Monday, August 06, 2007

About knowledge

MDLM kind of frowned upon certain kinds of knowledge in his book. High time to introduce some nuance.

All improvement starts with knowledge. Since everything that has to be absorbed in long term memory (LTM) in an unconscious way must pass through the STM first with full consciousness. Learning new knowledge is the method par excellence to do this.

But if the study of knowledge gets no follow up by applying it into practice, it is utterly useless indeed. And that is what DLM frowned upon. In stead of frowning it is better to look for better ways to implement the knowledge. If knowledge is applied in practice, you can't prevent it from transformation into skill. What are the impediments that hinder the process of the application of knowledge?
  • There are preconditions. You must be able to apply the knowledge. This is often expressed by something like "there is no need to worry about pawnstructure as long as you hang a piece every second game". But the prerogative to hang pieces consequently is reserved for the lower levels. One day you will grow over it.
  • Forgetfulness. To forget to apply your knowledge when the position asks for it. This one is amazing and deserves special attention. In the lower ranks of our club we have quite an amount of seasoned guys who know most theory very well. When you ask them to give instruction about the opening to the yongsters they tell everything the kids need to know. But if you play against them and do something unusual in the opening they forget to develop themselves!
  • Crudeness of knowledge. One day you will learn that the bishoppair is favourable. But there is a lot of knowledge that should accompany this crude knowledge. For instance that the bishoppair in the middlegame is something quite different than the bishoppair in the endgame. In the middlegame I often sac a pawn or two to enhance the activity of my bishops. That is perfect while there is a chance to mate the opponents king. But it leaves you with an ending that is probably lost. No matter the bishoppair.
The basic knowledge is usually pretty simple. Within 3 weeks I obtained the most important knowledge that you need to know for basic endgame strategy. It took me 6 months to find the knowledge first though. Now I have acquired the crude knowledge, I need the feedback from applying the knowledge into my games. That will refine the knowledge and add additional essential information. Only then knowledge will convert into skill.

I advocate the RETINA-method:
  • Read new knowledge
  • Elaborate upon it
  • Try it in practice
  • Investigate the results
  • Nurture your narratives
  • Apply the knowledge into practice
Often it is said that just to play alot is enough. It is not. First you must acquire knowledge. Then you must play alot with an eye on the application of the knowledge.


  1. LMAO on the acronym.

    I wonder if you are right. Certainly for me I need to have a coevolving theory/practice in order to enjoy chess. Just playing isn't enough.

    But my cousin, for instance, took a year off and just played chess. No theory. Literally. He has zero books. He just went to a chess site and played all the time. And he improved tremendously (proably the equivalent of 1600 at ICC).

    But he plateaued at that level. Perhaps as your rating increases to the initial 'I got here from playing' plateau, theory becomes more important.

  2. One thing is for sure: there are players rated 1000 at ICC with over 10,000 games. Lots of them. Just playing a lot is not sufficient for improvement. There is a mystique that just playing a lot will give you a GM's intuition.

  3. Everybody seems to have a natural plateau. Before you reach your plateau, almost everything will improve your chess. That confuses matters. You can't draw conclusions from the pre-plateau stage. The things I write I consider valid once the plateau is reached and beyond.

  4. You don't get answers if you have no questions.

    Something different happens when you say to yourself "let's play blitz" or "let's play blitz to see if the French defense is something for me and to find out what is usually played back".

  5. Maybe that is why it looks that I'm going around in circles. I come back to the same topics, but with different questions:)