Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Honing in

If you look at my previous post, I divide the subjects that are presented there in two:
  • The subjects where anyone will get an improvement by natural law as long as he is willing and able to put in deliberate practice, given enough time and effort.
  • The supertrick. Where you can't make any progress no matter how much deliberate practice you put in it.
It is the supertrick that I'm interested in. It's what makes us say, "gee, the boy is natural gifted". It gives the false impression of some kind of innate talent.

Without mastering the supertrick, you simply cannot hope to ever reach a serious level of chess, no matter how much deliberate practice you put into it.

Let's focus in on point 3 of my previous post:

3. The future position. All the skills you need in a current position are needed in a future position too. But there are a few additional problems to overcome too.
  • You have to "see" the future position without using STM for it.
  • You must not only see the pieces, but the squares they are covering too. The "radiation" of the pieces.
The question is: how far should this visualization go. Must you litterally "see" the future position?

I already dismissed point 1 and 2 of my previous post as being sensitive to deliberate practice. If there is any supertrick around, it must be within this point 3 above. It starts with:

"All the skills you need in a current position are needed in a future position too."

This means that point 3 can be devided in two separate parts:

  • Seeing the future position as a present position.
  • The skills to be able to do so.
Seeing the future position as a present position.
Exactly the same skills you need for a current position you need for analysing a future position. For the very reason that a position is a position, no matter if it is a future or a present position.
So if you are improving your skills to analyze the present position, you are improving your skills to analyze a future position. The skills to analyze a position will improve with deliberate practice. No supertrick needed here.

The skills to be able to do so.
Now we are talking about quite a different animal here. In order to see a future position in the same way as you see a present position, your mind must be able to create an inner representation of the position which is as stable as a physical board. When you are manipulating the pieces before your mind's eye, your inner representation of the position is not allowed to fade away. Your inner representation must be unsensitive to interference caused by manipilating the pieces. This is something I'm terribly weak at. This is something that doesn't improve by deliberate practice, no matter how much you play or train. May I introduce to you, ladies and gentlemen, the one and only supertrick!!

The following definition seems fully applicable to exactly these skills where we are talking about:

"Visualization – The ability to keep track of where all the pieces are (and “see” them as a position) as you move the pieces in your head, analyzing future possibilities" (NM Dan Heisman).

Let's see what we can say about these skills.

General knowledge.
What general knowledge do we have about these skills?
  • It is not innate. Proven by papa Polgar.
  • It is educatable. Proven by papa Polgar.
  • It only develops while young. Proven by Ton Sybrands who holds the worldrecord blind simultaneous play checkers (28 games, score 77%). He learned to play checkers very young. He learned to play chess rather late. He is a mediocre chessplayer and a mediocre blind chess player.
  • It's chess specific. There is no radiation to other area's of mastership.
  • It is not sensitive to deliberate practice. No matter the time and effort.
  • It is method dependant. Only some youngsters use the right method by accident.
  • It is unconscious.
  • It doesn't need much maintainance. If maintainance works at all after becoming an adult.
  • It is waining when growing aged.
It has the following additional symptoms:
  • Ability to remember chess positions well
  • Ability to play blindfold chess
The 64,000 dollar question.
The key question is of course, can this be learned as an adult?
As a matter of fact, MDLM has proven that it is possible.
This blog is the very proof that the method used is not a trivial question at all. But after 10 years of investigation this problem at least I have found this method for adults to transfer skills into LTM.
The only question remains: to what skills must this method be applied?

The first question to be answered was: do we need a picture of the chess position in our head?
After a lengthy and inspirational discussion by e-mail with mr. Z (better known as Anonymous) we found that the answer is a resounding NO! In stead you have to encode the position into your LTM in some sort of conceptual way. Read here the scientific details.

Chess memory.
The theory of chunks by prof. Adriaan de Groot has had great influence on the theory of chess skill development. The main question is: is chess memory a side effect of the skill we are looking for or is it the skill itself. The dissertation of Roring (hattip to AoxomoxoA) seems to indicate that it is only a side effect. On the other hand, it seems plausible that being able to remember a position after looking only 10 seconds to it is a skill that could be able to maintain a stable mental future chess position while analyzing it. On yet another hand, novices proved to be able to learn the skill of chess memory in about 50 hours with little effect on their chess performance. So I'm afraid I have to volunteer myself as guinee pig again.

Blindfold chess.
I experienced myself that training blindfold chess has a big hiatus: you still have the problem that you must investigate a future position from a current position. That continues to cause a STM memory overload.

I believe we narrowed down the area of investigation quite a bit. Yet there are still a lot of details to be discovered. At least now I know what I'm looking for.

(to be continued . . .)


  1. Looks like our hearts are in sync now:p
    I'm pretty proud because of your kind words regarding our conversation.

  2. ... On yet another hand, novices proved to be able to learn the skill of chess memory in about 50 hours with little effect on their chess performance.

