Thursday, August 24, 2006

Oops, wrong memory.

From time to time, when I feel like a good laugh, I go to a chessforum and read about what they say about DLM and his system. For years on end they say the same things. Some think it would work miracles IF they would do it, without ever getting the impuls to actually start, others thinks it is worse than useless. What keeps surprising me is that they are content with an OPINION. A sort of opinion-fetishism. What's the use of an opinion? I never need one! Just try it and see for yourself.

Very funny were the posts of a person who claimed that it was impossible to follow the program because it consumes so much time. When I looked at his profile, he had more than 2300 entries posted the past few years!

What everybody seems to agree about, is that you have to have a "balanced approach" to chess. This is the single most heard critic against a heavy tactical study program. There's nobody who can deny a balanced approach.
But you have to see things in the right perspective.

If you know only a few hundred words of a foreign language, and you try to write a novell in it, you can worry about your style of course. But that's rather silly. You first have to adress the most unbalanced part, which is the lack of a good vocabulary of frequently used words.
The same holds true for chess.
But for some reason it seems to be impossible to see how bad you are in tactics. It is a strange blind spot that almost everybody has. Every grandmaster who gives a simul says that we are so bad in tactics. But we stay in blessed ignorance about it.
Not me.

Everyday at CTS I'm stunned.
The problems are SO incredibly simple, if you look objectively to it.
Everybody can solve the problems within minutes.
But WHY on earth does it take me so long?
AFTER I solved a problem I tend to slap my forehead (figuratively spoken) and say "aha! is it so simple?"
But the next problems will cause me trouble again and again.
As long as this is the case, it is simply silly to adress other parts of the game.
Yes, I have to take a balanced approach to chess. Since my play is so gruesome unbalanced, I have to adress the most unbalanced part of my game first: tactics, tactics, tactics.

When you work at CTS, you have to keep in mind what you are after.
As brainscans revealed, the difference between a grandmaster and an experienced amateur lies in the perception of the chessboard during the first few seconds a new position is presented. The grandmaster uses his UNCONSCIOUS working LTM while the amateur sees the position as new. The amateurs had at least 10 years experience. The researchers raised the question "why do grandmasters store their patterns in unconscious motoric memory during study while amateurs don't?"

Which means we are at untrotten territory.
We can predict that if we don't take measures, all our efforts will be in vain.
At our club there are a lot of members who study chess for over 40 years but whose ratinggraphs over the last decade can be represented by a straight horizontal line, slightly tilting downwards. . .
So it is easy to study chess in the wrong way. What is learned by the experienced amateur will be crystalized in the wrong memory. You can actually know for sure that if you follow common advice, you end up like those guys with 40 year experience.

What are the characteristics of the memories that are used by the grandmaster and the experienced amateur? What is their "taste"?

  • LTM
  • Procedural memory (knowledge how to do something)
  • Memory where complex motor skills are stored
  • Implicit knowledge. You can't formulate it in words.
  • Unconscious recall of information
  • works on a stimulus - response base.
  • It works with tremendous SPEED.
  • Storage by fast repetition.

Experienced amateur:
  • LTM
  • Declarative memory.
  • Explicit knowledge. It's possible to formulate it in words.
  • Conscious recall of knowledge.
  • It works very slow.
  • Storage by understanding (the formulating part) and spaced repetition.
Who have benefitted the most of the program?
J'adoube and Celtic Deatch.
The least?
King of the Spill, Mousetrapper, me.

What's the difference between us? It's rather difficult to try to characterize a person thru the small medium that internet is and based on what everybody tells about himself, but if I don't try it I have nothing at all.
So let's see.
What seems to be a common characteristic in the approach of J'adoube and Celtic, is that they both lay their emphasis on speed and #repetitions. If I recall well, Celtic is even the inventor of the "minicircles".
King, Mouse and I are all laying emphasis on understanding. We are all systembuilders. Look at King's famous Fundamental Checkmates, Mouse' Target Feature Count and my 'illustrious' Rake-Time continuum to understand what I mean.
The point with understanding is, is that it's just the beginning. I always thought I was finished when I understand something. But actually then the work (achoo) begins. To transform knowledge into skill. It's difficult to work when you think you are ready. . .

