How to get the most out of your training CDs

1/13/2004 – How can you force your brain, that capricious mass of biological tissue, to accommodate the vast treasure of chess knowledge? Should you start with openings, the middlegame, tactics, strategy, endgame? The surprising advice of Aryan Argandewal: do everything at once! Storm it! Go through an entire ChessBase training CD in a single day.

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How to get the most out of your training CDs

By Aryan Argandewal

I have a friend in Oxford who is a very talented law student. He has a passion for ancient philosophy. Despite our differences on philosophical issues we share the same passion for the extreme. When I visited him back in October he was literally buried in books. I asked him how much did he spend on so many books and he replied: "What worries me more is whether I’ll ever have enough time to read all of them!"

A few days ago I found myself wondering about the same issue from a slightly different angle. I read only a book or two on philosophy when I get leisure time, but I am buried in my law text-books and – yep a few ChessBase training CDs. Will I ever have time to study all of these CDs?

I have a dozen and a half training CDs. I love every single one of them. How many of them I have actually managed to study? Only eight. As my Taekwondo mentor used to say: ‘you definitely have room for improvement’. How can I tackle the problem? As a half-decent chess player I sat down and made a plan. Here’s what I came up with.

First of all we have to agree that training CDs are great. They are the essential tools if you want to improve your game. How are you going to get the most out of them, however, is a different issue.

We are all different. Everybody has their own individual style in exploring new intellectual territories. Some of us are good at going from general to the detail, others however, prefer traveling from the detail to general.

Imagine two groups of people who are assigned with the task of learning how to build a house. The first are those who immediately dive into learning how to put bricks together, various tactics and schemes of laying down the foundation, erecting a wall etc. The second group consists of those who would sit back, take a deep breath and start off with the general principles of architecture. Once finished with the theory they proceed to the practical implementation of those ideas. In other words they view a subject as a complete body of ideas, which is then de-assembled, branch-by-branch, piece-by-piece, until they finally get to the smallest detail. I would subscribe to the latter method of learning.

But my goal was not elaborating on various methods of study but a rather practical one: how can I force my brain to accommodate an entire training CD in a single day! You see, human brain is a rather capricious princess: she demands a lot of convincing to allocate a gray cell on permanent basis to a new piece of information however charming! And if you try to push the circumstances, by over-learning, she’ll accept the new bits of information only for a brief period. And this is not what we want, is it? We want her to fall in love with those new pieces of theory once and for all! How can we achieve this?

When I started receiving ChessBase training CDs I was so excited I never thought of optimizing my method of learning. You see, an average player has so many holes in his game that everything needs improving: Opening Theory, Middle Game, Tactics, Strategy, End Game. Where do you start?

EVERYWHERE! AT ONCE!

Be a Napoleon don’t be afraid of the risks. Attack the enemy on both flanks! Penetrate the enemy camp from all sides!

It all sounds nice but looking at my own record I can see that it is easier said than done! It is one thing to learn the line in general and a completely different picture to become ‘an expert’ on a particular opening. Moreover, if your aim is to blitz-pass the huge pool of average-species you can’t afford to learn things in general, and by that I mean to learn the first few moves and leave the rest to tactics and good fortune. Every opening idea encounters multiple counter ideas and you have to be prepared for each of them.

It is Sunday 4.35 a.m.

Sunday morning.

I pick up several of my favorite CDs. Among them two volumes of Chess Strategy, Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual, and four CDs on my opening repertoire (I refuse to specify them in case my opponents reading this!)

I kick off with Chess Strategy Vol. 2:

There are 67 sections. Together they comprise 18 chapters. Each chapter is followed by three well-annotated games. I read carefully through chapters leaving the games aside for the time being. It takes about 78 minutes to finish with 18 chapters (they are rather compact it has to be said). Is that it? Are we finished with an overview of Vol. 2?

The answer, astonishingly, is yes!

Why did it take so little to complete the reading of an entire CD? I tried the ‘de-synthesis’ method of learning. I went from the whole to the detail. As a result my brain didn’t get tired with the overflow of new information.

Now all I need to do is to go back and read fast through the chapters but this time without skipping the very important part of CD, which is annotated games. It took me an additional hour to complete the entire CD including annotated games. What is left is the database A45 and Tests. In less than one hour I finished with the tests. Study session time in total? Three hours eighteen minutes! By comparison it took me three weeks to get to volume 3!

Notice any difference?

If you read through chapters and then continue with the games your brain would simply refuse to cooperate. The important thing is to force the main body of the theory into your gray-cell-garden and only then proceed to solidifying your shaky knowledge. This way your brain will cooperate to the full extent. Having completely finished the theory part you can then go to A45 for extra cell-storm.

Of course you can't go through the entire A45 database which usually consists of thousands of games. A45 is not there to be learned in its entirety, one by one. The purpose of A45 is to give you a huge 'library' of games so that you always have a reference point.

When I say the CD has been fully learned I don't want you to misinterpret this as if it is possible to work with a CD for a day and become an expert! You should (and must) return to it the very next day. By completing a CD I mean that it stops being a total stranger to your brain. Next time you insert the CD into your computer you only need to click on a topic and you know what to expect. Your third visit on another occasion will be even more 'comfortable'.

If you repeat this several times you'll notice that the 'idea' whether it is an opening or a topic on strategy or an end game formula will slowly build up inside you. You'lll notice that no longer you are wondering around the board in search of a 'good move'. You are now concentrating on how to recreate those training CD ideas against enemy forces on the board during a real game against a real opponent.

The benefit of having these solid ideas is that it boosts your confidence. A great Italian philosopher named Niccolo Machiavelli describes confidence as a direct result of long drilling and decipline. 'Drilling' here, of course, is working with chess theory and bombarding yourself with appropriate excercises. So that when you face a real 'war situation' it would seem as just another excercise.

So: the CD material should not be learned little by little, chapter today, chapter a week later. No! Storm it! Finish it in a single day. Then return to it the day after. With every new visit your brain will become more and more accustomed to the ideas. And here we have to mention the importance of A45 (every CD has its own database code). It is there to solidify your basic knowledge. And of course, it is impossible to go through five thousends games in a single day! It is there to help you cementing your accommodated theory. The purpose of this article is not to imply that it is somehow possible to grasp the entire material of a CD in a single day but to help you to speed up your learning.

Here, in summary, is what you do:

  • Stage one: Read through the chapters without wasting too much time on details. Familiarize yourself with the basics, with the general body of ideas. Enjoy reading. Imagine you are reading Jack London’s Odyssey! Skip the games.

  • Stage two: once finished with the reading through the entire body of the theory go back to chapter one and this time finish each chapter with annotated games and do the tests if there are any.

  • Stage three: go to A45 Database and enjoy viewing games played by GMs.

Did I achieve my goal of learning a whole CD in a single day? Let me know your thoughts.

About me:

Aryan Argandewal. I am of Afghan origin. About 200 years ago Afghanistan was called Aryana. This is where my name comes from (Aryan-a, man from Aryana) My family is based in North America and Australia. I study Law at university of Surrey, England. I fluently speak: English, Russian and Persian, am able to read and write Japanese, Arabic and Pashto. Member of Guildford Chess Club, Surrey, UK. I have black belt in Taekwondo; enjoy motor racing, swimming. I am a huge Formula1 fan and a dedicated fan of McLaren, favorite Driver J.P.Montoya.


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