Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Positional scans, inventing my own wheel

Hard to spot.

State of affairs of the tactical scans.
I have done about 300 masterlevel problems. The paralyzing stalling of the brain hasn't occurred anymore due to the scans. That is a big plus. I was pleasantly surprised by my pace and my accuracy. Some scans are difficult, some are easy and already start to become a habit.
  • Double attacks. This is a difficult scan since there are often multiple possibilities which have to be examined. Further you need two targets at fork distance, but the targets aren't necessary already in place. Sometimes a preliminary move or trade is necessary. Besides that, an empty square can be a target too.
  • Batteries. This is an easy scan. Both real and potential batteries are now recognized within seconds.
  • Pins/skewers. This is an easy scan too, which I already am able to do in a few seconds. I discovered that there is a sort of "semi-pin". Usually that concerns the pawns that are in front of the opponents king. The aren't directly pinned, yet they can't move without causing great danger to the king. In combinations you treat them often as actual pins.
  • Overloaded pieces. These are hard too spot. Often you have to trust on a feeling that the pieces are overloaded.
  • Convergence squares. Sometimes hard to spot if there are many of them close together.
Scans that are concrete and not compound become a habit fast. Scans that are abstract and compound are difficult to learn. Maybe it must be divided in simpler subtasks.
The double attack-scan worries me the most. After 300 exercises I'm nowhere near a habit.

Positional scans.
I have thought a lot about the proper approach. I even re-read Buckley. There seem to be 3 major tasks in the middlegame which deserve 2 seperate scans.
  • Improve your worst piece. Scan: identify your worst piece. This is something I definitely know but always forget to do. Once a bad piece is identified, I know how to activate it. The scan only is intended to make you aware of pieces that can perform better, not to tell you how to activate them.
  • Induce weak pawns. Scan: identify which pawns can be forced to become weak.
  • Attack weak pawns. Since you are already aware of them, no seperate scan is needed.
A downside is that both scans are compound scans. You have to examine every piece for the first scan and every pawn for the second scan. And both scans are pretty abstract too: How good or bad a piece is is rather subjective.

The tactical scans have some benefits for positional play too: targets are identified, convergence of pieces is a positional asset too, overloaded pieces indicate targets for attack etc..

There are two possibilities to train the two positional scans: use the strategy module of PCT and look if the scans lead you to the answers, or take a masterlevel game and go through it, performing the scans every move.

Cumulative analysis.
I tried this scan (again). But it is quite alien to my usual way of thinking and I don't expect the scans to become a habit in short time. So I decided to postpone it.


  1. Holes and weak color complexes would be special cases of a weak pawn? Perhaps the language could be 'pawn structure weaknesses' rather than 'weak pawns', to cover such things.

    Improving your worst piece seems good, something like you I don't do habitually even though it is such a common suggestion.

    I need to be careful: whenever I start thinking about strategy I start to look at it first, instead of looking at tactics/threats first, and end up exchanging a bishop for a weak pawn and losing :)

  2. Blue,
    no, a weak color complex and a weak square have both nothing to do with a weak pawn.

    A weak color complex is an activity-asset of one of your bishops (and the bishop-function of the queen). A weak square is a possible outpost, which is an activity-asset of your knights. I put it a bit black and white, but you get the idea.

    A weak pawn is a positional target. Pieces are too volatile, they can only be tactical targets. A weak pawn is seldom conquered in the middlegame, but its defense requires resources which limit the possibilities of the defending pieces. The two weakness-attack is the the standard positional idea behind this.

  3. It takes quite some time to find good pictures, but luckily they usually come in waves:)

  4. Tempo: that's an interesting way of thinking of it.

  5. After some experimentation, I found that I liked your idea of a mnemonic, but YOUR mnemonic DaBattPinOlC will not work for me as well as one of my own choosing, DaDaPinSkReMa. That makes some sense because you chose your 'words' based on motifs that you studied and/or had trouble finding OTB. I guess we all have to choose our own mnemonics, and then tweak them as we find we need to add words or remove them based on what we seem to find automatically.

  6. What do you mean by a "scan?"

  7. I think other positional schemas need to be thought of like:

    Pawn formations:
    - IQP ( knowing how to use it to your advantage if you own it, versus knowing how to exploit it)
    - Wyvill Pawn formation- when it's an advantage and how to turn it into a mobile pawn mass.
    - Mobile pawn mass.

    Strategic concepts:
    - Law of two weaknesses ( in short, go after the weakness to over extended the defenders until the back breaks)
    - Outposts, open files and diagonals

    Attacking strategies:
    - Pillsbury attack
    - Q-side Minority attack
    - K-side Majority Attack
    - Different attacking schemes per castling arrangements

    Middle to endgame Transitions:
    - When to exchange down
    - Active piece versus passive
    - Pawn majorities

    My 4 cents

  8. Anon,
    scanning with your eyes over the board in search for certain features. For instance potential double attacks.

  9. BP,
    the goal of the scans is to trigger pattern recognition. Once the patterns are recognized I trust that I can find out what to do.

    Your scans seem to aim towards finding out what to do. But if you recognize an IQP then you know what to do already, or you can find it out. But if you do not look at the part of the board, you will simply not see the pawn, let alone recognize it as an IQP. That's where a scan comes in.

    It's important to focus on scans with a high frequency of appearance and looking for patterns which you miss often.

  10. Hello Tempo,

    I have been following your investigations with great interest. Not in the least because the conclusions I have drawn while making my own training schedule for the this year is based on the same ideas.

    This is were I stand at the moment. Just like you I am convinced that scanning is the most important step in breaking down a position and selecting the move. I also agree on your focus on targets. But more and more I became perceptible to the shortcomings of a target scan. And Just like you I also came to the conclusion that the scan should also include tactical themes like batteries etc.

    When I devised my training schedule I decided that I wanted to proceed with the steps method. I still have to finish step 5+ and I never really took of with step 6. So I gave step 6 a very good look to see what it was all about. The amazing thing for me was that although I have to give the best I have to solve 10/12 , the solutions almost never exceed 9 ply. And I know I can calculate 9 ply deep.

    So if I improve with working through step 6 ( and I am convinced I will), this has to be a result of enhancing my ability to see patterns during a game. In a post that I will write within the next two weeks, I will try to explain in what way I think I can make the transfer form these exercises to playing games.

    This will definitely include the target scan, but also a scan on a great diversity of tactical patterns.

    Let me end this comment by saying that your posts of the last few weeks have contributed a great deal to the design of my programm, and that I am most grateful for this.