Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Adapting the mind

When I do the exercises of PCT for the first time, I score about a measly 20% correct. The bright side of course is that there is a lot room for improvement. . .
Often I tend to deny the solution of GM Milos from PCT. Usually after a few repetitions my resistence starts to break down and I begin to appreciate the idea which is shown in the exercise. I think this is a normal reaction of the mind when it is confronted with a very alien way of thinking. The mind just needs some time to adapt. To give you an idea which problems I face while adapting (and to help me in the process) I show you a few problems that feel very counter intuitive to what I'm used to think.

Diagram A

White to move

While I'm thinking about queenside expansion and creating a passer PCT comes up with move g4 and adds the following comment:

g4 seems to me to embody all that is ugly in a move:
  • played at the wrong side of the board
  • weakening the king position without reason
  • creating ugly holes like h4 where I imagine a black knight or a bishop
  • inviting moves like f5 to counterattack
How many of you would have played g4 in this position?
Rybka awards it with +0.28 while the best move is +0.34 (Bg4) so it isn't an ugly move in any case. I must conclude that I have prejudices against the move. In certain positions this kind of move would be wrong, but here black presumably can't make use of the downsides of the move so the advantages outweight the disadvantages. Very good from an educational point of view, but will I be able to play it in a game? Probably more adaptation is needed:)

Diagram B

Black to move

I would have played here b5 without much thought anytime, opening a file against the white king. PCT comes with the surprising pawn sac f3
To me again a move that embodies all that is ugly:
  • opening a file against my king which would work very well with a bishop on c3
  • playing at the wrong side of the board
  • saccing a pawn for no apparent reason
PCT's comment:

Initially Rybka sees f3 as the best move too. But at ply 14 it all of a sudden appreciates Nh5
f3 = -0.48
Nh5 = -0.02
b5 = -0.45

What to make of that?

Diagram C

White to move

PCT suggests a5 with the following comment:

PCT often refers to b6 as a weakness, but initially I had difficulty to see what he meant. b6 is weak since there are no pawns on a7 and c7. But can it come under attack? The only piece I can think of is the king. If a few pieces are traded, the white king will appear on d4. From there the invasion of the King via c5 - b6 is a serious threat. That means that there are two weaknesses in blacks position, d5 and b6, which often proves to be decisive according to the "principle of two weaknesses". That's the only explanation I can think of.

Diagram D

White to move

I was considering h4, but I doubt if a kingside attack will be forcefull enough due to lack of space. PCT suggests a4, with the following comment:

Again a weaknes on b6! GM Milos doesn't seem to care about ruining a safe king position.
On the other hand, after some thinking the words from GM Danielsen came up: attack where you are strong and your opponent is weak. It's evident that white is stronger at the queenside than the kingside. But pushing pawns in front of my king while there is no opponent king which can be chased is not something my mind already is adapted to. But then again, maybe that's why they are grandmasters and I'm not.


  1. I'll fight bad looking (for me) moves every step of the way, regardless of whether it was suggested by a GM or an engine. :) that's just the way my mind works. I'm completely unable to just take someone's word for it being good, until I'm shown why it works.

    but in the first diagram, I would've at least thought about g4. it's just the kind of move I'm likely to make when the center is blocked. such moves are also a big part of why I like polar bear & leningrad. reckless kingside pawn storms, which often come as a total surprise for opponents adhering to 'rules'. :)

  2. WW,
    I'm completely unable to just take someone's word for it being good, until I'm shown why it works.

    Of course. But I count myself as "someone" in this case.

  3. Having collected a lot of prejudices the past 10 years.

  4. don't bother listening to a obviously know everthing already.

  5. wow. talk about counterintuitive moves... I did not find any of those moves.

  6. Excellent idea for a post.

    One can approach tools like PCT as a test of what one already knows or as an opportunity to learn. In the first case the percent right the first time through is important. In the second case it is not very important. I take the second approach (of course, there is always some of the first case mixed in).

    I had similar thoughts and reactions to the diagrams but found myself more accepting of the explanations.

    Rybka vs PCT (GM Milos): Unless Rybka refutes a move or demonstrates another is clearly superior I will give more credence to PCT. Why? Because I am human and ultimately can only play like a human. PCT is trying to teach me to find good *human* moves. Rybka just calculates and calculates and calculates endlessly. Rybka *may* be objectively correct but in a way that I may never be able to emulate. My chances of emulating a good GM are much better.

    In both cases of "weakness at b6" refers not just to the b6 square, per se, but to the now backward (and therefore practically immobilized) pawn at b7 (after a5 for Diagram D) that can no longer move through b6.

    And yes, questioning all of this is healthy for your chess.

  7. Glenn,
    I fully agree with your way of looking at it. Besides that some more comment from the side of PCT would have been helpful (not only because his english is often funny)

  8. Hi Temposchlucker! Happy new year. I love your blog. On the move a4, the idea is you have enough pieces on the queenside to defend your king, so you get away with moves like a4, which have the strategical plan a4-a5 of fixing b6, making the move b7-b6 more difficult to play. It also gives your pieces a square, you might be able to play Bb6, or Na4-b6 completely closing the queenside and allowing your pieces to penetrate on the queenside. Of course you need to be good at tactics to deal with any attacking play your opponent might have after a4, but you should be ok with all the defensive power you have on the queenside. Hope this helps! - Spudweb

  9. Spudweb,
    yes that helps, thx! It is just a matter to get accustomed to this kind of thinking.