Sunday, January 13, 2019

Looking for tasks to be automated

I focus on the following themes:
  • double attack
  • exposed king
  • defensive move
  • sacrifice
  • coercion
 Which make out 37% of the total problem set at Chess Tempo.

  • Min rating: 1500
  • Max rating: 2000
Given the type of problems presented, it should be doable to solve every problem below 2000 in under 30 seconds.

I  have taken a peek at the higher rated problems. They are higher rated because there is more going on in the position. There are a lot of seemingly attractive lines which only distract you from the solution. It doesn't make sense to worry about problems with a higher rating than 2000, before you master everything thoroughly that is below 2000. Above 2000 it are the same themes, but there are more themes compacted within a single problem.

Themed exercises
Currently I do problems with a rating between 1780 and 1830. The common theme is fork/double attack. What I try to do is to recognize problems with the same characteristics. These characteristics aren't commonly known.

I suspect that these newly defined categories aren't limited to double attacks only. The themed problems make it easier to recognize the characteristics of such new category.

New category
A new category I recently discovered, are problems where the opponent takes a minor piece of you. In stead of taking back immediately, you start a duplo attack of your own, threatening a piece with a higher value.

White just played Nxe6 (taking the bishop). Black to move

4r3/kp3pB1/p2Rb1p1/4p2r/3N4/2R5/PPP2n1P/2K5 w - - 6 1

White is a minor piece ahead. He has just captured the bishop on e6. In stead of taking back, you start a double attack of your own. Under what conditions is such action profitable?
  • The first condition is that one of your targets has a higher value than the piece that was just captured. 
 In the diagram above, you play 1. ... Ne4. The unprotected rook on d6 justifies the postponement of the take back on e6.
  • The second condition is that your target has to be unprotected
Additional: The net value of  one of your target (Rd6) minus the value of your attacker (Ne4) must be greater than the piece your opponent has taken (Be6), in case the target is protected. If both white rooks were protected, you basically exchange two minor pieces for a rook.
  • The third condition is that your opponent needs a tempo to get his high valued target into safety
You wasted a tempo to initiate a duplo attack. Now he must waste a tempo to save his target.
  • The fourth condition is that white has no double functional move at his deposal.
If white can save his knight on e6 AND can protect his rook at the same time, then your chances are gone.

Cluthering my Short Term Memory slots
This type of problems will typically overload my Short Term Memory slots. Taking stock of the values of the pieces while trying to remember in which branch of the tree I am will typically cause an administration shutdown. The problem will take ages to solve OR I go for the wrong solution.

If you take a close look at the problem, it is not exactly rocket science. The decisions to be made are simple and straightforward when you know what to look at.

By exploring these new categories, I hope to simplify my chess thinking. These counter threats aren't limited to double attacks only, of course.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Learning the tactical ABC

Time and again, it is proven that I am not very good at the recognition of basic tactical elements. The choice of my problem sets reveals that clearly. I do 10 low rated problems well, and then I encounter a low rated problem that takes me ages.

That is a clear sign that I don't master the basics as well as I like to think. Take for instance the following position:

White to move

8/5k2/5ppp/4r3/4nRP1/4N2P/5PK1/8 w - - 0 1

The first time it took me 1:41 to solve. Average solving time is 0:54. Rating is 1508.
The combination consists of three basic elements:
  • a tempo move (Nc4)
  • a target exchange (Rxe4)
  • a duplo attack (Nd6+)

Friday, January 04, 2019

A glimmer of hope

If I would be asked to summarize the results of the Knights Errant, it would go something like this (well, nobody asks, but I tell you anyway):

When you are below 1900 and a virgin to tactical exercise, you will gain about 250 rating points, no matter the method you use.

I reached my peak in about 2007 or so, if I remember well. I continued exercising, and my mind started to feel tactically numb. In 2013 I had lost about 80 points from the originally gained 250. I always had the feeling that the core of my tactical improvement was reached in a short period of time of about six weeks. I have been trying to reconstruct what happened during these six weeks ever since.

 Despite continuous intensive tactical training, my tactical brain started to feel more and more numb. That's why I abandoned tournament-, club- and internet chess for five years. It didn't make sense to continue without alleviating that numbness first.

Most training has been in the salt mine department (automatic pilot) or in the highbrowed district (system II). At the moment I try to exercise on the brink between these two extremes.

After four days of training this way, my tactical brain starts to feel sharper. For the first time in years, if I do not deceive myself. Another strange phenomenon happens. I have a different experience of time. Normally I'm slightly p**sed off when I solve a difficult problem in a minute and I lose rating points due the average idiot on Chess Tempo who solves it in 30 seconds.

Now I can do a whole lot of thinking, and when I look at the clock I have only used 12 seconds or so. I can do much more in 30 seconds than I could before. I assume that that is a sign that system I kicks in.

It is too early to tell after only four days, of course. But after feeling to be not the sharpest barb on the wire for eleven years, this new feeling is a welcome change!

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

BADPDO. The arise of the patterns.

The new training regimen yields new insights. New insights are accompanied by new geometrical patterns. What am I talking about?

When you know that you have a double attack at hand, you look for LPDO, Loose Pieces on the verge to Drop Off. A new insight is that you should look for BADPDO too. B.A.D. Pieces Drop Off.
These are (at least) two common patterns that accompany that insight:

Loading a battery from behind

Loading a battery from upfront

You will find these type of patterns  time and again.

