Upcoming ChessLectures, plus a short rant on openings

by admin on November 9, 2007

As I mentioned in my last entry, I would like to get some synergy going between this blog and my ChessLectures. With that in mind, here are some of the topics I’m planning to lecture on in the future (starting with the definites, then the possibles):

  • Two Knights Defense, Part 3: A Recipe from my Secret Underground Laboratory
  • Two Knights Defense, Part 4: Sveshnikov Strikes Again
  • Strategic Decisions 104: Where Should I Put my Rooks?
  • Tactical Motifs 203: Passed Pawns in the Middlegame
  • Tactical Motifs 106: Pins (possible) (Maybe not necessary, because Jesse has done a couple of lectures on pins already.)
  • King’s Gambit, Part 3: Falkbeer Counter Gambit (possible)
  • possible series on one-pawn endgames (Jesse has already done a couple, but there are plenty more.)

Let me say a little bit about what I do and don’t like to lecture about. When I look at the Suggestion Box at ChessLecture, 90 percent of the requests I see are for particular opening variations. I skip by almost all of these, for several reasons. First, I only feel comfortable lecturing about openings that I actually play. But one of the quirks of my chess style is that I deliberately play non-fashionable openings. So the openings that people want to hear about — the latest wrinkle in the Slav Defense from the Topalov-Kramnik match, or whatever — are not the ones that I am best qualified to lecture on.

There’s a more fundamental issue here. I think that the vast majority of chess players obsess way, way too much about openings. Almost every opening is playable. (As far as I know, the only named opening that has ever been out-and-out refuted is Damiano’s Defense, 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 f6?, and there are some people who will dispute even that!) The important thing is to find openings that you like, figure out why they are playable, and develop your own repertoire instead of just parroting what the books and masters tell you.

In Howard Goldowsky’s book, Engaging Pieces, he profiles a guy named Michael de la Maza, who claims he can teach anyone to improve to expert level. His secret: Study tactics, nothing but tactics. I think that de la Maza has a point, although he takes it a little bit too far. The majority of amateur games are decided by tactical blunders, not by brilliancies, not by deeply planned strategies, and especially not by memorized opening variations. If you simply eliminate those blunders, de la Maza says, you can become an expert. So if you really want to improve your chess, just keep drilling those tactics. Teach yourself to look for tactics even in positions where you don’t think there are any. It’s what Laszlo Polgar taught his daughters, and look how successful they’ve become!

I would even elaborate on de la Maza’s theory. Eliminate gross blunders in your own play, and you will reach class A. Learn to capitalize on your opponent’s blunders, and you will become an expert. Then the real chess begins!

And that, unfortunately, is where de la Maza copped out. Instead of learning how to play real chess, he quit when he reached expert. He saw chess improvement merely as a technical puzzle, and once he got to the point where that approach didn’t work any more, he lost interest.

So while I agree with de la Maza to a considerable extent, I can’t recommend his approach completely. I think that most players do want to learn about the art and craft of chess, even if they are not yet master craftsmen. It gives us some glimmer of what we are working towards. And I think that is what I most want to explore in my ChessLectures. I am still trying to learn the craft myself, and I hope that by sharing my efforts to learn, I will help you, too.

So don’t ask me for a particular opening (unless it’s one that I play!). What do you want to know about the craft of chess? Is there some master game that you’ve played through but really didn’t understand what was going on? What is bugging you, confusing you, or keeping you from achieving your goals? Or vice versa, have you just learned something new that you want to share with the chess world?

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Carina J. November 12, 2007 at 8:00 am

In The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin, the author talks about 2 different approaches to the development of intelligence. There’s the “entity approach” and the “incremental approach”, and the first one assumes that all talent is born to people (not worked for), and that it’s a fixed thing, an entity that doesn’t change = hard work isn’t a serious factor and not worth bothering with, either because the talent will be able to accomplish his goals without having to work for it, or else because s/he believes it’s hopeless to start working, because it’ll never amount to anything.

