Saturday, December 20, 2008

Time to market

The essence of my previous post boils down to the following question:

How can you shorten the time to market from the first acquaintance with a theoretical idea to the practical application of that idea?

Tactics first.
It all begins with tactics. With mastering tactics to a certain degree, every application of an idea is doomed to fail. But after mastering tactics, the remaining speed of development depends solely on the tempo at which you digest theoretical idea's. This speed can differ enormously between persons. I'm a quite slow digester since I need to process an enormous amount of raw information before I dare to draw any definite conclusions. People who care less about the correctness of their conclusions usually develop at a much higher speed.

Then a hunch.
Take for instance the famous idea of Philidor that pawns are the soul of chess. For about a decade I hadn't the slightest idea what he was talking about. I hadn't even the beginning of a clue. The fact that in that decade I played gambits for seven years didn't help either to establish my respect for the humble pawn. Only now that I have reached a certain level of tactics, and a certain level of endgame strategy, I'm starting to get a hunch. But even after finding a startingpoint, it takes a lot of effort to find out the details. My clumsy attempts with merlons and crenels are a good illustration of that process. I'm sure it will take another few years before I have worked it all out.

Then working it out.
12 - 14 years is quite a time to market for a theoretical idea. How is it possible to speed up matters? The transformation of raw information into applicable knowledge seems to be exactly the description of the transfer-problem Phaedrus used to put on the table.


  1. Nakamura went from 1800 to 2200 in one year, at the age of ten, after learning the game at the age of seven.

    This is a kid's game.

    When asked the best way to improve he said:

    "I guess mainly for me it was just a matter of playing a lot of tournament games. In particular when I went from 1800-2200 between nine and ten, I played every g30 I could."

    This kind of stuff makes me depressed.

  2. tempo, sounds about right. (see, "sounds about" is enough for me, considering the lack of evidence to the contrary. :))

    bdk, I've always sort of wondered about that kind of comparisons: you didn't start as a kid, and you weren't immersed in high level chess from the cradle, AND you can't travel back in time. so what's the use of comparing yourself to naka as a small kid? maybe you'd be just as fast a learner, or faster, who knows? your later success in academia seems like a strong evidence for an enquiring, persistent and motivated mind. I think you'd done well in nakamura's shoes.

    but you weren't there, so it's apples & oranges. probably the reason why you progress slower now is focusing on more important things, not your age. -I've got no such distractions, so I improve faster. anytime someone calls me, I'm doing something chess related. anytime some drops by, I'm looking at a board. when my dad asks me about christmas plans, my first thought is about how many days of no chess a visit would be.

    it's a simple game of numbers, of exposure.

  3. Rolf Wetzell, who comes to my chess club regularly, now in his 70's became a master when he was in his 50's ( and wrote a book about it). He was a USCF class A/B player for the longest time hovering in the 1800's. He's my inspiration. Kids? Ha! At least I have experience... and that helps in some cases where I can maintain a poker face or bluff a kid into accepting a draw.

  4. Blue,
    sounds like lazy thinking to me. If you are depressed by this, it means that you think that chess is based on innate talent. Our quest as Knights Errant was, among other things, to find out if chess was innate. So if you think you should answer this question with yes, the burden of your quest is over. You should be delighted, since you are now free to enjoy the game without the need to make efforts for improvement. If you don't think it's an innate thing, you should be delighted since you have the chance to reach the same result. You only have to find out how he did it.

  5. "How can you shorten the time to market from the first acquaintance with a theoretical idea to the practical application of that idea?"

    I don't think you can do this for any one idea. If you choose the right ideas it won't be a problem. Learning in chess may not be like collecting ideas in a bag until the bag has everything in it, but more like walking along a path, which is defined by the game itself and your chess personality.

    I think everyone is at a certain place in his development chesswise. You can (only) apply an idea if (and as much as) it relates to your place in this development.

    The "understanding" of the information isn't the hard part, usually. You can read a text by a GM and repeat the important points, it's not that difficult. You could even read a text where the GM describes all he does chesswise and read psychological assessment by outside experts, i.e. you could get him to "empty his bag of learned before you" and after studying it intensely for 1 or 2 weeks you could understand what he says completely. It's just not the (main) point in learning.

