Width and Depth

I’ve recently reviewed, in another place, The Secret Ingredient, by Jan Markos and David Navara.

One sentence by Markos really resonated with me.

In real chess, the width of your calculation is usually much more important than its depth.

There are exceptions, as he points out, especially in endings. In pawn endings, for example, you’ll often have to look a long way ahead. But, for the most part, it’s true. Markos is writing here for an audience of strong, or at least ambitious, players, but at lower levels it’s even more true.

Beginners have to learn how not to leave pieces en prise. As they improve they’ll learn how to spot simple tactics. At club level, chess is, more than anything, about not missing simple 2 and 3 move tactics.

Yet, what happens when strong players coach novices and beginners? Very often, they demonstrate games with deep combinations where you have to look half a dozen or so moves ahead. Then they boast on social media about how brilliant their (500 rated) students are because, with prompting, they were able to solve it. In my opinion, this is nonsense. They’re just teaching their students to perform a party trick. There’s no point in trying to look half a dozen moves ahead if you’re going to miss simple forks or discovered attacks.

There are very many excellent tactics books around, not to mention online tactics training, but they all, to a greater or lesser extent, suffer from two problems. One of them is that you know, because you’re being asked the question, that there’s something there, and the other is that the questions are usually testing depth rather than breadth of calculation.

The point is often made that the difference between club players and masters isn’t that the masters see further ahead, or that they consider more candidate moves, but that they consider better candidate moves.

The tactical parts of the Chess Heroes course are, at one level, an attempt to develop breadth as well as depth of vision by asking different types of question, for example multiple choice questions, questions asking you to analyse a specific move and so on. When teaching at lower levels I also prefer to teach my students to do simple things well (not missing easy tactics) rather than to do hard things badly (trying to look too far ahead).

If you teach at higher levels than me, you might also want to think about creative ways to improve your students’ width of calculation.

Richard James

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Richard James

Author: Richard James

Richard James is a professional chess teacher and writer living in Twickenham, and working mostly with younger children and beginners. He was the co-founder of Richmond Junior Chess Club in 1975 and its director until 2005. He is the webmaster of chessKIDS academy (www.chesskids.org.uk or www.chesskids.me.uk) and, most recently, the author of Chess for Kids and The Right Way to Teach Chess to Kids, both published by Right Way Books. Richard has been a member of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club since 1966. Richard is a published author and his books can be found at Amazon. Richard is currently promoting minichess (games and puzzles using subsets of chess) for younger children through his website www.minichess.uk, and writing coaching materials for children (and adults) who want to start playing serious competitive chess, through www.chessheroes.uk. View all posts by Richard James

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