Some of you may just have cause to thank me for what you are about to read.
it's some truly magical advice written by the first world correspondence champion and aclaimed chess teacher CJS Purdy. those of you familiar with the writing of Purdy may have read this before but i felt i just had to share the wisdom.
The advice is so simple and practical and to a certain extent helps to cut through all the hype we're subjected to by the modern day chess market.
This particualr excerpt reads like poetry and i have to confess to getting a shiver down my spine the first time i read it. i hope you find it useful.
How to improve
The one infallible way to improve is by practice, but I DON’T just mean playing chess. That is certainly helpful, providing you record your games and go through them afterwards trying to run your mistakes to earth- still more if, in addition, you have a coach to go through the games with you a third time.
If by any chance you can afford coaching, that is the most valuable kind;
Other kinds of coaching can be got from books- and far more cheaply.
But by practice I mean playing against champions- any master will gladly play you at any time of the day or night and, moreover, will gladly bring along two other masters to help you out. The visiting masters don’t ask for fees or even refreshment; as a matter of fact they may well be ghosts from the last century, but they will play none the worse for that.
The masters who are there to help you do not interfere much. They leave you to study the position for yourself. When you make your move, however, one of them says, to your great delight, “YES, JUST WHAT I’D HAVE DONE.” Or- more often than not, if you’re a beginner- he will say politely, “NO DOUBT AN EXCELLENT MOVE- I HAD IN MIND ROOK e2, BUT STILL…”
That is all this man will ever say, but you must immediately retract your own move and play his; these chaps are very touchy underneath their old world courtesy.
You are allowed to ask what is wrong with your own move, but you must ask the third man. Sometimes he will merely give an enigmatic smile and suggest that your evident skill is quite equal to working out the answer. At other time he will be much more helpful and give you quite a lecture on the position. Sometimes he will say in a whisper, so that his crony does not hear, “AS A MATTER OF FACT, OLD CHAP YOUR MOVE IS JUST AS GOOD”- or even, “WELL, TO BE QUITE CANDID, MY HIGHLY TALENTED FRIEND HAS MADE AN OVERSIGHT.”
And so the game proceeds. Your man will never lose the game for you, though he may be held to a draw. At the game’s conclusion your benefactors will vanish, but you can instantly summon three more by the simple process of turning a page.
I have simply described what happens when you play over a game between a couple of champions, covering the winner’s moves with a card until you have worked out what you would play at each point. You must NEVER look first. Your third visitor- the one who is alternatively garrulous and enigmatically silent- is, of course, the annotator.
What is the superiority of this form of practice over a regular game with Smith? Obviously this: that Smith and you have nobody to point out your mistakes. You and Smith will go on making the same sorts of mistakes year after year, whereas the student is continually raising himself to the level of his ghostly visitors. It is true that a beginner would get on still better if the annotator would turn on more garrulity and less silence. But space limitations prevent that. However, what does matter if some moves in a game completely baffle you? If you do understand many of the moves you have learned something; and gradually a smaller and smaller percentage will baffle you.
More about practice
I said previously that practice was all-important, but that I did not mean playing against actual opponents. What I meant was playing over the games of champions- and I explained the proper way to do it.
Play one side only- usually the winner’s side if the game is not a draw. Cover the moves with a card in which a niche is cut out of one corner. Think out each of your side’s moves before you look at the game move, taking as long as you would in a match game. Use a chess clock if you have one. Having thought of your move actually make it on the board. That is vital- otherwise you will constantly be tempted to cheat yourself. Then slide the card over till the game move is exposed by the niche. If you guessed differently try to find out if and why your move was bad. Never let your eye stray over an annotation beforehand.
Look at your opponent’s reply immediately. For one thing it may assist you in discovering some fault in the move you chose.
It is absolutely necessary to play over games if you want to become a stronger player. Talented players have become champions without swotting openings, without frequent practice against live opponents, without indulging in correspondence play, without reading many books- but no one has ever become a champion without playing over plenty of first class games.
Even Morphy had to learn that way. It is clear that in his youth he played over practically every game published in his day. It was said by Maurian, his friend that Morphy only played about 500 games against live opponents in his life. The true figure is certainly much greater, but it is probable that before he played in his first and only tournament- the inaugural American championship event that was the prelude to his veni, vedi vinci of Europe- he played fewer than 300 actual games, few enough to show how relatively unimportant they were in his development compared to his study of published games.
Combe, the obscure Scottish master, who won the British championship at his only attempt last year, did so after having no over-the-board practice for six years. But night after night he indulged in his favourite hobby of playing over master games.
Well there it is, some truly great advice from probably the best chess writer and teacher ever to have lived.