Monday, July 23, 2012

Chess talent = ability to be not overwhelmed

It is some time ago that I started to investigate the advice of NM Dan Heisman about becoming better at tactics. Since then a few definite conclusion were formulated.

If you are good at chess or not has everything to do with how easy your mind is overwhelmed by many possibilities. If you are easy overwhelmed, like me, you are bad at chess.

Good chessplayers are able to prune irrelevant lines early. It doesn't make much difference if the pruning is justified. What is left is sufficient to work with and be not overwhelmed by it. This makes theorists and purists bad chessplayers beforehand. You can compare it with the pruning as it is done in chess engines. Every now and then a branch will we pruned with a better line in it. A line that only could have been discovered by brute force. But since brute force takes too many resources, it is a less viable way to find the best move within a reasonable time.

From all methods reasoning proved to be the best way to add pruning.
This leaves us with another problem. Due to a lifelong habit, our automatic trial and error mechanism is not in sync with this new reasoning. As long as this is the case, we easily fall for old habits. I haven't found a solution for this yet.

All other problems, like problems with visualization etc., disappear when the mind is no longer overwhelmed. It turned out that what you can find by reasoning, you can visualize.

Everything that keeps the mind busy during a chessgame contributes to overwhelming. That's why my last posts were about positional  play.  By simplifying my thoughts I diminish the load on my brain resources. By identifying things that looks different but are essentially one and the same.

It turned out that much from what I have found has a striking simularity with Heisman's The Elements of Positional Evaluation.(Hattip James Stripes and mr. Z). I started reading it yesterday and have read the first 4 chapters sofar. The same stress on mobility and activity, the same identification of pseudo elements. Logic proves to be universal.

Finally a book that takes positional theory to the next level! I could have written it myself:)

It is tempting to try to maximize your relative mobility. This leads easy to triviality though. In the previous post I identified two positional tasks to perform for your pieces ("activity"):
  • Diminish the mobility of your opponents pieces.
  • Attack the enemy pieces.

The logical order is to do the first first.
The effects of mobility are not linear. Once the mobility of a piece closes in to zero, it suddenly becomes vulnerable. Either the piece itself or the fact that it can no longer perform new tasks.
This is the moment where tactics kick in. Tactics flow naturally from a good position. That is, when one or two pieces have become immobile. This means that you often might need to diminish the mobility of your own pieces, when you can push an opponent piece' mobility to zero. Of course you have to prevent the crossing of this threshold by your own pieces.


  1. I am suprised that you like Heismans "Elements" that much. I was very interested in this Book because my positional play is lousy and heisman has so many interesting ideas. I did read it in 2 or 3 days and then i did throw it in the trash.
    Pruning happens often by "rules". Smirnov says you should only calculate not "forcing moves" if they follow his "principles" = small set of positional rules including "acticity". He also emphasis that the amount of rules has to be small. So your thoughts are ~ ~ along Smirnovs.

  2. The power of the book is that it brings positional theory forward. That isn't immediately practical, maybe, but it provides a better foundation for the future.

    A lot of common positional "elements" is simply piece activity in desguise.

    In fact Heismans elements "piece coordination" and "vulnerability" are just instances cq part of piece activity.

  3. Can you give an example where such a "positional theory forward" - thing happens? I could not see anything "new", just repetitions, repetetions, repetitions. But maybe im blinded by something and missed the "real idea"?

  4. We got rid of the pseudo elements material, space, king safety and development. That clarifies the mind. My mind.

    We got coordination, flexibility, vulnerablity in return.

    Kasparov added dynamism to chess. That was not accounted for in traditional positional vision. Now it is.