Q&A with Coach Heisman June 21, 2013

  • NM danheisman
  • | Jun 21, 2013

Which modern super-GM would have the most interesting match vs Paul Morphy in his prime? Probably won't happen but, if it did, someone who would try to fight with the Morph. Kramnik, with his positional style and transpositonal modern openings, would likely not be the top choice. Moro or Naka come to mind - 10 years ago Shirov, no doubt. Strangely, even #1 Magnus Carlsen makes a good choice due to his amorphous style - he would probably duke it out with Morphy (who played Duke of Brunswick, but that's another story...). As an American, it seems attractive to stick with Naka, so let's go with Nakamura-Morphy for the American title Smile. Seems ironic that I was just watching the movie Dark Shadows, about another American resurrection, Barnabus Collins...

Two similar but very different questions:

1) I'm preparing for my first OTB tournament, what should I know?, and

2) I'm preparing for an OTB tournament, how should I do it?

The former is the more important question, since you can't cram for an event but you can be prepared for a new activity. The first thing you need to know about OTB events is that they are not elimination like Wimbledon or the NBA playoffs. They run by "Swiss System", which means that you play someone who is doing as well as you are: if you lose the first round, you likely play someone who also lost the first round. This may sound rather pedantic, but if you've never played in an OTB event you may likely think it is elimination and go home if you lose - some do. The next thing you need to know is that you should stop the clock get the tournament director (TD) if anything at all unusual happens in your game. Most players don't, with unpredictable or often disastrous results. When you do get the TD, please make it clear if you are asking a question or making a claim. But don't, under any circumstances, believe in your opponent's knowledge of the rules (often worse than nonexistent), nor get into an argument with an opponent; just get the TD. Another important item is that most tournaments supply scoresheets but little else. So it doesn't hurt to bring a tournament (usually plastic) set with king size in the 3.25-4.25" range, a board, a clock (if you have one), and lots of pencils in case your first one breaks. Recording your game until either side has five minutes or less on their clock is required; of course, if you don't know how to keep score, you can't. However learning how to record (not "notate"!) is very easy and the rules greatly favor those who do, as does learning from your mistakes after the game by using the scoresheet. A more complete answer can be found in Enhancing Your First Tournament Experience.

As for the second question, my standard answer is: gets lots of rest before and during the event, eat well, perhaps play some warmup games a week or so in advance at the same time limit, review your tabiyas (standard opening sequences), and do some repetitious basic tactics, like those found in John Bain's Chess Tactics for Students. Also make sure you know when the rounds start, as this may differ from day to day (as I found out forfeiting a game by showing up at the same time as on the previous days, but one hour late for the final day's session, in my first OTB event in 1966). None of this will make you a clearly better player in one week, but it will prepare you for the event. However, doing many of these things consistently throughout your career will eventually aid your improvement.

Speaking of which, I got the usual question about how to generally improve one's play. Such a wide question (and there is no single answer for all who desire improvement), but I should put the check in the mail for one that allows me to answer by suggesting my somewhat misleadingly titled column on how to improve at chess. I'm about to publish column #150 next month!

Early risers got to hear my rendition of Mad Magazine's fight song for chess teams, "Bishop's Away", sung to the tune of "Anchor's Away":

Bishop's away, my lads, bishops away,

Bring out your knights and pawns and keep your queen in play-ay-ay-ay.

Castle your king, my lads,

Don't hesitate!

Whoops, guess we told you wrong,

He's got you there, he's got you there, checkmate!

