20 March 2013

Principles of Chess Training

According to Wilhelm Steinitz

In The Modern Chess Instructor (1889), Wilhelm Steinitz* explains some principles for proper training to develop chess strength.

1. The learner should eschew playing at odds, but "should seek as much as possible to play on even terms with superior players" (xxix). Playing at odds develops habits that are counter-productive. The weaker player learns to simply exchange pieces, and misses the opportunity to observe "the finer points of play of his adversary" because of the sort of strategy that must be adopted by the player with inferior forces. Even the openings adopted in odds games differ from those in even games. The learner receiving odds misses the opportunity to advance in opening knowledge.

2. Practice should be regular. One hour per day for six days is better than six hours in one day. Steinitz recommends strengthening memory and chess perception by memorizing games. He advocates playing through one's own games from memory, but suggests that it would be even better to memorize well-annotated games from master play.

3. Play should be strictly in accordance with the rules. Steinitz advocates the touch-move rule for beginners must guard against the temptation to take back moves. He suggests that playing for a small stake encourages "greater care in play" and discouraging interference from spectators (xxx).
The game of Chess is so utterly unsuited for gambling that no danger is incurred by the practice, and the players usually know each other's strength, and either the score is about even or the weaker player fully expects to lose, but is willing to pay as a fee for the amusement and instruction which he receives from his adversary. (xxx)
4. Study problems. While there may be several ways to win in play, composed problems require "exactitude of calculation" (xxx). He advocates playing through the solution and all variations over the board. Through extensive practice ("three or four problems per day"), "the student will soon become familiar with many leading ideas in very difficult problems, and after sometime he will be able to solve them almost at a glance from the diagram" (xxxi).

*Wilhelm Steinitz became William Steinitz when he became a naturalized United States citizen in 1888, the year prior to publication of this book. The title page and copyright of The Modern Chess Instructor lists only W. Steinitz.

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