What got me thinking were the following figures:
To get 1 ratingpoint at CTS I have to commit 34 problems to memory, which takes me 570 problems to realize. I mean I have to solve 570 problems at CTS to commit only 34 problems to memory, so my measurments revealed. I asked myself if it wasn't possible to simply concentrate on those 34 problems and try to squeeze them into memory. 34 problems a day must be doable (=400 points in 400 days:)
So now I concentrate on those 34 and I repeat them alot.

At CTS there is a school which focus on succesrate. That is typical for someone who believes in understanding. But since that is only the first part of the job, they tend to forget the transformation into skill. A common mistake under experienced amateurs, as we know. . .:)

The first round at CTS I look upon as a selection of problems. I need all patterns I don't recognize in under 10 seconds. Because that are the problems where I still need understanding to solve them. I work rather fast during this first selection, so my succesrate drops steadily.
Then I copy the session to harddisk and work my "minicircles" untill I can do all problems while conversing with Margriet. Since it is useless to commit wrong patterns to memory, I use the first round after selection for understanding the problems. Since I use this method, my improvement at CTS is steady at about 1 point a day at average. Which is twice the increment I'm used to.


  1. Tempo-
    well said. I also miss the repetition of prolems I did not get right immediately on CTS. How do you copy the session to your disk to be able to repeat the problems?

  2. Sciurus,
    I copy the html-sourcecode of the session-page of CTS into a html-editor. I do a find and replace of href=' with href=' and save the html to disk. Now I can directly access the problems at CTS from my disk. I just have to login once.

  3. Very interesting post. Yes, you are right about me, I belong to the accuracy oriented school on CTS, as opposed to speed oriented. I think that every tactician must find his own way. Yours surely is best for you, mine for me. So an interesting and hopefully fruitful discussion is guaranteed.

  4. me, I go for the mix of speed/quantity vs accuracy. I try to understand the problems, but not with the cost of speed. I arrived to this method by pragmatic observation of how people progress on CTS. the low % ones (50-70% success rate) don't usually progress much. luna is still where he was when I started from 1050, same with clyk, no progress. but surprisingly, the same applies to most 90%+ as well. I've almost passed bahus & trallala, gaining 500 pts against their couple of dozens.

    so, I thought there must be a reason for this, and this is what I'm suspecting: the 70%'s don't focus enough, they just blitz through the problems, resulting in pure short term memory imprints. no gain, as we know from blitz players. the 90%'s focus properly, but get a lot less problems done. if I remember right, trallala does only 50 problems a day. I don't think that's nearly enough. I try to keep at 200 minimum, often doing 300-400 a day. and still 'process' the failures as well as new problems. I took elements from both approaches, and the results speak for themselves.

    that said, I do believe people respond to training differently, so my way probably won't work for everybody. it could be age thing (youngsters especially might respond best to a very different kind of program. I consider myself 'old' at 31 when it comes to learning chess.) -it can also be physical traits, differences in the way our minds absorb knowledge. but I'm not sure about these. - what I am pretty sure about, is that 'talent' is not a limiting factor below 2000, maybe even under 2100-2200. hard work with correct methods, persistence, and we'll all get there.

  5. My success rate is 68% and I've improved from the low 1500s to the low 1600s over the course of a few months. Part of the improvement may have been the result of learning to "game the system", though.

  6. wormstar, I think the key to your increased rating is not so much the % success, but your attitude towards the problems you get wrong. On your own blog you have described how you review the problems missed, and in fact decided you must review them multiple times. I believe this is where the learning takes place and the reason for your improvement.

    Tempo has also focused on learning the problems he missed and has increased steadily, even if more slowly than he would like. It is interesting to see his results once he began to focus on learning 34 new positions per day. 1 point per day, just like clockwork. Surely we can all agree that learning new patterns is the only way to increase CTS rating.

