Friday, August 03, 2007

My two weaknesses

Update 1: text is blue

Before the tournament I had analysed my games from the last season. Two weaknesses in my play emerged:
  • The endgame.
  • Complex middlegame play.
The endgame.
The discovery of a vast area between the end of the middlegame and the theoretical ending was a revelation. I had no clue whatsoever how to play in this area. I studied a lot of annotated endings from mastergames to get a clue. My first discovery was that the endgame was about queening a pawn. This may sound absurd, but I never had realized myself that. What to head for is beautifully showed on the frontpage of Lars Bo Hansens book.

Fix the weakness (h4)
Penetrate with the King into the enemy lines (Kd4)
Attack a weaknesses from behind with your piece (Rd6)
In general: clear the pathway to promotion.

The methods as described in SOCES are the same as I found during the mastergame study. The study of endgame strategy isn't difficult at all and within a few weeks it is possible to make an enormous progress. What was difficult was the discovery of the very existence of endgame strategy as being important. I have dabbled around for 6 months with theoretical endings before this discovery. Theoretical endings form only 5% of the total area of endgame study, and the study of the 95% endgame strategy that precedes the theoretical ending is much more profitable by far. 3 weeks of study payed off immediately last tournament where the transition of two draws into two wins was entirely due to my new acquired knowledge. So I have a winner here and will continue the study of Larsens book.
Based on the experience of previous tournaments, I suspect that my new acquired endgame knowledge will get me another 1 or 2 gamepoints per 9 games against equal opposition. That equals to a rating improvement from 100 to 150 points. So the main improvement has to come from complex middlegame skill.

Complex middlegame play.
In this area I have no clue at all. Thus I have to investigate it. So far I have barely scratched the surface. Let me describe some aspects that might play a role. Don't expect much cohesion.

The problem.
At a certain moment a position becomes too complex to handle. There are too many thickets of variations. The one who can calculate these variations the best will win the game.

Knowledge is not part of the problem.
When two opponents know that being a queen up is good for you than both opponents will strive to get each others queen and they will strive to prevent the opponent from getting theirs. When both sides have equal knowledge, the skill with which one strives to materialize the knowledge will decide the game. One can have a temporary advantage when you have certain knowledge which your opponent has not. This tournament I had new knowledge about the endgame. That makes it easy to win from opponents who don't possess that knowledge. They didn't prevent me from reaching my goals. That will bring me a few ratingpoints, of course (100-150 points as I just calculated). If my rating increases I will get stronger opponents, with more knowledge, untill the balance of knowledge is restored. From that moment on, it will be the skill again what decides if I can materialize my goals. Chess knowledge can be hard to find, but once found it is easy to assimilate it in your system. So it is impossible to get a long lasting advantage over your opponents based on knowledge. The world of knowledge is the world of formulating goals. We are talking about the striving that is involved to reach the goals.

Visualisation plays a very limited role.
It is easy to overestimate the role of visualisation in calculation. But if you cannot handle a complex position with your eyes wide open, and with an extra board where you move the pieces for analysing lines, you certainly will not be able to handle that position with your eyes closed. Nevertheless it is important to improve your visualisation skills to the max, to prevent it from becoming an impairment.

Beyond tactics.
Tactics are limited to material gain or to mate the king. That are pretty crude methods. Most of the time you are striving for more subtler advantages, like possessing a diagonal or getting a good bishop. Striving for these minor advantages is the most common part of the game. They form 95% of it. There is no difference in calculating for a big advantage or for a little advantage. So the saying that chess is 99% tactics is nonsense, unless you stretch the definition of tactics beyond material gain and mating the king.

How to get an advantage in chess.
Blue Devil says that the attack of multiple targets as main tactical motif feels unnatural and forced. I will try to explain where it stems from.
Imagine that you are striving to get the queen of your opponent. When you attack the queen with a piece, she will simply move away. You can use all the moves of the 50-moves rule, without ever getting your opponents queen. There are three, and only three, methods to get your opponents queen in a forced way.
  • The first method is the trap. When the space to move to is very limited, you can get the queen by trapping her.
  • The second method is by attacking the enemy queen and the enemy king at the same time. Be it by a skewer, a pin, a double attack, a fork or whatsoever. Be it with one attacker or two attackers like in a discovered attack.
  • The third method is that of the lesser evil. If you mate your opponents king, the sacrifice of his queen is the lesser evil.
There are no other ways I can imagine than these three methods to get your opponents queen in a forced way.
Besides moving his queen away when you attack it, the defender has the possibility to counter attack. Be it against your queen or against your king.

