Monday, January 07, 2008

No frame no gain

After solving a problem there is a gap. To bridge that gap it is necessary to have a framework on which you can hang your just found new knowledge. Without a framework the new knowledge is maybe or maybe not stored into your memory, but you will have difficulty to retrieve it anyway.

Usually you don't work consciously on your framework. People differ. If you put much effort in the solution, less energy is left to bridge the gap. If you often fail to bridge the gap, you don't learn from your experiences anymore. When that's the case, when you plateau, it's time to start to work consciously on the framework.

It's very unlikely that you can build a referential framework from scratch without aid. Life is too short for that. You must base your framework on the work of our predecessors. The easiest way is to copy the framework of a coach. Without a coach you have to gather little pieces from grandmasters where ever you can find them.

Before you start to work consciously on your framework, you have build little pieces of the framework that have no relation to each other. A few tactical idea's here and there, some positional knowledge, openings lines and some endgame knowhow. How to build a framework?

First the balance must change between solving a position and bridging the gap. It is not at all sure that the time and energy to find a solution to a problem is well spend. That may or may not be the case, but in any circumstance there must be considerable time and enregy devoted to bridge the gap. How does that look like?

I have spend about 6 months to study pawnendings intensely. Yet the pawnending of yesterday at first sight looked like a complete mess to me. Not before I had started to randomly calculate variations I had any clue what the position was about. Maybe that is difficult for you to imagine, but that is how I experience it. I guess that everybody has different areas where he feels not at ease/lost. How can it be that after 6 months of study I still drown in a pawnending which with hindsight is simple?

All the time I have focussed on details and solutions. But I didn't work on bridging the gap. Hence the knowledge I gathered is difficult to retrieve. In order to bridge the gap you have to ask yourself "what is needed that I will recognize this position in the wild?" What is it's essence? How does it relate to the rest of the game?

This example is limited to pawnendings. But the same is true for any problem.

So there is:
  • The solution of the problem.
  • The creation of a framework (copy from a coach or GM's).
  • The hanging of the solution on the framework (bridging the gap, make sure you will recognize similar positions in the future)


  1. What makes a good framework? Is it a collection of important concepts and a coach aids with the selection to distinguish important from unimportant stuff? Or merely a bunch of important pattern that guide you to an answer via pattern recognition, which would bring us back to a very old topic? Or something else?

  2. Sciurus,
    that is a good but difficult to answer question which probably deserves a post of it's own. Yet I will give a few random uncrystallized thoughts, which act as aid for a future post:



    Connecting positions with the same characteristics.

    Triggered by pattern recognition.

    Excludes possibilities. In stead of the feeling "anything is possible" it must exclude the not viable options.

    Higher cognitive level.

  3. here are some random thoughts.
    I think creating a narative. talking about what you see on the board may be an important step. attempting to define the problem.

  4. Tak,
    narratives are the indicated way to hang the solution of a position on the framework.

    If you take for instance the book of Vucovic, it does a lot to provide a framework for a kingside attack. Most of it play a role in any kingside attack. Take for example the precondition "the king must not be able to run away from the attack". There is no succesfull attack thinkable that doesn't fulfill this precondition. The preconditions are a part of the framework.

    For every speculative sacrifice you have to check if the king simply can walk to the queenside after taking the sacced piece. The precondition makes it less speculative and the judgement more simple.

  5. Nice bike frame! Is that a Merlin? I'm too busy thinking about all the nice components I could hand on that baby! Campy Carbon Record.....drool, drool.

    Oops this isn't a bike blog. An interesting picture to use with this article, but without the necessary components and wheels that will simply be a bike frame, and not a bicycle to travel on.

    We're like the frame, but without the different components of the game we will not be able to move forward in our quest to become better chess players. The coach or mentor is like the guy in the bike shop who helps us decide what we're going to put on that frame to make it go from expensive piece of titanium to a functioning bike.

    If we're doing it on our own we may look through parts catalogues and pick what we want ourselves, or get recommendations from our peers.

    We still have another step once we picked what we want to put on that frame. It needs to be built. We may choose to build it ourselves, or may may have the mechanic help us. Chess study is the same way. We may slug it out on our own using books, trainer servers, software, or we may have the coach help us put it all together.

    Just like the cyclist who decides he wants a lighter set of wheels, or make other changes to improve the ride, we do the same thing as chessplayers. Maybe all the tactics stuff was a good starter kit, but now to improve we need to swap out the tactics server for more intense opening or end game study. Maybe we need junk the 30 games of blitz a night for 1 game played at a traditional time limit.