I think this approach is really common in people with a bad attitude to chess, I know it’s been my own attitude up untill these past few months, and I know this is why my brother also quit when he reached expert, like de la Maza, although I bet he isn’t aware of the bad perspective on hard work he had/has (or maybe he is, but chooses not to work on it). Basically, his talent carried him to where he got, and my talent carried me to where I got (I didn’t get so far, though.. maybe if I had been a boy 😉 ), and I didn’t at all work for it outside tournament buildings. Well, atleast not willingly.. as in, I had to have a stupid teacher whip me into doing some stupid puzzles that were obviously too hard for me, a person who didn’t believe in the concept of hard work.

I get discouraged easily when I look at a puzzle and I can’t figure out the solution. I feel just as stupid as I did back then, and self-confidence is harmed as well, since you’re relying on fickle “talent” (and what the hell is that? well, today I’d say talent is the ability to love what you do, and keep doing it, but I hadn’t given it thought then, and talent was something magical, something innate, a blessing.. how stupid), and when you can’t solve a puzzle then you doubt yourself, thinking “oh, my talent must have left me and now I’m useless”. So that’s why I turned away from self-study, I think. I didn’t believe in it, and I think the entity approach to talent must be nihilistic at the core of it, and that that’s why so many players fall victim to it and quit their chess studies once “talent” doesn’t push them any further.

Anyways. Hanging pages of tactic puzzles in my kitchen was really a wonderful idea. Now I get stubborn about solving them, and I’m not so hard on myself if the solution eludes me, I’ll just look up the answer, no big deal! Skills are supposed to come by development and evolution of them, and that’s the idea of the incremental approach. I hope I’m spelling the word right. 😆 From what I understand, an increment means a part, and so an incremental approach means that you build talent from parts – part gift, part will, part HARD WORK. And it also means that even if you just solve one puzzle and fail at all the rest, you’ll get better for trying, because talent becomes defined by trying.

I think that’s the correct mindset to have, and also a quote by GM Kraai: “I urge you to do these problems. They’re like stereoids for the mind..” encourages me to keep trying, even if trying is all I do. I really don’t have to set so high standards for myself, not by force, like I did when I believed skills were 100 percent talent. It leads to mercilessly high expectations, I still feel a bit of frustration if the solution doesn’t jump at my face after 2 seconds of looking for a puzzle, for example. But instead of feeling stupid about it, I just try to smile and work through the variations as though it was a real tournament game, and actually enjoy the process of calculation for the exercize it is, instead of viewing it as unneccesary labour that’ll never get me anywhere, since my fixed talent either doesn’t need its help, or is too lowly to profit from it. 😆

And then comes the question of what kinds of stuff it is that should be worked on in chess. A problem about riding on your talent, is that you never give “the craft of chess” much thought because you’re used to doing things by following a single recipy that’s used and reused in every game, for example the calculation approach in my games. I guess I thought that aspect, thoroughness, was my talent, my safe zone, and by not leaving it, I’d, errr… never improve, most likely.

The funny thing is that I’m thinking I may be better suited for strategic play, because I tend to get really stressed out in sharp positions and while that’s fun sometimes, it shouldn’t always be happening! So actually, people who believe talent is a fixed thing may even be wrong about where their talent lies, and thus pursue a wrong direction throughout their whole carreer = never playing by their natural preferences, and it also ends up with a break from chess, atleast. Again because play becomes stressful.. I think one of the biggest indicators that I shouldnt play too wildly, is exactly that I get stressed out. That might be the minds way of telling me I’m more suited for positional play? And the thing is, I’m a total newbie in positional play. But I really do enjoy learning about it. I think I’m going to enjoy my future 1.d4 and semi-slav games.

And so I think that for me the craft of chess is the positional play, but it’s an individual thing, because for traditionally positional players they might have to work hard at sharp, aggressive play, and consider that the craft of chess for a while. I think that all aspects of the games makes it what it is, and that nothing can be left out to have a complete game. Well, I guess that’s rather obvious. 😀 But for some players, it isn’t. I think we tend to overfocus on the aspects we feel secure and at home in and ignore everything else. And while that’s a natural tendancy, it’s good to actively strive to seek out different inspiration and different ways of doing things (meaning, different ways of winning the game).

As for what I myself would love to learn about in future lectures, it’d be positional ideas and concepts and strategy, because that’s what I lack and have to work hard at to turn into my craft. 😀 But then again, it’s a subjective thing, some players will take skills in some aspects for granted, while others will have to struggle to understand these same concepts.

