Saturday, February 21, 2009

Close observations

Due to some close observations of what exactly happens during calculation everything falls into place. All 3 discoveries which I made in the past play a role plus, I hate to say it, visualization.

Those 3 discoveries were:
  • backwards thinking.
  • narratives.
  • drills that enlighten the burden of the STM by transferring subtasks from conscious thinking to the procedural memory (think of playing Troyis).
The "Tempo exercise" itself consists of 3 parts:
  • Identify the characteristics of the position.
  • Evaluate the characteristics.
  • Visualize the future position.

diagram 1

White to move.

Identify the characteristics.
To identify the characteristics of the position you have to formule little narratives. Those little narratives consist typically of only one sentence. Like (see diagram 1):
  • Black threatens mate on g2
  • Bishop on e7 is unprotected
  • Knightphork a6
  • Queen on b7 has little space
  • Both rooks are on the same diagonal (skewer)
  • Whites B and Q converge at g7
  • Pawnphork on d6
  • Knightphork on c6
  • Pawnphork c6
  • Backrank mate threatens
  • b6 controls a5, where you would like to put your knight
A lot of the narratives above evaluate to"utter nonsense". Others look more promising. This conscious evaluation has to take place to direct the process of calculation. The very fact that you start with narratives and evaluation in stead of random trial and error of moves makes this backwards thinking.

After doing lots of visualization exercises I used to dismiss the necessity of these exercises with the following argument: I can't even solve these complex problems with perfect visualization (=eyes wide open plus using an analysis board) so visualisation is not paramount. So why bother? Of course you must make your visualisation as perfect as possible, otherwise it lowers your rating. But don't expect too much from it.

If you have a look at the position above, then a few characteristics of the position are missing. Those narratives can't be formulated at this very moment since they haven't emerged yet.

Take for instance the following diagram after 1.Nxb6 Nxb6 2.Na5 Qa7 3.c5

diagram 2

Black to move.

All of a sudden a discovered attack cxd6 emerged. That characteristic simply wasn't visible in the first diagram. This means you have to repeat the same process of characteristic recognition every few moves. At every junction of branches of the tree of analysis, that is. This nicely fits in with Aagaards stepping stones, by the way.

To improve at calculation it is necessary to make both characteristic recognition and visualisation as automatic and perfect as possible. At the moment I miss typically about 30% of the characteristics in a complex position, and I need a lot of brainpower for it. Which means that it is taxing for the STM.
The same is true for visualisation. Which means I have to repeat the same moves over and over again in order to keep them fresh in my STM.
No wonder that I'm bad at calculation!


  1. Tempo,

    I cheat. I load a game using CB and play over the game. At a critical position, I will take a stab at evaluation and make the moves. I realize this is counter to OTB training, but I justify this process as being one of training. Plus I want to record my thought process behind a variation. I will play the entire master level game that way. Then I will look at the annotations from the tournament book and augment the analysis and contrast my feeble evaluations.

    In going over entire tournament scores, I get a broad variety of games and styles. This goes to my learning process I mentioned before: You don’t know what you don’t know. So getting a broad brush of styles of positional games is good for me.

    I have serious issues with STM as well and find different methods of getting this information into my LTM through the story telling and biographical history stuff.
    I do take time to evaluate my own OTB games taking careful note my thought process in key parts of the game.

    What I have found is that I tend to evaluate the master games with a lot more ease than my own. Duh, I use the visual aid of moving the pieces. But my own game analysis is still improving. Likewise, my OTB games are improving in such that my old enemy “Rote” moves are mostly non-existent. I find I can recognize certain positional themes or borrow from some similar yet different positional concepts I studied. Once I put my mind into “ This looks like something Bogoljubow would encounter.” Then I recall some of the strengths he had and attempt to look for making weaknesses like he did.

    As for visual training, I need to get back to playing the computer blindfold. I used to train like this. I’d set the level really low and shrink the board to unreadable while entering my moves via the keyboard. I play the level until I score 90% before moving up to the next level. Now, whether this is helpful in calculations or not, I’m not sure. I do know, it gave me a lot more confidence looking at a candidate move sequence beyond 5 moves deep and evaluating that final position.

  2. BP,
    what you already do has a close resemblence with what I describe here. In practice it will be two exercises, recognizing characteristics by means of narratives and visualization. In a proportion of 80% : 20% or so.

    I'm an advocate of cheating, in order to isolate what you want to train.

    The rote part that I will have to unlearn is the unrestrained use of trial and error moves which tend to flood my STM with too many irrelevant possibilities.