Monday, October 25, 2010

A Recipe for Disaster

Some of you have questioned why I keep bothering with First GM despite his useless advice and ignorance. Here is one example why. I find myself uncomfortable and uneasy just sitting down and watching someone pretend to know how to play chess and trying to impart his "knowledge" upon the many chess players as "the way to go". This would have been fine if he allowed an active discussion by the public, but ever since he started deleting all the comments on his blog, he has become the epitome of what he preaches others not to be. Below is one of his recent articles and I have included my comments in bold to show why people should not take heed of his advice blindly. It shows how little he knows about chess.

What makes me the expert? Well, I am no expert. But at least I have played at the minimum 20 more years of chess than Raymond Siew. That should count for something. Listening to a bridge player (self-proclaimed expert at that too) and a mind coach on chess is like asking advice from your real estate agent about stock market investing. A definite recipe for disaster.

Competitors analysis-what is an opening?

Why and how do we analyse our competitors? Has this any bearing to openings? So many names, Ruy Lopez, Sicillian.....etc.etc.etc. What does it all mean? Read here. Actually an opening has no meaning until we see all 4 components of chess.

If this part does not already show you that he has no understanding of chess, don't worry. There are other examples later. Analyzing our competitors is not limited to openings. I will explain more on this later in the post.

Our opening repertoire is but an expression of who we are. What we like and dont like. For we are all gifted differently. And without competitors analysis that also has no meaning for in competition it is all relative. We may think we are good tactical players but our competitor may be better. But on the other hand we may be weak positional players but our competitor may be weaker relative to us. So detailed evaluation of our strength vs the competitors strength and our weaknesses compared to our competitor improves our understanding of who we are relative to who they are.

This is only partially true. It is one thing to have a pet opening. But any self-respecting chess player would have worked on understanding opening principles rather than just moves in an opening. Any GM can and will be able to play the best moves in any opening even if they have not read that in a book before simply because they understand the opening principles. But thinking on every move on the board is a waste of time. And within the time constraint of every game, an unprepared player is bound to miss some home-prepared ideas. That is why people prepare openings. A strong player who understands opening principles can most certainly fare well against any opening that he faces. The type of opening that one plays is not entirely dependent on his/her personality. It is used to achieve a preset objective prior to the game.

Note: I am assuming here that we are giving our best in every game of course. Because unless we are, the measurement is not accurate.

And this can change depending on time control. Not all openings are the right ones for the different time controls.

So when I see that even our senior players are sometimes one opening type players, I wonder how deep our understanding of chess really is? Can we build a house with just one hammer? I also wonder why we send our players to all these International competitions blind. They just do not know who they are fighting. What is the measure of our gap? Are we so afraid of our competitors that we dont even dare to measure them? Lest we have to awaken from our sleep?

Questioning the understanding of our senior players only because they stick to one opening is pure immaturity. The opening is just one stage of the game. In fact, it is only 1/3 of the game. Do not foreget about the middle-game and the endgame. It is as if these two parts do not require any understanding about the game at all. Playing an opening over and over again only deepens our understanding in that opening. We all know for a fact that novelties are found just about every other day. What this means is that, even if people have been playing the same opening for decades, new ideas still can be found. That is why, practice makes perfect.

Having a favorite opening does not mean the player does not know how to play other openings. But why get stuck on openings? Preparing against the opening of one particular player is simply too narrow. If you have acute observation skills, Kramnik did not only prepare against Kasparov's openings, but against Kasparov's personality as well. Kasparov is well-known for his novelties, but also for his aggressive chess. The Berlin Wall was meant to frustrate Kasparov, which worked to some extent. Of course, there are other factors involved. For a full detailed account of how Kasparov felt during the match, go ahead and read his book, "How Life Imitates Chess". Now, think about Anand vs Kramnik. The same thing happened. Anand completely outprepared Kramnik in their match. If you don't remember these, you can simply visit the Chessbase website and look at the comments made by Kasparov on those games.

Next, why do we send our players to international competitions blind? Simple. The underlying cause is simply the lack of resources. If the MCF requires the players to pay for their own fare to represent the country, it is using precious resources that could have been put into training and preparation. Plus, having a one week training camp is not called preparation. Do not kid ourselves. The second point is, most chess players do not even know how to prepare. Most of the chess players in Malaysia have the wrong chess books to learn openings. Worse, some even have the wrong approach. Now, I am sure you are going to bring in Rahman's coaching about how to prepare. Well, the players must first be willing to learn from their errors themselves. There is simply too much dependence on the chess coach these days.

Nonetheless, preparation is an on-going process and should happen all-year round. Preparing against your opponent's openings is just preparing for a small part of the game. If you have played chess long enough, you would be able to guess your opponent's personality and strength on the board itself through the moves that he/she makes. To push it further, you can even guess from the way the person moves the piece. You can see the confidence, or the nervousness, etc. It is all there. Being able to adjust your style of play as you play against your opponent is also part of preparation. That is real competitor analysis, not just openings.

