A good part of how to learn something is unlearning our old ways. This is especially true with skills you learned many years (or even decades ago) in a not-very-effective way. We realize there are tons of things we could be doing better in a specific domain. That happened to me many times in my language learning journey. One recent example is the work I’ve been doing since 2020 to improve my English accent. Even though I started using the language as early as 2000 (and on a daily basis after 2006), I hadn’t properly learned the sounds of American English. Revisiting my American accent was (is!) hard work because of all the ingrained habits I need to correct now. There are tons of fossilized errors that keep showing up all over the place. In order to change those, I need to be extra careful to avoid getting into my old ways.
I noticed something similar could be going on in my chess learning journey. There are certain fundamental misconceptions that can make the learning progress much more difficult and uphill than needed. Why would we make it harder if we can make it easier? 😊
Resistance to Change
For most, if not all, readers, decision-making processes will be largely habitual and resistant to change. So my emphasis will not just be on learning to think and feel differently, but on unlearning those processes that are clearly detrimental to playing good moves.
‘The Seven Deadly Chess Sins’ (Jonathan Rowson)
The resistance to change can take multiple forms. Sometimes, we are fully aware about something we don’t want to do, a new method we don’t want to try. We are attached to the way we’ve always done a certain thing. We are afraid about doing something different because it might not work. It’s funny, because at times we feel resistance to change even in circumstances where what we’re doing clearly is not working.
Other times resistance change can manifest itself as procrastination, laziness, or lack of energy when trying a new strategy. We tell ourselves that we want to give that a try. However, deep down, a part of us doesn’t want to do it. Then again: mostly because of fear (what if it doesn’t work? What if it works?). The cure is facing those fears, dealing with them.
The Lesson: Meran Variant (Semi-Slav Defense)
In this lesson we went over the Meran Variant of the Semi-Slav Defense, played with Black pieces against the Queen’s Gambit. I got to know this opening/defense almost 20 years ago. Something in its name caught my attention and rendered it interesting. That’s something that happened to me with other openings: the Scheveningen Sicilian, the Vienna Game, the Modern Defense, the Marshall Attack in Ruy Lopez. I liked the names and that’s how I got to learn and go deeper in those openings. It might sound weird, but that’s how it was (it is!) for me.
The pawn structure c6-b5-a6 is the typical Meran Variation. After that, c5 is played to activate the dark squared bishop. Very soon, the center of the board will open up completely and all the pieces will get involved in the battle.
One thing I like about the resulting positions in the Meran Variation is that they are very sharp. It’s fairly common to castle on opposite sides. The advanced pawns in the Queen’s Side might give the impression that the Black castling is more vulnerable (or, at least, it seems easier to attack than the White’s counterpart). If you decide to get into something like this you need to be ready to resist a ferocious attack. Although, as for the recent games we’ve studied with Andrea, I got the impression that is more common to transition into an endgame (queens are exchanged quite early on).
In this lesson we reviewed one of my games and talked about training fast tactical vision.
The Weekly Practice (03/03/21 to 03/09/21)
This week I practiced two Puzzle Storms each day (my highest score was 40), studied the Meran Variant section of Sadler Mathew’s book on the Semi-Slav, continued working on tactics on the simplification theme, and read a few pages of ‘The Seven Deadly Chess Sins’, by Jonathan Rowson. The practice session this week was always after 7pm, but one day (when I started around 6pm). I practiced for about an hour every day.
The Games of the Week
Between March 3rd and March 6th, I played 79 games (quite a lot!). Three of these games were against Fide Masters (two victories and one defeat).
These are the picks of the week:
B29 Sicilian Defense: Nimzowitsch Variation, Advance Variation (I won with White)
This was a victory against a Fide Master (FM), who at that time had a blitz ranking of 2280. We arrived at a rook ending with equal pawns, but one of mines was passed. The plan was to push that pawn as far as I could to keep the black rook and king busy and distracted with that. In the meantime, I would go grab all the black pawns with my king and force a rook exchange.
Here’s another victory (with mating attack!):
B17 Caro-Kann Defense: Karpov Variation (I won with White)
And a defeat by a Fide Master (FM):
C02 French Defense: Advance Variation (I lost with Black)
That’s all for now! 😊