Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Not backing down

  I previously wrote about my posting to Bob Long’s blog about his description of the rating of one of the personalities attending his October’s chess clinic, Andres Hortilossa, (“his rating was 2199 last I looked”) and the misleading response Bob posted. I had previously written a review about Hortillosa’s book “Improve Your Chess at Any Age”, which served a collections of the author’s games and outlines his chess improvement system.

  It seems as if I have opened a hornet’s nest. 2 weekends ago, the author responded in a blog posting referring to my opinions as a ‘big lie’ and ‘factual accusations’. And this past weekend, I was sent a copy of 4-page article printed in Long’s ‘Chess Reports’ magazine where he and Hortillosa refer to me as an ‘idiot’ and ‘sophomoric’ [Clarification: Long referred to me as an 'idiot', Hortillosa as using 'sophomoric logic'], among quite a few other insulting phrases. The language in the private forum was a lot less civil than in the blog postings, but I don’t think I was meant to see this one, as it is a subscriber-only magazine that is part instruction and part advertisement for Bob’s other chess-related entrepreneurial endeavors.

  I like to have a good humor about things and don't care for all the vitriol from Bob and Hortilossa. I offered my opinions and generally had a favorable review of the book. I'm rather offended at taking a private beatdown in a subscriber only magazine without having the opportunity to respond, but since I have my own 'media' outlet as the Tom Petty song goes, I can stand my ground and not back down.

  Hortillosa seems upset with my opinion that his jump from an unrated international player to one rated 2199 was the result of an exceptional performance in his first internationally rated tournament (most US tournaments are not internationally rated due to the high cost and extra regulations), since his national rating (that was established over 20 years and 900+ games) was never 2199 and his international rating has been in free-fall over the past 2 years (losing 200+ points in less than 2 years). In his post he points out that his initial international rating was indeed 2199 and asks if I am just ignorant of that fact or am just promulgating a ‘big lie’, treating my mentioning that his national rating was never 2199 as a denial of his initial international rating.

  He also doesn’t seem to like my conclusion of his rating downslide as showing his system “could not improve his chess at his current age”. He notes that when he follows his system he has good results, but when he doesn’t follow his system, he plays like ‘his critics’ (that would be me, I assume). I’ll give him a tie in the ‘sarcastic remark’ contest although I do like my play on the book title better. An improvement system (chess or otherwise) doesn’t give me a lot of confidence when the inventor and primary example of the system can’t follow it consistently. If he can’t follow his own system, what hope do I have of following it and more importantly, why should I even bother? In an entire universe of chess improvement systems, I’m going to pick one that the originator can’t follow? For me to sign on to a system, I’d like to see a sustained improvement from its leading advocate, not being Cinderella for a tournament or two and then having the horse and carraige turning back into mice and a pumpkin at midnight. I’ll pass on playing Charley in a real life version of ‘Flowers for Algernon’.

  I could relate when Hortillosa compared his system to a weight loss program that I shouldn’t dismiss because he has put his weight back on. He says “Hank, ignore my own ’weight’ issues. See if you can really use my prescriptive ‘diet plan’ because you might be a better practitioner of the plan than I could ever become.” I don’t think Hortillosa is aware of my having been recently labeled as obese at my work’s health screening, so I won’t accuse him of being weight-intolerant, but I did get to think who would I want to help me lose weight if I was really serious about it? I came up with 4 choices. Who would you pick?

Yes, I picked #2 also. There’s a reason the TV show on NBC isn’t called ‘Losing it with the guy sleeping on a lazy boy' or ‘Losing it with the guy who can drink his furniture’. I went to the Target today and looked through all the weight loss books and workout videos. None of the people on the covers of the books and DVD’s looked like a guy that would need the New York Fire Department to come over with ropes and ladders to help him get out of his apartment building when he fell down, like this fellow
(You can read about it here).

  Mind you, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being so obese that you need the fire department to help you out of your apartment building when you fall down. I'm merely saying that I’d go elsewhere for my dieting advice, thank you. But, maybe I can get in touch with him to see if he has a chess improvement program…

  (How's that for sophomoric?)


Bud said...

We can learn a lot from #4

ADH said...

Hi Hank,

I posted an apology for misunderstanding your posting on Bob Long's blog. I am not upset about the slide in my rating nor in the absence of lasting proof with regards to my improvement gains courtesy of my system.

However, improvement can be measured in different ways. It can be subjective experience. I know I am playing much better than when I was over 2000. Gains in knowledge do not necessarily translate to gains in ratings though some of it (if not a lot) will eventually manifest in rating increases.

Just as I have had skyrocketed to 2199 FIDE, I have also divested (as you have correctly pointed out) over 200 points in just two years and just as fast in that sense.

