Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Not for persons with an easy to shake faith

I was somewhat reluctant to post this article. But what the heck, truth is more important than dogmas!

I'm rethinking everything that has happened during the last 3 years of blogging.

The greatest improvement in rating I made in the 3 years before I started with the circles. I gained about 170 points in that period. I studied TCT and Polgars brick without repetition.
The last 3 years, while I did the circles, I gained only 65 points. There are people who think this is due to the law of diminishing returns. I have ingrained all important tactical patterns, it boosted my rating with 235 points and that's it. I have to live with that. Any efforts in that direction aren't going to bring me much further. I have to learn to live with the limits of my brain.

I simply can't belief that. Since a simple test at Chess Tempo shows that I'm not so good at tactical pattern recognition at all! I'm sure I operate way below my potential. If I'm right that means that the methods I have used were faulthy. Or I used the right methods in a faulthy way.
This are the methods I have used:

  • Solving tactical problems without repetition.
  • Solving tatical problems with explanation of the motives.
  • Solving tactical problems with repetition.
  • Solving complex tatical problems with repetition.
  • Solving simple tactical problems with repetition.
  • Solving simple tactical problems at high speed with repetition.
  • Solving an enormous amount of problems with repetition.
  • Solving tatical problems with explanation of the motives with repetition.
  • Chess vision exercises.
  • Visualisation exercises.
  • Playing blind chess.
  • Playing blitz chess.
  • Playing OTB chess.
  • Playing correspondence chess.
  • Imagining the solutions before the minds eye.
  • Solving problems while looking through only one eye.
  • Playing against the computer a tempo.
  • Describe the solution as a narrative.
Maybe I have forgotten a few experiments.
It is of course difficult to know exactly to what methods the actual rating gain must be attributed, but most of the methods gave a clear zero return. If I had to guess then the points must be attributed to the methods with the explanations and the narratives. Incidently that were methods without repetition.

That is why I wrote my previous post about the indirect influence of conscious information on the unconscious brainprocesses.

On the other hand there is some contradictory evidence that points in a quite different direction. If I look at the ratingprogress chart of the Knights Errant then it are the guys who I consider to be the most instinctive players, guys who are willing to do a move where they didn't think about, who have benefitted the most of the Circles. While the conceptual thinkers, the systembuilders and the logical engaged have benefitted little or not at all from the Program. Since I obviously don't belong to the intuitici I intend to work out a method to consciously influence the unconscious processes. I think that the intuitici are still somewhat closer to the child prodigies for who almost everthing works as long as it is vaguely chess related.

Disclaimer: I might color the remembrance of my experiences towards a logical reasoning.


  1. Have you considered to solve tactical exercises blindfolded?

  2. Trallala,
    no, I didn't try that. But my experiments made clear what you can expect as maximum result. If you can't solve a problem while looking at the board and moving pieces on a second analysis board, you certainly are not going to solve it blindfolded.

    If you have problems with visualisation this will cause you to solve problems below your maximum ability. It works as an extra impediment. We are interested to improve the tactical ability as a whole, to shift the treshold, impeded or not.

    I have solved a lot of problems with only one eye, I will add that to the list.

  3. Tempo

    as I quite remember correctly, you changed your opening repertoire. It takes time to learn the inns and outs of a new opening. Furthermore the new opening might not suit you at all. You were a King's gambit player in the past. You like to play forcing openings. I still believe that this opening can be played against opponents above 2000 level. Scotch is an alternative if you would like to play something different.
    To be frankly, how much have you retained from your learned efforts. For instance, about pawn endings, can you still remember the details about blocked pawn positions. How to solve this correctly without calculating. It should be a part of you. The answer should come immediately as you know how a bishop moves. As an IM once said to me, sweat hard during training, play with ease. You can only play with ease if you know the chess language. With the book point count chess you have a system to build. It is ideal to study certain topics for instance minority attacks. How to perform? what do I obtain? What do I need? how will the pawn formation be afterwards. Which pieces do I need for an optimal attack? Which pieces pieces are vital from a defensive point of view (If gives you answer on which ones you need to eliminate). The resulted backward point will this be an assest with time or a liability for the defender? Who will have control of the open file? Also I move the battle scene to the Q-side. Therefor my kingside will have less pieces in their neighbourhood. Will my K-side become vulnerable (time question) or do I first neutralize the kingside play. A direct attack against the king is always more dangerous than a q-side attack etc,

