Sunday, February 27, 2005

The secret of the masters

A herd of buffalo's has an average speed by with they move forward.
Prairie wolfs attack only the slowest animals which are weak or sick.
In doing so, the average speed of the herd inclines.

Now scientific research has found that alcohol attacks the slowest and weakest braincells.
So by drinking alcohol you can speed up your brains.

This is proven by the fact that when you go to your local chesscafe and challenge the guy who has obviously drunk the most beers, you will be "stampeded" of the board.

Knights, I have a proposal for a modification of MDLM's program .....

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Chess visualisation training

Some time ago a chessfriend and I were talking about how nice it would be if you had a little chessset in your head, where you could work out all variations while playing an OTB-game. So I started a little investigation on visualisation. On a certain moment I landed on the website of Jan Matthies He has a real nice chess visualisation program that you can use online.
I exercised for quite some time and found many interesting things about the human mind.
I will try to explain. I hope you are willing to do a few experiments.

Try the following:
Close your eyes and try to visualize a rook on a chessboard which moves from d1 to a7.

That it easy isn't it? It's easy to spot the file, rank and crosspoint.
Now try to visualize a bishop on c1 heading to a7.
(Now you can open your eyes.:)

That is far more difficult isn't it?
It's nearly imposible to get a good picture of the crosspoint.
It is much easier to see ranks and files than diagonals.

It turns out that the mind is extremely efficient and economical.
From the total geometry of a chessboard are only the most used fractions stored.
Ranks and files we have used all our life with tables, columns and the like.
Diagonals are things we seldom use.

Try another experiment.
Imagine a chessboard and visualize the diagonals from edge to edge.
That is simple. Try now to visualize the diagonal from c1 to h6.
That's very hard to see.
This is because we have often drawn diagonals in squares, but probably never drew other diagonals.
The mind is economical. What is not used is not stored in memory.
If we need it, it can be reconstructed out of the things that are stored in memory.

This is the reason why everything we try to visualize in the mind is so fuzzy and distorted.
From all the physical bodies around us we have only stored the most used geometric properties.
The same holds true for our dreams.

So if you want to visualize the board, you have to store far more geometrical properties of it in the mind. The program of Jan Matthies helps you to do this.
I did his exercises for quite some time.
I started to dream of beautiful chessboards in 3D and technicolor.
From time to time I saw the board and pieces so clear in my mind that I could handle the pieces and follow long variations, just like using a physical chessboard.

Now the most important question: did it help to improve my rating?
The answer is simple: No.

The reason for this is that scientific research (prof. Adriaan de Groot cs) have found that a blindplaying grandmaster doesn't see the board in his mind, but reconstruct the game from the positions he has stored in his memory.
So the grandmaster has stored over 50,000 elementary geometrical patterns of chesspositions in his memory. Patterns that he hasn't stored are for him fuzzy and distorted too. The performance of a grandmaster degrades immensily when he has to work with unknown random chesspositions in stead of normal positions from actual games.
So with the program of Jan Matthies you store the wrong geometrical data in your mind.
Good for boardbuilding, but useless for better playing chess.
Allthough his program is great fun and very instructive.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Something about tactics and openings

For years I played the Sicilian defense with black.
So what's on the menu of the Sicilian kitchen:

  • Seduce the enemy to a premature King attack by developing as slowly as possible.
  • Beat this attack off graceful but determined, with the help of the pawnmajority in the center.
  • Frustrate the enemy by trading off pieces.
  • Mop up the left wreckedge of whites position.
  • On the queenside there are now two black pawns against three white ones.
  • Start a minority attack at the queenside.
  • After trading off the pawns white is left with one weak pawn, which black conquers.
  • All the other pawns are traded off until black has one pawn and white has none.
  • Promote the pawn to rook and play around a little untill whites flag falls.

I played the Najdorf variation of the Sicilian for about 3 years but never succeeded in eating all the coarses to the end.

There was always someone rude to the cook by throwing tabasco in the food by a Knightsacrifice on e5 or by the Morragambit.

The reason I never reached the ideal situation is simple. My tactical skills were underdeveloped so things always went different.

But if that's true then there is no point in hanging on to the Sicilian defense.

And so I quit playing openings which were developed with the endgame in mind.

I deciced 3 years ago to develope my tactical skills.

It's not more than logical that I choose tactical openenings too. Openings which are developed for a lead in development, piece play, the initiative and/or a space advantage.

