Friday, February 05, 2016

Mate in one

I'm training "Find all checks" (FAC) lately. How could I have sunken so low? It all started with the analysis of my errors with tactical improvement. That brought to light that there are two main area's of improvement. The first is that I loose a lot of time with useless activities. I calculated that I can speed up about 6x when I am able to cut that specific waste of time. Inventing and internalizing a thought process would discipline the mind, and do exactly that: cut the waste of time.
The second weakness I noticed, is in the visualization-II of future positions. Before I start working on my thought process, I want to find out if I can improve in the visualization-II of future positions. I found that this visualization leaned heavily on a certain set of subtasks. The adage being "you have to have perfect vision of the current position first, before you can improve at the future positions".

And so I happened to arrive at mate in one, in an attempt to improve my vision. Mate in one is the ultimate current position, since the position has no future. Incidentally, I started with mate in one "hard" (M1-h), since I didn't know the difference with "easy"(M1-e).

The discussion about M1 is a bit obscured by the fact that we don't have an absolute calibration point. We don't know how fast a FM does this M1 exercise, and the chain of assumptions to come up with an educated guess is cluttered with noise and tolerances. "You have to become 6x faster than you are" is a bit vague, especially when the improvements of the first week are ignored. So I have to work with my gut feeling in stead "is there room for improvement here?", and that probably is good enough for me.

When investigating the subtask of M1-h, I stumbled upon the subtask "Find all checks". Thomasz tried it, and he found that he was way slower in FAC than in M1-easy. So apparently he has found a way to find the mate without looking at all possible checks. Now that is stunning. Has his unconscious mind worked its mythical magic, or is there something else going on? I think the latter. The subtask FAC stems from M1-h, not M1-e. The "hard" mates are derived from a database with compositions. In a composition, the composer usually builds in a lot of "temptations". That are checks that looks like mate, but which aren't. This makes that looking for checks and control if it is actually mate or just a scam, are subtasks that are overly abundant in M1-h, but not in M1-e. Although they happen every now and then in M1-e.

I think that the skills that can be acquired by training the subtasks of M1-h, are very well transferable to overall tactics, so I stick with that for the time being.


Monday, February 01, 2016

Elaborating on a thought process.

In the pursuit of a universally usable thought process (TP), the following categories can be identified:

  • Control beforehand.
  • Looking for inspiration.
  • Control afterwards.

I use the term "control" in stead of "checks" to avoid confusion with "giving check". I like to keep the TP as minimalistic as possible. It makes no sense to cover every exotic idea you can think of. The goal of a TP must be simplifying a complex position. The idea is, that as much as possible, the TP must be automated. That implicates that steps that can be envisioned as a picture are preferred. I formulate the steps as questions, you need to interrogate the position for answers.

Control beforehand.
  • Is my king in check? 
 In an OTB game, this step can be skipped. Since if you don't know that your king is in check, you might be better off when seeking a hobby that suits you more. Although in time trouble, you see sometimes that kings are checked without both players noticing it.
When solving puzzles, it is a good idea to check if your king is in check, because if it is and you don't know it, you are wasting a lot of time. While controlling if your king is in check might take less than a second. It is a typical board vision exercise.

Looking for inspiration.
When doing tactical exercises, there are two questions to be asked (= my personal TP):
  •  Which are the squares from which to attack?
  • Which pieces are overworked?
When you are solving mate in ones, you don't have to look far for inspiration, since, well, you already know what the position is about. You better ask these questions:
  • Is the box around the king closed?
If the answer is no, the following question should be asked:
  • Which move fixes the hole in the box around the king while giving check at the same time?
If the answer is yes:
  • Which move gives check?
In general, the category "looking for inspiration" should provide a list of candidate moves. For other problems than mate in one, I probably should dive deeper in the matter. But for mate in one, these two questions suffice. Checking the box around the king when doing mate in one "hard" is perfectly suited to train aura vision, a subject that happens to be a major weakness of me.

Control afterwards.
This category adds standard chess knowledge to a move. It takes in consideration all possible logical answers to your move.
  • Is the piece you intend to move pinned against your king?
  • Is the square that you intend to move to protected?
  • Can the opponent interpose the intended check?
  • Creates the intended move a new hole in the box around the king?

