Sunday, April 06, 2008

Skill-assisted thinking

An example of my previous post might clarify matters (or obscure them even more:).
Say, Joe's rating is 1800. In that case I say 1700 points are atribbuted due to his motorskills while his average conscious thinking adds the other 100 points.

Average Joe.
Motorskills = 1700
Average conscious thinking = 100
Total rating = 1800

By drinking beer, having no sleep and trashtalking to spectators during the game he can diminish the influences of his conscious thinking to the maximum. In that case he plays still like a 1700 player.

Beer-impaired Joe.
Motorskills = 1700
Beer-impaired conscious thinking = 0
Total rating = 1700

If he improves his stamina, works on his focus and visualisation, drinks lots of coffee etc. he can improve his conscious thinking untill it is responsible for 200 rating points. In that case he will play like a 1900 player.

Optimized Joe.
Motorskills = 1700
Not average anymore conscious thinking = 200
Total rating = 1900

Fugures are arbitrary, of course.

In my scheme it seems as if there are two sources for chess moves: conscious thinking and unconscious complex motorskills. From here off referred to as thinking and skills.
In reality your moves are produced by your thinking while your skills assist your thinking.

When you start playing you have no skills, so all work is done by your thinking. Soon after you start to build your first skills and the task of your thinking will be enlightened. So there is room to think about other things. In the end you have build a pile of skills and your rating plateaues. Why is that?

It becomes harder and harder to find a skill that really attributes to the win of the game. If Joe starts to play Troyis, he builds the skill to move around the knight in a restricted area. In stead of thinking about those knight moves he will be able to do them automatically, without effort, fast, and he will be able to visualize them. These kind of moves are used in a game typically to regroup your knight with 3 or 4 moves. Since such move seldom decides the game, Joe's rating wil not improve more than a few points by playing Troyis. If measurable at all. His greatest advantage lies in the fact that he saves time while thinking about them, plus such move occurs sooner to Joe when there is one in the position.

The point is to find the skills that really matter. Some skills are too simple and common so everybody developes them. Other skills are so specific that you rarely need them. And other skills are common but have little or no effect on the outcome of the game.

The past weeks I have been busy to identify relevant motorskills. So far I haven't reached definite conclusions but I will give you an example what I'm researching.

White to move

This is a typical end of the middlegame position which I played yesterday. Especially
the fact that the queens are still on the board makes that both sides have a lot of possibilities. Most moves are trivial, that is to say they aren't immediately decisive, but you have to look at them anyway just to be sure. This is typically where motorskill assistance kicks in. The queens are racing around the board and the ease with which you can imagine them cuts down on the time you need to find a move and improves the quality of your move. In this case I had consciously worked to create a few targets and now I try to exploit them. Black is already too late and will lose a pawn by Qb5. And white can try to play for the win.

It is this kind of motorskills I'm talking about.
  • Pretty simple
  • Very common
  • Potentially decisive
  • Freeing up brain resources for thinking
  • Not mastered optimally by your opponent
The skill to race around the board with your queen and to aim at different targets can be trained seperately. Such skill will definitely attribute to your game results since such positions appear frequently and the application can be decisive.

The microdrills of DLM are somewhat too simple and too common (=already mastered) to be of much use for Joe, but for the real novice they will be very good. If the skills are too complex, this will have an ill effect on the frequency you can apply them.

Training should engage in transferring tasks from your thinking to your skills.


  1. I think that your concept is completely clear to me (although one can never be sure of course).

    If you succeed in identifying the most relevant motorskills this would be a major breakthrough.

    But even with these steps in its infancy, the whole concept is brilliant!

  2. on a sidenote, in the chess diagram, Qb5 seems like the most natural move.

    Attacks the a-pawn, the Knight and allows the Knight to capture the d-pawn in the unlikeliest event Black wants to trade Knights with the g pawn push.

    I can't see any better candidate moves.

  3. Good stuff. It was clear before, but is good to see fleshed out.

    I remember spending hours one week learning the bishop and knight versus king. Not the best use of my time.

    Not to beat a dead horse, it is for things like this that I think getting a good coach is so helpful, as he can see things you don't, see what topics you need the emergency room for, what topics you can allow to take the back burner (note this isn't aimed at you, just something that has come up recently). Sucky players (like me) aren't always the best judge of what is most pressing to work on.