What is true for a big advantage as winning a queen works the same in general for minor advantages. That is to say, one move that attempts to gain an advantage can usually be parried by one move of the defender. Only when there is limited space or two threats at the same time the defender cannot keep up. Matters are obscured though because of the rule of the lesser evil and the possibilities of counter attacks. The lesser the value of the advantage, the easier it will be given up to secure advantages of more value. And the lesser the value of the advantage, the more counter attacks are suited as defense.

Short term memory overload error.
The biggest problem with the calculation of thickets of variations is the limited free space in the short term memory (STM) and the fact that information stored in the STM fades away quickly. Improvement of the calculation skills means relieving of the STM by transferring tasks to the LTM. We just found a method to do that.

The startpoint is a complex position from an annotated mastergame. You must study the solution. No need to try to find the solution yourself, as scientific study shows. Next you have to formulate the knowledge at work at a higher cognitive level and to construct a narrative containing this information. Pattern recognition should do the translation to your games.

Investigation continued.


  1. Nice summary and information. Very useful.

    You have triggered me to think that instead of formulating tactics in terms of 'two threats', I find it more useful to think of it as tactics involve threats that the opponent needs extra tempi to defend against.

    This even captures en prise blunders, in which case the opponent has zero tempi and would like to have one.

    Under this definition (and yours I think), a pin isn't really a tactic at all. A pin is more of a tactically-dictated positonal feature of a position (i.e., you are limiting the freedom of a piece because of tactical considerations, but this is positional, as when we have a rook on an open file, so his rook can't move there). When the pinned piece is attacked, THEN we have a tactic, as the defender would like to move the two pieces on the line of the pin.

    I think these two ways of looking at tactics are likely identical, but thinking in terms of how many moves are required to defend I find more concrete and might even be more helpful in practice.

  2. To prevent too much information in one post, I haven't talked about values yet. If you pin a rook against its queen with your bishop, you are attacking to targets in line at the same time. It's the value of the attacker(s) and the targets that makes you to interpret it as a tactic or not. If you value his bishop higher than yours, you can pin a bishop against a rook with your bishop, thus forcing an advantegeous trade. I haven't worked this out, but you get the idea.

    The comparison of tempi needed for attack and needed for defense is a very useful idea.

  3. That makes sense. You don't skewer the queen with a bishop when it's a pawn behind her.

    This is very useful overall, the implications of thinking in terms of tempi are just starting to manifest in my mind as a chess player. Until perhaps a month ago ideas about tempi meant nothing to me. Now it is oh so important. And I wouldn't have seen it without playing reckless attacking chess for a spell.

  4. tempo, when we have fifty or sixty chess books and are currently reading only ONE of them, however compelling, we must ask if we need another chess book, and in fact, if more stuff will only necessarily decrease the probability of actually reading them.

    bear with me here, you dont know where i am headed...

    so this might be more about me than you, but i bet we all have this tendency.

    so i ask you, what is in this endgame strategy book that is NOT in the shereshevksy book?

    mind you, my struggle is NOT to not buy it, but my struggle is not to buy it. i really, really want this book.

    can you tell us how they compare, if you dont mind? thx, dk

  5. DK,
    usually I read 10 books at the same time so my problem is not having too many books that I didn't read. Only often my insights change before I open the book:)
    As you said, this isn't about me but about YOU, but I couldn't resist.

    These topics are NOT covered at Shereshevsky to my knowledge:
    1.Space advantage
    2.Control of squares and files
    4.when to hurry and when not
    5.transformations of advantages
    6.rook activity
    7.mate and stalemate

    Globally 50% of the topics the books have in common and 50% is genuine. Personally I like Hansens book most.

  6. thank you. i had a feeling it was like that. ive not actually seen the book, but the reviews including yours, are all stellar.

    i will order it, but such reading is half a year out from my plan, maybe even one year...

    my plate is full:
    GM games daily (25 per week)

    CTS daily (40 per day, very accurate, close to 100%)

    1001 sacrifices and combinations daily (35 per week)

    bullet when i have energy (cutting way back, but thirty to forty five minutes per day. today = zero!)

    work id like to do but insufficient energy after above:

    Yasser's Endagme book, with board.

    read Euwe-Kramer Vol's I & II

    finish CT-Art 840-1209 problems, is it.

    analysis of games with fritz 8

    RHP, started back today, one single game, but i aim to hit this one really hard, using my chessBase viewer, and many sheets of paper for accessing variations (no AI [engine] of course).

    thank you, dk