And btw, I’m looking forward to your King’s Gambit lecture, I’ve just ordered a book about it, should be funny to play when people try the From’s Gambit on me with my 1.f4.


admin November 12, 2007 at 10:14 am

Hi Carina — Lots of great points in your comment! I haven’t read Waitzkin’s book yet, but it sounds very interesting, especially coming from a person that many people would think of as a “prodigy.” it seems as if every player reaches a point where he/she can no longer ride on “talent,” and further progress has to come through hard work. It may be frustrating when one person hits that level at class B, another hits it at expert, and another player sails clear on through to International Master before hitting a wall. Nevertheless, the good news is that incremental progress is possible. And I think that successes you have earned by hard work will always be sweeter than those that you achieved by pure “talent.”

I think that for my next blog post I will do a short rant on puzzles, so I will leave that part of your comment for later response.

Which King’s Gambit book did you order? I’ve gotten both Johansson (The Fascinating King’s Gambit) and McDonald (The King’s Gambit) in the past twelve months. Johansson is a lot of fun to read. I haven’t really gotten into McDonald’s book yet. I expect to rely on both of them for the Falkbeer lecture. It won’t be a very original lecture, because this is one of those variations where you kind of need to know the theory.

If you’re going to play 1. f4, then I definitely think that the best way to handle 1. … e5 is to transpose into the King’s Gambit.


Matt Hayes November 12, 2007 at 11:32 am

I am looking forward to your upcoming lectures, Dana. I think you are the perfect example of a good chess teacher not necessarily being the one that is the highest rated. On chesslecture.com although you are the lowest rated instructor (though I wouldn’t mind having a 2100 rating! – still stuck in the 1900’s here), I think you are the best teacher because of the way you talk to your audience.

I have listened to most of the instructors and a few of the others are good too but a couple I found to be impossible to listen to. They are high rated players but aren’t really suited to teaching. Anyway, I always look forward to your lectures the most and I feel I actually learn more from them than I do from the IM/GM lectures (but Jesse Kraii is probably a close second to you!).

I agree that studying tactics is the way to go, at least up to a certain level (probably class A). If you have a good enough grasp of tactics, you should be able to get a decent game out of almost any opening, even if you haven’t studied the opening at all.

I think once you start heading into expert territory (say, high class A and above), then it does become more critical to study a few openings in depth simply because the calibre of opponent will be greater (and you can bet they are pretty well booked up).


Carina J. November 13, 2007 at 3:20 am

I’ve ordered Johansson’s Fascinating King’s Gambit. I figured that any book that got personal in the title already, would be a good book to learn it from. I’m glad to hear you think it’s fun, so I wasn’t entirely off in that judgement. 😀

And it’s true that the victories you’ve worked hard for, are the sweetest. I’ve never been especially proud of my accomplishments as a kid, I kept winning the Danish championship for girls year after year until I wouldn’t go anymore, because there was no pride in it, and I actually feared I’d lose one day, and be abandoned by all “my talent”.

I would actually like to play the From’s, too, but it seems to put the White position under pressure for 10 moves onwards, so in some games it’ll be a nice psychological twist, to spring the King’s Gambit on my opponent instead of him springing the From on me! According to the book I have on it (Timothy Tailor’s book on the bird), it shouldn’t be sound for black, though, with accurate play from White.

And Waitzkin’s book is really a worthwhile read, I bought it because I’d had it recommended by a teacher at school I respect, but I think he must have been talking about another book, something about the 7 keys of learning?? I haven’t asked him yet, but it was a huge surprice to me that the book was half full of chess, half full of tai chi. I’m actually considering taking up tai chi now, hehe.

Here’s an awesome article on the book:



Mark G November 13, 2007 at 5:00 am

I am writing to let you know that you are not writing to an empty room. I have enjoyed your blog immensely and hope that you will continue. The New York Times has a chess blog and most of the entries have zero or two comments, so don’t get discouraged.

I found “My Happy Place” to be an inspiring blog. Seeing my rating go up is wonderful but teaching children chess brings a different type of satisfaction. Your blog reminded me that the joy of chess is not only winning games but teaching others. My favorite children’s chess book is Bobby Fischer teaches chess. I like the format, a series of questions, no chess notation, price of the book and best all you write in the book. Dana teaches chess tactics would be a bestseller.

