Sunday, June 10, 2007


When I listened to music in past times, I used to hear a blur of noise. I liked The Doors, Pink floyd, Kraftwerk, Iron Butterfly, Led Zeppelin, Deep purple, Black Sabbath, Big Band etc..
Basically that was because I was a musical barbarian.

Since 4 years I sing as bass in the choir which is conducted by my wife Margriet. We sing a cappella 4-9 voiced works from the Renaissance mainly. When I started I had no musical background at all. One of the first things I noticed is that I wasn't able to listen to . . . , well to anything actually. I even didn't know how to listen to my own voice.

You can only learn something, if you know that there is something to learn. If you don't know there is something to learn and nobody tells you, you can't possibly learn something. Even if you are potentially capable of learning.

Even getting help from somebody who has already learned it is problematic. Since they have often learned it as a kid, they are not AWARE from the fact that others can have a problem with something that is so natural to them. So I don't know which questions to ask, while the expert has no idea what the problems could be.

When I listened to a 4 voiced piece, I realized that I didn't hear the altos. The voices of the sopranos and the basses are easy to spot. The middle voice is easy to identify as the tenors, but where are the altos?

If I hadn't known that it was a 4-voiced piece, I hadn't known that I wasn't hearing a voice. But since I know now, the learning can begin. And so I started to listen daily, focussing on the altos. Within a few weeks my ability to hear the separate voices has grown immense.

And so it goes. It takes 48 years to become aware that there is a problem hidden in the blur ├╝berhaupt, and then it takes a few weeks of seriously focussing to cure it.

The same is true for chess. Of course.
See the following diagram:

diagram 1

White to move and win.

It will probably take you a few minutes of forward thinking to come to the following line:
1.e5 Ndxe5 2. Bxh7 Kxh7 3.Ng5+ Kg8 4.Qh4 g6
Then it becomes a little fuzzy how to continue. 5.Ne4 seems to seal the deal but black has resources that you easily overlook while looking with "your minds eye". Not that black can withstand the attack, but how can you know? Usually we would go to look after the solution at this stage, see that the variant with 1. . . . Ncxe5 wins also for white and continue to the next problem.

Now let us think backwards in order to see if we missed some singing voices.
First we have to acknowledge that in order to gain something from this position, the target must be to mate the black king. It will not take much time to see that there aren't any simple material-gaining tactics around.
When we aim at this target of mating the black king, we either hope to mate the monarch or that black has to give us a lot of wood in order to prevent us from doing so.

White's rook on f1 divides the board in two parts, and the chances of the black king to be mated lie mainly at the right side of that file. The square h8 deserves special attention. To prevent h8 to be a refuge for the black king, we identify 3 white pieces which can cover h8:
The bishop on f1, one of the knights or the queen.
If the bishop or knight covers h8, the covering of g8 and h7 will be problematic. So the most chances for mate or the threat of mate lie with the white queen.

Now let's have a look at the two newly identified seeds of tactical destuction:
  • Squares where piece activity converges.
  • Overworked pieces that defend those focal points.
First let's see how white is doing.

Bd3, Nf3 and Qg3 all converge to h7. I consciously overlook the impediment e4 at the moment.

Bc1 and Qg3 converge at g7.

Rf1, Nf3 and Qg3 all converge at f7.

Now let's see what black has in store to defend these focal points.

Kg8, Nf6 and Qc7 all converge to h7. I consciously overlook the impediment g7 at the moment.

Kg8, Bf8 and Q c7 converge at g7.

Kg8, one of the knights and Qc7 are able to defend f7.

Why are these focal points so important?
If you have the upperhand at one of these squares, such square can act as an invasion square. All the moves that are made have an influence on those potential invasion squares. As white starts with e5, he has little more reason to do that than to give his bishop on d3 access to h7. If black decides to take on e5, how must he do that?
Ndxe5 removes itself from the row where it hinders the black queen from access to h7. At the same time, the knight itself is lost for the defense of h7. If black takes with Nc6xe5, no progress is made for the queen to access h7.
Not taking on e5 has as side effect that the square f6 is no longer available for the black knight to defend h7.

So what's the score?

h7: 3-3
g7 : 2-3
f7 : 3-3

From these, h7 offers the best chance, since black needs two moves to remove the impediments while white needs to remove only one.

Now what can we learn from all this?
The difference between the expert and the patzer is that the expert sees more. Compare the difference between two persons of which only one knows the rule of the square in an pawn endgame. He who doesn't know the rule, has to imagine the king and pawn running to the other side in order to find out if his king is able to intercept the running pawn in time. While he who sees the square in his minds eye, knows instantly if he will be in time without hesitation and without errorprone calculation.

This diagram is a relative simple problem from Polgars book. I'm used to forward thinking, but even in this simple position I got lost after move 4. So when I should play 1.e5 in a game, it would be a highly speculative pawn sacrifice.

With backward thinking the attention shifts from the pieces to the squares. The patterns you see are imaginary AND real. It gives a framework to analyse every move with respect to its effect on the focal squares.

Of course it is a lot of work to identify all this for only one position. But hey, look how commonly placed the white pieces are. If I got a beer for every game of mine with the pieces placed exactly like here, I would have a delirium by now.

Seeing new topics makes the game more enjoyable. Just as hearing more detais makes the music more enjoyable. Hear, hear!


  1. So was the first picture a self portrait?


    Just kidding. . .hope all is well. . .

  2. As barbarian I try to educate myself with chess and music:)