If you can answer all the blue questions from the three categories within, say, 5 seconds, there can't be going on much thinking in your head. That would be good enough for me. Since that equals about 12 mates per minute, that would be an outstanding performance. For mate in one "hard".

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Pushing the envelope

Back to the basics.
Having done a lot of mate in 1-hard (M1-h) lately, it becomes clear that it is important to have your chess atoms in top condition. Under chess atoms (the chess basics) I comprehend the four basic actions of Radovic:
  • Attack
  • Restrict
  • Block
  • Protect
 In a way 15 seconds per M1-h is not so shabby, when you consider the workload you process in those 15 seconds. Yet I feel it should be possible to do it much faster. But in order to do so, I have to become much faster at the basics. I don't think it is a waste of time to work on M1 solely. When I do chess problems at CT, it is evident that I suffer from the same weakness, being slow with the basics. I expect that improvement of the basics acquired doing M1, fully transfers to the other regions of tactical problems.

Comparing mate in 1-easy (M1-e) to mate in 1-hard (M1-h).
 I compared the M1-e with the M1-h. The main difference that I found is that with the M1-e the king is often at the rim of the board, while with M1-h the king is more often in the middle of the board, hence you have to check the aura of your pieces to see whether the cage around the king is complete.
After a few hundred M1-e I reached a speed of 12 mates (e) per minute, while after 6 days M1-h my maximum speed is 5 mates (h) per minute. So the difference in speed between M1-e and M1-h is mainly caused by slow aura vision (chess atom = restrict).

Conscious versus automatic learning.
There are two methods of learning you can try when you want to improve your speed at M1. One method is based on conscious learning, the other on unconscious automatic learning. With conscious learning, you visualize-II the solution for a while, in the hope that somehow you remember the visual characteristics of the position, so you will recognize the same type of position faster in the future. With automatic learning, you don't consciously look at the solution for a while, you just try work as fast as you can. My experiments with Troyis have proved that it is possible to improve automaticly and unconsciously. Just do a lot of exercises as fast as you can.

It seems that Thomasz and Aox tried to improve at M1-e the "Troyis-way". Just pushing the speed limits in an effort to become faster. This method seems subject to plateauing after a week or so of intensive training, just like Troyis. It has proven to be very difficult, if not impossible, to go beyond a certain threshold, despite a lot of working in the salt mines.

Improving with the automatic learning method.
If you plateau with automatic learning, it means that the subject you try to learn is too complex. So you need to divide the complex task in several simple subtasks, and train them separately. When you speed up the subtasks, it follows that the main task will be performed faster too. It looks logical to split up the database with M1-e problems. If I'm not mistaken the program of Aox makes use of a simple javascript array with FEN positions. I assume that it suffices to just replace this array.

The problem is, how do you select the appropriate positions? Scid has some possibilities to select positions based on their used material. Maybe that can be put to use.

Improving with the conscious learning method.
The method of conscious visualization-II has not been proven yet. This is the method I want to try first, since the other guys already have tried their hand with automatic training.

Either way, the journey will be very interesting.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Aura vision

Aox has, a bit by accident I presume, developed a nifty program to train aura vision: mate in 1 - hard.
As usually I'm overly critical about everything and take nothing for granted. That makes me quite annoying, not in the least place for myself. But there is nothing mean, or personal, or stubborn or nagging meant. I just doubt everything, that's a habit I had all my life. Twelve years of fruitless chess improvement has made me an expert in being wrong. Kinda. So I hope you will bear with me.

A bit about automatic training.
Although this post is about aura vision, I can't resist to talk about speed.
In the past we talked a lot about speed and automatic training. I came to the conclusion that training has to be conscious to yield results. There remained one clear exception though that contradicted this statement. I became better at playing Troyis by just playing it without any thinking whatsoever. In fact that even made me perform like a 2600 rated grandmaster at this exercise. The skills acquired by Troyis transferred to the chess board.

So I must admit that there are areas where unconscious automatic training will yield results. But you have to be careful. In the first week you make the biggest progress. After that you will plateau soon. But hey, who cares when you are already performing like a grandmaster?

