Monday, January 21, 2008

Narratives and chess vision

A few posts ago I mentioned an improvement of chess vision due to mumbling narratives while solving chess problems. In the previous post I mentioned chess vision as one of the elements of calculation.

What on earth is the relation between narritives and chess vision?!
Chess vision is defined as the ability to look at the covered squares in stead of the pieces. Narratives play a role in defining which squares play a crucial role in the position. An example will clarify matters.

White to move

This is halfway a combination, so the position looks pretty nonsensical. Blacks only hope can be that white's cellphone goes off, or white gets an heart attack, or, less likely, he can give eternal check at some moment. But that is irrelevant. The point is to find the fastest way to checkmate black and what is of help for white to find it.

I think the main reason why we are so bad at chess is because we fall for the temptation of looking at candidate moves without defining the criteria first. You can follow any sequence of logical looking but randomly selected candidate moves. But there is a whole tree of variations and only if you are very lucky you will find the correct sequence within a reasonable time and without error. If you found it, or looked it up you have the solution to the problem. If you leave it there, and only repeat the problems and their solutions, you can hardly hope that it will effect future solutions of different problems.

That is where narratives come in. You must ask yourself questions about the position like "what can I do to make sure that I will solve this problem easily in the future?", "What are the characteristics of this position?", "What are the criteria for a candidate move?" etc.. In formulating the answers you create the narratives that contain new knowledge. When I did this for this position, I noticed that the king is in a cage. But there are two escape possibilities: c6 and c8. This defines two criteria for a candidate move: It must close a gap in the cage and it must gain a tempo. The criterium to gain a tempo is a general criterium for all combinations (except for the very rare occasion of a silent move). You can only gain a tempo with a check, capture or threat. c8 can be closed by the rook or the knight. c6 can be closed by the knight only.

The additional knowledge created while formulating the narrative transforms your view. In stead of being candidate-move-driven you are going to work towards a well defined goal. In this case, closing the gaps in the cage so the king can't escape. That trims the tree of candidate moves to a manageable bonsai tree. In stead of calculating you see.

Learning to formulate a goal in stead of learning solutions by heart by repetition is the way to go. Seeing which moves suit the goal.

Solution: [1.Rxf8+ (closing the first gap with tempo) Kd7 2.Ne5+ (closing the second gap with tempo) Kd6 3.Rd8+ Qxd8 4.Qxd8+ Bd7 5.Qxd7#]


  1. You are coming up with some interesting ideas lately. I believe narratives mainly do one thing: They force the player to consciously look at the position and study its features. In doing so, it enhances "chess vision" because missing important features becomes less likely. I never tried it myself but I guess I will give it a go.

    I find it also interesting that you go away from the knight's repetition is good mantra. Could it be that you needed all the repetition to ingrain simple pattern to become able to tackle complex tactics now?

  2. Siurus,
    Could it be that you needed all the repetition to ingrain simple pattern to become able to tackle complex tactics now?

    The idea of repetition in relation to learning isn't strange of course. But the point is what do you repeat. Repeating the solution and hoping that the unconscious brain sort it all out is just a faulthy idea. So basically I was wasting my time. I was well aware of this but I wanted a proof to dismiss it definitely as method of development. And so did I waste my time with a lot of other methods that I can dismiss now. In the end everything will fall in place.

  3. I like your ideas. I have always been suspicious of the repetition approach. Surely, rereading a book or redoing problems that you failed to solve is essential to get the most out of your training. However, unnecessary or excessive repetition is inefficient and probably detrimental. Also, I am a big fan of narratives (a.k.a. verbalization) to promote more abstract, logical thinking instead of sheer brute force. Brute force alone is far from optimal for humans, imho.

    I really encourage you to post a summary or an index of your main posts, highlighting your theories about what works and what doesn't. It is going to take me forever to read it all! :)

  4. Keep up the good work, I think you are on to something with your new methodology!
    Identifying and categorizing the components of each position leads to more accurate evaluation. Accurate evaluation leads to the basis of solid planning. This type of planning allows you to try and create those positions where your tactical ability can come into play. Not only can you make direct threats against an enemy king, you also have positional elements to consider (i.e. damaging a pawn structure, playing for superior minor pieces based on said structures and favorable endgame transitions).
    All of this is possible because you understand what the position demands and are no longer seeking to force something that isn't there.
    And that is what will make you very dangerous.

    Keep on rocking!

  5. Darkhorse,
    I really encourage you to post a summary or an index of your main posts, highlighting your theories about what works and what doesn't. It is going to take me forever to read it all! :)

    Allthough it is a good idea I don't think it is going to happen for the very same reason: it will take me forever!

    Besides that it is a journal of continue adjusting idea's. You can bet there will come a moment that I will rehabilitate repetition. But in a different context, for a different goal. So keep reading and everything will come back:)

  6. I have once asked my coach about repeating 7 times a tactical problem set. He said it was too much times in his opinion. Two times per problem is OK, and of course, a third one were you will enumerate the positional factors that make the tactical shot posible. Remember, he said, you are "STUDYING" tactics, not just doing "excercises".
    In my opinion, I think Studying chess is not different that studying other things, you don't just repeat information, you allways try to add higher level data (briefs, lines, arrows, words, phrases, simbols, etc.). Hope this helps.

  7. Sancho,
    the biggest enemy is the habit to generate random candidate moves before narrowing down the criteria.

  8. Sheresevsky,
    sometimes repeating matters 7 times is justified. For instance when you learn words from a foreign language. When I learn a new piece of music I repeat it much more than 7 times. Repetition seems to be suitable for low level information (words) or motoric skills (singing). For long I thought that pattern recognition in chess fitted that bill. (and maybe it does but were we concentrating on the wrong patterns)

  9. What is your best score on Troyis?