For tournament players I can only recommend digital chess clocks. Analog clocks are very much obsolete. Digital chess clocks can determine more accurately when a player’s allotted time has expired. Increasingly time controls are being used which include per move delays or increments. Only digital chess clocks have this capability.
With respect to improving your game I recommend a balanced strategy of studying chess openings, chess endgames, chess middlegames, and chess tactics. I recommend studying some of the games of strong masters. For older books in particular, I recommend using a strong computer to go over things. I recommend having a large number of prepared opening lines for use in serious tournaments. Of course you will find some players who employ very unusual openings that you can’t possibly have a prepared line for. But use prepared lines that you know are very good as much as possible. You should specialize in a few specific openings and defenses. Don’t switch around.
For post-game analysis I highly recommend using a master-strength chess computer or chess-playing software program. Chess computers can find many tactical errors that would otherwise be overlooked. Many opening, middlegame, and endgame books have effectively been rewritten by computers. They are hardly flawless but they find a lot of stuff that even the strongest human grandmasters miss. It may sound strange at first glance for me to point out the flaws found in chess computers and then to strongly recommend their frequent use. Chess computers can perform calculations far more quickly than humans. This is why they have spectacular tactical capabilities which exceed that of human grandmasters. The problems occur with positions where tactical combinations have little to do with the correct evaluation of a position. As long as you are aware of the limitations, there is nothing to worry about.
CHESS COMPUTER BLINDSPOTS
Sadly many computers have blind spots where you see a lack of understanding by the computer. Consider this example from the Houdini 3 Extreme chess-playing software which I have used in the past:
A strong human player would realize that White has a huge advantage. White’s kingside pawn majority will eventually lead to the creation of a passed pawn. As long as Black’s c pawns remain doubled he has no queenside passed pawn to offset it. The general plan is to centralize the King, then advance kingside pawns in preparation for creating a passed pawn, keep Black’s c pawns doubled and at the proper moment create a passed pawn. This pawn will be used to divert Black’s king and force a decisive entry to attack and capture Black’s pawns elsewhere on the board.
The computer fails to immediately recognize the magnitude of White’s advantage. It gives 1Kd2 Kd7 2g4 Kd6 with an advantage of less than 0.10 for White. From that position it gives 3f4 c5 4Kd3 Ke6 and still doesn’t see that White’s advantage is really huge. Then it goes 5h4 b6 6b3 c6 and only after those 6 moves for both sides each does it begin to recognize the magnitude of White’s advantage.
In spite of problems like this I strongly recommend using a computer or chess-playing software for post-game analysis. I don’t know which ones are objectively best. I have altered a number of prepared opening lines based on information I got from my chess-playing software. The computer often helps to identify where I messed up in recent tournament games. I think I am actually winning some games I otherwise would not have won because of information I got from a computer.
ANALYSIS OF GRANDMASTER GAMES
In game 16 of the 1972 World Championship match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, we have the opening sequence 1. e4 e5, 2. Nf3 Nc6, 3. Bb5 a6, 4. Bxc6 dc6, 5. O-O f6, 6. d4 Bg4 producing the position shown below:
Fischer tried 7. de Qxd1, 8. Rxd1 fe, 9. Rd3 but could only draw. According to Houdini 7. c3 is better. The computer says that 7. ____ ed, 8. cd Bxf3, 9. Qxf3 Qxd4?, 10. Rd1 is very bad for Black. Houdini gives 9.___ Qd7, 10. h3 Be6 as better but insufficient for equality. This is an example among many others of how computers are rewriting chess books. Although computers are by no means flawless I find them to be an excellent and valuable training tool.
In some cases computers confirm what has generally been accepted for decades. Consider for example the Sicilian Dragon and the Yugoslav Attack. The conventional wisdom has long been that the Yugoslav Attack poses more difficulties for Black than other variations. Computers have largely confirmed this to be true. Computers have been used to determine the truth about many endgames.
The chess-playing software I have used has had occasional problems with technical issues. Sometimes “Unpacking error” would appear on the screen and it would go into a perpetual loop with a very annoying “ding, ding, ding, ding.” From experience I found a way out when this happened which avoided having to take the computer to a repair shop. You unplug the your PC and keep it unplugged for about 45 minutes. Then you plug it back in again. If you see a message on the screen that says “Reconfiguring Windows” you are out of the woods. If you instead hear “ding, ding, ding” again, you have to unplug again. You have to keep the PC unplugged long enough to force it to recreate windows. Houdini 3 has been replaced with Houdini 4. I hope later versions of Houdini got rid of this terrible software bug. If you have Houdini or buy it somewhere and run into this problem, this is how you get out of it. This problem tends to distract from the fact that Houdini is one of the strongest chess playing software programs out there.
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