    Yes, this is a very important factor. It is good to see this because it strengthens my aversion toward the direct practice of memorization. They learned the position because they memorized it, not mentalized/analyzed it. The mentalization process if it is accurate enough will lead to stm storage. It is basically a side effect.

  3. "is the supertrick that I'm interested in."

    Let me repeat my response and add then some evidence


    "In the mean time they haven't the slightest idea why these old guys like you and me play so badly."

    old guys are slow, the results in attack-training are worse as older the player.
    Old guys stick to their errors! Old guys have many wrong ideas and even if you tell them, explain them... no chnage. Kids have no "ideas", they see: works, works again, must do more often.

    Old guys knows a lot but they dont "see" it. For example: You know what a fork is, you know different types of forks, you know famous games with forks but you dont see the chance for a fork in 2 moves in your game.
    Kids learn from the result of their action ( they "play" ), adults try to prove ideas (they fight).
    But thats not all. I "think" kids still develop (brain) "hardware", while old guys only work/learn with software (mainly).



    says on P 55

    " Moreover, the types of practice activities during the first year of serious practice
    predicted current chess strength, including solitary and group study of chess positions,
    chess instruction, and even rapid chess, which negatively predicted current chess skill.
    In other words, players who tended to study chess positions and received chess
    instruction during their first serious year, while minimizing time spent playing rapid
    chess improved most. This is consistent with PRESTO in that activities maximizing
    opportunities for feedback (e.g. instruction) and encoding new relationships (e.g.
    studying positions) allows the formation of new productions, whereas time spent in
    activities in which time constraints prevent explicit encoding and feedback (rapid chess)
    even reduced the level of attained chess skill. "

    I read this as:

    1) "bad ideas" (= wrong/negative skills/habbits) should/must not be "fixed" in the brain.

    2) The vision/calculation is better if you have a "better" representation of the position/chess in your brain. That comes with more "known" pattern.
    By studying positions you learn more pattern and these pattern are not only tactical pattern.
    Here again an example of a not quite tactica pattern with a wonderful analysis: http://chess-teacher.com/stereotypes

    Speed dont help with fault/wrong-skills, there you need analysis

  4. @Aox,

    thanks for the feedback. You are certainly making good points that can't be dismissed so easily. I need some more time to digest the idea's of mr Roring.

  5. An example for the necessity of unlearning for improvement:
    Speed reading.
    Usually people read with an inner voice wich slow down the reading to the speed of talking.



    "What most significantly sets "speed reading" apart from "normal speed" reading is that the reader sees words and interprets them using visual thinking processes rather than simulating the speaking and hearing of words. Most people learned to read by sounding out words in their heads without moving their mouths, and become dependent upon imagining the "hearing" of the sounds of words to process them. In contrast to this, speed reading involves harnessing the visual cortex which has vastly more neurons than the audio processing parts of the brain. The visual cortex operates at dizzying speeds, all day long. Speed reading takes advantage of visual cognitive functions that are grossly underutilized in most people while reading. The training programs effectively teach a student to read by making him "deaf" to the voice of internally spoken words, causing the brain to retrain other parts of the brain to perform the same task. The visual cognitive functions slowly take over and learn to read in an entirely different way. Words are no longer pronounced as if a conversation is occurring in the reader's head, they are viewed as images, more like flipping through a picture book or watching a movie."

    An example of this "problem" of unability of unlearning is my very good friend Alfons, he is a former 1800+ and retired. He like to prevent the pin of the Knights on c3 and f3 with the Bishops on b4 or g4 with a preventiv a3 or h3, if needed or not. And of couse he like to use these pins by him self, even if it is not good. Many times just a loss of a tempo, sometimes a fault: ( http://chess-teacher.com/stereotypes )
    He likes to put his pieces behind his pawns, wich is ok in closed positions, but he does it "allways".

    I tell him again and again... he cant change.

    It makes sense that nature slows the "ability" to unlearn down as a human grows up. A human who is still alife with 20 must have valuable knowledge wich needs to be fixed.

    Only repetitious, long lasting, intense Analysis and "implementation" in games could help to get rid of wrong ( or not precise ) thinking/habits.

    ( i will look at this video many times )

  6. The problem of unlearning as reason for plateauing when aging. I have to think about that. I never looked at it that way.

    Interesting stuff, speed rating. I didn't know that.

  7. Currently i do a lot of skill-training ( microdrills ). So i was reading your old posts. But when i see the picture of this poor lady i wonder if she did survived that accident? She did break her nose for shure :/
    I think now that chess as a whole is to complicated for an adult to create/improve necessary skills. By using a thinking processes ( and concious scans ) the problem "chess" is dissected to simple - skillable subproblems ( scanning for underprotected pieces ..). By installation of a thinking process i was able to improve even in something as simple as the attack training at chessgym ( click at all pseudolegal attacked pieces ).

    The effect of a thinking proces is negative at the beginning, you get slower. But it seems to pay of "in the end" with gain of skill.
    But it is realy not easy.