11 July 2012

Becoming a Candidate Master

Alex Dunne's How to Become a Candidate Master, 2nd ed. (Davenport, IA: Thinker's Press, 1986) is dated and contains slight flaws. Both of these weaknesses are easy to overlook in this novel text that has the advantage of aiming precisely at players at my present skill (rating) level. The term Candidate Master has been used in different times and places with slightly different meanings. For Dunne, the term refers to US Chess Federation ratings 2000-2199.

Since the publication of this text nearly two decades age, the USCF has implemented a title system. They "award permanent titles based on sustained performances at particular rating levels" (USCF Ratings Committee, "The USCF Title System," October 2011). It is possible to become a Candidate Master in the sense Dunne used the term, but not achieve the USCF norm-based title. For instance, due to my infrequent events and relatively rapid rise through recent events, my rating is strong A Class, but my title is 2nd Category (B Class level). My aim is to achieve both Expert Class (Dunne's meaning) and the USCF Candidate Master title. Thus, even though an Expert rating is not out of reach this weekend, the title remains at least one year away. There is plenty of time for thorough study of Dunne's text.

In his brief Introduction, Dunne explains the concept of the book. It consists of fifty games, most of which are between Candidate Masters (2000-2199) and Category I players (1800-1999). A few pit the CM against weaker players, or against masters. The book is dated because it contains only "recent" games from tournament play. Recent, then, was 1982. These games are ancient now. Even so, the approach remains fresh. With today's databases, it is a simple matter to update the games using the same criteria.

While going through the first game in Dunne's text yesterday, I found another game with a similar opening. In this more recent game, the Category I player did not miss an opportunity that had been missed by the Category I player in Dunne's game 1 (see Black's moves 9-14 in the game score below). Even so, the CM prevailed. Looking through the game in ChessBase 11, I quickly identified the key tactical error, Black's 27th move.

Vesely,Libor (2084) - Tretina,Zdenek (1893) [B88]
Ostrava SME op Ostrava (2), 01.05.2005

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bc4 e6 7.Bb3 Qc7 8.0–0 Nc6 9.f4 Nxd4 10.Qxd4 d5 11.Kh1 Bc5 12.Qd3 dxe4 13.Nxe4 Nxe4 14.Qxe4 Bd7 15.f5 Bc6 16.Qg4 0–0–0 17.fxe6 fxe6 18.Bxe6+ Kb8 19.b4 Rd4 20.Qh3 Bxb4 21.Rb1 Bd6 22.Be3 Rb4 23.Rxb4 Bxb4 24.Qg4 Bc3 25.Qf5 Bb4 26.Qg4 Bc3 27.Qc4

Black to move


Swinging the undeveloped rook to a central file would have maintained equality. Black opted for a skewer. Did he miss the deflection, or did he reason that he could give up the queen for gain of rook and bishop?

28.Ba7+ Kxa7 29.Qxc7 Bxf1 30.Bd5 Rb8 31.Qxc3 Rd8 32.Qd4+ Ka8 33.c4 Kb8 34.Qc5 Rd7 35.Qf8+ Ka7 36.Qxf1 1–0

The text focuses upon how CMs beat A Class players. Through such study, the Class A player may identify and correct his or her own weaknesses, while honing the ability to exploit these weaknesses in others. The game above reinforces my recognition, revealed in post-game analysis with Tim Moroney  (who has the USCF CM title), that Experts analyze positions deeper than I have been doing.

Dunne asks the reader to begin thinking of him- or herself as a Candidate Master, and hence to examine the book's games from that side of the board. The most apparent flaw in the book's structure is the failure of each chapter to indicate at the outset which side that is. For that information, the reader must turn to the Table of Contents. It's a minor flaw that is easy to work around.

I am not yet in a position to comment on the quality of the analysis offered by Dunne in the text. First, I have fifty games to go through. I also must reach my goal. Then, and only then, will I be able to assess the usefulness of this book in helping me along that quest.


  1. Interesting read. You're almost there! Do you plan to play in more tournaments to finish out this year? It seems like you have a hot hand right now and I don't doubt you'd be able to meet the mark if you played in enough games.

    Kind of along similar lines is the book Chess Master vs. Chess Amateur by Euwe/Meiden but for much lower rated players like me. It's very rich in instruction on how to play with lower rated players who desperately try to cling onto every last pawn they won with a weakening pawn advance (such as in the Black side of a QGA). Anyway, one of my favorite books, wonder if you'd read it and if the evaluation is similar or more just lines?

    I'm just trying to get back to B Class at the moment, only 40 points away, hope to do it soon.

    1. Thanks Tim. I often play in the Eastern Washington Open, which is held the end of September or first weekend in October, and I do try to play in some multi-week Thursday night events at the Spokane Chess Club. I'm still waffling regarding a two-week game/45 that begins tonight. I dislike dual-rated events, and also need my sleep tonight. But, to do well in the event AND this weekend could be enough to put me over 2000.

      I've heard of that text, but have not examined it. I do have Jeremy Silman, The Amateur's Mind, which is based on training games between him and his pupils. How stronger players win against weaker does appear a theme that appears in several books.

  2. This is the only book I've seen where the errata (I hope you have it) was so extensive it got its own separate, slick booklet. Great idea and well marketed at the time, but otherwise the execution was not very good.

    I'm hoping the Euwe book comes out in a modern/re-issued edition.

    1. The "errata" booklet, according to the inside back cover of my copy contains answers to the questions posed in the text, as well as a list of corrections to typographical errors and diagrams.

      I'm not certain that I need this booklet to gain the most from Dunne's text.

      I have a few other books on my shelf fr which a listing of "typographical" errors (or improvements to incompetency in fundamental writing skills) could easily comprise a separate volume as large as the original. It's a rare publisher that bothers to put out such corrections.