The Happy Meal of Chess Books!

I got a pingback on my blog today from “Chess Book Reviews” with a review for Tactics Time, entitled “The Happy Meal of Chess Books

mcdonalds-Hamburger-Happy-Meals

You can read the blog here: http://chessbookreviews.wordpress.com/2014/02/07/the-happy-meal-of-tactics-books/ 

Now I don’t want to seem like I am defending myself, because I agree with a lot of what the author says, and I think it was a very well written, and well researched and fair review, and I appreciate everyone who takes the time to check out my work, which the reviewer clearly did.

But I would like to clarify a few points…

With any body of work it is easy to pick out a few things that are wrong, exaggerated, bad examples, etc.

At this point I have written several books, hundreds of newsletters, dozens of blog posts, magazine columns, podcasts, tweets, etc, etc.

This adds up to thousands of chess puzzles and thousands of words.

Not every tactic problem I have put out into the world is “great”.

Not every sentence is Shakespeare.

I know this, and my readers know this.

But despite the occasional “egg”, I receive emails almost every single day from people all over the world who tell me that “Tactics Time” has helped them.  Maybe they read a newsletter, and saw a tactic and remembered the pattern, and saw it later.  Often just the idea of focusing their study on tactics, even if it isn’t from my materials, helped them gain hundreds of rating points. 

Many people told me this is the first chess book they actually finished.

I could go on and on about all the positive feedback I have received about Tactics Time.  Every story is slightly different, but the point is that I have received hundreds of these types of emails the past few years.

Some details on a few of the points the reviewer mentions

Scholar’s mate

Some people hated the fact that Tactics Time 1 included examples of “Scholar’s Mate” and even “Fool’s Mate”.

Of course, I could have left these out with the assumption that “everybody knows these already”, but I didn’t.

Quick story…

There is a somewhat famous chess teacher in Denver who REFUSED to teach his students Scholar’s mate.  He felt this wasn’t the “right” way to play chess, and didn’t want them getting into “bad habits” or playing for “tricks and traps”.

So he taught these little kids proper “sound” openings that the Grandmasters play, advanced endgame theory, and reviewed the middle game plans of the greats.

So can you guess what happened when these students went to the State Championship and played against the kids who DID know Scholar’s mate and all the related patterns?

They got their BUTTS KICKED by Scholar’s mate!!

butt kicklol

So yeah, I agree the Scholar’s mate problem is dumb, and probably could have been left out, but it is such an important one to know that I put it in there for completeness, and so these poor Denver student’s could actually learn it from someone!

Tony Robbins

The reviewer mentions how I love Tony Robbins, which is completely true.

Tony Robbins CHANGED MY LIFE

Years ago I found out that my wife, who I loved more than anything in the world, had been cheating on me for years with one of my best friends.

Needless to say after this I was really devastated. 

I started a downward spiral. 

I was barely functional.

I would go into work and sit at my desk and cry.

I would be in meetings with tears rolling down my face.

One time I had to ask the admin for a hug because I was so sad inside.

I started to develop a bad drinking problem.

I spent most of my spare time drunk, hungover and depressed.

One day as I was driving home from work I saw a huge billboard off of I-25 with a picture of Tony Robbins.  He was coming to Colorado Springs to give one of his “Unleash the Power Within” seminars.

Tony-Robbins

It was like the Buddhist Proverb

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

I realized I was close to “rock bottom”, and needed to get my shit together.  So I signed up ASAP for the seminar.

When I walked into the seminar I was an emotional mess.  When I walked out of the seminar, I had more confidence than I ever did in my entire life.

Robbins had us walking on hot coals in our bare feet, jumping up and down and chanting and screaming.  There was hugging and crying, goal setting, and all sorts of “self help” type of stuff.

It sent my life on a completely different trajectory. 

I drank the self help kool aid big time, and starting consuming everything I could get my hands on in the areas of self improvement, success, motivation, psychology, etc, etc.