Please make sure you attribute clearly who said what on this posting because I do not want people to misconstrue your posting. However, I accept responsibility for the words that are mine.

Like I said, I like your review of my book.

Please realize also that it was not intended as a games collection. But using my own games was a matter of necessity because I had to provide proof of the efficacy of my system. Wouldn't you agree? The games formed a body of evidence arguing for the system. Look at the games and not the rating increase or decrease. Compare the games (for its quality or lack thereof) against my older games. My older games are in Chessbase.

What irked me is the outright dismissive tone of your posting more than anything else. Criticisms of the ideas presented in the book are valid and I welcome those. Until now, no one has lobbed rational criticisms at the system itself. Does it work when you follow it? Are the steps easy to follow?

Like criticisms are more weighty than taking issue with my rating.
It takes the argument away from the main point.

With regards to the diet plan and weight issues, I think you missed the point there. A diet plan and a trainer are two unrelated points of comparison. A diet plan will work if followed strictly regardless of who or how your trainer looks like.

As a matter of fact, no amount of training will make you lose weight unless you accompany the training with cutting down on your intake. I know this because I was a Master Fitness Trainer in the Army. A guy as muscled as Arnold does not know how to make you lose weight. In fact, he can only tell you how to gain weight (muscle weight).

Weight loss is simple. Less in and more out. Exercise, in fact, will make you hungrier and you will tend to eat more.

The challenge is to focus on the system and to impartially examine its merits. Do not worry about my personal rating increases or decreases. I guarantee you no amount of rating increases will positively shift the focus on the claims of the book.

After all, for those rated below 2000, should not my rating suffice?

Best regards,
Andres D Hortillosa

HankAnzis said...

Hi Andres,
I would agree that one cannot link short term chess results to a change in chess ability. I have seen many players who make a huge leap in a short time. Inevitably they have been increasing their chess understanding, but have been missing a piece of the puzzle and when they find the missing piece, their results catch up to their understanding almost as if magic. It may have been a hole in their opening thinking, learning or unlearning some endgame concepts, being freed from some worries in their non-chess life, or just the confidence to play at a new level. I could not say that your rating is undergoing some of the same tribulations because there is a missing piece in your game that when found will make this period look like an aberration when looking at your rating graph in the future.

Regarding your system, I feel it is quite similar to the Purdy system, without the specific listing of tactics during what you call ‘reconnaissance’ and also with minimal instruction of what to look for during said reconnaissance. I am a huge fan of the Purdy method, and it has helped me immeasurably in my correspondence games. The problem I observed in myself and others using the Purdy method (and I expect I would likely see using your similar method) in over the board chess is that the user is limited by their ability to identify and see all the tactics in the allotted time. I refer to this as the ‘talent’ factor.

I feel there must be a certain tactical ability base and also the ability/experience to evaluate resulting positions before your system can be used. To say ‘White can play Rc7 or Rc8 with advantage’ is one thing, but recognizing it in the heat of battle is another. Most of the ‘tactical demons’ I’ve had the chance to see up close very rarely make these types of errors when not in time trouble. I’ve observed that the better one gets at tactics, the more one develops a built-in ‘mental system’ that does many of the same benefits that the Hortillosa method provides, but until the tactical abilities are in place, no system will prevent the tactical errors since they are beyond the users abilities to prevent. I’ve told beginner students to try to find their opponents’ best reply before making their own move. This is a very simple and easily digestible version of the Purdy method, but as always the devil is in the details. Until the beginner learns that their opponent can take their queen, they will keep making the queen move that looks like it is making a double attack and then losing their queen. And as they get better at tactics, they will get better at anticipating their opponents’ next move and at some point the more complicated methods will make sense.

Your method is a good way to get the player to consistently consider their moves, but I feel it requires more tools than the average class player possesses and will lead to frustration. Now, this may a bias on my part as I generally play in much faster time controls that your method seems meant for. At last year’s US Open, the Hortillosa (or Purdy) method would have garnered me some of the half points that I missed against my opponents, but it would have gotten me in some serious difficulties at the G/45 and G/30 tournaments where I have enjoyed some of my happier memories (2006 Class C and 2007 Class B G/30 US Champion). I would think that the adult class player’s time is best spent on a) tactics, tactics, tactics, b) confidence in endings (most class players I meet think they are awful in the endgame), c) an opening repertoire that can obtain a large percentage of either a lively or dull position to the user’s taste with minimal preparation, and d) focusing on a creating conditions for success (proper rest and nutrition, positive attitude, self-confidence). I’ve also noticed that when the class player gets to 1800, more positional abilities are needed for success (what I call the Silman method, but there are many others).