One of the most interesting questions on the show involved the strength of the games in my new book "The World's Most Instructive Amateur Game Book". Not only was the strength questioned, but also the resolve of the players. The latter was a good point - in the book I specifically remarked that since many of these were internet games, it seemed likely the one party was not taking the game as seriously as they should have. But if you think about this, it's not that bad: a rating is a rating, and instructive is instructive. If someone is playing a little fast and silly and is rated 1800, then maybe that's why they are rated 1800; they might be a little higher rated if they tried more consistently, internet game or not. I can't imagine hardly any of my expert or master friends saying "Yes, I lost that game but it was an internet game so I was not trying" - you don't get to be a strong player that way. Chess is not a game where you can turn it on and turn it off successfully - it only takes one bad move to lose a game, so sometimes not trying is not a good path for success. If you are someone who does this, you are probably going to become a better player if you try consistently to play your best given the time and board situation, internet or not. Want to think less? That's easy, play a speed game where you don't have time to think as much (but still can do your best, relatively). Never start a game without the intention of using almost all your time. As to the overall quality of the games, well, it's an amateur book but hardly a beginner book - the players were - for the most part - not putting pieces en prise (that would not be very instructive). On the contrary; I would wager the average player in the book was stronger than the average internet player, although clearly a few were weaker. But that's another point: if you want quality annotated master and grandmaster game books, we now have them by the ton, including some very helpful instructive anthologies (see, for example, GM McDonald's series starting with The Art of Logical Chess Thinking). But my book was the rarer type designed to show you mistakes that the average reader makes during games (internet or not) - and how that same reader can minimize them. If you want a sample of the book and have an IPad or IPhone, download the free App, Forward Chess, and get the first game free with "live" chessboard support. PS: This book has been submitted in the Chess Journalists of America's 2013 award contest as a contestant for "Chess Book of the Year" - winners will be announced in August at the US Open.

There was a question about looking ahead - I gave a shout out to Soltis' recent book Studying Chess Made Easy. One chapter was about two-and-a-half-move chess, where he claimed that the overwhelming majority of moves can be safely made by looking no more than two-and-a-half moves (5 ply) ahead.

As usual, a shout out to our Dan Heisman Learning Center here at Chess.com, where we feature many long time control events, often 45 minutes with a 45 second time delay. We now have 2462 members - and counting. Thanks to all the Admins and TDs who make the DHLC possible, including its events, newsletter, forums, etc.

I was also able to put a plug in for my two charities at The Philadelphia Foundation, one which supports junior chess, the other women in need. We are alway grateful for even small donations, all tax deductible of course. And our 11th annual Holly Heisman Memorial fundraiser USCF-rated tournament will be held the first week of August, as usual, just outside Philadelphia. If you can't be there, make a donation, or perhaps even donate a prize. Chess.com is one of our sponsors - thanks!

The next show, in two weeks, will be for diamond and platinum members.


  • 19 months ago



  • 19 months ago


    Whats his book?

  • 20 months ago



  • 2 years ago


    I have this gif now

  • 2 years ago

    WFM LullabyVisca

  • 3 years ago


    I had not realized this before, but Regan et al. published another paper in late 2011 which addresses the rating inflation question over a much broader dataset (GM tournaments, rather than just the performances at world championship matches). They reach the same conclusion as before, only with much stronger support from the data. Key conclusions include:

    "today’s echelon of over forty 2700+ players all give the same or better statistics [regarding frequency of errors] in this paper than Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi in their prime.


    "We have shown multiple, separate, and novel pieces of evidence that the Elo system employed by FIDE has remained stable in relation to intrinsic skill level. We have shown that the population of master-level players closely fits a model that has an important scientific pedigree, under conditions of no inflation. We have shown that ratings as reflected in tournament categories have no overall inflationary trend relative to two measures of skill, the simple AE statistic on a large scale embracing (nearly) all tournaments with at least 2500 average rating since 1971, and the more-intensive IPR statistic for some tournaments."


  • 3 years ago


    Regarding supposed ratings inflation: appeals to "there's no way that there could be that many [insert category here--GMs, highly-ranked juniors, etc.]!" are unscientific at best. In fact, given the glut of new, ubiquitous training resources that didn't exist 40 years ago (internet servers, training software, remote coaching, explosion in availability of high-quality books, etc.), it would be surprising to me if there had *not* been a dramatic surge in highly-rated players. 