    The possibilities are endless.

  6. the bike shop analogy seems to hit everything I'm thinking about this whole frame thing & chess learning. tactics is the tools you need to assemble the bike. book knowledge is exactly like having a catalog of bike parts. in a way, all the knowledge for assembling a great bike is in the catalog, but it doesn't make you a great bike mechanic. you need experience and hands-on training to get there.

    a seasoned bike enthusiast knows what's essential, and will assemble a great bike just like that, it's all clear for him. where as a novice will drown in the catalogs, waste time on gimmicks and can't even pick out the best parts, not to even mention assembling them into a bike. even the elementary job of tightening a bolt will take him ages, his grip slips, he drops the wrech a couple of times etc... where as the pro will do it in seconds, and the bolt won't be too loose or too tight, but just right.

    I've seen an adult trying to open a bolt for 20 minutes, with absolutely no progress. the bolt was not tight, he just couldn't operate the wrench. it was a 5 second job to anyone who has built a lot of stuff. sounds exactly like looking at a beginner playing chess.

  7. I love your posts and the topics you deal with. I have to say that I'm not sure "framework" is the most helpful way to look at the issue of chess improvement. I think a better way to think about these issues is creating a heirarchy of important concepts that one needs to look for in different situations, e.g., I have done only a little studying of K&P endgames, but I believe that a couple of the most important elements are (1) K position and (2) existence of ourside passed pawns (BTW, these are covered in Silman's Endgame Course book under the rubric "Fox in the Chicken Coop"). Anyway, if you have an idea of what the heirarchy is a given type of situation (such as K&P endgame), then on facing one, you go through your mental checklist, beginning with the most important elelments first.

    Now this may be the same thing as what you meant by framework, but what it means to me is that prioritizing is a key element to understanding the needs of a chess position. That is understanding the relative priorities before encountering the postion and then applying the priorities to the position.

    So how does one develop an understanding of these priorities? I think that a good endgame book (Silman's endgame course for a start, then next i would actually recommend Pandolfini's endgame primer which is excellent for setting forth K&P endgames (though his analysis is below minimal and you have to work out all the principles yourself).


  8. The frame is a good analogy indeed. Sure, we can build it on our own by hard thinking and trial and error. For me, the fact that the enemy's king has to be confined to the kingside during an attack was a thing I learned from a few failed attacks but I could now learn it as well from reading blog comments. Even if we do not read books or have a coach, as chess bloggers we can exchange ideas which is a good contribution to each individual's framework, too.

    As for the definition of a "chessic framework", to me it is a combination of pattern recognition ability and more abstract/conceptual knowledge in the form of "try to develop your pieces quickly" or similar things.

  9. In response to Sciurus, whether you call it "framework", "pattern recognition" or "abstract/conceptual knowledge", the key to improving one's chess ability is to be able to look at a chess position and see the best (or a good) move quickly. To do this, the player must have internalized the critical knowledge and understanding, so that it comes to mind without extreme effort and time-consuming searching.

    The question then is how to speed up this process of internalization beyond playing games and hoping to pick it up based on trial and error.

    My view is that players need to study/grasp the relative priorities of different concepts in different situations. Otherwise there are basically an unlimited number of chess generalities and principles (often mutually contradictory) and the player will be unable to apply the correct ones to his situation.

    Now the priorities will undoubtably differ by the player's level. Thus at an early level, the player is primarily using the check, capture, threat schema. At a higher level, the player may say if this is a closed position I need to do X or if its an open position I should do Y, etc.

    Unfortunately, i have just begun to really study chess, so I am a little unclear myself. But I come back to the idea that in order to find the right move in a situation in a reasonable amount of time, your search needs to be directed along certain lines and cannot be haphazard. And in order to develop an idea of what moves to look for in your search, you need to prioritize the elements that drive your inquiry. For example, if my opponent's King is exposed in the middlegame, i will look for tactics based on threats to the King, in a relatively equal quiet position I will look to push my pawn majority, etc. these may seem obvious examples, but this whole thread was generated by temposchlucker saying that in the example endgame, his search was relatively undirected, as opposed to having developed a set of priorities to direct the search: (1)what are the relative pawn postions (as opposed to pawn structure)(potential outside passer or not?), 2) where are the kings?, etc.

    GMs always talk about making moves based on the needs of the position. To improve after the beginner stage, i would suggest, one must say to oneself, in this type of situation i need to look for these elements. That is knowing that in a K&P endgame, K position is likely to be more important than pawn structure.

    Anyway, that's my thoughts today. next week I'll probably feel differently:)