Rising up to the Masters Level

Like the rest of us, most chess players think in generalities, the value of centralizing pieces the way to exploit doubled pawns and bad bishops, the strength of a rook or knight. But masters live in the details of a game. They think, "if I move my bishop there, he plays knight takes pawn check" details.

Masters are where they are because they have taken the time to study more than just a few aspects of the game. Where amateurs tend to concentrate most of their efforts on just the openings, masters know a lot more than just opening theory.

Ask a master what he actually does during a game and, if truthful, he'll answer: "I calculate variations " He looks a few moves ahead and makes a judgment about the various possibilities at his disposal. He knows the old saying that "Chess is 99 percent tactics," but he also knows it's inaccurate. Chess is really 99 percent calculation.
In this page you will see just how a master thinks to decide which moves to make based on how he calculates.
Masters know a lot about, The Secrets of Calculation

Masters are a superior opponent because of their experience, superior knowledge of chess basics, and tactical abilities. Expect less than 38% of errors to come from his tactics. His knowledge of the openings are better too and less than 19% of his openings are going to be responsible for a loss. He is even better in the end game where you can expect less than 16% of his games to lose from end game errors.
While most amateurs dislike studying endgame theory, masters know that it's in the endgame that you are most likely to win your game, because of the lack of knowledge that most players have of endgame theory. So they spend a lot of time in the theory and practice of chess endings. The Russians know this too and most all of their study programs concentrate on endgame theory right from the beginning of the chess course.
Secret Russian Training Methods

Masters understand pawn structures and have committed to memory many pawn structures and patterns. Why?

Studying positional play is not an easy matter and there are few different ways to do so. Studying chess by examining various typical pawn formations is the approach taken by professional chess players while working on particular openings, middlegame positions, or even endgames. They study particular patterns and typical techniques.
It is more efficient to study standard or typical pawn situations as they arise in tournament practice. When we look for the most common positions, we should look for the most typical pawn structures. Why is this so? The answer lies in the nature of pawns.
Masters define standard pawn skeletons and learn where the pieces belong within them, what plans are available for both sides, etc. From pawn skeleton information they know just where on the board to develop their pieces to plan an attack. If you have a weak pawn structure you are just asking for trouble in that area of the board, because that is where an attack is most likely to succeed.

The importance of pawns

How a master develops a opening preparation repertoire.

How does a master study the details of an opening for his tournament play? When a master studies an opening, either in his opening repertoire to improve it or to add a new one to his repertoire, he studies it with a program like Chessbase and looks at each move with respect to the statistics of that move and its successes in all the games in his Repertoire Database, a collection of annotated games or variations in which he looks after his opening repertoire. In it he collects all information on the openings systems he likes to play. That is a collection of all the important tournament games played for many years by him and others.

Repertoire database
ChessBase saves games with the variations, which are already stored in the repertoire database. If the game is very similar to an existing repertoire game, ChessBase will suggest merging the two games in the repertoire database. You can let it do so or overrule it and save the game as a separate entry. If your game contains a completely new line the program will save it as a new game. It will even suggest a suitable name for it (e.g. "Sicilian Four Knights"). If no repertoire database exists, ChessBase will automatically create one and add an icon to your database window.

The repertoire scan of ChessBase.
This function is a quick and elegant way to find out what's new in your openings systems. Let us assume you have just received a delivery of new games, e.g. an Internet download or the latest issue of ChessBase Magazine. Click File - New - Repertoire scan. ChessBase will generate a report of all games, which are important for your repertoire. The report is a database text with separate sections for each of the repertoire lines. The games are given as links and can be clicked for instant load and replay. They are sorted by player Elo and degree of annotation.

The Analysis Engine
An analysis engine, is a chess playing program that runs in the background and always analyses and evaluates the current board position of the opening you are studying. When you install a program you will normally select a strong program like Fritz to analyze the position or the whole game. Fritz will identify a significant novelty deviating from the whole database. Fritz does not just suggest alternative moves, it praises and criticizes moves, draws attention to threats, explains why certain weaker (but plausible) continuation were not played, and many other sophisticated things. The evaluation is in the form of 1/100 units of a pawn. For example, 0.25 White has an advantage of 0.25 pawn units. It will give the Depth searched. For example, 15/34 means it reached a 15 ply or half-moves, while some promising variations were checked down to 34 ply.

The ChessBase Editorial Annotation
ChessBase automatically annotates the current game with references to games with the same or similar variations. The corresponding games will be recorded as variations in the notation. In the course of this the following games will be selected from the related opening key games with a high similarity, recent games, and games with the best players.

ChessBase's Opening Report
This is one of the most powerful functions of ChessBase. ChessBase searches in the reference database for games with any current opening position and automatically evaluates their results, statistics in percent of success for each variation. Statistics even for each move in the variation. Plans for the side you are playing. The results are summed up in a database text. Showing the Main Lines, with the percent of success with each line. Critical Line, (The critical line is the one in which it is statistically the most promising move) Plans are given for your play and tells you what you should play next. The players who played and the results of the game are given.