    I also don't believe anymore that "really getting it" (instead of just understanding and being able to repeat) is the main point. Or rather, it won't help if it does not relate to your chess situation.

    I believe that when learning and playing you build a sort of chess personality, consisting of what you do when you try to find the right move each move (thought process), what kind of concepts you apply when playing chess. It is created by your experience (what kind of experience you have while playing and learning, if you learn it as a child it may be similar to learning a language, if you learn it later it's not a language anymore and you might have to learn differently) If you apply a concept and there is material on this concept then understanding this material may help you. If the concept you are applying is not appropriate for your current chess situation, this will lead to failure and learning more about the concept won't help and as the concept isn't appropriate in any case you probably haven't really understood it anyway, so you also can't properly expand your understanding of it.

    Ok, in short: Try to see the path that is correct for you, try to assess your situation objectively, then look for concepts that fit. Then learn these concepts better. If you did the first two steps right the third won't be too difficult if it is just a "technical" concept. If it is something like "be 100% aware each move" it's much more difficult even when doing the first two steps correctly.

    Just my 2 cents.

  6. Anon,
    there is a lot of value in what you say. Yet I can't imagine that the process can't speed up. Given the sillyness of the impediments when you are looking with hindsight.

    When I started with tactics, I was convinced that I was going to practice tactics solely the rest of my chesslife. Looking with hindsight, I see the sillyness of this idea. Now I know that when you are 1500, you can expect to gain only about 250 ratingpoints by tactics before you stall. I spend 3 years stalling before that point came home. It belongs to my chess personality that I want to be sure before I abandon an idea. First I have to try different approaches.

    Using your term personality, speeding up is only possible by changing my chess personality. Which in turn can be done only by analyzing and correcting its flaws. Is that possible?

  7. I look at studying chess like learning a new language. At first you need to know the conjugation of basic verbs so you can construct sentences. That was what Tactical studies was like. It carries only so far as you can build only simple structures once the chess conversation presents itself .

    Developing strategy I think is a logical progression to learning more complicated Chess communication. It’s the equivalent of learning how to create sentence structures. Strategy in chess (IMHO) is equivalent to formulating subject-predicate- modifier sentence structures. Without knowing the proper conjugation of the verb, you can’t form a formal sentence. Likewise, without a formal sentence structure, you are left speaking in simple two word sentence like “ I want”.

    Continuing along this language analogy, to develop ideas requires stringing a bunch of sentences together in a paragraph or essay. Here, studying whole games and game collections I think are the equivalent. You get to see a complete idea formed through style of player just like you begin to “hear” the voice of an author. Personality can exhibit itself in a well thought out sentence but you really see the style in a complete writing example.

    The best way to learn a new language is through immersion into the culture. That is why OTB playing is the best way to reach an early time to market ( as you say) for chess “communication” . That is also why, Nakamura was bale to ramp up fast. Kids have a natural ability to pick up languages due to their plasticity of the brain. He played a LOT when he was a kid and had a father who played. My dad played tournaments and I learned as a kid. I was immersed into the chess culture too so why do I not play like Nakamura? 1) My Dad was not a master. 2) When puberty hit I was thinking with the wrong head 3) That was the 70’s man… um… I was experimenting with other recreations ;)

    Learning a new language as an adult isn’t as easy as it is when we were kids but that’s not to say it can’t be done. The problem is we have to overcome our own base of understanding. It’s when we stop translating to our native language first and trust our skills enough to realize our new dialect is correct that we are able to develop fluency. Likewise in chess, I had to stop translating to my old thought patterns first before trying out the new way. It’s not as easy when you are older because we tend to hold on to old knowledge ( good and bad) as a mark of experience ( good and bad). Letting go of the old stuff and trusting the new process is the trick I find hardest to master but one I am actively pursuing in my journey.

  8. BP,
    a very artistic description! To fit in my point:

    In order to win I must speak the truth. I can only speak the truth when I know what the truth is. I have had my language learned among people who speak only trash, who are terribly opinionated. What stands me in the way the most are my own opinions, and the opinions of others. It can take years before I change my mind.

    How do I trigger the process of feedback the most? Maybe Wormwood has a point here in saying (well, sort of) that I must study out of my comfort zone.

