Sunday, December 27, 2015

Zooming out/piece awareness

Making mistakes is highly personal. Two players of the same rating fail at quite different problems. That makes it difficult to communicate. And even a bit embarrassing, if you are sensitive to that kind of stuff. But since those mistakes are marking your personal problems, chesswise, they are the most important assets to learn from. If you want to learn from this too, you must imagine that you are the same bungler as me, temporary.

Diagram 1
Problem 45650
4Q3/4r1p1/1q2pkPp/p3p1b1/2B1P3/P1P5/KP2R3/8 w - - 0 15

It took me 8 (!) minutes to find the solution. I saw it all of a sudden. The pattern is highly familiar. As usual. Of course it is an excellent opportunity to get rid of those 8 minutes. That is the kind of speeding up we are looking for. In those 8 minutes, I'm waiting for the right trigger to fire. I tried to influence it by verbal (logical) reasoning. But reasoning is by its very nature a terrible slow process.
When you look at the board, you eyes are seeing only a very little spot really sharp. We are not aware of that, since we assume that we see everything sharp. When investigating the board, it is notorious problematic to see the "long moves". The moment I zoomed out, mentally, while physically looking to Re2, I became aware of both the queens. Exactly that moment the trigger fired, and shouted "NOW is the time for an X-ray attack!!".


  1. In my case the "NOW!" moment fired after about 60-80 seconds! At first I did not know what is going on.

    1. I notice that if black Rook was not present it would be Qg6#
    2. After I see that my Queen is attacked (hanging) I tried to improve the position.
    3. I wanted to attack "with another piece" - that's why I tried Re2+.
    4. After that I noticed that Rf2+ is a bad move because of QxR
    5. What else? Ok - let's see what would it be if I play Qf8+ (get out of attack and attacking the King at the same time)
    6. Black cannot cover the attack with his Rook because of QxR#.
    7. Black has the only move Kxp.
    8. Ok - it was double attack - then I can take the Rook "for free". Is is right?!
    9. No! The Rook is protected by the Bishop!
    10. How can I deflect the bishop from the defence of the Rook?
    11. Yeah, I can see - it is Rf2+!! Great move! now if Black covers the attack with B - I can play Qf7+ and take the Rook for free!
    12. Oh, no! Queen can take my Rook for free!
    13. No, no again! If QxR I can play Qf8+ and skewer the K, winning the Q!
    14. What now? Ok, I play Rf2+ Black responds with Bf4.
    15. Now I can play Qf8+ and after K moves I take the Rook.
    16. Wait a second! If I take his Rook, he takes mine!
    17. The last option is to sacrifice my R for his B, and AFTER that take his Rook! This way I will be up a piece (I win R+B losing just R).
    18. Ok, I will play 1.Rf2+ Bf4 2.Rxf4+ ef4 3.Qf8+ Kxg6 4.Qxe7 winning

    That was my "hot" mental process of searching for the best move (variation). As you can see it is really chaotic, but somewhat logical and coherent (adding the info to the final conclusion).

  2. 17. Rg2+ putting the rook out of harms way with check
    18. Ok, I will play 1.Rf2+ Bf4 2.Qf8+ Kxg6 3.Rg2+ Kh7 4.Qxe7 winning

    The whole combination exists of the themes X-ray attack and deflection of an overloaded bishop.
    That means that only two mental pictures have to be triggered to understand the whole position. That's what I'm after. Of course, when nothing triggers, you always can fall back on working the salt mines and figuring out the 18 steps of hell prone to error. The themes, hence the two pictures, are well known. But what is pulling the triggers. That's what I try to figure out.

  3. That's right! And the important thing is to realize WHEN to stop counting the variation(s)!

    I have just notice two importants elements.
    1. After Rg2+ you attack the K, get out the attack from black Queen and your Rook is safe with the (double) attack from the 1st rank (try to imagine what would it be if the Rook would be at h2 --> Qg1+)
    2. If the King comes back to defend its Rook - he will be checkmated after Qg6# - that's really nice discovery for me!

    This task is not that easy as it looks! As far as I counted - it consists of at least 5-6 motifs! (and refutations). Check, double attack, covering (interposing), skewer, safety place and deflection (forcing to leave the defender - due to mate final) and mate threat! That's why this task should be analysed very detailed - to build your mental image (pattern) that join to the other kind of knowledge to recognize such tricky puzzles!

  4. I know I may get hammered for "banging on the drum" (so to speak), but may I suggest an alternate way of "SEEing"? Rather than start with the tactical themes/devices (check, double attack, covering (interposing), skewer, safety place and deflection (forcing to leave the defender - due to mate final) and mate threat!, per Tomasz) or moves, start with the MOTIFS, which are the "NOW!" justification for the use of the tactical themes/devices.

    When I looked at the position, I first applied the geometrical motif. There is a hint in being able to place the White Rook on the f file, attacking the Black King. The Black Queen cannot take the White Rook because the White Queen can then move to that same geometrical line, skewering the Black King to the Black Queen. It seems obvious to me that tossing the Black Rook into the flames on f7 does nothing to stop the skewer from gaining the Black Queen. So, the Black Queen cannot function to stop the White Rook's attack. Some other Black piece will have to cover the check. The only piece available for that function is the Black Bishop. Notice that there is also an indirect geometrical relationship (function) between the Black Bishop and the Black Rook. So that geometrical relationship is broken. The next idea is the assault motif. Can the White Rook continue to attack the Black King? Yes, by capturing the Black Bishop. (That also "protects" the White Queen from being captured by the Black Rook.) What possible functional relationships are left? The Black King now has the function of protecting the Black Rook. The White Queen can force that protection to be abandoned by forking the Black Rook and the Black King on f8. Previously, the indirect protection of the Black Rook by the Black Bishop was removed; we MUST remember that! Finally, we summarize the gains/losses, since the forcing moves are all done. White has an extra piece. Now we work out the move sequence.