Another insight concerns the tree of scenarios that emerges from a double attack. Attacking two targets at the same time, makes from those targets two potential desperado's. It is necessary to check if those desperado's can refute your attack.

Just to give you an idea.

Training the mini skills

The list of mini skills in the previous post gives a clear direction which way to go. I have a much clearer picture of how the training of mini skills should look like, nowadays.

Observations from practice showed that we are way less familiar with the basics of tactics than we are inclined to think. The basics are known, but only partly. And what is known from the basics, is only partly automated. Both issues must be addressed by a proper training:
  • We must supplement the lacking knowledge (system II)
  • We must automate the knowledge (system I)
  • The training must provide sufficient feedback
The margins of error
System II
The margins of error are very small. When we use a problem set with problems that are too complex, then there is too little repetition of the important issues. Important issues drown in the flood of unimportant issues. It is mainly a system II exercise. But since the conclusions drown in the flood of information, we tend to draw the same conclusions over and over again, without ever realizing that we forget these conclusions in the time period between repetitions.

System I
When the problem set is too simple, we tend to work on autopilot. When we work on autopilot, our consciousness is insufficiently activated. When our consciousness isn't awake, there is no sufficient feedback from our training. No feedback, no automation. We have a name for this type of training: the salt mines.

Constraints of the training
We need a separate training set for each mini skill. "Recognition of the targets of a duplo attack" was on my list of mini skills in the previous post. Since "duplo attack" is a collective name for different tactical elements, we can segregate the list further:
  • Fork/Double attack
  • Discovered attack
  • Pin
  • Skewer
  • Röntgen attack
In fact, it seems right to devote a problem set to every tactical label in the list at Chess Tempo.
  • The training set must not be too big, since we need repetition. 200 problems, at max. Maybe smaller is even better. 
  • The training set should not be too complex. I use problems with a rating between 1500 and 1550. 
  • The set must be specialized to improve the repetition rate. I intend to make a set for every tactical label at Chess Tempo. Right now I'm working on fork/double attacks. 
  • I use only problems with a maximum of two moves. That makes every problem relevant in accordance to its label, and it guarantees that problems are not too complex. The conclusions do not drown in the mass.
First experiences
The first impression of training with such set seems promising. Despite the fact that the problems are low rated and restricted to maximal two moves, a lot of new knowledge is discovered. It is quite surprising that there still is so much to know. The new knowledge is accompanied with new geometrical patterns. Whether that knowledge is going to be automated remains to be seen, though. I must probably play a bit with the margins.

Experiences from the past
I worked with problem sets that were labeled as double attacks in the past. But that were sets which were rated above 2000. And the sets contained a few thousand problems. So there was no relevant repetition. Solving took typically a few hours per problem. It was a typical exercise for system II.

I have worked with problem sets that were labeled as double attacks in the past which were rated below 1500. But since I focused on pace, and the problem sets were very big, there was little room for feedback, there was little relevant repetition and there was no (time for) developing of new knowledge.

Source: wikipedia

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Mini skills

I'm investigating all problems I published the past two years. The advantage of that is, that a lot of work has already been done by system II. I identified the following mini skills lacking or not working at full potential:

  • recognition of the targets of a duplo attack
  • recognition of the attackers in a discovered attack or simultaneous attack
  • recognition of a B.A.D. piece
  • recognition of an additional punch

I estimate that a deeper scrutiny of these positions will unearth about 10 mini skills in total that devour our precious time because they are not fully automated.

Besides that, a few new patterns will be found. Mainly related to tempo usage. For instance the "shoot out" position where two pieces stand opposite each other. Who will shoot first?

I'm going to train these mini skills separately. I will use the problems of Chess Tempo in blitz mode  to train them.

Mini skills

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Taking up chess again

After five years of absence, I have been to the club again. I intend to pick up playing regularly again. I have decided to learn a new opening repertoire to refresh my look on the game. I have played the polar bear for years, but I had always troubles with the diagonal a7 g1. When black takes an early control over that diagonal I don't trust the position.

I decided to take up the London system. I really think that opening has been waiting for me all along. I ordered a book to get me started. Further I discovered the videos of ginger_gm (hat tip to Aox) and I really like how he treats the London. I think this might be the system for me to play the rest of my life. Its perfectly suited for my temperament. And what is more, I understand what I try to accomplish in the opening, for the first time. Well, that's not quite true. I did understand the polar bear reasonably well,  but I always had the feeling that the positions tended to be a bit too overstretched to my liking.

For black I played the Black Lion for years. But when white adopts the setup d4 e4 f4, I have the feeling that blacks plans fail. I don't like that feeling.

So either I should look for a method to fix blacks problems, or I can take up another defense.

I like to play the hedgehog type of positions that arises from the black lion, so I'm going to have a look at the hippopotamus defense. I'm not sure already if that will be the perfect opening for me since I know too little about it, but at first sight it looks suited for me.

What I actually need is a kind of a London system for black, but I don't know if that exists.

In fact I'm anticipating on the success of the tactical learning system that we are developing. But since all signs seem to point in the same direction, I hope that it is only a matter of time before we find the last missing piece of the puzzle . Wouldn't it be nice to be ready in case that happens? My tournament play has become very rusty due to my absence.