Every detailed analysis of our competitor improves our understanding of chess; tells us what else we need to work on; who we are, who they are, relative to us and the time control. Openings have no meaning unless seen in that context. Unless of course we are playing kindergarden chess.

Openings can be seen from many other perspectives. Many of us employ it as a surprise tactic. This works some of the time. They are not the determinant of a player's personality. It does not determine who they are and what they like. Chess is a game of counter against counter. I will try to employ an idea to prevent you from getting your favorite position, and you will try to counter that. Then I work on countering your counter and the process goes on. It is not just a one dimensional process that you can prepare for at home just from reading opening books to understand your opponents.


  1. For someone who talks about the technical aspect of chess and yet degrades its importance, I too wonder about the purpose of the latest post by Raymond.

    The fact that he describes his thoughts in general terms rather than give specific examples belies his ignorance or lack of understanding of the opening.

    We cannot be serious by saying things that different openings are used for different time controls. What does that really mean? Players should attempt to play differently simply because of a different time control? All I know is, the players who are good at blitz are incidently the better players in slower time controls. Why? They have a good thought process that they can execute quickly if need be. It is certainly not dependent the opening choice they make. Ironically, players who adopt unsound gambits just to try to take advantage of their opponent's ignorance will backfire, once their opponents start to analyse the game and learn how to deal with it.

    Building a house with a hammer? This is a poor analogy. Playing chess is a two-party interactive activity. Building a house needs no participation or interaction from the dead materials. No matter how hard your hammer hits (if I may use his analogy), the building material will not hit back.

    The notion of sending Malaysian players without knowledge of their opponents is unfair, for it is not possible to know who are playing until late notice. This is especially so in age-group competitions. Whatever preparation is required comes from the round by round bulletin of games released by the organisers. As for the Olympiad, it is impossible to know exactly who the teams or opponents are until the next round pairing.

    The context of an opening varies at different levels of competition. For casual players, there is no importance how accurately the opening is played. At competitons level, esp internationally,the edge between 2 GMs of the same rating or skill level will tell in the preparation of the opening ideas. Anand has shown that by defeating Topalov in the Lasker Variation, the variation that most GMs do not play for the last 15 years as it is often a dull opening and Black has to defend most of the time. That is the theory of yesterday. But today the theory has changed. Preparing openings to play against an opponent is a tedious task that few will undertake unless for a very important game result. However,even superb opening preparation can only give the prepared player an edge, but the rest of the game has still to be played. Converting that edge without making a mistake is still a technical matter.

  2. You really don't have to worry about other people getting influenced by his trash. Simply put, anyone visiting his blog knows that other chess blogs do exist. And by some 100% chance, they will stumble upon, say, your blog, or his comments section, which immediately discredits his 'advice'. Any chess player blessed with deductive reasoning will realize instantly that reading what Raymond has to say is simply a waste of time. The only, if any, type of people who would actually believe anything Raymond has to say that is related to chess, are those who don't play chess themselves. The chess players who do, well, why would you care? It's obvious that they're too naive, and frankly, I don't think much of gullible people. It's not worth the time to educate them.

    Take this analogy: The Nigerian scam. It's well known, and yet, millions of dollars are lost to it every year. There is only so much that one can do to stop people from falling for this scam. The information about it is out there, but those who are unwilling to read about it will fall victim, and increasing the amount of this information is pointless...since that stubborn group refuses to listen.

    Suffice to say, really, all you need to do, is to just make one statement to discredit Raymond's blog, back it up with good reasoning, and that's that. It's out there, anyone who wants to know, will know, and you can't shove it down their throats (it gets gagged out if you try to anyway). And frankly, just looking at your blog alone, you know that it's been done already.

    It is sad actually; you're only wasting your time. Look at your tags. They majority of them are First GM. To be honest, nobody really cares about what he has to say, and by that relation they would not care much of what you had to say. I've heard opinions from many people; most of them say that they don't actually read FGM's posts because they're simply to long...and irrelevant. You're trying to tell people how pointless it is to read his blog, but the fact is that very few do in the first place, and those who do, do know what we think of his blog, since there is a comments section. If they persist to listen to what he has to say, then there is nothing anyone can do.

    Also, when you dedicate your blog to flaming him, you give him a sense of significance. The truth is, he's not. Of the few people who read his blog, only you talk about it. If you choose to ignore what he has to say instead, his blog won't generate any responses, and it will turn out to be the boring blog that it really is. Stop giving him attention.

    Take me for example; if people really can't stand me, then they shouldn't talk about me, but instead pretend that I don't exist. But instead, they curse at me, and try to guess who I am, which only adds to my entertainment and boosts my ego, and then gives me material for a whole new blog post. Guess what they should have done if they didn't want to see me write any more.