Rating is not necessarily the best way of finding an instructor. I am sure that with your current fame as a regular contributor to chesslecture.com that you would find many paying students on the ICC or other server, if you decide to teach chess to 1400 to 1900 rated player, which is most of us.

I agree with your rant in regards to openings. So here are some ideas and inspiration for future lectures or books:

1. Endgame Rules: See C.J. Purdy, “On the Endgame” or Mednis “Practical Rook/Bishop/Knight endings. I
particular like Purdy’s rule 1-6 for rook endings. Any of these rules would be a great lecture topic.
2. Pawn Structures: Pawn Breaks, tension, levers or an updated version of Kmoch Pawnpower
3. Mating the Castle King: An updated version of Attacking Chess with typical plans and strategy of mating the castle king.
4. Color Complex: I have heard the term light and dark square strategy many times on chess lecture. I am a Class “B”
player and I don’t understand the concept when and how to employ it. A series of lecture explaining color strategy in the opening and middle game would be profound.
5. One of my favorite books is Chess Master v. Amateur by Euwe. There are lots of lecture about the Masters. However, one of my
favorite lectures is Jesse’s Halloween Gambit Dance, a lecture about two chess students.. On Chesscafe, I like Nigel Davis “Take a Look” a review of Amateur games.
7. Chess Visualization and how do I improve my depth and speed of calculation

I look forward to your future lecture and books.


Patrick B. November 13, 2007 at 10:49 am

Dana, I agree with Matt that you are the best lecturer on Chesslecture.com. But the others are excellent too. For anyone that doesn’t subscribe you are missing some outstanding instruction.

The one complaint I do have is that there are too many lectures about the openings (fortunately there are several hundred lectures to choose from). When I review my games my opponent usually leaves book about move 7-10, and then I’m on my own. To me studying the latest variation is a waste of time but of course it is important to know the strategy of the opening. So I can’t see the point of all the emphasis on openings. On the other hand tactics are without a doubt the most important part of the game for me. I never have a game where I have taken advantage of all the tactical opportunities. Usually I’ll miss a couple of glaring tactics that could have quickly won the game.

Yet even though tactics is so important the game would be tremendously boring if that was all there was to study. I also like to study the strategy of the game and especially enjoyed your lecture on eight dimensional chess. So since you asked, I would like to see more lectures on evaluating positions and creating plans to take advantage of them.


Dribbling November 13, 2007 at 10:41 pm

I’m for a lecture on the Falkbeer countergambit. You’ve convinced me that in the King’s gambit it is essential for black to get d5 in so let’s get d5 over with, the sooner the better.

A word on the bloggers’ excellent comments. Hard work is fine, I have nothing against hard work (particularly when somebody else does it) but one has to be on one’s guard against exaggerating its importance.
– Hey fella, where you going this fine Saturday morning?
– I’m off to work at an open chess tournament.
– Suit yourself.


Carina J. November 14, 2007 at 6:10 am

“Yet even though tactics is so important the game would be tremendously boring if that was all there was to study. I also like to study the strategy of the game and especially enjoyed your lecture on eight dimensional chess. So since you asked, I would like to see more lectures on evaluating positions and creating plans to take advantage of them.”

Yea, another IMPLODeS + K lecture! 😆 I’ve actually memorized that formula, although I kept having trouble with what “e” stood for untill I rewatched the lecture.


Andy Hortillosa November 15, 2007 at 7:43 pm

I enjoy your lectures. Now I understand why your lectures are good. Anyway, I will turn 46 end of this month and have set a goal for myself to reach 2200 in three years. With effortful study, I know this goal is attainable. The realization of this lifelong dream will prove that one can advance in chess (as indicated by the rise in rating) at any age. Can you write something about it? Is this a realistic goal?


admin November 16, 2007 at 10:38 am


I have an upcoming blog post that I hope will at least tangentially address that issue. It’s about an IM who is around 50, and still is hoping to get his GM title.

It’s a little bit ironic for me to answer your post, because as you may know, I am now rated below 2200 myself. (My all-time peak was 2257 USCF, 2200 FIDE.) So I would love to bottle whatever potion it would take to get back over 2200! In my case I think it’s fairly simple — I need to play with more confidence, avoid overthinking, and avoid getting into time trouble. Easier said than done!

