Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Perils of Chess ADD



I need to focus. The way I study chess just seems to be all over the place. I jump from one thing to the next, often not giving 100% effort to the particular task at hand. I start reading one chess book, then get distracted by another one. I start looking at a certain set of endgame problems, but don’t take the time to really master them because the next day I’m on to something different. I start looking at GM games in a particular opening to internalize plans and patterns, but then I stop after just a few games, moving on to something different. And so forth…

My efforts just feel too fragmented, too unsystematic. Pareto’s principle comes to mind (more commonly known as the 80-20 Rule): 80% of your effort will only produce 20% of your benefit. I need to focus on the 20% of my effort that will yield a higher return on my study time and produce the highest benefit. I need to make sure those 20% of my effort are structured right. There needs to be a discipline in my studies that is lacking right now.

I think I am not alone; this seems to be something affecting many improving players. A big challenge for many seems to be how to study. How do you structure your (often limited) chess study time? How do you focus your efforts in an ideal way, how can you leverage those 20% of your most productive efforts?

I think the ideal solution to this is working with a strong chess coach who can help you identify your biggest weaknesses. This might be the core problem: many improving chess players probably don’t know what their biggest weaknesses are (I include myself in that category). It seems logical that you will reap the biggest benefits from your limited study time if you focus your efforts on those weaknesses. But what to do if you don’t have the time, money, or inclination to work with a coach? I think the next best approach might just be going over all your long games (not blitz games) and try to analyze them as deeply as you can. Try to get to the “truth” of the game, spend hours, even days on a single game. Figure our what the critical points are, and where/why you went wrong. If you do this long enough and with sufficient depth, and for multiple games, you might just see a pattern in the kinds of mistakes you make. Those patterns should then be your guide when you budget your study time.

Now I need to take my own advice and actually do this. I need to figure out my biggest weaknesses (aside from the obvious tactical weaknesses that we probably all need to be working on constantly).

Any thoughts?

11 comments:

Wahrheit said...

This is a great suggestion, in the absence of a coach. For myself, I've gotten better at using the 80-20 principle (I even blogged on it) but still, I sometimes play blitz, which is the worst alternative...still we're not machines! I believe that if you just do tactical practice and nothing else until you reach 2000 or so, you're being most "efficient" but we also do chess for enjoyment and fun, right? And a mix of other things is more enjoyable than absolutely nothing but tactics.

Sir Augusto said...

Nice advice! I'm having these kind of problems too, now I have a direction to follow, thanks! =]

Good luck on focusing! It's hard!

Edwin said...

sounds good enough to me to analyze the hell out of your games. I would definitely give it a try if i were you.

Chessaholic said...

wahrheit: yeah, blitz really is the worst alternative... I don't consider blitz part of my study time, it's just a way for me to unwind. As far as tactics: while it's a very important part of improvement, I don't fully buy the "chess is 99% tactics" credo. There are other weaknesses in my game, and I want to be sure to address those in my studies.

sir augusto: like I said in my post - I think I'm not alone :)

edwin: it's easy to feel satisfied with a certain level of analysis of your own games (right now, I might put in 2-3 hours per game). But I want to go beyond that - go really, really deep. The goal, like I said in my post, is to do this with enough games to find patterns in the types of mistakes I make, and to use that information to guide my study time allocation. Maybe one day I'll just hire a coach instead though :)

wang said...

Absoluetely correct! However to Robert's point we do chess because it's fun, or at least should be. I don't work through more than 2 books at a time, seeing as one of these is always a tactical puzzle book the other changes from endgame to opening to strategy, etc...

ChargingKing said...

chessaholic you had asked a while back if I was going to publish a game in the Sicilian with a thematic Nd5 it is finally up if you want to check it out.

http://kingsquest1981.blogspot.com/

Chessaholic said...

wang - I wish I could stick with 2 books at a time like you, but that damn chess book ADD makes me want to look at a different book every day :)

chargingking - cool, I'll go check it out.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Damn, I could never do more than one book or software bit at a time. (Well, not counting openings, which I have cut out of my life for now).

I think most of the people who finish the Circles end up kind of burnt out, so while it is probably important to spend a ton of time on tactics, more balance is important (and choosing a type of Circles program that won't kill you, as MDLMs killed him).

Chessaholic said...

BDK: I still think constant tactics training is crucial, but I have adjusted to a healthier tactics diet (mostly PCT and a few tactics books) that I hope won't leave me burnt out. After all, as has been said many times - the most important thing for most of us patzers is to have fun. I have a hell of a lot of respect for all those that finished all MDML circles...

likesforests said...

"The way I study chess just seems to be all over the place. I jump from one thing to the next, often not giving 100% effort to the particular task at hand."

Stimulus Control: put away all your books except the 2-3 you're supposed to be reading right now. ;)

Chessaholic said...

likesforests: lol... easier said than done! I do put all those books away, but probably not "away enough" - they stare at me from the shelf saying, pick me pick me pick me!! :)