Well, folks, I have done it: I began Michael de la Maza's notorious Seven Circles program on January 10th, 2007, and completed it on June 8th 2007. The following day(s) I competed in the U1600 section of the KY Open and went undefeated. Since May 20 I have played twenty-four rated games, losing only three; my current USCF rating is 1568, but I'm pretty sure I will clear 1700 by the next supplement. These words are meant not to boast, but to inspire.
Here are my thoughts on the program:
One-Those of you who have begun the program might be frustrated with the requirement that you finish each exercise within ten minutes, as the last 200-300 problems simply cannot be fully understood within that amount of time by the average player. So why did MDLM demand such a short time limit? Here are three possibilities. They are by no means mutually exclusive:
A) Mr. De la Maza was a man of exceptional natural intelligence and memory, and was able to see all of the variations (including critical lines not listed in CT-ART) within ten minutes.
B) The positions can be understood in that time limit provided that one put his full focus into its solution. Many times during my training, I caught my mind wandering or at least ruminating over the same line. I really wish I hadn't done this, but then again, the art of concentration may be a nontrivial one.
C) MDLM was not going for perfection in his understanding of the position; rather, knowing and understanding only the given lines is sufficient, as is one's ability to assimilate subconsciously much of the material.
Two-As a result of my frustration with #1, I actually spent thirty minutes to an hour with many of those problems, analyzing unlisted variations with Fritz. I feel no shame in this, but it did cause me to take an extra month for the overall program (well, this and the fact that I took off ten solid days of training to catch up on schoolwork…)
Three-I am actually going to go back through the entire set of problems in CT-ART, at my own pace, and make sure that I perfectly understand and can calculate with lightning efficiency all side variations-listed or unlisted-that I deem important for my own understanding. This will be my "Eighth Circle," so to speak. Essentially, I want to make sure I know the positions "by hand," to use the terminology of my new chess love-interest, IM Rashid Ziatdinov.
For the rest of the summer, I plan to study only tactics and openings. Silman and Shereshevsky will come next (as will an end to my blitz-free diet!), but not until I am at least a solid Class A player. Yes, I did say openings-I believe it is important that I play this phase of the game quickly and confidently. Further, I'm going to defy the spirit of RCI and play some "real" openings (Sicilian, Scotch, Benoni), rather than offbeat lines like the ones MDLM used to throw off his opponents. This is because I plan to make Master someday, and I think MDLM's dubious opening repertoire would have hampered his ability to make it there. (Not that he wouldn't've made it, it just would have been a really tough climb, tougher that if he had played better openings.)