I think that when you stall at mate in one, you already might have a very reasonable level of performance. It doesn't make much sense to try to improve beyond that level.

With Troyis you soon reach a plateau beyond which further improvement is next to impossible. There is a method though. When you give up automatic training, and try to figure out a strategy consciously. You can figure out a few rules, and integrate that into your play. The same is true for mate in one.

Well this are just a few thoughts to hopefully give you new ideas. If not, consider it not written.

Aura vision.
Let's talk about aura vision.

White to mate in 1 (hard)
The aura that radiates from the white pieces forms a cage around the black king. I take my time to visualize-II that cage. Since visualizing-II is the only way I know to communicate with my unconscious mind. After five days of training, it is hard to say if it works. It feels like it does, but usually this period of training is subject to euphoric bias, so I'm cautious. It certainly does not show it is working in a measurable way yet. For that a few weeks more training is needed. I intend to walk this path and to postpone the development of a thought process a little. I want to focus my energy in order to find out if this path is a dead end or not.

Thought process.
In fact, I can use these aura vision exercises perfectly well to investigate the ins and outs of a thought process. In each position there might be quite a few things going on:
  • Are all squares around the black king under attack or blockaded?
  • Is my king in check?
  • Is the piece I want to move not pinned against my king?
  • Is the square I want to move to not covered by the enemy?
  • Can the opponent interpose the check I intend to give?
As you see, there are quite a few subtasks to perform. All subtasks are closely related to the four actions of a piece that Radovic talks about:
  • Attack
  • Restrict
  • Block (shielding the line of attack)
  • Protect
So the training might yield results that transfer to other areas of the game.
I must be careful to train slow enough though, otherwise these subtasks may soon disappear from the training. If I try to improve the speed of the exercise in stead, it is easy to adopt a few strategies that are counter productive. For instance, I know that the black king will be mated on the square it stands on. So I can most of the time skip the check if all squares around him are covered. That changes the exercise from finding the mate to finding the right check. Since I'm not punished for a mistake, I might as well replace thinking with trying. I even found myself playing Qxg7 without even checking if the queen was protected there. It had to be, otherwise it was no mate. That way, speed prevents me from training the right subtasks, and leads easy to bad habits. So slow training is paramount.

Even the "simple" task of mate in one proves to be pretty complex. There are rumours that it is a good idea to split mate in 1 in several subtasks. There might be a way to simplify the exercise by dividing the database in different categories. Now there are "hard" en "easy" mates. I can imagine different categories of mates:
  • No redundant pieces.
  • No pinned pieced.
  • Only white pieces.
  • No black pieces that can interpose.
  • No checks possible on a covered square.
  • Etcetera.
Every category has a complement. Pinned pieces being the complement of no pinned pieces, for instance. Just philosophising.

@Aox, thanks for this beautiful program!

Sunday, January 24, 2016


The experiments with vision have lead to two important conclusions, until so far. The first is that a good thought process is paramount in order to guide your focus. The second conclusion is about the importance of visualization-I.

We will talk about thought processes later. Let's focus on visualization-I first.

Visualization-I = seeing the course of the future positions before the minds eye. It turns out that this type of visualization heavily leans on a specific subtask. If you do not master this specific subtask, then visualization-I is virtually impossible. Beyond a certain threshold of complexity, the burden on STM becomes to great and the visualization collapses. This specific type of board vision that is a subtask of visualization-I, I would like to call "aura vision". Aura = the squares that are covered by a piece. The lines or geometrical figure that emanate from the piece. If you can't see the aura of the pieces of the current position in an automatic and perfect way, you certainly will not be able too see it in future positions without an increasing toll on the STM.

I read the website of Momir Radovic (hattip to Robert). He talks about getting the chess basics right. As the chess basics, he identifies four actions a piece can do:
  • Attack
  • Restrict
  • Block (shielding the line of attack by a piece of minor value. putting it in a pin)
  • Protect

These four actions correlate with the actions I identified when a piece is under attack:
  • Annihilate the attacker (= attack the attacker)
  • Escape (= work your way through the holes in the restriction)
  • Block (= block the line of attack with your own piece)
  • Defend (= protect the piece under attack)

It is evident that we have indeed a few fundamental building blocks of the game here, and after ample thinking, I belief we have all fundamental building blocks here. Training subtasks of vision should start here. After reading mister Radivic's blog, I haven't been able to identify his solution of the vision training for each building block, until so far. Maybe one of the readers knows where he has written about that? He goes at great length to herald his solutions.