Flash Forward – Now I am a best selling chess author, I have a beautiful girlfriend that I love, and I haven’t had a drink of alcohol in over 1.5 years.

Most importantly I feel HAPPY and not BONE-CRUSHING DEPRESSION.

It also taught me that improvement in an area of your life doesn’t have to be a long and painful struggle.  Robbins is about getting results FAST – and he delivers.

So people can make fun of “self help” and the “Tony Robbins” of the world as much as they want, but I know what he did for me personally, and there are millions of others who will also attest to his ability to help people. 

Giving back

Once I “got my shit together”, I decided I wanted to give something back to the world.  So I started a free chess improvement e-mail newsletter.

Now granted, I am not the strongest chess player in the world, but I feel like I am at least “above average”, and felt like I had something to say.

I felt like most of the stuff written for chess players was WAY over the heads of average players. And even if you could comprehend it, it wasn’t likely to actually help you WIN GAMES.

The chess world was filled with people cooking “filet mignon”, with a total lack of things like a happy meal!

I had been writing my Tactics Time chess column since 2004, and it was a pretty natural progression to take it to the next level.

While writing this column I discovered that MOST of the games I was looking at were decided by a simple tactic.  Since the column only had space for 9 problems, I had to throw most of these simple ones out. 

But with a kindle book I now had plenty of room, and could include these “simple” ones – the ones players were often missing.

I am not claiming that doing these puzzles are a “magic pill”, but I think that often just a simple shift in mindset, or a new habit such as “look for tactics on every move”, or “look at all your forcing moves – checks and captures”, can just be the small nudge that helps a player make rapid improvement.

Like Robbins, I am about getting results.  Doing tactics gets results.  If doing “XYZ” got results better than tactics, I would be the first one recommending “XYZ”.  I have never had a single person tell me – Hey Tim, I followed your advice and my chess game got WORSE.

 Infomercials

The review mentioned how I often sound like an infomercial.

This also made me laugh out loud – because it is 100% true!

Many times I DO sound like an informercial!

What is an informercial?

It is information + a commercial

If I just did the commercial part and only told people to buy my books, then it would be annoying and obnoxious.

If I only gave out free information, there would be no reason to buy my book.

Why are there informercials on TV? 

Because they WORK!

Infomericals get people EXCITED.

Informericals teach people.

The people in informericals have PASSION for what they are selling.

I have a great passion for helping chess players, and if that makes me sound like the Sham Wow guy, I can live with that :)

shamwow

 

Calculation

Of course you have to calculate in a game to win.  I am not claiming that you don’t. 

I think that calculation can be made much easier when you already have a huge collection of patterns stored in your brain, but you still have to “crunch the numbers”.

Calculation 1

No one should be saying “that looks somewhat similar to a back rank tactic mate I saw in Tactics Time – not sure if it will work or not, but let’s go for it!”

That would be ridiculous!

I don’t really consider myself qualified to be giving others advice on the topic of how to calculate, so I don’t really get into that subject.  I also don’t give advice on openings, middle game planning, endgames, etc, etc. 

It doesn’t mean those aren’t important, I just don’t feel qualified to be teaching that kind of stuff, and I am not interested in it enough to be writing books or blog posts or anything else about it. 

I found my niche, and I enjoy it, and that is what I am going to keep focusing on.  There are thousands of books written on chess, and I don’t really have anything new or insightful to add on the topic of calculation.

This is basically a hobby for me.  I have a full time job as a software engineer.  I am not a “chess professional”, or “professional author”.  I am just a guy who loves chess tactics from amateur games, and feel that they can help a typical chess player improve their game.

 

Other tactics books

I have no problem with people reading other tactics books.  I have read (or at least looked at) most all of them. There are not a lot of “bad” tactics books, or ones that won’t help you.  I don’t believe Tactics Time is “the only chess book you will ever need”.  Chess is supposed to be fun.  If you want to study tactics by theme – that’s great – there are plenty of books that have that already, and they have been around for 100 years. 

