Sunday, December 30, 2007

Finishing the stategy module

Today I finished the third and last strategy module of PCT, before the end of the year as I intended. They had a little "surprise" for me in store since their latest units all existed of 30-60 problems while the last unit contained 240 problems!
Since it were all familiar problems, I had a chance to take a good look at the retrieval of the answers. This is my experience:
  • Scanning. The eyes scan around the board and testmoves are executed before the minds eye. The eyes always follow the same route at every repetition of a problem. The same moves are tried, the same errors are made. Only from time to time, usual after more repetitions, some flaws in the route are corrected, some unnecessary eye movements are eliminated. Time 0-30 seconds
  • Pattern recognition. All of a sudden a part of a geometrical pattern is recognized. Time less than 1 second.
  • Retrieval of associations. Immediately the whole pattern is retrieved, along with all associated thoughts, idea's and patterns. Time under 3 seconds.
  • Reconstruction. The mind starts to reconstruct a textual narrative and other associations. This seems to be at least partial a conscious process. It is rather slow. Time 3-10 seconds.
  • Verification. This is a conscious process. Check of the position indeed is what you think it is or only a lookalike with a different clue. Time 10-30 seconds.
  • Confirmation. If the verification is positive, an emotion arises indicating "this is the right move". Time to arise less than 1 second, but the feeling can last some time.
There are 3 topics I like to comment on:

Big plan vs little plan.
PCT typically provides little plans, that can be summarized in a narrative of one or two sentences. Big plans are made by backwards thinking or what does this piece want for Christmass? I don't think that the creation of big plans is very viable in OTB situations. There simply isn't enough time for such time consuming conscious process. Big plans are necessary for analysis during study. But the derived conclusions must be converted into little plans for OTB usage. So big plans for the study room, little plans for OTB.

Conscious vs unconscious.
Both reconstruction and verification are at least partly conscious processes. I'm not convinced that the conscious part is necessary during the training process. But I'm addicted to control.

Necessity of narratives.
These textual associations play an important role in both storage and retrieval. It helped me tremendous. It distincts the different positions and ideas from each other. Little positional plans are easy to catch in narratives. But I'm convinced they play a crucial role in tactical problems too.


  1. I must do something similar in retrieving the answers but I am often not aware of scanning. But when I am it reminds me that I'd like to be able to adjust the size of the board in PCT so I can more easily take in the whole scene in one glance.

    Testmoves are tried? Yes, sometimes but especially for the later repetitions I think I go straight to recall.

    Big plan vs. little plan.
    Yes, PCT focuses on little plan based on what I've done so far. Little plan is easily trainable in their format and represents key fundamental building blocks of chess knowledge.

    But no big plans or backwards thinking in OTB? I do lots of big plan thinking and backwards thinking during OTB games at even quick time controls like G/30. I try to do the longer term "big plan" thinking on my opponents time and limit thinking on my time to pure tactics. I may use backwards thinking on my opponents time to find a goal. After the opponent moves I spend time to examine the specific tactics to see if I can achieve the goals I identified while thinking on his/her time.

    I may examine "fantasy" lines on their time based on backward thinking and the like and then later see if there is a way to make them concrete..

    Both reconstruction and verification are at least partly conscious processes.
    I'm not sure that is necessarily true for me for reconstruction.

    Often the first thing I am consciously aware of (for later reps) is the answer (meaning the first move). BTW, I see this as the goal of the repetitions. This is the "cheating" that some people refer to. I can play the problem out without thinking because I know all of the moves. I have to consciously think to know why they are correct but I "know" they are.

    These textual associations play an important role in both storage and retrieval.
    I generally use the PCT comments or an excerpt of them in the strategy module as the narrative (with a corrected translation if needed) -- when I use one. For tactics I generally do not use a textual narrative. My hook is often a visual image integrated with the board. It just occurred to me why I dislike CT-ART's key square stuff -- it interferes with me doing the same sort of thing. Or, my hook is the key move or last move of the combination -- I just "see" that and associate it with the board position somehow. At least, that is what I think I do (not a conscious process).

  2. Congrats on getting it done! I hate the surprises of long units in PCT; I can get the regular ones in Tactics doen in ~30 minutes, but when they drop the big ones it usually takes ~60 and often gets split into two sessions because I only had the 30 minutes.

    I've also made my own narrative for the tactics stuff. Like Glenn, I can see a solution and know it is correct, but I look for something to show me why.

  3. Glen,
    maybe I'm just too inexperienced to make a big plan and should I train that first before I'm able to apply it OTB. For years I have only focused on one big plan: "kill the King". Maybe that now I have solved my eternal time trouble problem that I will find more time OTB to think about big plans.

    For tactics I generally do not use a textual narrative. My hook is often a visual image integrated with the board.

    When I started with tactical problems I didn't seem to need anything. But after 100k+ exercises my mind feels "tactical training numb". The mind doesn't seem to distingish between the moves anymore. But when I use a little narrative the storage and retrieval of solutions works again as it used to.

    It is remarkable that this "numbness" isn't present with strategical exercises at all. I attribute this to the little narrative that works as a unique "tag" to distinct the different solutions. The fact that the descriptions in PCT often are in funny english (other than my own:)is helpful as well to make this extra distinction.

    The fact that a lot happens unconscious makes it difficult to understand what is happening.