  4. Tanc,
    it's true, this is not the best diagram to show what I mean. The point is that my opponent allowed this because he didn't see the threats coming while I did. It would have been better to show the diagram a few moves earlier, but I had already uploaded this one and I was too lazy to correct it. Sorry.

  5. Blue,
    I already agreed with you about the coach and I know you know.
    Yet in this specific situation I think a coach is insufficient since we walk on Terra Incognita.

    A singing coach can tell me which intervals I have trouble with and he can advice some exercises. Yet in the end I have to solve the problem myself.

    The point is to identify exactly which motorskills are assisting our thinking. Identifying targets is such motorskill. Identifying the squares from which you can attack those targets is another skill. Identifying the squares at which your pieces converge is yet another skill. This is all too basic for a coach. Yet unsufficient mastership of these skills keeps our ratings low. Usually this goes by unnoticed. Until now.

    A motorskill has one specific characteristic which is worth mentioning again seperately. It is BASIC. That is to say, you need it often during the same game. Any game.

  6. Damnit I just posted and it got eaten.

    Dude, quit your day job and make a super uber turbo-charged adrenaline nitrous oxide injected Troyis, with mixed metaphors thrown in.

    It could include MDLM vision drills, click attack squares like you are talking about. As you said, it should start very simple (which is why the MDLM drills are so good).

    You'd make money, riches, fame, fortune!

    I agree about the coach--but like the singing coach, it is precisely because they see and tell us our most pressing problems, and then suggest how to work on them, that they are so helpful. Of course you have to do the work. Seeing a coach is the tip of the iceberg. Patzers are just not necessarily the best at knowing what they need the most help with (e.g., N/B v K???).

    I told my coach I was reading about pawn structure, and he was like, "You are losing 90% of your games because you are dropping pieces. Stop studying pawn structure and work on tactics until you aren't losing pieces to 1-2 move tactics anymore". And I was like, here's what you can do with your tactic!!! And he was all, I will kill your pet monkey motherfucker!

    But also, just going over my own games with my coach was like getting an annotated game collection with master annotations, but of my own games. They say to study annotated game collections with openings you play. I say, yeah that's OK. But even better--study annotated game collections of your own games! Plus, the book is actually intelligent, remembers your games, reminds you of games you played before, and can interact with you in real time just like an intelligent person would. Pretty sweet.

    OK I know I'm a broken record on this. I wish I had the time to get back into this freaking game. I'd get a coach again.

    I think, before I kill my blog, I'll write a post on coaching to lay everything out there, as I've written about it in multiple locations over a couple of years. And then I'll shut the hell up, much to DK's happiness. :)

  7. I think this is a realm where CTS can be some use. Because you have to solve the problems quickly to improve your rating, you must solve them with your motor skills. If you look carefully at all problems and their solutions where your ratings goes down (whether you got them right in a long time or got them wrong) you can figure out what kind of motor skills you lack.

  8. Loomis,
    that is a very clever idea. The only problem is that my eye-hand coordination is rather slow. Which is a reason that I perform not very good at Troyis too. In the case of CTS this means that the loss of ratingpoints for a great deal is caused by a bad performing motorskill that plays no roll in OTB play (i.e. eye-hand coordination). But the core of your idea is brilliant, so I will think about a work around.

  9. Tempo, this is how I have always used CTS. I just never articulated this way because I had not worked out the framework like you have done with the motorskill idea.

    So now I finally understand what I was doing at CTS! :-)

  10. I initially thought you were joking about coffee and tea.

    If used sparing, caffeine has been proven to boost your stamina. However, if one begins to take it daily in coffee, tea, or soda form the body begins to tolerate it. Instead of drinking coffee making one more alert, it simply makes one as alert as they would have been if they had never drank coffee.

    On the other hand, a sound body (through nutrition & exercise) and mind (via meditation or therapy) gives one a continual and lifelong stamina and alertness boost if one makes good health a habit.

    It just seemed odd not to mention those when Kasparov, Kramnik, and Anand all believe physical fitness is very important to them.

  11. How does knowing how to change a carburator on my car make me a 1700? ;)

    ( nice post... never would have thunk it)

  12. Two psychological studies, second one relevant to this post, I just wrote about here.