Bronstein's book on the 1953 Zurich tournament. You're positional understanding has to improve after going through all that. You should also gain from just about any of Jeremy Silman's strategic books. You can go to any of his texts and get to a better place.

© All Rights Reserved. This article first appeared at in April 2000.

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