Minimize your errors

8/31/2009 – Sometimes it is soothing to see even top players err in calculation. But that is cold comfort when you are faced with your own failures over the board. We mortals can only try to minimize them. Steve Goldberg from chesscafe.com has reviewed Danny King's new DVD "Calculation" and found it a very well suited tool for this purpose. Buy Powerplay 10 now or read more.

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Process of Elimination

Steve Goldberg reviews "Power Play 10: Calculation" by GM Daniel King

This DVD is the tenth volume in the excellent Power Play series by GM Daniel King. "Power Play 10: Calculation" differs from earlier offerings in that there are forty-nine short video clips, rather than fewer, longer segments.

Three major portions comprise the bulk of this DVD:

  1. King presents five problems posed in a German chess magazine. For each problem, a position is presented, and several alternative moves are offered, one of which must be selected as the proper choice. King states that he has not worked out the solutions beforehand, and proceeds to analyze each problem in order, sharing his thought process with the viewer. It’s quite an instructive technique.
  2. King meticulously works through six game segments (some from actual games, some from studies), in each case beginning at a critical point in which several reasonable alternative variations are possible. He steps through, one move at a time, providing insightful advice to the viewer regarding how to make the task of calculating less daunting and more successful.
  3. The final portion consists of seventeen test positions, most of which might be described as late middlegame and early endgame positions. All have just enough action going on to require careful analysis. After presenting all of the test problems, King proceeds to analyze the solutions of each one.

King has a pleasant demeanor and a soothing British accent, but most importantly, he is a talented player and instructor. To demonstrate that even the top players aren’t immune to calculation errors, at the beginning of the DVD King presents a position from Game Five of the 2008 World Championship match between Vladimir Kramnik and Vishy Anand.

Kramnik-Anand, after 28…Rc3

In this position, Kramnik quickly played 29.Nxd4 and play continued 29…Qxd4 30.Rd1 Nf6 31.Rxd4 Nxg4 32.Rd7+

From here, the play went  32...Kf6 33.Rxb7 Rc1+ 34.Bf1

King states, “Kramnik had seen this far and assumed that after the check, the bishop comes back [to f1] and everything is fine. He’d obviously finished his calculations here.” But Kramnik was shocked to see Anand’s next move: 34…Ne3. After 35.fxe3, Anand responded with 35…fxe3, to which there is no defense to the threat of 36…e2, and Kramnik resigned.

Click here for replay the start of the intro with Kramnik-Anand.

Perhaps King starts with this Kramnik miscalculation to provide a little cushion to the self-esteem of viewers who may have little confidence in their own calculating abilities. But King breaks down the sometimes vast tree of variations into individual branches, exploring just a little bit at a time.

He doesn’t expect the viewer to get from the starting point of a position to the endpoint several moves later, all at one time. He repeatedly stresses looking at short variations, and quotes Artur Yusupov, from his book Build Up Your Chess: Beyond the Basics, “The precise short calculation of the initial moves in a position is more important than the ability to calculate long lines.”

A similar thought is expressed by Charles Hertan in Forcing Chess Moves. He stresses the importance of simply being able to calculate two moves ahead, but with absolute precision. Hertan claims that a player who can do this can perform at about the candidate master level tactically. In this DVD, King even quotes the great Bent Larsen as saying, “Long variation, wrong variation!”

Instead, King utilizes a practical and easy-to-understand process of elimination in determining which variation(s) to explore further. For example, here is one of the seventeen test positions King offers at the end of the DVD: Black to move

Here Black clearly needs to protect his pawn, and there are three options: 1…Kf4, 1…Kf5, or 1…Kf6. King doesn’t attempt any deep assessment of the position, rather he simply looks at what works and what doesn’t.

First he looks at 1…Kf6; this loses, however, to 2.h3 Kf5 (forced) 3.Kg7 Kf4 4.Kg6 Kxf3 5.Kxg5 and White wins. King notes that there are a couple of other possibilities within this variation, but they all lead to this result.

Next, King looks at 1…Kf4, but finds that this also loses to 2.h3 in the same manner: 2…Kf5 3.Kg7, with the rest as above.

That leaves only 1…Kf5. This time, if White tries 2.h3, Black now has 2…Kf6, and White makes no progress; for example, 3.Kh7 Kf7 4.Kh8 Kf8. Or, if instead, White moves 2.Kg7, Black follows with 2…g4 3.fxg4+ Kxg4, which also draws.

So 1…Kf5 is the correct move from the starting position, and it was reached with the simple process of elimination as outlined here. While this position is relatively simple (and simpler than all of the other test positions King discusses), nevertheless the same process is followed in each example. King says to eliminate what doesn’t work and what remains is the answer (of course, this assumes that there is indeed a workable move, which in our own games may not always be the case).

Not all positions require intense calculation. Sometimes it’s just a matter of chess judgment. King identifies four cases in which the player should take the time to calculate carefully:

  • when there is plenty of piece interaction.
  • when a king is under attack (you are attacking or defending).
  • when you’re simplifying into an ending.
  • when you’re finishing off an endgame.

But again, King stresses the importance of accurate, short calculations. He also advises viewers to practice by working on study positions, which typically “give tactics in a very pure form.” He also suggests blindfold chess to improve one’s visualization abilities.

An interesting moment occurs in the penultimate video segment, titled “Postscript.” King had recorded a number of the earlier segments the previous day, but one position was gnawing at him – one that King felt he failed to analyze properly. Instead of re-recording that segment, he left it as is and gives the corrected analysis in this postscript.

So, if former world champion Vladimir Kramnik can miscalculate and grandmaster Daniel King can err, we shouldn’t feel too ill at ease if we do likewise. But here in Power Play 10: Calculation, King gives us the tools to minimize those occasions.

Click here for the original review by Steve Goldberg.

Other titles in the Power Play series:

Powerplay 1 - Mating Patterns
Powerplay 2 - Attacking the King
Powerplay 3 - Pawn Storm
Powerplay 4 - Start Right
Powerplay 5 - Pawns
Powerplay 6 - Pawns, Pieces & Plans
Powerplay 7 - Improve your Pieces
Powerplay 8 - Knights and Bishops
Powerplay 9 - Major Pieces vs. Minor Pieces



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