I think the “unique selling propositions” of Tactics Time are that

  • The positions come from real games
  • The positions come from games of amateur players

Most other chess books are going to show you a million queen sacrifices (“sac, sac, mate”), which are fun as heck, but don’t really happen that often in the real world.

It is like the reviewer is saying the problems are too easy, but then they should be sorted by theme and level of difficulty.  Wouldn’t this make them even easier?  If you already know there is a tactic, then someone says, and BTW it is a knight fork!  AND it is about a 5 out of 10 on level of difficulty!

You are already giving a huge hint just by saying there is a tactic to begin with (unless you throw in “trick questions” like Lev Albert, where some problems the tactic doesn’t work).

 

Anyone can do this!

This part cracked me up. Yeah, this is true!  ANYONE could have written Tactics Time. 

It isn’t “rocket surgery”.

ea8c_rocket_surgeonBut just because anyone could do it, doesn’t mean it was easy.

And just because an idea is obvious in hindsight, doesn’t mean it was obvious to begin with.

Remember we put a man on the moon before anyone thought to put wheels on a suitcase!

man_on_moonI have spent hundreds of hours collecting games and going over them.  I have spent countless hours learning how to use the computer tools, to learn all the various software programs involved, to learn about self publishing, blogging, design, marketing, etc, etc.

It reminds me of the quote “I’m a 10-year overnight success.” :)

Reverse engineering what someone else did, and duplicating that, is not hard.  Coming up with the unique idea and actually IMPLEMENTING it in the first place is the hard part.

Many authors will tell you that writing the book is the “easy” part. 

Anyone can throw a book up on amazon these days.  The “barrier to entry” is non existent.

Most first time authors have this “If you build it, they will come” mentality, that doesn’t work outside of a Kevin Costner movie.

fieldofdreamsGetting a book to sell is incredibly difficult.

Getting a book to be #1 in your niche for over a year, from a first time author, is almost unheard of.

TacticsTimeNumberOneThis is another reason that I like the McDonald’s analogy.  McDonald’s is #1.  It is incredibly easy to make fun of McDonald’s, but not their results.  McDonald’s has loyal fans that LOVE it, and others who HATE it, and love to tell others what crap it is.  

Anthea and I realized and predicted a while ago that there was going to be some “backlash” from the Chess Intelligentsia at some point, because the book had been so successful. 

Obviously you can’t please everyone.  Even Harry Potter has hundreds of bad reviews. 

It reminds me of this Winston Churchill quote.

You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.

Conclusion

Sorry for going off on a rant here.

I hope I didn’t seem too defensive. 

I just wanted to touch on a few of the points, and give “my side of the story”.

I truly did enjoy the review, and I am super impressed at how much research the author clearly did, and I respect and value his opinion.

It also made me appreciate my fans and supporters even more than I already did, which I didn’t think was possible!  I am really fortunate to have so many readers and fans, and supports, and I REALLY appreciate that!! 

THANK YOU for your support!

Thank-You






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5 thoughts on “The Happy Meal of Chess Books!

  1. What a great sport you are for putting a link to that horrible review on your own newsletter and then answering it so thoroughly and cheerfully; very impressive, great job son. I can say “son” because I am sixty five years old, and since retiring I decided to try to improve my chess play, your books have helped more than anything else. I simply cannot remember strategy and long drawn out plans, so I will not likely ever be a truly great player, but you know what I love to play anyway, and “Tactics Times” 1001 and 1002 have made a huge difference. My game has improved and I am having even more fun. Keep up the good work sir!

  2. Thank you Tim for a great post and a lot of personal information that you didn’t have to put out there. Your work and writings really do provide a lot of inspiration for a lot of people.

    As I read the critique, I had to look up more about the author fully expecting to find out that it was a grandmaster who wanted folks to learn the old school way. Much to my surprise, I see that the author has been in the same rating ballpark for the past three years and his rating is under 1800. Coincidentally, not all that much different than mine.