    But wormstar's observation about an "ideal" % success is interesting. Perhaps the 65% and 90% success are results that are correlated to rating, but not a cause. Well, these things are difficult to determine, all we can do is work hard and hope for the best.

  7. I viewed ng rating progress of the knights, and I improved only a measly 47 points. (Of course i raised my rating to 1800 since then without any special studying)

    However, I cant recall any particular effort to try and understand what I was doing. I was just solving problems one after the other without regards as to time and accuracy..

    (btw: Maybe i'll restart chess again when I become somwhat settled in my new country. see you in cts soon =>)

  8. Interesting post. I did not put in 2-2.5 hours a day like DLM did, only 30-40 minutes. I just can't stomach that much stuff! I see playing long games as much more connected from one position to another, so it's easier for me than tactics work.

    Also if I played 2 long games a week rather than none or 1 I would have improved faster.

    I certainly like what I have gotten out of my circles... I got a draw in blitz against a 1700 player (I'm 1400 blitz). That was a first :).

    Nonetheless I think your point is some of us have additional hurdles to work through - that's true :-).

  9. To Nezha,
    whatever you did, you adressed the wrong memory.

  10. To Dan, that's why I haven't taken the first two months at CTS into account. When I started with CTS, I nosedived to 1325 or so. Within two months it stabilized at 1470. That I took as my estimated average start rating.

  11. nice post. I am very curious as to
    what the significance of the achoo is. Is it signifying a sneeze? Is it a Dutch phrase?
    "But actually then the work (achoo) begins."

    Inquiring minds want to know

  12. Tak,
    It is my allergy when somebody says "work" or "effort".

  13. As to your post topic, Do you feel there would be a benefit to study smaller group of problems at one time vs the large database at CTS. I think the benefits of close repetition on a small datagroup may enter into this. Repetition one week apart vs repetition 1 month apart.

    Although we talk of knowing simple tactics J'adoube studied elaborate tactics on CT_art. I forgot whether CD did as well. Does
    tactical subject matter enter into this.

  14. Tak,
    when you start with studying tactics, you need to work on calculation and pattern recognition. For calculation muscle, the elaborate problems are very suited. After say 3 years tactical study, the calculation reaches it's ceiling, and cannot improve much further. From that moment on you have to focus on pattern recognition alone. Then it make sense to learn the simple and most frequent patterns first thoroughly before you continue with the more difficult ones.

    I did the Renko CD's, which are comparable to CT-art qua complexity.

  15. Tempo,
    You forgot to mention the importance of sweat suits and goatee's. These are critical for grandmaster play.

    Also, how long is a 200 problem session for you on CTS? And, do you know how to access the graph that shows your rating performance over the last 200 problems?

  16. Pale,
    aha, that's why DLM stopped with chess, he hates a bowtie!

    200 problems take me 90 minutes.
    I don't count the breaks.
    That is the selection round.
    From this 200 there are 100 problems which I do too slow or made an error. These 100 are the ones that I do repetitions with untill I can do them automaticly.
    The past few days I haven't been visible on CTS because I repeat the old problems in unrated mode.

    The ratinggraph isn't reachable anymore. They dropped it when they got trouble with using too many system resources.

  17. For real??? Awesome! Nice to know my efforts are being noticed by the "outside chessworld". This also answers your question. I did not. I am not a subscriber of their magazine. Nore am i a KNSB member (not yet anyway), so i don't get their magazine. But what do they write about my blog? Would you mind scanning the article (if possible) and send it to me by email? Or can you tell me where i can get me a copy of that particular number? Or maybe you can get one for me and mail it to me. I'll make sure to deposit the cost on your bank account. Scouts honour :-)

    (this is a copy of the reaction to your last comment at my blog in case you wouldn't notice)

  18. we might have a new knight

    check rocky out

  19. Note that i cannot add anything new on my blog

    New URL:


  20. Montse,
    Sir Rocky Rook is allready welcomed as Knight by DG.