Robert Ris: Calculation Training - A review

by ChessBase
3/25/2024 – Dutch IM Robert Ris is a much sought-after coach in his home country and is also a very prolific author. Mario Ziegler took a look at his latest FritzTrainer — one focused on tactics — for Glarean Magazine. “Calculation Training - Sharpen your Game” is a nice collection of new tactics exercises. The reviewer concluded: “Robert Ris has a pleasant style of presentation and responds to the reader’s probable solution suggestions”.

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Calculation Training – Sharpen your Game

The following review by Mario Ziegler first appeared in Glarean Magazine. Reprinted with kind permission.

Dutch IM Robert Ris (born 1988) is one of the most prolific chess authors of recent years. He has published three books (Crucial Chess Skills for the Club Player, Volumes 1 and 2, and The Modernised Sveshnikov) and online chess courses for Chessable and GingerGM. Above all, however, he works for ChessBase, where he is not only responsible for the long-running Fast & Furious series in the ChessBase media library, but has also published countless DVDs. One of his main areas of specialisation is tactics and calculation, and his latest work, the Fritztrainer Calculation Training - Sharpen your Game!, also belongs to this subject area.

Ris has selected 73 exercises for his DVD, many of which come from his work with students. Therefore — and since they are all recent examples (with one exception, none are older than autumn 2021) — there is a good chance that the solver is not yet familiar with them.
The exercises are divided into four blocks of increasing difficulty (in the database, which contains all examples with analyses for replay, the examples are arranged under the seven main topics “Simple Tactics”, “Trapped Pieces”, “Don’t Believe Your Opponent”, “Calculating Short Lines”, “Spot the Weakness”, “Defend” and “Brain Teasers”).

Quick tactics

The first block contains short-move (often single-move) tactics based on intermediate moves, overloads and similar motifs. In these fairly simple examples, the trick is often to resist the temptation of plausible-looking variations that fail because of a detail in the position. Here is an example:

Gukesh (2637) – Praggnanandhaa (2624), Reykjavík 2022

Black moves and wins

The winning move is 37...Nd1! which prepares an unstoppable mate (38.h3 Nxf2+ 39.Kh2 Qg3#). On the other hand, the equally strong-looking 37...Ne2? fails after 38.h3! Qh4 39.Tf1 with a winning position for White.

Incorrect combinations

The second block involves calculating short variations. The solver is also faced with the challenge of scrutinising the opponent’s combinations and refuting them if possible. One such incorrect combination appeared on the board in the following grandmaster game:

Van Foreest (2715) – Shirov (2695), Maastricht 2022

White to move

After 23.Nxb5 Qxb5 24.Qe5 Black is faced with a difficult decision. The rook is hanging and mates are threatening everywhere (24...Ke7?? 25.Qd6+ Ke8 26.Qd8#; 24...Th6?? 25.Qg5 Qxb2+ 26.Rd2+-). Shirov found the weak point of his opponent's idea:

24...c3! 25.bxc3
25.Qxf6 Qe2+ 26.Kh3 Qxd1
25...Qb2+ 26.Kg1 (diagram on the right):

The only move. On the other hand, 26...Nd3? 27.Qxf6 Qf2+ 28.Kh1 Qe2 29.Rb1 Nf2+ 30.Kg1 (30.Kg2? Ng4+ -+) 30...Nh3+ 31.Kh1 Nf2+= would have given away the win and 26...Nd7?? 27.Rxd7 Kxd7 28.Qxf6 even would have ended the game at once.
27.h4 27.Qxc5 Qxh2+ 28.Kf1 Qh1+ 29.Ke2 Rh2+ 30.Ke3 Qxd1 with an extra rook.

Feedback from the trainer

Of course, neither the concept of the DVD (a collection of combinations to solve yourself) nor the recommended way of thinking (identifying the opponent’s threats, finding the candidate moves, prioritising the forcing moves) is innovative. Nevertheless, the compilation of current examples is appealing, and the interactive video format adds significant value. Ris not only deals with the correct solution, but also with plausible incorrect answers. In addition, he often asks further questions that make the position even easier to understand. Thus, working with the DVD is similar to real training, where the trainer gives feedback and follows up with more in-depth questions.

Targeting a wide range of players

Left: Prolific chess author Robert Ris (born 1988)

Ris himself answers the question of whom the DVD is suitable for in the introduction when he talks about players around 1400 Elo up to titleholders. Here I see a conceptual problem with the DVD: in many training books and DVDs, the authors try to cater for as large a target group as possible. You can try to do this with a large number of exercises at different levels, but with only 73 exercises, it is hardly possible in my view to adequately recognise both ends of the scale — 1400 and well over 2000 Elo. The 20 tasks in the first block are certainly appropriate for a level of 1400 Elo, but what should a stronger player do with them? Ris describes them as a “warm up” and believes that stronger players should also solve these simple examples: “I think it’s always important to be sharp and force yourself to train”. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this in principle, but it is at least difficult to explain to a stronger player why more than a quarter of the exercises in a DVD costing €34.90 are so easy that they can solve them in just a few seconds.

Frustration for weaker players

The level rises noticeably with the second block — now the stronger players are in their element, while players with an ELO of 1400 could quickly reach their limits. Ris sees an opportunity for differentiation in the way the game is worked through: if a weaker player first approaches the solution move by move and is guided by the author’s questions, a stronger player can try to completely understand the task from the starting position “in one go”.
But wouldn’t it have been more coherent to only consider a higher playing strength from the outset and keep the simple tasks of the first block shorter or leave them out completely? In the present form, players below 1400 Elo could become frustrated when they have to deal with a task like the following:

Shevchenko (2654) – Mekhitarian (2542), Chennai Olympiad 2022

Black moves and wins

In the game Black missed the win with 44...Rg3+?
It’s easy to see that other moves lose immediately: 45.Kh1? Qe1+; 45.Kh2?? Rh3+.
45...Qd3+ 46.Rce2!
There is no alternative here either: 46.Ke1?? Rg1+ 47.Rf1 Rxf1#; 46.Rfe2?? Qf3+ 47.Rf2 Qd1#.
46...Qd1+ 47.Re1 Qd3+ 48.Ree2 Qb1+ 49.Re1 Qd3+

The best continuation in the diagrammed position was 44...Nh3+!. Now 45.Kg2? obviously fails to 45...Rxf2+ 46.Rxf2 Qxf2+ 47.Qxf2 Qxf2 with a winning pawn ending for Black. But White has the poisonous resource 45.Qxh3!. The queen is lost because of 45...Rxh3? 46.Rc8+ Ke7 47.f8Q+ and mate; 45...Rg3+? 46.Qxg3 Qxg3+ 47.Kf1 Qd3+= only leads to perpetual check. To win, Black must keep a cool head and find the continuation 45...Qxf2+! 46.Rxf2 Rxh3 -+.

Pleasant presentation

Calculation Training - Sharpen your Game is a nice collection of new tactics exercises. Robert Ris has a pleasant style of presentation and responds to the reader’s probable solution suggestions. It goes without saying that you can’t reinvent the wheel with such a format, and in my opinion, the design of the task level could have been more consistently orientated towards advanced players. But this is only a minor drawback in a highly recommended training DVD.

Calculation Training - Sharpen Your Game!

In Calculation Training – Sharpen Your Game! a total of 73 examples have been selected, the vast majority containing multiple questions, and more than 160 questions of varying difficulty.

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