Monday, December 21, 2015

Prerequisites of vision training

I have a clear picture now of what I want from a tactical training. I know what to train, but not how to train it. Let's see if we can add some prerequisites for the training. Let me first try to explain more explicit what the training should accomplish.

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
  • escape
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.

Which problems.
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


  1. I think of taktics (chess) as beeing based on ( potential ) weaknesses, there are weaknesses and methods to use them. Weak Backrank is a weakness, you can use them by getting a rook or a queen at this rank. A fork is a method which works only if the forked pieces are not propper protected ( or of higher value ), the wekness is not beeing overprotected, the method is a fork (double attack).

    So its all about recognising the weaknesses ( which dont change a lot by each move , they are "static" ), knowing the methods to use them ( ~= tactcal motivs ) AND the test what does work ( best ) = calculation ( thinking process ).
    A tactic puzzle has usually several weaknesses and several possible tactical motives. You simply need to calculate which one is the right one you will not be able to bypass thinking at chess. And as more efficient you calculate ( or make logical conclusions to step fast through the tree of possible moves ) as quicker you solve the puzzle.
    You get twice as quick if you repeat (fuzzy) thoughts half as much. And dont forget the evaluation at the end of the calculation. You need to be able to judge the final positions exactly too: "is this endgame won or a draw.." , "is the attack of the opponent dangerous or not"...

    A concious thinking process makes you slower no doubt: as long as it did not become your second nature, but then its a skill. Think about teaching your child chess and explain how to finalise a KRRk Endgame
    All the thinking we explain to our kids like : look for the king not to be able to capture one of your rook.. we do it by ourself now automatically, a thinkingprocess became a skill.

    I suggest to look for the tactical weaknesses at least as aftermath, look for existing methods to use them and understand why the solution is best..why other ideas are worse..

    1. Great post my friend!

      I would like to add some elements:
      1) there is NO tactics without a weakness
      2) the tactics must be sound (even if complicated)
      3) the final position must be at least no worse than the starting one
      4) your task is to find the variation that gives you a desired result (most often the win, but sometimes a draw)
      5) you have to be able to recognize if the final position is really good to you (or maybe you missed some tactical opportunity)
      6) you have to do it correct and without losing (wasting) too much energy (I mean - optimal method or algorithm).
      7) the evaluation at the end of the variation must be correct (even if difficult at first)

      The more I read the more confused I am. Maybe it is a natural process, but sometimes I simply cannot comprehend what ideas and procesess others are talking about.

    2. The more I think, the more sure I am.

      I think we need BETTER methods of training. What do I mean? For example: if you do not know how to crush your opponent's king - you will NOT be able to recognize the move best (or at least good enough one). And if you know at least a DOZEN of such "crushing attacks" and you know the process of finishing your opponent's king with the necessary factors (elements) - and when they work and when the do not - you may be sure your visualisation, calculation and process solving and the best move selection will improve.

      Take notice that we are making stupid and shame mistakes when we are lazy (not ready to use our minds with the highest level of focus and energy) or just play the move because we are blind to its refutation. And very often (if not always) the refutation could have been avoided if we would have the necessary knowledge and solid analysis of the (similar type of) position (before we start solving).

      What do you think about such approach? (It is not exclusive from the other approaches I have presented so far).

  2. @Tomasz, if you have questions, fire away. It's no easy matter.

    1. Thanks for your approval of my doubts (confussion).

      To be honest I would like to SEE - step by step - what do you mean - with the help of EXAMPLES. If you would be able to show some of your doubts, problems and ideas at the examples (no matter if the positions are from the game or set up to show the ideas) I will have no problems to understand.

      I have tested Aox mate in 1 (easy) puzzles - I have done about 100K puzzles so far and I came to some conclusions the same as yours. One of them is - you do not have to think faster - try BETTER methods (more efficient ways)!

      Beside that (Aox's tests of #1 puzzles) I have solved about 20-30K chess puzzles related to #3, #4 and winning (gaining) material. And in addition I have read a chess book related to "chess miniatures" (opening blunders). There were 555 chess puzzles from REAL games and I learnt that some positions are identical not because they are exact, but because they cover the same IDEAS and MOTIFS and there is NO obstacles with the solution. In other way - you can solve such puzzles "at the using of ONE idea that consists of a few motifs joined into one".

      And my further doubts are:
      1) what is you ULTIMATE goal? Is it to make the best move (instantly) or to see the best move after a very short time (extremally efficient way of evaluation and finding the best variation)
      2) are you going to build some method of finding the best move or you are just interested at "cutting off" the disturbing elements during your thinking/evaluation process?
      3) do you want to find "hole grail" at ALL of the positions (no matter how complex or theoretical ones) or just for the sake of practical play?

      I hope these doubts and questions will not kill your motivation to explain it to me - as I am REALLY interested in learning what you are going to do, but I am quite confused right now.

  3. @Aox, "you will not be able to bypass thinking at chess".

    You can, actually. That is what we should try to accomplish. That's the holy grail I'm after.

    Of course you can't bypass ALL thinking, but the more you can, the higher your rating will be.
    During a simul, Susan Polgar played against 326 opponents in 16:30 hours with 96%+ success rate. This means she only used about 5 seconds per move. In that time, she had to walk to the next table too!

    There is no way that much thinking was involved here. There simply isn't enough time to think about anything, in 5 seconds. Her opponents had 326 x 5 seconds = 27 minutes per move. As Susan put it: I let my hands play the moves.

    If you want to improve, you have to understand what is happening here. Working on your thinking isn't anywhere near enough.

    @Munich, you should be able to comment now. Did you try again?

  4. Draw conclusions after EVERY failure - this way you can see what is not working properly.

    If we want to discuss Polgar's phenomenon - it is based on VERY HARD work. After about 10 years work with sustained effort - you can say: "I can see good moves - they LOOK just nice". It is the same as you would have been a car designer - and after millions of pictures and designers project - you could recognize which car "looks good".

    If you understand the process of INTERNAL core of the position - the (best or necessary) moves just look good and most often (after some work) - they "pop up" at you. I have had such phenomena when I have been playing chess focused to the maximum (i.e. compare with the state 'flow'). The more familiar the elements of the position and its internal integrity (it is the same as the full understanding) - the faster you can "play with your hands". It is the same as you would have had K+Q vs K endgame - it is hard not to play it 'by hands', right?

    I have been testing Aox's mate in 1 (easy) puzzles. What I noticed many times - you cannot break the speed 40 MPM (mates per minute) if you think too long - you just have to feel the position and the correct move(s). Otherwise your score (MPM) drops much below the value of 40. It may looks a bit crazy, but when you experience it - you will be sure what I mean ;) :)