That's why I play a lot of gambits. I'm not alarmed that some people say that some of these openings are unsound. Because on my level they are sound. And when I start to loose to much games because my level rises, I simply drop the opening. With Bookup-lite it takes me about two weeks to learn a new opening enough to play it with confidence. Because I am tactically stronger I feel less dependend on the opening than I used to. Besides that, a lot of openings have common elements. For example the King's gambit and the Vienna with f4. You get more possibilities. If you like to play the Bird 1. f4 but hate the frommgambit 1....e5 you can switch to the King's gambit with 2. e4, and so on.

My games became far more exciting then the dull ones I used to produce.

Sac a pawn and you'll have an enjoyable evening. And afterwards you will have an 1 or a 0. So what?

When playing gambits a few things are important:

  • Count pawnmoves. I'm very allergic about moving a pawn in the opening. I sometimes would rather let it drop of the board (especially on b2) and develope a piece in stead. Moves like a3 or h3 as defence against a move your opponent maybe even has not considdered to play lead to an almost physical aversion.
  • Count tempo's. Especially the hidden ones. When a Knight has used 4 tempi to be trade off against a Bishop which has only made one move, you gain 3 tempi.
  • Don't be hasty. The lead in development might disappear. But open lines and the space advantage will do their job anyway.

It is very simple. With more space you have statistical more possibilities. You change from thread to thread. On a certain moment the enemy can't keep up because with little space he has lesser possibilities to defend. Then you strike.

There is no guarantee you will win. But I can guarantee that you will have an interesting game!

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

There is something strange with thoughtprocesses

During the last six year, I felt from time to time the urge to tie up my thoughtprocesses in a conscious system. To get more grip on things.
But unvariably the same thing happened:

I made a clear and good sytem with usefull points to do during a move.
When I brought this in practice during a few weeks I forgot about the system.
Thinking it over after a month or two I noticed that I followed the system in a subconscious way, "automatic".

This seems to correspond with my findings in my post a few days ago about "understanding and ability".
First I use the new developed system "with understanding", later on, it is etched into my brain and it becomes an ability, hence subconscious.
When it is subconscious you have the feeling that there has been no progress at all, but in fact you improved.
For example, when I started with tactical exercises, I had never heard about a double attack.
I decided to look during every move if there were unprotected pieces.
After some time I seemed to have forgotten about double attacks. But I almost never missed one anymore.

So all you systembuilders out there, be prepared for some disillusions. You will improve, but you will never have the feeling to have grip on matters, nor will it be conscious.

In theory are theory and practice the same, but in practice they are not.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Nicknames of the Knights

I found the following names:

Mandelamaza = Don Queue
Sancho Pawnza = Oneday Governor of the Isle de la Maza
Pale Morning Dun = The Knight of the Big Sky
Pawn Sensei = The Fair Knight
Generalkaia = Der Wunderkind Knight
J'adoube = The Off-Center Knight
Celtic Death = The Dark Knight
Temposchlucker = The International Knight of Pancakes
Fussy Lizzard = The cold-blooded Knight
Yet another patzer = The International Knight of Mystery
King of the spill = The Knight Loquacious
65th square (Fatboy) = The Knight of the Round
Margriet = Princess Errant
Desperate Measures = The Knight of Last Resort
Takchess = The Knight of the Secret Country
Chessconfessions = Blue Devil Knight
Vic = Queen-less Knight
Mousetrapper = Animated Knight
Harmless = Nasty Knight
Satish Talim = Anand's Knight
RomaLavrn = Pomaranch Knight
JavaManIssa = The Prodigy Knight
Zeon - The Paradoxical Knight
Silver Dragon - The Pyrotechnic Knight
Dread Pirate Josh - The One-Eyed Knight
Guruchess - The Jovial Knight
Springer - The Hooked Knight
Phorku - The Phorking Knight
Smith Morra - The Ambitious Knight
Dutchdefence - The Wooden-Shoed Knight
Montse - The Musseled Knight
Siliconpawn - The Withdrawed Knight
Athlumney - The Exchanged Knight

Monday, February 21, 2005

Why 400 points in 400 days is exceptionally much

I have tried to reconstruct the rating of Kasparov during his youth by researching his autobiography "high play".

Age Rating Fact
05 1300 Learned the game
06 1400
07 1500 Started with lessons
08 1600
09 1700
10 1800 Botwinnik-school
11 2000
12 2100
13 2200 Candidate master, first tournaments abroad
14 2300 Master
15 2450 First victory over a grandmaster
16 2545
17 2595 2nd grandmaster result
18 2625 Grandmaster

So even a very talented player like Kasparov grew only at average 100 points a year!