    As a system builder you have to order the knowledge and rehearse it until it becomes second nature. In life you have many different people with different capacity of retaining information. With some people, you pour information in and nothing retains. The jar's bottom is broken. No water remains in the jar. Other peoples memory can be compared as jar with a hole in the bottom. Your pour water in but at the same time water is pourring out. The lucky ones retain almost everything. These are making the largest progress if they can apply the information.

    Therefor order the info and rehearse it methodically until it becomes second nature. Your stomach needs time to digest the info, but your body needs time to incorporate it into its system.

    Good luck! and I enjoy reading weekly your efforts.

    See you around

  4. Montse,
    You like to play forcing openings.

    No, I played gambits for the sole reason to learn tactics. As I now establish a positional opening to learn positional play. I'm already convinced that's much more according to my character. No more time trouble because I have to find the ultimate move, no more being afraid to trade queens, no more afraid of endings.

    To be frankly, how much have you retained from your learned efforts.

    That is the very reason for this post: way too little. I was well aware of that while training. But I wanted to put the various methods to the test so I accepted that. Now it's time to find a method that bears retainable fruits.

  5. intuition is a skill just like creativity in general. they can be trained, the more you do them the easier it becomes for your brain. it's like writing or talking, the more you say the more you'll have to say. the more love you give, the more love you have to give.

    what I'm saying, and I might be completely wrong, is that maybe your rigid rule-based system building is the problem? maybe it restricts your chess thinking, and stops you from seeing the good moves. maybe you should try relaxing that constraint?

    on the other hand, you're currently at the highest rating you've ever been, isn't that right? so, maybe it all actually IS working?

  6. WW,
    what I'm saying, and I might be completely wrong, is that maybe your rigid rule-based system building is the problem? maybe it restricts your chess thinking, and stops you from seeing the good moves. maybe you should try relaxing that constraint?

    This post points in two opposite and mutually exclusive directions.

    Conscious influence of the unconscious vs intuition building.

    I really hope that I can find a working method according to the first idea, but in case that doesn't work I will have to move over to the second idea. At least the intuitici at this blog will have a good laugh when I start to attempt to emulate intuition:)

  7. heh, yeah. but after I just now looked at your polar bear game, I don't know if you really even have a problem. :)

  8. Ok, when you put it like that blindfolded solving sounds pretty idiotic, but maybe the point is just to toy around with the pieces to get somekind of "dynamic feel" how the pieces interact as a whole, so that solving the exercise would only be a secondary goal... ;-)

  9. trallala: I think he is past that stage.

    I wouldn't worry Tempo, from my perspective it seems you are on the right road, now building positional and specific endgame intuitions to complement your tactical acumen. Perhaps you spent too long on tactics. How could that ever be a bad thing? Maybe I'll switch to a kooky opening system too if I return.

    How did likeforests get to where he is? He seems to have good endgame intuition. That guy works his ass off on studying endings. Practical, theoretical, etc.. He loves studying endings and now he is a badass. It's like you and tactics.

  10. A good post and, in the realm of the Knights, an important post. There are no silver bullets and what has worked well for some may or may not work well for others.

    Assuming that it has worked well for some. It is clear that some folks have shown dramatic improvements while using similar methods. Maybe that was due to the methods but maybe it was due to something else.

    The idea of the repetition based tactical programs is appealing to me at an intuitive level. I've started such a program using PCT partly as an experiment and partly to evaluate the software.