    My main weapon is stretching opinions to the absurd. That is a very certain way to find out if there is any truth in an opinion. That works quite certain, but quite slow. Since there are so many opinions out there to be tested, life seems too short for this certain approach. Certainty and speed seem to be mutual exclusive, and I hate it to give up certainty and correctness for the sake of speed.

    Needless to say that "speed" was never among my recreational experiments in the seventies.
    I preferred the certainty of alcohol:)
    That's why they say in vino veritas, I guess.

  9. Tempo: my point wasn't that we can't improve. We can, clearly. But adults just don't improve at rates like Nakamura's when he was a young chap.

    I look at it just like BP: for language learning there is a 'critical period', a window within which you will be able to have native proficience with a language. After that, with more effort, you can learn the language. But like The Terminator (Arnold) you will always have an accent, and your progress will simply be slower.

    Luckily, unlike learning a language, playing chess is fun.

  10. Blue,
    But adults just don't improve at rates like Nakamura's when he was a young chap.

    You are probably right. But my point is, before I talk about the highest rate at which an adult can make progress I must first get rid of the time that is simply wasted. I always have to say "I spilled 10 years in misunderstanding pawnstructure", "I spilled 7 years misunderstanding colorcomplexes", etc.. If I would coach an adult now, I could prevent that he would waste so much time with the wrong matter. Unlike learning a language, the best method of learning isn't clear. So time and again I find myself wasting time looking for the right path.

    I don't feel frustrated by that, since I knew that that was going to happen. With my approach of elimination I have been able to formulate a final verdict over a whole bunch of wrong methods. And I'm quite interested in the process itself.

    OTOH I know that I'm going to waste 80% or so of my time in the future following improductive methods. That's why I'm pondering now if I can't cut that down a little.

    Now, I'm talking nonsense with a terrible accent. I would be delighted if I would speak the truth with a terrible accent:)

  11. What is related to your situation can be seen from your mistakes. They are indicators of what are the flaws in your "chess personality", what you are doing wrong.
    After recognizing the mistake, finding its cause, looking for the concept that fits and then trying to learn and apply it, you should be fine.
    If you go the other way around: Finding a concept you like or consider to be of importance, learning it, applying it, then looking for misapplication and correcting the misapplication I bet it's a lot harder.

  12. Anon,
    brilliantly formulated. I have to think about that.

  13. Anon,
    I think the methods A and B that you describe are in a way comparable with the two main ways to find a move: by forwards thinking (trial and error) and backwards thinking (find a plan first and make it work by finding the appropreate moves). The problem with the trial and error method that you advocate, is that it is not selfguiding. It is easy to replace an error with another erroneous idea without noticing it. There is no framework against which you can measure an error. I advocate to think about how a chessgame should be conducted first. To create such framework. You will need an opinion about how to conduct a game. Of course such idea will need extensive testing, but once it is of sufficient quality you can use it to engineer your methods of improvement. To give your play direction.

    Ambitious? sure. But there are simply too many ways to go in the wrong direction without such general scheme.

  14. Nothing substantive to add, except that picture is completely awesome.

  15. I agree this difference is similar to the difference in the ideas of forward and backward thinking, I think it is possible to see if something is an error, e.g. when you loose a game there must have been an error and I also think that often the cause can be found and from which area it comes. Then one can deal with that area.
    I don't think there are too many possible wrong directions in this way, because the search for mistakes will most likely lead to specific mistakes. I think this process is indeed selfguided, because when you are sufficient in one area or it's not really important to get better in that area, your losses will be more likely due to something else and this suggests which area to tackle next and not only that, but to which extent to tackle it.
    In my opinion, most of the time we apply things wrongly and it's not that we don't know about an area or need a new one or have a basic misunderstanding of an area. But this may also be different depending on the players and the reasons why they are losing when they are losing and different methods may work for different players.

  16. Anon,
    I don't think it is possible to formulate a verdict for this subject based on arguments alone. So I simply will put method B to the test.

    The worst thing that can happen is that I waste some more time:)

  17. In my opinion, most of the time we apply things wrongly and it's not that we don't know about an area or need a new one or have a basic misunderstanding of an area.

    This deserves a response, but at the moment I'm preparing for my next tournament.

  18. BDK: it probably didn't hurt that Nakamura's step father is Sunil Weeramantry :)