Saturday, March 29, 2008

Complex motorskills and target-awareness.

Before I took a break in blogging I had during a few weeks a lengthy discussion with Phaedrus. At the end of the discussion I reached a definite conclusion. That's why I felt comfortable to take a break in the first place. Now the time has come to put the idea's to the test. The idea's are not new, I experimented with them in the past more than once. If I reach the same conclusion after three different routes of reasoning, there must be something in it. The fact that the following experiments based on the conclusion proved unsuccesful so far shows that I was not precise enough and missed the real point.

Besides the renaissance choir I attend weekly I subscribed to sing in a close harmony quartet. Since close harmony singing is quite new to me it will take me some time to catch up. That are the risks of taking a break from blogging:)

So I have to be careful with my spare time. That's why I limit my research to only one subject: target-awareness. My goal is to train the motorskills that govern target-awareness. These motorskills steer your eyes when initially scanning the board.

Takchess provided a very interesting diagram:

White to move.

It took me quite a few minutes to find the first move. Why does this take me so long? There must be people out there who find the move within seconds. The tactics involved aren't very complicated and the tree of analysis is rather small.
Yet it took me ages.

The fact that I have done a lot of exercises in the past didn't prepare me for this one. So the question is, what kind of exercise would? I need a scanning method that leads to the move 1.Qf1.
Let me investigate the position.
There are two relevant targets:
  • the black rook on g2.
  • invasion point or focal square f6
The targets g2 and f6 intersect with the attacking Queen on d3 at square f1.
The target g2 is easy to spot, the square f6 isn't.
There are two reasons why target f6 is difficult to spot:
  • the path between f1 and f6 is obstructed by knight f5.
  • f6 is an empty square
f6 is in fact the intersection between f1 and the black King. The human mind has difficulty to see empty squares as targets. Since a target square always derives it's meaning from a "real" target (in the case of f6 the black King) it is probably best to use the following classification:
  • attacker
  • target piece
  • intersection squares
Let us take a look at all possibilities with the white Queen as attacker and the black King as target. What are the intersectionsquares?
Applied to the position:

White to move.

While drawing this diagram I noticed how much possible intersection squares are dismissed automatically. To find the intersection squares you need to ignore the obstructing pieces in the first place. Otherwise you wouldn't find f6 because of the obstructing black knight.
But when you ignore the obstructing pieces, why would you dismiss a6 and b7 as intersection squares? After all, when the Queen goes to a6-b7 it would directly attack the black King (ignoring the pawns). Or, in other words, what is so special about the intersectionsquares f1, f6 and h7? They have in common that they are covered by another white piece.

Summarizing, the scan I try to invent must comprize the following:
  • attacking piece
  • target piece
  • intersection squares that are on the route from attacker to target and that are covered by another piece of the attacking party.
  • ignore an obstructing piece if it there is only one.
Those intersectionsquares that cover two or more targets are dominant.
Now it becomes clear why scanning experiments in the past didn't work.
Such experiments were for instance the micro-drills of MDLM.
Those micro-drills are too simple. They don't cover:
  • the ignoring of obstacles
  • multiple intersection squares on the route from attacker to target
  • intersection squares that are protected once by the enemy (where you need another attacking piece to converge with the intersection square)
Another experiment was my x-rake-jogging which didn't cover:
  • multiple intersection squares on the route from attacker to target
  • intersection squares that are protected once by the enemy (where you need another attacking piece to converge with the intersection square)
Those scanning methods were just too simple to adress the situations in real chess. I'm going to investigate if this new kind of scanning will do the job.


  1. nice to see you back; nee, great to see you back! got to run now (home for lunch...). warmest, dk

  2. I found Qf1 through a completely different process.

    First, I soon realized that Rg1 was en prise and since it would be taken with check, I had to cover Rg1 regardless. There is only one piece that can cover Rg1, the Q. The Q can only cover the g1R through 3 squares, 2 of which lead to immediate loss of the Q, leaving Qf1 as the only viable option.

    Once, I focused on Qf1, the pin on B's R became clear as well as W's attacking possibilities down the g and h files with the e5 pawn covering the BK's escape route from a check on the 7th rank.

    At that point, I just decided that Qf1 had to be the move without working any of the lines through much fuerther.


  3. Marty,
    you demonstrate an interesting point. Everybody has a different approach to the same position. A different way to scan the board initially. Scanning the board is a complex motorskill. People find the same move with different scanmethods or, like me in this case, don't find the move at all. How can you improve this initial scanning? How can you make that your eyes are drawn to to right side of the board?

    First a good scanmethod which covers most positions must be found. That is what I'm trying to accomplish here. Once found, the method must be trained.

    Your scanning habits determine your level and what kind of chessplayer you are.

  4. Tempo is back! I don't totally understand all this, so will have to read it a few times in the next few seems cool.

    Master eye movements are definitely different than amateur eye movements (link). Before "looking" intently at the board their eyes automatically go to the most important squares on the board. This is just amazing. Eye movements tell a story about how much you know...

  5. During play I my thinking was based on Blacks queen and King on the same file which is an automatic trigger to try to trap the queen.
    Even with the rook in the file often time there is an Xray attack that works. I calculated the correct Queen move however thought Ne3 was an effective counter move for black.

    The square protected by the forward pawn did not enter into my calculation. I had defined this as a "Trap the Queen Tactic " not a "Checkmate Tactic."

    I tend to not see certain tactics. One is tactics involving my forward pawns and the squares they protect. Another is I do not take into account that Pawns I absolutely pin lose there protection powers. The deeper the move is in the calculation tree the more likely I will miss it.

  6. @Takchess: I had the same problem. I saw the "checkmate theme" and I saw the "king and queen on the same line theme", but somehow my brain refused to combine both themes.

  7. To all, I hope you take some time to grasp the points I'm trying to make. I tend to remember the conclusions but to forget how I derived them, which makes this story somewhat vague, I'm afraid.

    The essence is that for the third time I'm back at the "extended microdrills" as the most essential chess training, but now with the knowledge why the first two times didn't work.

  8. Hi Tempo!

    I like anon found it through a completely different process as well.

    First I tried to evaluate the position taking into account material, pawn structure, king safety etc.
    Making mental notes: such as white is down a piece.
    Pawn structures are pretty much equal.
    There is a mate threat against the black king (if white were to get to magically play Qf6+ ...Kg8, Rh8#.)
    The knight on f5 is defended twice so there is no immediate deflection tactic.
    All of whites checks can be easily answered.
    Blacks checks cannot.
    The rook on g2 is pinned to the queen, which is in turn pinned to the king.
    Then I asked myself what would black play with their move. The obvious answer is the simple ...Rxg1+ which leaves them ahead a full two pieces. Needless to say white cannot allow this to happen.
    (Two attacks against the g1 square vs. one defender) So I either have to run or reinforce the rook on g1.
    Which led me to look at what happens after Qf1 ...Rxg1 or the other various knight or rook move defense attempts by black.

    So through a process of evaluation and simple questions I was able to find Qf1. But in the old days I would have probably just moved the rook. :)

  9. Hello Tempo,
    Such a joy to see you back on blogging. Target awareness is a major skill.

    In Chess for Zebra's Rowson gives a beautiful example of the difference between your average grandmastes and top players. A game between him and Emms was decided by a move he and his opponent missed at first.

    But when he saw it several moves later, he played it and won. After the game he spoke with Nigel Short who immediatly said: "Yeah, Qc4 I saw it coming from miles away".