    Given that I am past the normal peak chess playing age and have previously spent many years playing and studying chess I am curious how this training will impact my play. If I stay at the same rating has the program failed or is the lack of an age-predicted-decline to be considered progress? If I lose rating points has the program minimized that loss? Or, perhaps, made it worse? If my rating improves is it due to PCT or reading your blog? :-)

  11. Glenn,
    I use to have quite a good memory. Yet I have trouble to remember chesspositions. To me it's very evident that that is caused by the methods I tried.

    Say you have to learn 40 items by heart. A wellknown trick is to devise a story with all 40 items in it. The framework of the story helps you to remember all the items. Since memory works for a great deal with reconstruction.

    If you try to do the same with meaningless words, you will have a problem. Before you can remember them you need to couple an association to them. Only repeating meaningless words doesn't work well. It is suboptimal.

    So you can't say that the method of repetition is flawed, but that you must be very precise in when to apply it and when not.

    And that applies to all methods. They serve a specific goal and don't work in other area's.

    Just as you first must couple associations to meaningless words before you can hang them into the framework of a story, learning methods for tactics must be applied in tandem in the right order with the right amount of subjects per session.

    But it all starts with the notion what you are doing and what you try to accomplish. Now I reached that point.

  12. Narratives and the "framework" are all designed to ease the task of the memory and to get grasp on an area that otherwise is too vast to handle.

  13. A very impressive array of different study methods. You've probably have done more in the past three years then I've done in my entire chess career. I think much of how we progress depends on our style of learning. For myself I can't do brute memorization. I have to do things over and over again. Probably if I was so inclined the circles training might be useful for me.

    The times I made my biggest rating gains is when I was taking lessons on a regular basis and spending a lot of time with my teacher going over my games and working on openings. I do better when things are explained to me, and then I can process the information in my own way.

    Sometimes I get totally annoyed with CTS because I'll find the right move, but I have no idea why it's right. To me it's not helpful to find the right move if I don't understand what exactly I accomplished in playing the move.

    There are other factors that they may hinder us as we are actually playing. What is going on in our mind? What is going on around us? Are we rested, or are we tired? What did we eat? What are we supposed to be doing instead of playing on ICC?, etc.

    Some people may treat these things as convenient excuses for losing, but they need to be taken into consideration. Chess is not played in a vacuum, but there are real external factors that will impact our success. How well we deal with those external factors will help in our success.

    We can control some of those external things.

    We can make the effort to get good sleep and be well rested when we play in tournament.

    We can make adjustments in our diet to eat foods that will not upset our stomachs when we play, or leave us bloated and tired. (Eating a 16 oz steak, baked potato smothered in sour cream or butter, broccoli and having a glass of wine an our before a 40/2 g/60 game is not a good idea!)

    We can try various relaxation techniques such as meditation or prayer to get us in focus either before or even during a game.

    Positive self talk, and learning to block out distractions are other things that can help us deal with the external.

    Much of what I'm discussing here applies more to live chess, but for hardcore online players some of these things may also transfer to sitting in front of their computer playing chess for several hours.

  14. Polly,
    There are other factors that they may hinder us as we are actually playing. What is going on in our mind? What is going on around us? Are we rested, or are we tired? What did we eat?

    My mind is not so fast that I manage to think about something else than the game at hand. Which is handy since I usually don't notice if there is rumour in the playing hall. Allthough sometimes excitement can be a problem. But usually I have so much respect for my opponent that I expect the worst even when I'm a piece up, so my excitement is most of the time pretty tempered. When I'm very tired I sometimes sleep for a few seconds behind the board when I'm not to move.

  15. Tempo: "My mind is not so fast that I manage to think about something else than the game at hand."

    It's not that my mind is fast and wants to think about something else, it's just I can be easily sidetracked. If my opponent is thinking a long time I might start looking at the game next to me, or maybe the director is having to settle an issue near by; so being a director myself I want to know what's going on. I could go on and on, but more power to those pople who can tune out what's going on around them.

    I've actually dozed off at the board for a couple of minutes, but being tired may not manifest itself in such an obvious manner. It may be we're just not so sharp, and we've lost that edge that lets us dig a little deeper into the position.