Two years of tactical traning improved my rating from 1532 to 1701, about 170 points.
In this period I solved about 10.500 tactical problems.
Which is about 62 problems per ratingpoint.
I didn't repeat the problems.

Now I'm plateauing during a year.
Inspired by de la Maza I started to repeat problems now a seven times.
This new approuch seems to work. My results OTB are very good at the moment. If I don't blow things the upcoming games I'll leave the plateau of 1701. Which we should know at 1st of may, when a new ratinglist arrives.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

From bungler to crack in 0.2 seconds

For the quest of chess improvement I observed a lot of chessplayers.
A fact that astonished me over and over again is the extreme difference in speed of calculation between two persons who differ only 300 points in rating.
And what is even more amazing is that nobody ever seems to notice.
It looks like a conspiracy that no one ever talks or writes about this phenomenon.

To explain what I found to be the cause of this extreme difference in speed I'll give an example.
Say, I want to go to Rome. For a grandmaster that is no problem since every road leads to Rome (=at least a Dutch saying). But for me, who knows nothing about cars, even the most minor event will cause me trouble. When it starts to rain, I have to pull over because I cannot see through the front window any longer. I can figure out that those two little bars have something to do with cleaning the windows. I have to open the hood, where is the handle for that?
Where are the cables of the screen wiper? I have to demolish the dashboard, I can't see them.
Why are there six blue cables? I regularly mix things up and have to start over again.
Rain on the connection joints, blowing fuses, where are new ones?
When I finally get the screen wiper to wipe, rain stops pouring and my flag is about to fall.
For the grandmaster, the rain is a non event which takes him 0.2 seconds to put the wiper on.

Scientific research has found through brainscans that the bungler sees every position on the board as new. So he has to be creative to find out what the position is all about and what to do. Like finding out how the screen wiper works.
This is an extremely slow proces, which cost him much effort and concentration.
The grandmaster though, relies far more on his long term memory. Because most things he has seen before. It is estimated that a grandmaster has about 50,000 patterns in memory where he can make use of.
So we do something totally different from a grandmaster, and we do it with a different part of the brain!

With some calculations and experiments I found that the average difference in speed is about 3 times per 100 ratingpoints. That is to say, when you differ 200 ratingpoints, the difference in speed will be about 3 x 3 = 9 times. Apply grain of salt to your needs.
That's why we loose a simultaneous game!
Statistically you can never win a game from someone who has 700 points more than you.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Discipline "vs" Enthousiasm

I noticed that some Knights have from time to time trouble with the blunt discipline that is needed to follow de la Maza's program.
Because I solved about 15.800 problems the last 3 years I can maybe shed some light on this subject.
Actually I don't understand why MdlM advices such rigid schemes.
Discipline can be a great tool. But discipline can work only during a short time. After this short time you have to transform the discipline to enthousiasm or quit the task altogether.

For some of us this is different. Don for example uses the program of MdlM as therapy for lack of discipline. But for the most of us, who only strive to play better chess, the feeling of discipline has to be abandonned. The point which MdlM has made with his hammering on strict following his scheme is that you have to really work to get results.
Well, all the Knights realize this point, so there is no point in "self flagellation".
Unless you are a masochist.
There is another pitfall that is caused by lazy thinking. That is to compare the brain with the body. You feel you have done a great body workout when the body is tired. But that doesn't hold true for the brains.
You cannot say I feel terribly bad in my head so I have done a great job to my brains.
What has to grow is love for the game. What is even more important is when you manage to feel love for the exercises. This may sound sissylike, but it's the only way to keep it up.
I love to throw the sink at my opponents. To startle the ones who where heading for a salonremise. (last saturday with white,10 o'clock in the morning, 1.e4 c6 2.Pc3 d5 3.Df3 d4 3.Lc4! Pf6 4.e5 dc3: 5.ef6: cb2: 6.Lf7: two piece sacrifices in 6 moves! He surely sat straight up in his chair!)
I think (but I might be wrong) that even MdlM fell in this pitfall.
He loved the results of what he was doing, but when the results declined he quit the game.

Those who are master now have had to learn the same things as we are trying to do now.
But because they were child they didn't even notice that they were training.
That's the way we have to try to work.
I was really astonished when I calculated how much problems I have solved.
CD has found the right attitude. If he has a bad training result he is glad he is so bad that it takes only simple things to do to get better in stead of difficult things...

