Saturday, September 08, 2007

Contradicting point

Yesterday I lost my game from a 1980 opponent. The way how is for me the proof that I'm on the right track when I say that lack of calculation ability in complex positions is my main weakness. If I was asked, I would guess that from the 800 points my rating differs from that of a grandmaster, 500-600 points are caused by lack of this skill. But nobody asks.

This was the position where I did find the losing move:

Black to move and lose.

Untill now black is slightly better. But with the move Nxg3 (instead of dxe4) I manage to give the game away. I was simply unable to calculate all the intricacies of the the position. So in fact Nxg3 was a gamble. Because the clock was ticking, and I had to make a move anyhow. For me the position was quite unclear. When I talked with my opponent afterwards, he said that he immediately knew that move can't be good. That remembered me at the comment of anonymous on my previous post, who asked me why is 1.Bxe4 not good in the position that I repeat here for your convenience:

Black to move.
I reacted in the same way, that move can't be good.

Now we reach the contradicting point:
I try to improve my calculating skills by constructing narratives. I hope that that will improve my intuition in the end. But above I have two examples of chess intuition, and nor my opponent nor I was able to translate our intuition into a convincing narrative when asked.
This seems to indicate that we have obtained this intuition in the past without ever being able to formulate a narrative. But if that is truly the case then the question is raised how did we then acquire this intuition?
The only argument I can find to solve this is to assume that we have forgotten the corresponding narrative. But is that really the case? Or did we use another method without knowing how?

You can find the game here.


  1. If narratives are a way to translate "chess-language" to human language (because we can do some things better with human language) it seems certain that for any progress to be made this way, there has to be a retranslation and, ultimately, operations must exist within this "chess-language". The more one deals with chess, the more fluent one becomes in this language and so there must be methods anyway which we are using constantly without (consciously) knowing how. So even for that intuition which is acquired _with the help of_ a narrative we don't really know how we got it. So we never know how we do it, only sometimes we know about _circumstances_ of a learning process.
    When we learn with the help of narratives it's imho no less a mystery then when not. And I don't see any solution, because whatever can be said or written will always be a translation and not "the real thing".

    kind regards,

  2. My problem is when I think "that can't be good" I am often wrong, as I haven't taken the time to think through to quiescence. On the other hand, my bet is that narratives are one efficient means to build up intuition, but just playing and studying a lot also builds up good intuitions, patterns. This would be born out by the existence of great players who react with contempt to talk of narratives.

  3. There may be another issue here. You mentioned the clock. Were you in big time trouble? Perhaps with more time you would have been able to see through the move Nxg3 as bad. Perhaps not. I don't know.

    I do know I've played some splendid games against higher rated players only to botch it on a miscalculation in time trouble.

    It goes back to the old saying that the one who loses is the one to make the first bad move.

    I'm not being very helpful, but I enjoyed going over your game. Nicely played in my opinion. I hate the friggin English.

  4. Svensp,
    So we never know how we do it, only sometimes we know about _circumstances_ of a learning process.
    When we learn with the help of narratives it's imho no less a mystery then when not. And I don't see any solution, because whatever can be said or written will always be a translation and not "the real thing".

    You are quite right when calling it a mystery in both cases. Yet the difference is that in the case of intuition_which_is_acquired _with the help of_ a narrative we have at least some idea about _circumstances_of_a_learning_process while in the other case we are just stumbling in the dark.

    I'm convinced that these circumstances are paramount. If I look at the young chess prodigies here, they are continuously fed by coaches of masterlevel. A coach helps them to analyze their games, thus translating his own chess intuition into words, while the student translates it back to intuition. Only a prodigy who is able to find a way to improve all by himself, can excell his coach. But even then it becomes harder and harder to learn new topics. And I don't think that is because the chessgame runs out of relevant topics but because the human knowledge base runs out of topics. That I consider the reason that even a grandmaster plateaus. It is just very difficult and timeconsuming to find new topics of your own, when you can't fall back on the human knowledge base any longer.

    In that it differs from learning a language. With a language you reach at a certain moment a level that you can say almost everything that you want. Because there are different ways to say things correctly. But in chess even a grandmaster has a long way to go. If you look at Polgars middlegame book with problems from (grand)mastergames extracted by masterlevel players and checked by a grandmaster, even there is 25% of the solutions busted by a chessengine. And we have no idea how near the concoction of a chessprogrammer nears to "best play".

  5. Blue,
    there must be competition between items to cristallize into intuition. A survival of the fittest of chess ideas, so to speak. At low level other idea's survive than at higher levels. The fittest refers to the best fit, not the best move.

    In my example of dismissing 1.Bxe4 by intuition, I haven't calculated it until quiescense. It is just that in 100K+ problems it was very rare that giving up the pinning piece lead to the solution. If ever. Intuition does an unconscious preselection of candidate moves.

    At a certain level just playing isn't enough anymore. Plateauing players who play every day still don't improve. Indicating that they don't learn anything from their games anymore. I belief that the automatic pilot is the biggest enemy of learning, while conscious effort is your friend. Since the automatic pilot consumes much less energy than is needed for conscious effort, at a certain moment people tend to settle for it. You have experienced yourself how weary conscious effort can be.

  6. Pale,
    I wasn't in timetrouble at all, but from time to time one must do a move to prevent you from getting into it. For this position I need hours to calculate.

    The grand prix reversed is a great way to meet the English.