Training the Right Verbs

(This article originally appeared in the Master Skill Newsletter for February 27, 2023.)

Hi, it’s Aiden.

In Chess, it’s easy to get hung up on nouns.

There are so many of them. Everywhere you look, nouns.

Openings, endgames, tactics, pawn structure, even visualization. All nouns.

Most training content is obsessed with nouns as well. Puzzles, or spaced repetition, or books.

There isn’t enough attention on the verbs of Chess.

Verbs like think, or plan, or calculate.

Not enough focus on what we actually do when we’re sitting at a Chessboard.

There’s one verb I want to focus on today. It’s a rather important one.

If you can do this verb well, you tend to play better, seize your opportunities.

If you can’t do it, things get tricky.

The idea for this newsletter topic came from two comments on an exercise in the Don’t Move Training System.

It’s wonderful to receive such lovely comments (thanks, Liam and Ben), but it’s even better when they teach me something.

Ben and Liam have hit on something critical here. Something about verbs, not nouns.

Something that highlights why there’s such a gulf for most players between puzzle rating and regular Chess rating.

There’s something fundamentally different about a puzzle than an actual Chess game.

First, you know there’s a tactic in the puzzle position- otherwise it wouldn’t be a puzzle!

But that’s not the difference I’m interested in today. I’ve already discussed that in a past MSN entry.

The second difference is the one I want to talk about today.

A Chess puzzle shows you a position with a tactic. But in a game of Chess, we don’t often find ourselves in a position with a tactic.

We normally have to create the opportunity for a tactic, and then execute it.

This means the verb, the thing we’re actually doing, is very different between a puzzle and a game.

In a puzzle, the verb is “find tactic”.

In a game, the verb is “visualize ahead a few moves and then find the tactic.”

I went looking for a way to train the correct verb, to replicate the experience of finding tactics in games.

I found a few tools trying to do it, but none were quite right. They all used written notation or arrows to show you the moves to calculate.

Unfortunately, we don’t get to use written notation and arrows when we’re calculating over a board.

We have to remember each move ourselves. Hold all that information in our heads.

I needed to train like that, with that same pressure on my memory to track things. Even more so.

Isolate and Intensify, my mantra.

So I turned to my trusty audio training again.

The result is the Couple-Too-Early exercise.

And it’s one of these CTE exercises that inspired the wonderful comments above.

Today, you get to try a handful for free.

My favorite bit? I didn’t even design two of them!

They were contributed by the wonderful Aussie Chess master and streamer, FM John Curtis.

You can find the exercises here.

I hope you love them and they give you great value for your Chess.

Here’s to the journey,


- Aiden (Founder)

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