So when you work, work your ass off, and if you don't, well do that with all your heart too.
The best motivation lies in loosing games and tournaments. So play lots of them.
And forget about all those rigid schemes, be practical!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Understanding vs Ability

Or: a few oppressing questions Part II

When we were childs my older brother and I slept in the same room.
Sometimes when we didn't fell asleep right away we played a game that we called "opposites".
One of us said a word, like "white" for example and the other had to say the opposite, "black".
At some moment I asked "horse"and my brother answered "cow".
A few words later my brother asked "cow"and I answered "bull".
Which maked a horse the same as a bull because they were both the opposite of a cow.
Then we started a loud debating about opposites, which was ended by the severe voice of my father who urged us to sleep.

Working with opposites is a very lazy way of thinking, which is extremely common and which leads to a lot of confusion and hence to useless discussions.
See for an example "tactical" vs "positional" at my post of last sunday.

Most of the time we try to compare things that are on a different level.
So is the comparison of "understanding" vs "ability".
As you might have seen on the right of this blog there is an aphorism (is this English?) "understanding is a low form of knowledge".
When I discovered this it was quite shocking because I always thought that understanding was the highest thing men could achieve.
But understanding alone is sterile.
Knowledge becomes alive when it is put into practice to achieve some goal. Otherwise it is dead and only an intellectual way of selftickling.

If you understand the knowledge, the knowledge is not part of your system. You have to remember it to put the knowledge to use. This proces of remembering is very vulnerable and prone to errors and forgetfulnes.
Beside that it is extreme slow.
When you understand how to play tennis that understanding is of little use in a game. You will miss every single ball.
The understanding part of the brain is far too slow to steer the body.
So it is with chess. People who are addicted to understanding (I was) tend to have falling flags.
How is it possible that correspondence-games are not on a higher level than the best OTB-games in spite of the endless extra hours that are put in?
Here is where ability comes in. First you have to understand, which convert random facts to knowledge. Then you have to assimilate this knowledge into your system.
The main tool of a master is not his understanding but his ability (of course I don't say it doesn't play any role).
That is easy to see. Otherwise it would not be possible to play simoultaneous against 30 people.
If he would be only 30 times faster he wouldn't win the most games. So he has to be even faster. The understanding part of the brains is far to slow for this.
Even after half a bottle of whisky most masters will kick you of the board, as you can find out in any chesscafe.
The understanding plays only a role in the early stages of learning.

So the assimilation of knowledge into your system has more stages, first understanding (=assimilation in the thinking part of the brain), later it becomes ability (=integral assimilation in your whole system). With ability it is not longer possible to point where it is located. You BECOME the knowledge.

If you halt the proces of knowledge-assimilation at the early stage of understanding you are STUCK. First you have to understand grandmastergames. Of course. But after that you have to make them part of yourself. For example by putting the very best parts of the mastergames in problems and to solve these problems over and over again. Until your synapses are reprogrammed.
There is really no contradiction here, only several stages of the same proces.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Why we are patzers

The problem is that when we play chess the main tool we use is our short term memory.
In this memory is room for only 6 to 12 items which stay there for about 30-45 seconds.
So ofcourse it is impossible to have a good thoughtproces. Not only all the moves and the subvariations do we try to store in that little space but also the bookkeeping of how much wood we win and loose during exchanges. No wonder that we play so badly!

The trick is that we make use of our long term memory. When the pattern is edged in your brain (i.c. the long term memory) that a bishop or pawn on f6 causes backrank problems for the black king and that mate will follow within 5 moves when a white rook arives on the backrank than can you abbreviate this whole line to one item. So the short term memory has to work only with this one abbreviated item.

The more long lines are stored in your long term memory, the more complex problems you can handle in your short term memory.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Tactics, tactics, tactics?

When you ask around about what is the essence of de la Maza's method then you will probably hear something like "when you train your butt off with tactical exercises you will grow in chess until you are an expert". Even de la Maza himself would possibly say so.
But is this really the essence?

I noticed a lot of different opinions about what tactics are.
For example gm Jeremy Silman says something like "when you cannot gain wood and cannot force mate there are no tactics"
Another view I heard is that endgames are for 99% based on tactics, conquering the 7th rank is tactics etc.
Of course it makes a lot of difference how many things you understand by tactics.
If it is little, you will possibly not agree with the idea that exercising tactics will lead to expertship.
If you understand a lot by tactics you possibly agree more with this idea.
This difference in definition of tactics causes a lot of confusion and disagreement.

Imho is the essence that de la Maza found the importance of pattern recognition in learning.
And that this pattern recognition can be imprinted in the brains by repeated problemsolving.
This system of learning goes far beyond tactics.
Even far beyond chess.

For the system of de la Maza it makes ofcourse no difference if the problems you solve are of tactical nature or of positional nature.
You imprint the patterns in your brain that are in the problems.
If you use problems of bad quality, the patterns in your head will be of bad quality.
If you use problems of medical nature, you will become a doctor.