Three of the building blocks (attack, block and protect), are geared up around the pieces. Hence they are easy to learn. There are already two exercises available which are especially designed for this type of vision: point out the attacked pieces and point out the defended pieces. In practice, these three types of vision (attack, block and protect) don't pose much problems for advanced OTB players, since they can be learned by looking at the pieces. Heisman advised the attack and defence vision training especially for those who tend to leave their pieces en prise, if I'm not mistaken. Leaving a piece en prise without noticing it is uncommon beyond a certain level. And blocking the line of attack with a piece and forgetting it is pinned, is pretty uncommon too, so that's not where the problems lie. These are not the critical subtasks.

The critical subtask is aura vision. Since you don't see the aura when you focus solely on the pieces. For aura vision, you have to focus on the empty squares. From the four elementary building blocks of chess, as given by Radovic, "restrict" is related to aura vision. An example: when chasing a king over the board, you have to keep the king in an invisible cage, which fabric is made of the aura of the pieces.

Without perfect aura vision of the current position, your visualization of future positions is bound to collapse because of STM overload.

I will show you a position where that happens to me.

White to move
r1b2knr/pppp1Pp1/8/3N4/2q1P1p1/8/PB4PP/R4R1K w - - 0 1

If I try to visualize all variations of the toa, then my visualization-I collapses time and again, so I will have to restart. I hope you suffer from the same problem in this position, because then you will understand what I am talking about, otherwise, imagine as if you were failing ;)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Thought process redux

I have experimented with the master level exercises of ICT 2, lately. One thing that became clear, is that we need an "inner Robert Coble" chess module, that tells us "Qc4+!!" (ok, I will stop joking about that). Aox (luckily) never got tired to tell us, that we need a thought process. He is right. Just sitting back and focussing out works somewhat, at least it prevents tunnel vision, but it is not enough. We need to interrogate the position somehow.

To some extend, a thought process is highly personal. If you never miss a pin, there is no need to add it to your thought process. It is already internalized.
I have done my share with thought processes. I  trained the systems of other guys, and I invented my own brand. Usually, after a few weeks or months, I forgot the exercise and it went into oblivion. Yet I have a habit to sweep the board for targets and attackers, which stems from those periods of training a thought process. In general, those training sessions were quite experimental, since there was little proof that it actually worked. The purpose of the training was not quite clear. Or actually it was: experimenting.

But now I have come to the same conclusion for the umpteenth time, the goal of the exercise becomes much clearer. So it is easier to fine tune the exercise.

I'm not going to adopt a system that is invented by somebody else, since that leads easy to an overkill. Trying to adopt too many things at the same time, is a recipe for failure, is my experience. Less is more, and if it works, it is easy to add new elements later. In the first stage, I want to automate the following steps.

  • Step 1. Scan for attackers.
  • Step 2. Scan for targets
  • Step 3. Scan for attacking squares.

The first step is usually done by me before the computer moves, at CT.
The second step usually doesn't take much longer.
The third step needs some explanation. Take a look at the following diagram:

White to move

 Attackers: Q, R, R
Targets: Q, K
Attacking squares are squares where an attacker can attack the target:
d8 -1
f8 -2
e6 +0
e8 -1
c6 -1

The standard reasoning is:
  • What is the most promising square. In this case: e6
  • Can you add an attacker or?
  • Can you annihilate a defender? 
1.Rd8+ deflects the black queen from e6
1.... Qxd8
Now the pattern of the epaulette mate pops up. Mission of the TP accomplished.

