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Cox's Chess Notebook


Journal Intro:

Well after a few years away from competitive chess (there is a non USCF affiliated coffee house club here in my hometown with several ex uscf members-though I dropped out of chess completely). I've decided to start playing again and really improve my game.

In my last official tournament I won a real nice game HERE but also lost one bad game were I made an unsound sacrifice which was easily refuted. I got involved in another game (an online game) for about 3 years and have since given that up and have been bitten by the chess bug again. I'm serious this time and really want to get better. The question is how?

I'm one of those adult players that loved to study openings. I studied tactics, some positonal manuals, and a few basic endgame books in the past but opening theory was always very fascinating to me. But guess what? One can study openings all day long for years and never improve ones chess. Sound familiar? My results have always been very inconsistent. I've always had a flair for the attack, and have won with some crushing attacks, but also lost some pretty awful games as well. I began to read up on different ideas on how to improve ones play.

Here are some links to some very good online articles about this perplexing dilemna: (note- you will need an adobe acrobat reader to view the first 3)

  • 400 Points in 400 Days Pt.1
  • 400 Points in 400 Days Pt.2
  • An Improvement Plan
  • AJ's Training Program

  • For my thoughts on this Click Here

    So just about everyone agrees a strong training program centered around Tactics training will give the most bang for the buck.


    Journal Part 2: My Plan for Improvement

    In Every phase I will continue studying tactics, at least 5 puzzles a day when not concentrating on tactics, e.g. when studying positional concepts, or endgames. In this way I retain a tactical base even when working on other phases of the game. My plan for improvement can be summed up thusly: "Tactics Centered Training."


  • Phase One: Tactics Test
  • Phase Two: Evaluating my Chess, Strengths and Weaknesses.
  • Phase Three: Tactics Training
  • Phase Four: Planning and Strategic Thinking
  • Phase Five: Tactics: Attacking the King
  • Phase Six: Understanding the Pieces
  • Phase Seven: Basic Endgames
  • Phase Eight: Advanced Tactics and Combinations
  • Phase Nine: Opening Tactics Training
  • Phase Ten: More Endgame Training
  • Phase Eleven: Tournament Training
  • Phase Twelve: Master Study (that is studying the games of one particular GM)
  • This is the plan I have laid out and will cover progress in each phase, what books I'm studying and related links and articles here in my notebook.


    Phase One: Tactics Test

    The point behind phase one is to see where I stand in my grasp of basic and advanced tactics and combination play.

    Before starting the first Phase of my plan I bought CM 9000 to help me annotate games tactically and to give me some different personalities to work with as training partners.

    I went through the all the basic beginners courses in the "Kids Area" and then did the Intermediate Tactics as preliminary work. I also played a number of games. This was done as a refresher course and got my mind clicking on chess again. This took several weeks.

    I chose the book. "Winning Chess Tactics" by GM Yasser Seirawan and IM Jeremy Silman for my initial testing for Phase One.

    The first part of the book covers all of the basic tactical themes; double attack, pins, forks, skewers, deflections, batteries, decoys, clearance sacrifices, x-rays and windmills. Each Tactic is explained with examples, and then you are given tests with "hints" at the end of each chapter to reinforce learning. These tests however DO NOT give you points, they merely are there to test your grasp of each tactical theme. I attempted every puzzle in the book and wrote down my answers and did not look up any answers until I completed the final test.

    The final part of the book, is a series of tests with no hints of any kind as to what tactic(s) may be present. This final test is graded and is divided into 3 sections: a) Basic Tactics b) Advanced Combinations c) Professional Combinations. Many of the solutions are quite difficult.

    Here is Yasser's Scoring Table:

    0-15 This is not good. Read the book again
    16-21 Solid. You have a grasp on basic tactics
    22-42You have mastered basic tactics
    43-60 You are a master tactician
    61-90 Impressive! The average master lives in awe of you
    91-100 You can tactically hold your own with some of the best players in the world.
    101 up Warn me if we play, I'll make a point of keeping the game simple and boring

    I scored a 56. Pretty good! Ha! I am a master tactician!! Maybe I should abandon my training program?? LOL! Seriously though I am reminded of what NM Dan Heisman said, "Just because you can solve a tactical problem does not necessarily mean that you will spot this tactic in a game."

    The next phase of my tactical study will involve recognizing and creating tactical opportunties. But first an overall evaluation of my game is needed.

    Phase Two: Evaluating my Game