Options in the opening book window.
This is another very powerful option in ChessBase for the master to find new variations that may have never been played. It gives such things as: Np The number of different positions contained in the opening book. White and Black are not differentiated, nor are positions mirrored on the middle axis. Try entering the moves 1. e3 e5 2. e4 Nf6 3. Nc3 Bb4 and how this becomes a reverse Ruy Lopez.
Unplayed transpositions
Shows moves that have never been played in the current position but which lead to another position known to the tree.
Displays all moves that lead from positions in the tree to the current board position.
Displays bar graphs of the move statistics, and also gives the exact number of Elo rated games.

Book analysis window
The opening book analysis window displays all moves that were played in any given position, including statistics. It is often much more instructive to see full variations. These are displayed in the book analysis window. Beside each variation you can see the number of games ("N=") and the success in percentage from the point of view of White. Double-clicking a line jumps to the end of the variation and inserts it into the game notation. Also available is Critical line The critical line is the one in which both White and Black make the statistically most promising moves. It is displayed in red at the bottom of the book analysis window.

Masters also use a technique called Backsolving to develop their opening repertoire, it's the technique of evaluating a position based on the evaluations of its candidate positions.

Backsolving is one the most sophisticated features of Bookup - and one of the least understood.

Suppose you have a game database such as MasterChess, ChessBase or Chess Assistant and in it you find 97 grandmaster games with 12.Ng5 in your favorite opening.

          Number          White                    	   Black

of Games Wins Draws Wins

12.Ng5 97 51.5% 31.0% 17.5%

12.Bd2 61 34.4% 32.7% 32.7%

12.h3 3 33.3% 33.3% 33.3%

The statistics from the game tree above tell you that almost 52% of the games were won by White, 31% were drawn and 17% were won by Black. Because you play the White side, the move 12.Ng5 looks very attractive.

But wait - after you look closely at the games you find that only 12 Ng5's have been played by grandmasters over the past three years, even though 12.Ng5 shows a 51.5% winning percentage for White. Why aren't the grandmasters playing 12.Ng5 anymore?

Further research reveals that in just two key games Black has found a way to completely neutralize 12.Ng5 - and even get a slight advantage. After those games were published, grandmasters gave up on 12.Ng5 for White. These statistics would have lured you into a known bad position!

Backsolving does the research for you and makes these contradictions between statistics and current chess theory more obvious. Here's what the candidate moves might look like after importing the games into Bookup and a analysis engine and then backsolving.

The backsolving process was able to show that with best play by both sides, Black could achieve a slight advantage after 12.Ng5. This book was also analyzed by a chess engine and the chess engine shows that black has a slight advantage which means the computer agrees with this assessment. If you follow the Ng5 line with the chess engine you'll see that the Black moves keep the edge.

Solving a variation like this manually is easy with Bookup, just change the assessment of the leaf node and press the rewind VCR button. As the moves are taken back, each position is re-evaluated and updated if necessary.

Hundreds of hours can be spent in this type of opening analysis to develop openings to suit the master's style of play for serious tournament play. For strong players the opening preparation they carry around to tournaments in a notebook computer may represent a very high value - and a security problem. For this reason Chessbase offers an encryption function to protect that work. ChessBase stores the database in an encrypted archive.
After you create an encrypted archive, the original database files are physically deleted! ChessBase asks you to confirm this, because the files can never be recovered. The program overwrites them with random characters before deleting them, to ensure that they cannot be reconstructed with disk utilities. If you ever forget your password the database will be irrevocably lost. ChessBase encrypts files using a powerful DES algorithm. There is also no secret master password or back door, so ChessBase cannot help to retrieve files if anything goes wrong.

ELO ratings were invented by the Hungarian statistician Professor Arpad Elo, express the playing strength of chess players. Strong club players may reach 2000 points, International Masters are usually 2300 to 2500, Grandmasters up to 2700, with a very small number of players exceeding that. (Garry Kasparov is the only player in history to exceed 2800). Twice a year the world chess federation issues an Elo rating list with ratings for tens of thousands of players. For USCF add aprox 100 points.

Here's a list of rating categories in the ELO rating playing strength. (USCF is Aprox 100 points more)

Playing strength     Player category

1000-1600 Average club player
1600-2100 Strong club player
2100-2300 International league player
2300-2450 International Master (IM)
2450-2600 Grandmaster (GM)
2600-2850 Supergrandmaster, world champion

Master 2200 to 2399 2100 to 2299
Senior Master 2400 to 2599 2300 to 2499

Can you become master rated?
Masters realize that there are no shortcuts to success, no special formula to help guide them to increase their rating. Just like in collage if you want that degree you have work for it and put in the time and study of the basics. How much time and study is needed? Of course it's up to you on how much you want it. The harder you work at it the quicker you will get there. But there are some important guide lines to help you.

How much study time is required? Edmar Mednis suggests 50% on Openings, 25% on middle-game and 25% on endings. Lasker suggests, Chess rules and exercises 5 hours, Elementary endings 5 hours, Some Openings 10 hours, Combinations, tactics 20 hours, Positional play 40 hours, Practical play with analysis 120 hours. If you spend the 200 hours on the above, even if you possess no special talent for chess, you are likely to be among the two or three thousand chess players who play on par with the masters. Of course there are those who spend in excess of 200 hours on chess with out making any progress what so ever.
How to Learn the Basics