Thoughts of GM Greg Serper

This past week, I spent my time studying at Castle Chess Camp in Atlanta, GA, working with many different grandmasters (Akobian, Panchanathan, Fedorowicz, etc). Of all the grandmasters I had a chance to to work with, I spent the most time with columnist Greg Serper. If you’ve ever met him, you know he loves analogies to compare chess to real life. Here are a couple things he said this week:

“If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for life.”

In order to become a strong chess player, you have to learn how to study. Playing blitz all the time and memorizing theory will not improve your game.

“You snooze, you lose”

There are two types of advantages in chess: dynamic and material. Dynamic advantages, or initiative, is derived from finding forcing moves throughout the game. If you fail to find enough forcing moves, it is hard to expect to win.

“There are only two goals to become a master: Calculation and common sense.”

Chess is 99% tactics, so calculation is never-ending. While opening theory and endgame knowledge is ideal, common sense is encompassing, and is important for decision making.

“There are only 4 reasons to take a draw.”

Only take a draw if you are losing, not feeling well, in time trouble, or guarantees a prize.

“If it looks too good to be true, then it probably isn’t”

If you think you’re opponent missed something, don’t assume he blundered, you could be missing something too.

“Don’t invent the wheel”

Use thematic ideas with each opening you play. A way to test your knowledge on your openings is to do an evaluator test. An evaluator test works like this: Imagine that you are in an elevator with another person. You have 30 seconds before the elevator reaches the top floor, and the guy asks you “What is that opening?”. If you can not explain that opening in 30 seconds, you don’t have the right to play that opening.

“If you attack your opponent 10 times, he will make a mistake on move 11.”

This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you need proof, look at any game of Morphy.

While I learned a lot from GM Serper, one of my favorite teachers this week was LM Richard Francisco. His thoughts on chess were a little different than most players:

“You only learn from winning. People tell you learn from losing to make you feel better.”

Its kind of true. Studying is how you learn from losing, not losing itself. A lot of players make the mistake of only going over the game once or twice, and then never looking at the game again.

“There are 4 types of positions”

1. One side is a little better and has to convert.

2. Positional themes of board control are present. This is where doing your homework can come in.

3. Chaos. Double–edged, high stakes positions.

4. Taking the initiative. If you want to win, you have to win now.

Chess involves taking these 4 positions and constantly deciding which approach to take to the game.

LM Francisco recommends 3 books for everyone 1800+ from the Aargard series Grandmaster Preparation. There are three books: Positional Play, Calculation, and Strategic Play. These books will address your understandings of each of the four positions in chess.

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