    Also, I *do* think that, given only a week to prepare for a match, any of today's top 40 could defeat Botvinnik at his 50-years ago strength. This is no more remarkable than saying that any of today's top 40 sprinters could beat Jesse Owens in a 100 meter dash next week, and for the same reason: today's chess players (and sprinters) have had better access to better training methods and preparation. Given a year to prepare with today's methods, Botvinnik (and Jesse Owens) would even the odds, of course. 

    Without a study of the intrinsic quality of moves by yesterday's players vs. today's, this would just be a difference of opinion between Glickman and Heisman on the one side and me, a nobody commentator, on the other. But in fact Kenneth Regan, Ph.D., professor of mathematics and chess IM, has performed such a study that settles the question. Here is the key passage from his abstract:

    "This paper develops and tests formulas for representing playing strength at chess by the quality of moves played, rather than by the results of games. Intrinsic quality is estimated via evaluations given by computer chess programs run to high depth, ideally so that their playing strength is sufficiently far ahead of the best human players as to be a ‘relatively omniscient’ guide. Several formulas, each having intrinsic skill parameters s for sensitivity and c for consistency, are argued theoretically and tested by regression on large sets of tournament games played by humans of varying strength as measured by the internationally standard Elo rating system. This establishes a correspondence between Elo rating and the parameters. A smooth correspondence is shown between statistical results and the century points on the Elo scale, and ratings are shown to have stayed quite constant over time. That is, there has been little or no ‘rating inflation’." [emphasis mine]


    I have read Jeff Sonas' 2009 paper, and it is entirely unconvincing. The fact that there are more players of any particular rating range can only show evidence of inflation if you have a priori ruled out a broad increase in skill level, but he conceded at the start of his paper that he had attempted no investigation of the "broad increase" hypothesis. Regan has, so Regan wins. Moreover, Sonas also appeals to the lack of inflation from 1975 to 1985 as an argument for explaining that the subsequent increase in players > 2700 must be the result of inflation. In fact, though, the lack of inflation from 1975 to 1985 is easily explained by the fact that the explosion in training resources occurred after 1985.

  • 3 years ago


    Hi Dan! Thanks for the CB article link, I will definitely check that out.  And I would immediately (but yet ignorantly) agree that it is just not possible that today's best are "that much better" than yesterday's best. I think it would be a really interesting topic to pick up on the show :-) Cheers!  Tom

  • 3 years ago

    NM danheisman

    TomHaegin - Thanks. An interesting article on title (and rating) inflation at Chessbase: http://chessbase.com/Home/TabId/211/PostId/4010268/a-gm-is-a-gm--fide-title-devaluation-260613.aspx. There's no doubt chess players are a little better today but there's also no doubt there's also inflation. In 1969-1971 Boris Spassky was the World Champ with an Elo rating of 2690, replacing Petrosian (1963-1969) who had an Elo rating of 2660. Today there are over 40 players rated over 2700. Anyone who thinks these 40+ are all clearly better than World Champions 45 years ago probably should chat with USCF Rating Committee Chair Dr. Mark Glickman Smile. FIDE raised its rating requirements for IM and GM once due to inflation but then did not do so subsequently, not because it was not needed, but (IMHO) because of political reasons. I made a note earlier than when I was 25th in US Junior rankings my rating was 2060 and now 25th is 2398! Yes, there are more good young players now but that can't nearly account for the difference. One of my former students, young Will Fisher, is nearing 2500, which would easily put him in the Top 10 in the US in the early 1960's. I am sure Will would be the first to tell you that if you put him in a time machine and took him back to the early 1960's he would not be a Top 10 player, no offense to his fine improvement these past few years. Be glad to chat about this next time on my show. 

  • 3 years ago



    Thank You Note coming for the tip!

  • 3 years ago


    Try this. You might have to create a free account.


