Saturday, February 03, 2018

How to Read a Chess Book

I had gotten hold of Jeremy Silman's excellent How to Reassses Your Chess a while back, but couldn't make much progress, the main reason being that the reading/learning process was not very satisfactory: you need to read the book--holding a 658-page volume in one hand is no joke--while simultaneously playing the moves (and all their variations) either mentally, with a physical chessboard, or with a software program/app. While smartphone apps address the last bit (I use Analyze This for this), setting up the position for each diagram or situation in the book and making your way through the maze of variations (there is a fundamental representational impedance between a two-dimensional tree of variations and their linear representation on a page) is very off-putting.

Which led me to wonder how much simpler my life would be if I could point my phone's camera at a diagram in the book, click a picture, and end up with a ready-to-analyse FEN.

Enter Chessify. Exactly what the doctor ordered.

I have now managed to zip through more than a third of the book (while understanding and internalising its contents, of course). Here's my method (your mileage may vary, depending on your level and the type of book, so put away any litigious thoughts that may arise in your mind should things not work out the way you expected):
  1. Have a specific target number of pages to cover in a day. Don't try to overdo things by cramming in too many pages; my magic number is three pages, for example. Having said that, don't skip days, either; have the mental discipline to do three pages, no matter what. Here's where having a low target number helps.
  2. Avoid variations in the first read. While they are important, they can be skipped when you are trying to grasp the main objective of the material, especially when you are dealing with a book like How to Reassess Your Chess and not Fifteen Variations of the King's Indian Defence that No One Told You About (No. 13 will shock you!)
  3. If a section starts out with the initial moves of a game, lays out the position in a diagram, and then goes on to the analysis, skip the initial moves (your job is to get the crux of the section, i.e., the analysis, and not the opening). Scan the diagram using Chessify, and share the FEN to Analyze This. If there are no initial moves, but just a diagram, point your phone's camera right away.
  4. Complete the set up of the above position in Analyze This (which side to move, castling options, and so on), and then play out the moves (taking time to, uh, analyse things), while skipping the variations as mentioned above.
  5. Remember to send a share of your prize money when you win your first tournament after following this method. I am fine with anything above 10%.
On a related note, my game has already improved so much that I recorded my first victory over the computer (the Chess Free app, to be more precise) in Adept mode. More on this later.