Thursday, September 21, 2006

Circumstancial criteria.

Yesterday I realized that there are a lot of "circumstancial criteria" that play an important role in my theoretical ramblings. These are just simple facts, and any theory or hypothesis must be in accordance with these facts, otherwise the hypothesis can't be true. Since these criteria are self-evident to me, I often forget to inform you about it.
A few examples are:
  • Susan Polgar used 2.6 seconds per move at average during a simul where she scored 96.6%
  • Grandmasters show brainactivity in a different area in comparison to amateurs.
  • MDLM isn't special.
  • Papa Polgar produced 3 prodigies, not just one, so a prodigy is nothing special, it's just a matter of good training.
There are more, but it is better to tell about them whenever a context needs them.

A circumstancial fact that made a great impression on me and that is very important to understand what I'm after is the following.
During the years I have played a few prodigies. 10 to 13 year old, on their streak to mastership.
I always used the opportunity to talk to them afterwards.
With one important question in mind: are these kids superbeings or are it smart kids with just one supertrick? Do they have superior reasoning skills, an eidetic memory, fabulous knowledge of chess theory etc. or do they have just a simple kink in their brains what makes them to spot good chessmoves faster?

My talks with those prodigies convinced me of the latter. It just all comes down to one supertrick. At all the other area's they were just no match for me because, well they were just 10-13yo kids, they simple had not had enough time to develop all that super reasoning, fill their super memory, they hadn't read as much books as me etc..

That supertrick is what I'm after. A trick so simple that even a 11yo can do it. I realize that I strip the mystic of chess and that common mainstream belief is opposing me.
But when I talk to a smart 11yo I simply cannot get rid of the feeling that I'm talking to a smart 11yo and not to a superbeing with mythical para-abnormal characteristics. Even when he (she!) smashes me from the board.

MDLM found that supertrick, but he failed to tell some (for him) self evident details, or we skipped them while reading, thinking it was not important.
I intend to find out.
This belief is what colors my posts so heavily. So now you know.


  1. May be the ridiculous amount of tournaments he played. 45 in 2 years !!!

    Dan Heisman recommend to play more than 50 games on the year on open tournaments. MDLM tripled that, or more.

    Am I right ?

  2. Shak,
    no, he played about 120 games a year during only 2 years. Margriet and I played often about 90 games a year, during a much longer period of years, so that can't be it.

  3. You know we sometimes disagree. But here I fully agree. Spotting things fast IS the thing. Even evaluation and sorting out good from bad moves is it: Spot a refutation and drop the line in an instant. Just to be clear: I see spotting as an active process. That is, not just let patterns pop out, but rather act like a tiger in the jungle. In good spotting always an active decision is involved: Have I seen enough or must I look deeper into it? I think this is the crucial point.

  4. Oops I missed an important point. Material counting. I mean fast material counting in complicated capture sequences.

  5. You are talking about explicit conscious decisionmaking. Of course that always take place. But next to that there exists another implicit unconscious decision making.

    Look at a description of a pattern you find easy to spot, picked from your blog:

    And this is the guard swapping pattern: The problem attacks my unguarded queen with its guarded queen. I capture the problem's queen guard with my own piece that becomes a guard of my own queen. Now mine is guarded and the problem's is no longer guarded. I have won a piece.

    If you have a close look at this, you will find a lot of implicit unconscious decisionmaking. Are the moves according to the chess rules? Is this swap fruitfull in terms of gained points? Is his queen left unguarded after the swap? Is my queen protected?

    All these questions are answered unconscious and implicit, just by recognizing the pattern. You have checked the pattern intensively in the past, now you just chop that knight off with your rook without even thinking.

    I believe that's the way to go. Make your decisions in the studyroom, convert them to recognizable "pop-able" patterns.

    Circumstancial fact: I saw GM Friso Nijboer with a talking (to him) kid on every knee, in the mean time he was talking to his wife while he was chopping off an opponent during a blitz game. The decisions he made were not made on the chessboard but in the talks to his wife!

    Of course there is a role for explicit conscious decisionmaking during a game. But research showed that grandmaster and skilled amateurs don't differ much in that area.

  6. Here are some educated guesses about the circles.

    MDLM found that supertrick, but he failed to tell some (for him) self evident details, or we skipped them while reading, thinking it was not important

    Perhaps the chess vision drills may be the something you skipped over?

    Also,one element of his training that I and many have not fully enacted is the 1/2 of the circle time. In his first circle of CT-Art he spent quite a long time trying to solve each problem. Toward the end he did the 1200 problems 3 times in a 7 day period. So perhaps there is an element of being able to do the complex problems quickly not just recognizing the basic problem.

    Part of recognition skill is to peel back the layers and discover the basic tactic within a complex position. Perhaps this is best discovered through doing complex problems not through simple problems only.

    Perhaps there was an element of building calculation muscle as part of his success.

    Also I think learning to play carefully,check and recheck was element he found essential to his success. Even with improved tactical prowess he found he was still losing pieces before he enacted his system on every move.

  7. Tempo, thx for dealing so carefully with my posts. The matter of decision making is very important. So I better answer you in my own blog.


    [apropos of much of recent discussion, and various posts and bloggers alike, but most notably yours\

    "The Four Homeworks

    Quote of the Month: Practice may not make perfect, but it sure can make you much better!

    The Theory of Chess Improvement states that a key to getting better (in almost anything!) is to balance theory and practice. I categorize taking lessons as theory. During lessons, I usually concentrate on “subtracting negatives” (identifying and minimizing mistakes) and teaching students how to most efficiently “add positives.” Then I assign homework, so the student can learn new material on his own. Of course, if the student has a problem doing so, I am always there to help.

    Therefore, a key question is “what chess homework maximizes the improvement process?” The answer depends upon the individual:


    What he/she knows.

    What his instructional/developmental needs are.

    What his goals are.

    What mistakes he is making.

    How much time he has to devote to chess.

    However, there is some common ground for assignments that should benefit most individuals. Here are some ground rules for this “common homework”:


    Homework must include both theory and practice. One must strike a balance between the “learn and try” method, which works very well. If there is no way to promote feedback of “this is what you are doing wrong; try to do this instead,” then you may find the rest of your homework won’t help you get much better.

    Homework must be consistent in level. There is no sense assigning someone to do basic tactics problems and then to read the very advanced Kramnik’s Best Games.

    Homework must be eminently realistic, in terms of both difficulty and amount.

    Students should keep in contact with their instructor (or strong chess playing friends) to ensure they are doing work consistent with their changing needs. Sometimes my students begin reading an advanced book that is at best completely inappropriate for their needs – and at worst counterproductive – just because they happen to have it on hand.

    Homework must be fun. Chess is a hobby, so assigning homework that is not fun is ultimately going to fail, no matter how much the student wants to improve. In the long run, homework perceived as drudgery will almost always go undone. So if you are doing “chess work” that is not fun, my suggestion is to find a way to make it fun, e.g. timing the problems, keeping track of your results to set new personal records, etc.

    Too few or too similar types of assignments are boring. Once you got tired of doing it, you would not work on chess at all until you “revive” your interest in that particular item.

    Too many items are confusing, difficult to manage, and make it hard to set goals. A person given 20 different items to work upon would have difficulty setting priorities and assigning time to each.

    With these factors in mind, I usually assign homework consisting of four generic tasks. Let’s list them and then consider each in detail: ..."