    Long story short: Stop talking about him.

  3. John,

    Thanks for your fresh insights. To the point indeed.


    Agree with you that flaming FGM will help legitimize his ideas. However, the intention is not to flame. In the process of exposing his fraudulent behavior, I also hope to dig up what is the right approach. This doesn't have to come from me, but from comments of others, like the one above from John. After all, it is of little help just to tell people what is the wrong approach.

    Using FGM as an example is like teaching a moral lesson. Why do we tell the story of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf"? There is merit in exposing the wrong approach so that people can understand the consequences as well as return to the right path.

    I know that some of them are lost causes, but it is difficult to contain the optimist in me.

  4. Rather than spend good time debunking bad and wrong ideas, perhaps it will be better to talk about positive and correct approaches to the game that others can identify with? I agree with Rationality on this.

    Let the readers be the judge.

  5. Perhaps' Mind Coach can be right.
    Its just that his understanding of chess is at a lower level.
    At the lowest level, the one who blunder first loses.At this level , opening theory matter little. It is a matter of getting out without getting into trouble. They can memorise all the variations but if the opponent strays( blunders ) and he cannot see and capitalise,that move can actually lose him the game.
    At the kindergarden level, you try not to loose games.

  6. It is totally opposite of what you say. At the highest level, the one who blunders first loses. How do weak players capitalize on blunders? Some people can't even see mate in 1, so how do they capitalize on that?

    Opening theory will always matter. But what is more important is the understanding to back up the theory. This is the same with all fields of study. You can even train a horse to know that 1+1=2. But to claim that the horse understands mathematics is a huge fallacy.

    Contrary to what you think, at the kindergarten level, people ONLY try to win. They don't care about losing. Most kindergarten players do not even watch out for what their opponent is threatening. They only worry about their own tricks and cheapos.

  7. I am a beginner. Most of the time I don't try to win. I am just waiting for my opponent to lose. And I have been quite successful at it against other beginners. Sad to say, I will definitely have serious problems playing against stronger players.

  8. That is a good start. Most people underestimate the importance of trying to avoid losses. I believe one of the most practical ideas that is employed by "strong" players across all levels is to avoid losing. Of course this has to work hand in hand with other ideas, but the basis of their chess playing is to avoid losing. To do this, one has to try to see what the opponent is threatening and then counter it, either passively (by parrying the threat), or actively (by threatening something else).

    I am not an expert at chess, so if anyone wishes to add in, please feel free to do so.

  9. At lower level, the one who makes the LAST blunder is the one who loses. It's a rather strange statement, like how you'll find things in the last place you look (because only an idiot is going to continue looking for something they've already found), but when you think of it, it is somewhat true. Having 2 extra queens in a super-beginner's game isn't going to assure the outside observer that the game is decided. But at top level, that isolated c3 pawn leaves white objectively lost.

    John has a point in saying write something constructive, but it's not mine though. What I'm saying is that you should find other things to grill. Talking about the same person again and again gets exponentially boring.

  10. Dear Ninja,

    TQ dues in not deleting my post
    For I had indeed done my utmost
    Unity in chessing spirit a must to money flow
    Heartbreak as harmony not on hand to show

    Masses emerged snap Raymond Siew to lame
    Wonder why Siew Fai sullied own harmless name
    With all the chess knowhow in open reveal
    None had noticed real life Gambit put on view

    For one not thwart, back to drawing board
    A-mull-a-lull-a-toil-a-swot on Openings hoard
    Heard of the French Gambit a la Legionnaire’
    Sole novel move stir money surge savoir-faire

    Bear with me and do take stock
    As my negotiation skills unlock
    The chess community many knots
    Surely not budding some more torts

    There you are my dear Ninja
    If only you can keep door ajar
    The best in you should not buck
    I needed your best wish for luck


  11. Siew Fai,

    I will not delete any comment posts, barring vulgarities or sensitive material. But I do advise that you write in an intelligible manner to benefit everyone equally. I do not know the purpose of your cryptic style, but I can assure you that it is not helping your cause at all.

    You are appearing pretentious to many readers and no one likes a pretender. This is exemplified with Raymond's case. So trust me when I say that no one appreciates your shameless creativity. There are appropriate places for these things and I suggest that you use them for your own benefit. I do not lose anything, but you stand to lose a lot.

    Whatever reputation that you hope to build or retain depends on your self-portrayal and if you persistently exude this air of pretense, you will only damage your name (if it has not happened already) and make things harder for yourself. Consider this a sincere advice.

    If you wish to help chess, do it in an accessible way. You do not have to prove to anyone about your half-baked rapping skillz.

  12. At least mind coach writes clearly which we all can understandin but may not agree. But SF, I cannot agree or not agree becuase I don't know what are you saying.

  13. ROFL (mainly at SF)
    However i'm not sure about that mind coach writes clearly bit