Tuesday, June 5, 2007

I am still learning... Right?

Blue Devil Knight asked me an interesting question about my last post.

I wonder how harmful such inaccuracies are to the patzer (e.g., me) reading the book to improve at chess. -- Blue Devil Knight

I have no idea if there is research on a question like this. I certainly know of none. But it is an interesting question nonetheless, and I have some guesses...

I have had an interesting relationship with this book. As those that have been following the blog since I started. I have been on a search for information, educational materials, and lessons for a class player trying to get better. As my son and I both are. We have a deal for the summer to try and get better. Chess Master vs. Chess Amateur by Max Euwe (ex-world champion) and Walter Meiden, was a recommended book for us.

I had lived through and participated in, the educational revolution of the 90's. That books and online presentation are much more successful if they are focused on the readers needs than on the writers expertise. It is still very difficult to do, if you reach too low, it is insulting to the reader and they won't read it. If you reach too high, than the expertise to understand the material, is often above the material itself.

One of the places that this is very evident, is in chess books. A huge swath of the marketplace is the intermediate class player who is desperate to be educated, yet most books are written well above their ability, or truly are focused for an advance player (a correspondence player), yet are purchased by the intermediate crowd.

This book, is touted as one of the very few books that is designed for the intermediate audience. I had dismissed it out of hand, because on surface it definitely fails to meet the needs of the reader, and requires a pretty high level of expertise to get information out of it. Yet, it still gets talked about and recommended, so I kept going back to it, and the looking back at the whole process of how to consume the book, so that I can get information out of it.

It then became clear, since I am not a reasonable blindfold chess player, that I should go through the book with a chess set. Even better would be a chess program. So that I have a record that I can go back and forth with, and create variations, and annotate and keep the information forever.

If there is anything that someone who reads this gets from my task, this is a very valuable way to read any chessbook. Learn the skill, it is worthwhile, and will help you become a better chess player. Really.

Armed with my new idea an how to approach the book, I dug in to those parts that were pointed out to me, followed by examples that I found interesting to me, for various reasons. I was open to being instructed to. What I found was different. That in many places the claimed points were glossed over or were wrong. That was very surprising to me. And where it wasn't wrong, most of the games were of the "don't do anything terrible, followed by a giant blunder, and the Master wins" type of games. Which turns out, is very much like most games at the class level, but it keeps feeling like an ongoing set of examples of don't shoot yourself in the head. Which Dan Heisman has fully informed me of over and over again.

Which brings me to BDK's question. In this particular book, I do not think the written lessons are individually bad. They actually seem for the most part reasonable. They are very difficult to learn just through words, because the presentation is inaccessible to the primary audience. I have also read those words from many places. For a reader that attempts blindfold chess, which I think is going to be most readers of the book, they are not going to be good enough to understand that the examples don't teach the lessons well, and they'll take the writing at face value.

If you use a chess set to follow the game, an intermediate player is going to have a difficult time understanding and following the games well enough, to see the mismatch between the text and the written lesson. And it is not likely to be damaging. Conversely, I don't think clarity is available.

But if you use Fritz as your over the shoulder grandmaster, the scales start to fall from your eyes, and you find the flaws. But, instead of it being harmful you actually start learning stuff. A whole bunch of things. Many of them improve your chess. Hardly any of it by the intent of the author or the publisher. I am personally glad to have gone through the process. It has not lessened my requirement for intermediate educational materials, but it has helped me understand the difficulties in doing it well, or doing it in this format. It has opened my eyes to a better and interesting way to approach chess books with the help of a modern chess engine.

At the end of the day, if you aren't going through the process that I did, I still can't recommend the book. It just has too much going against it, and it is just too hard to get to that level where you are learning, real, useful, information. Lack of harm is not a good reason to recommend it. Even though I am learning a lot.


likesforests said...

"I wonder how harmful such inaccuracies are to the patzer (e.g., me) reading the book to improve at chess." - BDK

I reckon they do very little harm, unless you're approaching the book as a series of tactical puzzles. I'm listing down what Euwe says separates us patzers from better players, and getting a better feel for how to handle the slightly bad moves my opponents commonly make.

likesforests said...

'And where it wasn't wrong, most of the games were of the "don't do anything terrible, followed by a giant blunder, and the Master wins" type of games.' -- I've only finished nine games, but all of them were more insightful than that. Heisman is a great teacher, but Euwe was a world champion. You can learn alot from both of them.