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On Chess: How you can best learn from both modern and classical chess at the same time?

An instructor teaches chess at the Gateway Middle School.
Austin Fuller | St. Louis Chess Club
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As a chess coach and active player, I am constantly thinking about the ways that I can help my students and myself to improve our chess skills using both contemporary (let us call it post-engine era) material and earlier classical (where ideas and concepts were more important than concrete, move-by-move calculation and use of pre-existing knowledge).

Currently, chess players have access to a lot of material in different forms. Usually, the confusing question in the mind of amateurs is whether they should learn the fundamentals from classical materials or focus on contemporary products (YouTube videos, DVDs, etc) where more thorough computer and move-by-move analysis exists. I would like to make a clarifying point about the comparison, which, I hope, would help players make the most out of their endeavors while enjoying the process of learning more about chess.

Obviously, the old opening books, like Encyclopedia of Chess Openings or other forms of opening books gave only the moves, with no ideas beyond that. Openings evolve daily with cloud engines, cheap access to strong computational power and advanced engines, and make it much easier to find better and stronger continuations. Thus, one should only use modern opening books to form basic repertoire. 

On the other hand, older endgame books, like Smyslov’s and Levenfish’s Rook Endgame, are a great source of teaching endgame ideas, where players have only two ways to excel: memorizing many typical endgame positions and learning the existing defensive and offensive patterns.

As I learned from my experience and a bit of research, the human brain absorbs ideas and turns them into patterns so that the brain can later use these visual patterns with ease. So, for endgames, I suggest players start with classical material and then later shift to more contemporary materials. Another reason behind this suggestion is that recent endgame materials are more complex, and writers assume that readers already know a lot of endgame patterns beforehand. That said, I encourage you to start with older endgame books and then enjoy complex and thorough modern analysis.

For the middlegame, I suggest players pick a book (either contemporary or classical) that is easy for them to read and understand. A tip for reading middlegame books is to use engines to check older analyses to avoid misevaluation of different positions.

Finally, the most important aspect of working on chess is having fun with the learning process. Whether classical or modern, choose the kind of material you enjoy reading. If you don’t enjoy reading, then start with those tools available online, including the St. Louis Chess Club’s YouTube channel: STLChessClub.

Elshan Moradiabadi is a grandmaster from Iran. He took part in the Chess World Cup 2011; won the 2001 Iranian Chess Championship at age 16; and was a member of the Iran national team in the first World Mind Sports Games held in Beijing (2008). He won the final four of collegiate chess with Texas Tech University in 2012 and the Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championship for the first time in 2015. In February 2017, Moradiabadi began representing the United States Chess Federation.

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