    The difference is that I do appreciate your good work. Your newsletters provide me the five to ten minutes each day to spend on tactics – whether they are easy or hard. Your problems have provided me with lesson material for my students. The challenge to think outside the box and view things differently have definitely improved my game play and helped me to win more games. I can say that my recent breakthrough over 1800 has much to do with Tacticstime along with constantly preparing lessons for students. Having to explain why a move is made or better than another move does make one focus more on that theory when playing.

    Also, your newsletters are almost always upbeat. Quite often I save them for when I need an uplifting moment in the day to just break the stress or help me change gears.

    Several members in my club and one of the parents of my students have told me that they have gone through your book and found it to be helpful practice for them because the problems are varied in strength. They don’t get all the tactics right off the bat, but it’s good to see that not every problem is solved by sacrificing the queen.

    By the way, Tim didn’t ask me to put this post up. I saw the Happy Meal comment in a newsletter post and looked up the reference for it and felt compelled to respond.

    Tim seems to be a good guy who is doing something good for chess and deserves to be commended for doing so. It’s way too easy in this world for people to tear others down. The world is a much better place when we seek to help support the good stuff.

    Keep up the good stuff Tim!

  3. Hi Tim!

    I am really impressed by your OBVIOUS idea – to present very simple tactics and explain them briefly! Even though I am much stronger than 90% of your readers – I do not feel your tactics are “too easy” for the target audience. Most often I can solve them in 3-5 seconds, but anyway I enjoy them and they are inspiring to me. There are very low amount of puzzles – those showing a real interesting chess tactics and motifs. I always try to find a refutation and other solutions in your newsletters – and it gives me some kind of “new approach and fresh perspective” – even when I see the “old buddy position”.

    And to the book – if there would be NO enemies and jealous commentaries – it would have meant that “something strange is going on”. Believe me – I have done some kind of support to many chess players (novices and beginners) and those guys – “I know and I can do much better than you” – behave like their hearts would be torn down and my success would be their FAILURE. After they seen that I did it and I am PROUD of it – no matter their agressive comments – they stopped making “friendly comments and pieces of advice”.

    The same will be with YOU my friend. You have given your heart and soul to support these passionates and novices – and they love you for your contribution (as much as I do!). “Dogs barking and the horses are going further” – if you know you do GOOD thing – do not consider these “dogs who cannot stand of anyone success”.

    Good luck Tim!

  4. Hi Tim!
    I have to point out an important aspect of your product. I agree that the critical review by John Hartman was good and being a coach I too feel it was right. In fact John’s review was exactly the same thoughts in my head when I first received your product. I immediately wanted to ask for a refund and while on one hand I was thinking if I had been conned or tricked by all the ads on the other hand, I must say I was also trying to justify the product by looking deeper into the problems/database.

    I then remembered that you had specifically mentioned that this was NOT meant for players who were already strong (so there was my refutation of it not being for me). I then decided to try it on my students as exam sheets or warm-ups before the class started. And guess what…? They were having a tough time solving many of them :)

    Now you might wonder what important aspect I am going to talk about. It has nothing to do with Chess. It has to do with Human psychology.
    I am giving a lot of importance to the fact that I did NOT GET IT FOR FREE!
    We never respect anything that is free.
    Anything that you pay for will be held in high esteem by you. And that is my personal experience. I have now started to enjoy all the positions that you have in the product and like seeing my students grappling with the problems that appear simple for me at times. That gives me a pleasure as a coach.
    Mind you some problems are no pushovers. They need to be accurately solved. This is another bonus that I found when I saw to my chagrin that my answer was not the one printed. So it IS an useful book for me.

    Request: I would also like to see a tactics collection for strong players. I can also help with such work in case you are interested as I dabbled in Chess and Computers for the past 12 years and do have expertise in Chess Software.

    All the best Tim!

    Regards
    Kishore

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