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James Altucher


10 Things I Have to Get Better At this Weekend

Playing in another chess tournament this weekend. Sometimes I use an idea list to keep track of the things I need to specifically improve on. Based on studying my recent games and, in particular, losses, there are several things I have to watch out for.

I've been working on all of these items but writing it down like this will hopefully hold me a bit more accountable.

    1. Time Pressure

    You get 80 minutes for 40 moves (and 30 seconds added to clock after each move). And then once move 40 hits, you get 30 minutes sudden death.

    I tend to use too much time on moves that should just be intuitive. Sometimes if there are 2 or 3 alternatives that seem equally good I spend too much time thinking about what is best.

    But then i get into time pressure when I REALLY need the time. Like to calculate a specific forcing variation.

    2. Don't be afraid to "play"

    When I play casually, if something looks like a good aggressive move, even if it sacrifices material, I'll do it. My general rule is if i can confuse my opponent for four moves, then I'll make the move.

    But sometimes I get nervous in these "over the board" tournaments and I try to calculate out everything. Often it's just not possible. So I'll make a more conservative move than the aggressive move.

    There's a great quote by the former world champion Mikhail Tal (see image). Tal was NOTORIOUS for making moves that a computer now says are very bad but they were so mind boggingly confusing and aggressive he became world champion because of it.


    3. Colors

    This is a bit more complicated. But when i was younger I never really learned the concept of what "strong" or "weak" was on the two different colors on the chessboard.

    If an opponent trades their dark square bishop, for instance, with my knight, perhaps there will be an opportunity to "fight" for the dark squares in my opponents position. i.e. putting my pieces on dark squares, putting my pawns on white squares (so they control dark squares), etc. I'm steadily learning this and it is not as easy as I thought.

    4. Always fix your pieces

    Every move ask: what is my weakest piece and can I improve it? For instance, if my bishop has not developed yet and seems to be locked in or blocked by my own pieces, how can I develop it. Solve that problem.

    Second question: what is my opponent's weakest piece and how can I make sure it stays weak.

    5. Related to above: don't solve your opponent's problems for them.

    Sometimes I'll make a move and my chess coach will say, "Why did you just solve the problem of his knight? Now he's ecstatic!"

    I have to think more of what my opponent wants and how to block it.

    6. Some basic ideas to remember:

    - when his king is in the center and mine is castled, open up lines even at the cost of material (e.g. sacrifice a pawn).
    - when I have two bishops, open up lines. They attack better in open positions.

    7. space advantage

    If I have a space advantage, maintain it. And don' trade off bishops or knights but try to trade off a rook or queen.

    Conversely, if I am cramped: trade off bishops and knights and try to invade into his space with rooks or a queen.

    8. "Choose Yourself"

    This concept, which I wrote a book about, applies to chess also.

    Just because they start a forcing sequence doesn't mean I have to continue it. An example is in the attached image.

    He did Nxf7 and the natural followups are for me to do Rxf7 Bxf7, Kxf7 and then f4. Then I might have an advantage but I have to survive his attack (which I didn't - it's harder to defend than offend).

    After Nxf7 I have a comfortable edge with Be6 here. I solve the problem of my bishop, weaken the potential of his bishop, and his king is weaker than mine for an eventual attack. But I didnt' even consider it in the game. Even though the forcing continuation should be better for me, Be6 would've been even better.

    Sometimes an intermediate move like this is called a "zwischenzug". Never trust the opponent and always look for zwischenzugs.


    9. Sleep

    It's really key to sleep well. Concentration can be 50% when you don't sleep.

    10. Need to end my games more quickly.

    In my last tournament, 3 out of the 5 games went the full distance and almost nobody was left in the tournament hall by the time my game was over.

    I need to take a few more calculated risks (although not go crazy) so that I can pace myself a little better in these games. If two alternatives look good and one is more aggressive (so the game might end more quickly one way or the other) take the more aggressive one. Particularly since I don't do as well in an endgame anyway.

    11. FUN ONE: many people think it's important to see many moves ahead.

    Sometimes it's important. But sometimes it's difficult to see even ONE move ahead. In the attached position, it's white to move and CHECKMATE in one move. It has to be ONE MOVE. The very next move is checkmate. No other solution will suffice (as this is a puzzle and not a real game). See if you can do it. It's not easy.

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