When I try to solve a chess problem at CT, often a lot of thinking is going on. I have tried all kinds of methods to streamline that thinking, I even developed my own approach, but in the end none of these methods gave me a diminishing in solving time. On the contrary. Any method is time consuming, and OTB that kind of escapades leads inevitable to time trouble. So in the end, what is left is my usual clueless trial & error approach. A good training method should replace the thinking about a solution with seeing the solution. It is all about vision. Since I tend to look too much at the pieces, I have to learn to look at the invisible. The essential squares don't scream at me “hey, look at me, I'm over here!!”. A good training method should make those squares scream. So essentially the training should have the effect of transcending conscious thinking into automatic seeing the invisible. It is an exercise of vision.
Most combinations contain one or more duplo attacks. I coined the term duplo attack long ago for any attack aimed at two (or more) targets at the same time while consuming just one tempo. This leaves the opponent with the problem to address two threats with one move. If there is no such move, you win. So all vision of the invisible is geared towards targets and the routes towards them. All counter measures of your opponent are geared towards defending measures, unless he has time to start a more forceful counter attack.
Let's see if we can drum up some prerequisites for a training method.
It starts after finding the solution.
This means that it is actually not necessary to solve the problem yourself at all. The combination which is entailed by the solution must be decomposed in its constituent tactical motifs. There are 30 different tactical motifs and 28 different mates. Only a few of them are used in the combination at hand. It is necessary to “see” these motifs in the combination. With your minds eye. There is a logical hierarchy in the motifs. The actions and reactions are intertwined threats and the reaction against those threats. There are only a few type of reactions on a threat. There are only four:
- defense with an extra piece
- blocking the line of attack
- annihilation of the attacker
Besides these standard methods of defense, you have to reckon with counter attacks. These usually are the most complicated since not only your own combination has to be taken into account , but your opponents combination too. No human mind can do that with conscious thinking. Our brains cannot multi task when both tasks require the same kind of conscious thinking. Just like you can't do two multiplications at the same time.
So apart from the complications that arise from counter attacks, the combinations you encounter at CT are usually pretty straight forward in the end. After you have investigated them fully. A few tactical motifs which form the threats, along with the four standard defenses against threats form a simple narrative that tells the story.
After you have done your work well, the position should be crystal clear and simple to you. If it is not, you are not ready with this position. I have done quite a few high rated problems at CT, and I can declare that by far, most problems under 2400 are simple once you have decomposed the important elements.
Training the vision.
This is the most vague part of the story. Yet it is the most important part. Once you see the position as simple, you have to focus on the improvement of your vision. That is the real part to improve. The only part that really matters. Solving the problem and decomposing it are just the necessary preparations in order to be able to enhance your vision. But I don't know how that enhancement exactly should be accomplished. Anyway, don't think you have done any work at all before your vision improves.
We can't do without a problem set. The problem set at CT is as good as any, while the site has a few important extras, like a rating for both the problem solver and the problem. In the past I have worked with too easy problems, which is useless since you already are doing great, and with too difficult problems, which is too time consuming. The principal idea is to work with what CT presents you in accordance with your rating. The problems that take an unreasonably amount of time are the interesting ones. 90% you can train directly after you failed them or after you needed too much time. They are easy enough. But about 10% is too complicated. You have to separate them from the pack, in order to study them more thoroughly.
Despite the notion that it theoretically isn't necessary to solve the problem yourself, solving the problem is the best way to separate the irrelevant positions for your improvement from the relevant ones. It shows you your real area of improvement. Avoid overly complicated positions though, since they are too time consuming. And probably too rare to be of much use.
It is not the amount of problems that count.
After wasting my time with 100K+ problems, this can't be stressed enough. You are not a hunter gatherer of geometrical patterns. Not a Scrooge, collecting rare patterns as if it were coins, at the cost of your salvation. There are only 30 tactical motifs which you already know by heart, and your ability to recognize them everywhere is innate. Vision is your problem, not your memory. Your memory organizes itself. No worries.
There is no need for speed.
It can take a lot of time to decompose a position into its constituent parts. Take your time for that. It can take time to enhance your vision. No rush. There is no need to do things faster. If you see the solution in stead of having to think about it, speed is the natural result of your new required vision. You don't have to think faster or something like that. You don't have to speed up the same things as you do now. You will have to do something different. Speed is the result of that.
If you run too slow, you take your car. Trying to run harder is a dead end.
Where does spaced repetition come in?
About 10% of your failures and time consumers are too complicated to decompose within 10 minutes or so. They can't be used for immediate vision training. These are set apart so you can take an hour or more for their decomposition. These positions are very important to you, since it are true indicators of fundamental flaws in your approach. Once these positions are clear, you can put them in ANKI and repeat them.
- Solve the problem.
- Decompose the problem
- Train your vision with the result of the decomposition.
- Repeat the vision training for the 10% positions you had the most problems with initially