  • 3 years ago




    But do you happen to have a link to post, maybe, either to "chesstv archive" or to the livestream page containing the Heisman's Q&A for all members videos?

  • 3 years ago



    Actually I could not view it from the chesstv archive even though I could see it, so I watched it from livestream website

  • 3 years ago


    Unfortunately I could not watch it live, but only the replay. It was full of wisdom and good points, as always. So thank you Dan for your time and enthousiasm.

    If I had been on the live show, I would have had one question. Let me just put it out here as an idea for Dan. It is not about chess improvement, so I hope you like it Smile

    The subject of rising ratings over the years.

    At least in 2 recent shows I've followed, Dan mentioned how in the pre-computer "old" days ELO ratings were generally lower, and to become a Fide or USCF "...master" of any kind was a lot harder and rarer.

    I am just curious to know why this was? And what made it change? What happened? Smile

    One purely technical thing Dan mentioned was, that it took longer to get a title because ratings computation was all manual and the amount of data was always substantial. So the backlog of unprocessed data was big.

    He also mentioned that in the old days, the best GM's were not that much above the GM norm, whereas today the best GM's are like 250+ points above the GM norm. Some of that was because Fide never raised the GM norm and players get a little better and better every generation. But some of that was also due to "inflation", and this inflation part I would be curious to hear about. Did the modus how ELO points are calculated change? Are there more eligible tournaments to collect points?

    I hope to be watching the next show live again, I'd be happy to ask the question there again.


    Thanks and God bless!

  • 3 years ago



    I don't seem to find a way to look at the show replay (I missed the first ½ hour of it).

    Is it because I'm a non-paying member?

  • 3 years ago


    I just watched the replay of the show and..WOW! Dan and the people asking questions are really hitting their stride. Best show yet. Keep up the great work

  • 3 years ago


    Once I have finished my Time Machine, my tournament will include:

    1.Paul Morphy

    2.Emmanuel Lasker

    3.Jose Capablanca

    4.Alexander Alekhine

    5.Bobby Fischer

    6.Anatoly Karpov 

    7.Gary Kasparov

    and of course, 8.Magnus Carlsen

    All Chess960, of course. Opening theory from different eras will play no factor. This will be a contest of talent alone.

  • 3 years ago

    NM NoRematch

    The highlight of the show was clearly Dan's rendition of "Bishops Away".

    How about a more uplifting ending though:

    Proudly you'll wear the crown,

    You've got him there, you've got him there, checkmate!


  • 3 years ago

    NM danheisman


    Thanks. Yes, with ~300 viewers and many asking questions, we try to limit the show to one question answered per viewer. Once you post a question and it gets answered, further questions from the same viewer are usually bypassed to give the maximum number of viewers a chance to get one question (and therefore we ask each viewer to post no more questions at that point, to make the channel cleaner and easier to find questions from as many viewers as possible).

    There are a few books devoted to defense. Soltis has The Art of Defense in Chess and Aagard has a more recent book, from his publishing house Quality Chess, with a similar title. Both are relatively advanced, and neither is just on defending king safety, but rather overall safety. You would have to check if either contains enough material to satisfy your criteria. My book Back to Basics: Tactics has a chapter on Defensive Tactics, but again not specific to the area which you specify.

  • 3 years ago


    Unfortunately the only question of mine which was answered during the show (of the four/five I posted), about which kind of physical activity goes best with Chess (answer: aerobic, like swimming or cycling... while I can tell myself that running isn't good for your joints!), was the one I was relatively less interested about: a lesson for next time, when I'll ask just the one thing I care the most!


    Anyway, I was particoularly looking for advice on a source for tactical exercises: some book or course specifically aimed at learning the higher possible number of patterns related to the defense of one own attacked King.

    Maybe someone reading this, possibly coach Dan himself, can give some suggestions now?


    Thanks in advance for any answer, and again to Dan Heisman and the chess.com crew for the very interesting show!

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