Some weeks ago I stumbled upon an interview with Michael De La Manza (MDLM). In it, he stated that there was a specific reason why he was able to work on his chess so intensively during that year or two and eventually gaining about 700 USCF rating points in two years. It was simply that he was unemployed and had a ton of time on his hands, thus allowing him to spend three or four hours a day on studying tactics. Well, I am in university and I'm happy when I find the time to solve a handful of tactical problems a day, and sometimes make it to the weekly chess meeting at my university.
I do like to work towards a goal, though. In fact, I am working on two particular goals. One is to go through the Chess Vision Drills described in an earlier post, and the other is working on my tactics by solving puzzles. Fortunately I really enjoy this. Practical play is currently just the icing on the cake, but I have more to say on this in a moment, too.
MDLM recommends doing the Chess Vision Drills for two weeks in a row. Thanks to a move and a heavy workload at university this didn't quite work out as planned, but have a look at week one anyway. (I don't know where I got the idea from to time it. Maybe it's just because I am a bit OCD.
Day 01 (10 Nov): 39'04
Day 02 (11 Nov): 32'58
Day 03 (12 Nov): 23'38
Day 04 (13 Nov): 20'50
Day 05 (14 Nov): 19'50
Day 06 (16 Nov): 15'30
Day 07 (17 Nov): 15'08
I am tempted to say that the improvement is indeed drastic. The almost 40 minutes those vision drills took me on day one might be a bit exaggerated, because I was rather tired at the end of a long day, but I probably would have exhibited similar thinking processes in a more alert state, too.
Some of the improvements are obviously also due to simple things like keeping the pieces in your other hand, so that you can exchange them on the board quickly, but this doesn't amount for much, I think. Far more impressive are the improvements that are due to, after familiarizing yourself with the attack pattern, "scanning" for the relevant squares. At first, you might search the whole vertical for a square that pins rook and king, but after a while, this process was so ingrained that I only checked the relevant squares and quickly dismissed those that were impossible choices.
But how does this translate to actual OTB play? I did attend the weekly chess meeting at university after those drills. The range of opponents isn't especially large. First, I clearly wiped the floor with a guy I usually wipe the floor with. So, the end result wasn't much different. However, the game almost played itself on autopilot, and I did win by exploiting his tactical errors, and won two pieces in the middle game. He loves to play on, but his position was so bad that he preferred resigning over the humiliation of enduring a clearly lost endgame.
The other guy was much tougher opponent. In previous matches, I often felt as if I had no chance at all, and the games often were an exercise in getting put in your place. But this time I did fairly well. Yes, I know that I should have written down the moves, but I won two pawns from him, and the first one with a beautiful exploitation of a structural weakness. Well, it was beautiful for me, but he was startled himself and said it was a really good move. Unfortunately (probably because I was literally falling asleep over the board), I was blundering away two pieces shortly afterwards and gave up. It would have been a technically won endgame otherwise, but nevermind that. Overall, though, I do see many more possibilities on the board already, and I am deeply surprised at the effect this relatively modest amount of study time has already had. And being ahead in material plus having a better position against a guy you usually lose against feels great too.