To realistically assess your chances I would need to know what level you are at now, and maybe look at your games. Even then I don’t know if I could do it, because it depends on psychological factors, and on your current life situation. (How much time can you spend studying and playing? Do you have family or work commitments that take precedence?)

What I can say is that ratings frustratingly do not seem to obey any timetable. You can quietly improve your play for months or years without having it show up obviously in your rating, and then suddenly you’ll have a breakthrough tournament and your rating will go up. More and more I’m thinking that the goal should be to try to achieve a master’s level of understanding, and just let the rating catch up whenever and wherever it decides to.


Matt Hayes November 16, 2007 at 10:55 am

I have heard it said that almost anyone can reach Master level with enough study, even if they don’t have much “talent” (a rather subjective term) for the game. Botvinnik learned chess very late in life (he was in his late teens and, for a Grandmaster, that is almost unheard of) and managed to go from beginner to Master in about 3 years. I am only 28 myself but I am realistic enough to know that the odds of me ever reaching IM, let alone GM, are virtually zero. But I do think I could reach Master level some day… I just need to put in more study time!


Andy Hortillosa November 16, 2007 at 9:03 pm


Thank you for posting a response to my comment. My highest rating was 2101. I am now at my floor of 1900. I am slowly returning to tournament play. You can check some of my games in ChessBase or NicBase. I have about 17 games in either database.

I also posted some games at this website: http://usmilitarychess.org/GameSelections/selectedgames_hortillosa.htm.

We actually have a similar style. But there is a big difference. You seem to possess a lot of theoritical knowledge. I am just now beginning to appreciate the import of theory. I feel my chess knowledge is increasing as a result of this disciplined approach to study.

I just retired from the military last June and I now have the time and resources to play more chess. My current work allows me the luxury to play in more tournaments without worrry to my financial situation.

In fact, I am seriously thinking of playing in the First Saturday tournament in December 2008. So I have begun the process of firming up my theoritical knowledge.

C.S. Purdy had mentioned in one of his books folks who started in chess as adults and still managed to attain some notable mastery.

I will keep you posted with my progress.



admin November 17, 2007 at 9:43 am


In your situation I think that getting to 2200 should be a realistic goal. I guess that the one piece of advice I would reiterate is to focus a little more on process and a little less on results. “Zen in the Art of Archery” by Eugen Herrigel talks all about this.

I checked out your website and played over two or three of your games. I liked the game against Pinto! What a demolition!

Your comments on Jacobs-Larkins were interesting, and I look forward to reading about your system for preventing oversights. I could use a good refresher on that, because I had a couple tournaments this fall where I was making tactical oversights right and left, just like a C player.

Off-topic question: How did you insert the interactive game playing diagram into your website? Every decent chess website seems to have those these days, and I’d like to know the best way to do it. Thanks!



Andy Hortillosa November 18, 2007 at 6:39 pm

I have not seen the Eight-Dimensional Chess lecture yet. GM Jesse Kraai is my other favorite. I also like John Watson and IM Diesen. But both have not posted new materials on the site for about a year now. My interest on the above lecture is now heightened by your posting. I will check it out tonight.

My ideas on chess oversight prevention are based mostly on CS Purdy’s book. Therefore, they are not original except the packaging (from my level of expertise) and language. I may elaborate more on some areas.

Beign a six-sigma guy and a believer of Cleanroom Engineering (Software), I appreciate the benefits of preventing the introduction of errors even in the area of chess. So I am attempting to aplly the the same rigor and discipline in chess.

My next big tournament is the North American Open. I am debating playing in the U2100 or the Open. Any suggestions? The last time I played with the big boys was in the National Open where I played Pinto. My performance rating reached over 2400. And I missed a one-mover win against Dennis Strenzwilk in the same tournament.

By the way, thank you for the advice and I will take it to heart.



Andy Hortillosa November 18, 2007 at 6:46 pm

I used Chessbase to create the javascript and html. Pretty easy. Just select the game or games and create an html output. You just have to know a little html to edit and place the html codes within your default page. Otherwise, it would look like the game selections. In the Game of the Week section, I have to place the codes within my default page.

To get a small image of the board like the graphic for the Jabocs-Larkins game , you have to resize the board either in Chessbase or Fritz before saving an image.

Hope this helps.



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