Another example:

White to move
Attackers: Q,R,N,B
Target: K
Attacking squares:
f8 +0
g7 -1
g6 -1
h7 -1
e6 +0
f7 +0

The standard reasoning is:
  • What is the most promising square. In this case: f8,e6,f7
  • Can you add an attacker or?
  • Can you annihilate a defender?
 What pops up is that the knight is overworked. Mission TP accomplished. Now the moves suggest themselves:
1.Rxf8 removing a defender of e6 and h7
1... Qxf8

What pops up is that the rook is overworked. Mission TP accomplished.
2.Bxe6+ Rxe6
With the TP, everything that is happening is so much clearer. Taking the burden of the STM by simplifying the position.

Now a quite different animal. Has nothing to do with the previous. The following diagram provides an excellent exercise in visualisation (I). Can you visualize this beautiful mate in 8? If you do 3 of these before breakfast each day, you will become a visualisation (I) monster.

White to move

Monday, January 18, 2016


Latest update Jan 19, 2016

To get a little order in the mess, a few definitions are given. The goal is to simplify the discussion somewhat. There is no pretension of correctness or completeness. The definitions are only applicable for chess improvement. In broader domains these definitions are not usable. Please feel free to add suggestions or corrections. I will add this list to my sidebar.

Aura = the squares that are covered by a piece. The lines or geometrical figure that emanate from the piece.

Chunking = is a term referring to the process of taking individual pieces of information (chunks) and grouping them into larger units. By grouping each piece into a large whole, you can improve the amount of information you can remember. It is especially used to enhance the STM.

Combination = combination of motifs

Cue = A Retrieval Cue is a prompt that help us remember. When we make a new memory, we include certain information about the situation that act as triggers to access the memory.

Duplo attack = when multiple (usual two) targets are attacked by just one move. There can be one or more attackers (discovered attack). Examples: pin, skewer, X-ray attack, double attack, discovered attack, fork.

Motif = A combination exists of combinational motifs. The function motif and the geometrical motif seem to be the most important.
  • Function of the pieces. Role and status. Tells you the vulnerabilities due to obligations.
  • Geometrical motif. Gives you a glance into a possible future. Prevents tunnel vision.
  • Undefended piece. LPDO
  • Encircling. Mate and entombing.
  • Assault.
Pattern = Patterns come in a lot of flavors. Geometrical pattern or a tactical theme are used the most here.
Tactical themes = For the sake of simplicity these are the tags from CT:
  • Advanced Pawn
  • Attraction
  • Avoiding Perpetual
  • Avoiding Stalemate
  • Blocking
  • Capturing Defender
  • Clearance
  • Coercion
  • Counting
  • Defensive Move
  • Desperado
  • Discovered Attack
  • Distraction
  • Double Check
  • Exposed King
  • Fork/Double Attack
  • Hanging Piece
  • Interference
  • Mate - Anastasia's
  • Mate - Arabian
  • Mate - Back Rank
  • Mate - Balestra
  • Mate - Blackburne's
  • Mate - Boden's
  • Mate - Damiano's Bishop
  • Mate - Damiano's
  • Mate - Double Bishop
  • Mate - Dovetail
  • Mate - Dovetail - Bishop
  • Mate - Escalator
  • Mate - Epaulette
  • Mate - Greco's
  • Mate - Hook
  • Mate - Kill Box
  • Mate - Lawnmower
  • Mate - Lolli's
  • Mate - Morphy's
  • Mate - Opera
  • Mate - Pawn
  • Mate - Pillsbury's
  • Mate - Railroad
  • Mate - Smother
  • Mate - Suffocation
  • Mate - Swallow's Tail
  • Mate - Triangle
  • Mate - Vukovic
  • Mate Threat
  • Overloading
  • Pin
  • Quiet Move
  • Sacrifice
  • Simplification
  • Skewer
  • Trapped Piece
  • Unpinning
  • Unsound Sacrifice
  • Weak Back Rank
  • X-Ray Attack
  • Zugzwang
  • Zwischenzug

Vision = Mental awareness of something. You know what it is, without the need to go into detail. Can be visual or mental. Vision comes in a lot of flavors. Board vision and tactical vision are the most well known.
  • Board vision = This encompasses the roles and tasks of the pieces, and the squares they are covering.
  • Tactical vision = vision of tactical themes.

Visualization I = seeing the course of the future positions before the minds eye.

Visualization II = the conscious mind tries to communicate with the unconscious mind by means of visualization II.