The grandmaster recognizes the pattern of the postition on the board.
He diagnoses it and applies a remedy, all by experience of similar positions in the past.
The doctor recognizes the pattern of the pimples of the skin.
He diagnosis it and applies a remedy, all by experience of similar cases in the past.

A really interesting article about the five stages of development from novice to expert:

Accepting the challenge

Patzer King challenges the Knights Errant to joust.
Of course I accept.
The Dutch ratings are not kept overtime.

To give you an idea of my rating progress:

1998 1529
1999 1532
2000 1532
During this years I studied chess in the classic way for about one hour per day. Openings, strategy, analyze your own games, playing through grandmastergames, reading books etc.
These figures prove:

  • Classic study is of no help to me. My understanding and knowledge improve but my rating doesn't.
  • I have no special chess talent which can account for a sudden dramatic improvement in rating.

2001 1565
2002 1624
2003 1697
A gain of 170 points in rating due to a different approach:
I dropped the classic study completely.
I started to solve a vast amount of tactical problems.

2004 1699
2005 1701
Plateauing again, in spite of continous problemsolving.

BUT... because I discovered the articles of de la Maza I changed my method.
I solve the same problems as I did and I repeat them over and over again, until I see the solution a tempo and all the subvariations in about 30 seconds.
And because of these repetitions I feel the swelling of my tactical muscle so I'm not afraid to pick up the gauntlet.

You can verify my rating of 1701 on 1 feb. 2005 at
I'm the guy with id 7923355
The one below me with the same name and a rating of 1417 is my wife.
A chessplaying wife is, apart from a divorce, the only way you can do such brutal training as de la Maza's method.
She trains only now and then, but I wouldn't be surprised if her rating improves also.
The next ratings will be published here on 1st of may and 1st of august.

If my rating will improve the next six months I don't know but I'm pretty sure my English will....

Friday, February 11, 2005

Short (not Nigel)

This will be a short post because I have little time today.
I have a lot of work to do today because I'm the treasurer of the chessclub.
Tonight is our clubevening.
Tomorrow I probably have no time to post because I'm participating in a tournament.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

A few oppressing questions

Thanks for the warm welcome guys!
I would be honoured to take part at the "Knights Errant".

Sometimes my English is poor so I'll make mistakes, sorry for that. For example I first thought that 'Knights Errant' meant 'Knights who make Errors'. Maybe that's why I missed Don's link.

I intend to spend the first posts on telling about the past six years. I don't think I missed a pitfall during this time, which should make me a connaisseur.
After being thrown off the board by a 13 year old girl I started an investigation. I interviewed people, read dozens of books, talked to a master and a grandmaster, visited tournaments and spelled magazines.
During a visit of the Dutch mastercompetition I noticed a stunning fact. The average age of the players was far lower than that of the racing cyclists of the Tour de France!
So what happened to the older people with more experience and more knowledge?
I read an interview with grandmaster John van der Wiel who took part at the mastercompetition at that time. Ten years ago he managed to maintain himself between the World Top. He told that during the last ten years his understanding of chess has deepened, he has become more allround, he trained a lot etc.
But his rating was now 100 points lower then it was ten years ago. How is that possible?
So the following oppressing questions arose:
What is the role of age?
Why does one reach a plateau at some moment?
Is there a kind of training that helps you growing after plateauing?
Papa Polgar proved that every child can be a wonder child by correct training.
Is such training for children suitable for older people to become wonder grandfathers?
Is there hope for me?
Most people (as did the master and the grandmaster) seemed to agree that games under rating 2000 were decided by tactics.
So I bought a book from Laszlo Polgar "5333+1 chess training problems" and started to work my way through it.
To be continued...

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Something is rotten in Chessland

During the first three years of my quest for chess improvement I concentrated on openings and understanding of the play. I read many books about strategy and positional play.
Though my understanding and knowledge of the game grew immense I actually gained no ratingpoints at all.
After being thrown off the board by a 13 year old girl a realised there was something terribly wrong in my approach to the game.
All my intelligence, my 46 years of experience in life, my wisdom (ahem), my fine balanced discrimination, my knowledge proved to be of no use at all in the game.
So I became very intrigued by the problem what on earth IS useful for a chessplayer to play better chess.

Kick off

Six years ago I started to play chess on a club.
The first three years my rating stayed level at a rating of about 1530.
Despite a huge amount of effort to improve my chess my rating was not growing.
So one can at least say I don't have a special talent for chess.