Thursday, November 22, 2012

Less is more

Lately I have experimented a acquisition of a database of 178 high rated tactics. I even added to this: if this doesn't work, I'm prepaired to admit that adult chess improvement is not so easy as I thought. So what is the status?

My recall of the database was 100% in <40 br="br" seconds.="seconds.">
After two months hiatus I decided to test the recall of the positions. It turned out that my recall was about 72%. With very little repetition I could improve that to 100% again.

When I stored the problems the first time in my memory, I focussed on storing the critical elements as diagrams. When recalling the positions now, it turns out that about 60% I remember as move sequences, while 40% are rememberred as geometrical patterns. The patterns in the form of diagrams show transfer to my actual OTB games, while move sequences are downright useless.

So tactical sharpness has reentered my OTB games again, but not to the extend that my rating rises to 2000. This means that I'm now obliged to announce officially

"Adult chess improvement is not as easy as I thought!"

In a private e-mail to mr. Z. I even admitted that there is no such thing as a supertrick in chess development.

That being said, I was left with the problem to explain "why does the fact that a 13 year old girl which hasn't have a coach, who is dislectic and can't spell "Nimzowitch", who is out of book at move 3, who's IQ is 30 points lower and who hacks me off the board in 23 moves feels as if she is using a supertrick?".

At the moment I'm reading "Chess, the mechanics of the mind" from GM Helmut Pfleger en IM Gerd Treppner. A book that is build on the ideas of De Groot et al.
This book gives an answer what it is what makes a grandmaster stand out in comparison to the amateur. There are a lot of things in which a grandmaster is slightly better than an amateur, like chess memory, depth of calculation, speed, visualization etc., but these are mere side effects. None of these areas make a decisive difference. The real difference is not based on a skill in which the grandmaster is better.

The real difference.
A grandmaster knows what he should not think about. He excludes a whole range of subjects when he is busy with a position. All other skills derive their power from this very fact. If you don't think about irrelevant matters, you speed up enormeously in comparison to who does.
If you don't think about irrelevant matters, your mind is not overloaded. With a mind that is not overloaded your visualization improves.
The supertrick is the ability to exclude irrelevant thoughts.

This explains a lot of observations from practice perfectly well. It explains why I think there is something special when playing against a child prodigy. The last 14 years I have searched for a positive skill. But it is in fact a negative skill. Hence I couldn't find it.

Another statement of the book is that there are no new ideas to discover for a grandmaster. In stead he works with a plethora of combinations of known ideas. I already suspected that, but it is good to see it confirmed. That is a very important statement, since it can provide a clue about what you should exclude from your thinking. If you think that the knowledge is endless, the possibilities are endless and your thinking about a position will be endless.


  1. Unlearning bad habits may be the most important lesson for adults seeking improvement. That's why blitz is bad: it reinforces bad ideas through a system of rewards.

    I can find the best moves, but I spend a lot of time looking at and considering moves that a Grandmaster rejects instantly. Thee moves follow from ideas that brought success in competition against weak opponents.

  2. I would have put it round the other way, and said that a GM has the positive skill of being able to look at a position and identify what is important about it.

    When I fail to find the answer to a simple tactics problem as quickly as I should, the cause is often filtering out the hopeless looking moves. One of these hopeless looking moves is inevitably the solution, otherwise I would have found it. If I try hard to look at all the moves, I succeed in looking at many of the hopeless ones, but despite my efforts often still manage to exclude the really hopeless looking ones, which of course include the solution. I once read in a book that one should look at the position “through the eyes of a patzer” before making a move. My interpretation was to scan the board like an old fashioned television set scanned the screen: first row left to right, second row left to right, and so on. Whenever I encountered a piece, I would look at all the squares that it could move to, and see what it attacked from that square. When I had decided on my move, I would look at all my opponent’s replies in the same way. Nothing less worked. It is very hard to over-ride an automatic filter.

    I have previously commented on some of the positions that you have posted by saying that I doubted whether you had given any consideration to the winning move.

  3. I still think, my reply to your "Supertrick" post is valid. The brain-hardware is still flexible and kids can develop specialised hardware to perform better ( Susan Polgar can recognise chesspositions by the part of the brain which is usually used to recognise faces ).
    But there is an other "Supertrick" of "young" folks, their superior memory. They dont need many repetitions to learn something. At least this supertrick can be compensated by adults by using ( superior but boring ) lerningmethods:
    What ever you do wrong (and you understand/know how to do better) repeat it several times.
    I am getting more and more confident that the method of Bright Knight applied on our blunders ( where we are able to understand them ) is the "supertrick" for adults.

  4. I have thought the same as you do for about 10 years. Now it is time to move on.

    If I am really interested in something, I can remember things I have only seen or heard once. This means that our brain hasn't lost that capability at our age. I'm more and more convinced that the method you advocate is the most sure way to make chess uninteresting, hence increasing the amount of repetitions needed.

    The supertrick is to find out what makes chess so interesting that you remember topics at once.

    And to find out what makes you fail in games, which usually is not tactics when you have trained so much. In my case poor time management for instance.

    You are trying to imitate the side effects that are caused by playing good chess. But in stead of haunting the side effects, you should hunt their cause.

  5. I think i can remember positions better now, so i will be able to reduce the number of repetitions. I was learning poems by heart in my youth, as more i learned as quicker i was. Same with telephon numbers..

    We have a new 11 year old boy in our club ( Fide ~1900 but already much stronger ) who did beat me in 2 of 2 blitz-games. He is absolutly fanatic about his errors and where ever he had problems in his games he is asking and studying the position with our top player over and over..

  6. There is too much of an emphasis on moves in this day of quicker time-controls. A lot of brilliancies are 50+ years ago just because of the extended clock time.

    If there is a "super-trick" it lay in planning, which takes time, and not in move elimination. A move is good or bad in relation to the plan.

    Move-elimination is taken for granted at that level, it's a non-starter. It's like saying you know how to tie your shoes; but maybe it does qualify as a "trick"(?)