    1. Rf2+ (Forcing check)

    Black has only two possible replies.

    1. ... Bf4 (blocking function) 2. Rxf4+ (removing the block with forcing move) exf4 (forced) 3. Qf8+ Kg5 (or better 3. ... Kxg6; might as well take a Pawn as slight compensation) 4. Qxe7, then total up the relative gains/losses because there are no more forcing moves.

    1. ... Qxf2 2. Qf8+ Kxg6 (2. ... Rf7 just throws more wood on the fire) 3. Qxf2 then total up the relative gains/losses because there are no more forcing moves.

    I know this sounds contrived, but it really is the way I think through this position.

    I have a couple of examples which I would like to pose as illustrations of "SEEing" using the motifs (NOT the tactical themes//devices) first, but it may take some time before I can get them up here. I have a car problem to be solved tomorrow, plus work in the evening, and then Tuesday my wife and I leave for 3 days vacation (which means no Internet access for me, in order to maintain marital harmony on the trip). So, I am unsure if I will get to do it tomorrow.

    Some general thoughts about the geometrical motif. It is important to "look" completely along a particular geometrical line, from the piece under investigation all the way to the edge of the board. Any obstacles/targets are mentally noted but ignored as blocking the geometrical line. The idea is to "SEE" what each square along the geometrical line holds out as a possibility (hint). Intersection of geometrical lines on specific squares is a very important hint.

    This is the meaning of Dr. Tarrasch's warning in Tarrasch's The Game of Chess, position 103, pg 99:

    "So always be mistrustful of the massing of hostile pieces in the same line as your Queen!"

    Dr. Lasker's geometrical motif is a generalization of that maxim (or Dr. Tarrasch's advice is a specific application of the geometrical motif). You pay your money and you take your chances.

    Hip hip Hoorah! MS Word says I made this post in one part (under 4096 characters).

  5. Sorry, I need to back up a step. The very FIRST thing I noticed was that the Black King cannot move! THAT positional feature focused my attention on getting a line-moving piece (White Queen or White Rook) on to any available open line. (Following that all-purpose patzer maxim: "Always check; it might be mate!") An immobile King is a very important motif (motif = reason for the possibility of a combination in the position). I have been doing that for so long that I no longer do it consciously. My apology for not remembering that I do that.

  6. The "check engine" light went out when I stopped at the repair business, so no problem (hopefully!).

    Before giving the two illustrations, I have an example which illustrates the MOTIF of "the King cannot move", with a similar first MOTIF (for ME!) to the example given above).


    k7/8/P1N5/8/2K5/6p1/5bB1/8 w - - 0 65

    [Lingnau, Carsten vs. Orso, Miklos, Budapest 1992 (4) - Tune Your Chess Tactics Antenna: Know when (and where!) to look for winning combinations, Emmanuel Neiman, Introduction, pg 9. He gave this position to GM Anatoly Vaisser to solve, and it took him one-two seconds!]

    I could obscure (using "brain dead GM Larsen" logic) the first MOTIF with lots of verbiage, but instead, consider: the Black King CANNOT move! So, what does that suggest? Find a piece that can give check to the Black King and figure out how to get it to where it can give checkmate. What color square is the Black King sitting on? Hint, hint! You should hear "NOW!" very loudly, so take a few seconds and solve the riddle.

    Incidentally, IM Lingnau is rated FIDE 2411, so we will concede that he is a much, MUCH better player than me! Maybe he was a much lower rated player in 1992, or maybe he was extremely short of time, or maybe he was distracted by the beautiful blonde in the short shorts who was moving the pieces on the demonstration board. Maybe he was operating on general principles, just too tired to calculate variations. In any event, he failed to "SEE" what should have been obvious to him at that level.

    Nevertheless, he was unable to win this position. He continued 65. Kd5 Bg1 66. Ke6 Bf2 67. Kd7 Bg1 68. Kc8 Be3 69. Na5+ Ka7 70. Bb7 g2 1/2-1/2.

    So, what does the first MOTIF give us? A very strong hint as to the requirements of the position. As a consequence, it cuts away an enormous thicket of possible moves by looking at every piece and trying different tactical themes/devices in various move order sequences.

    There are secondary considerations which do not take much calculation. NOTHING can deter the White Bishop from his rendezvous with the Black King because the Bishops are of opposite color. The Black Bishop cannot defend the only checking square available. The Black Pawn cannot be advanced in sufficient time to the queening square to affect the outcome. SO, the sequence of moves SHOULD now be obvious: 65. Bh3 g2 (hoping to distract the Whte Bishop from his mission) 66. Bc8! (No, I want to meet the King!) g1(Q) (without check to the White King) 67. Bb7#.

    Another story with a happy ending (for White)!

  7. And now, without further preliminaries. . .

    Remember the "lesson" provided by Tomasz!

    These two positions are taken from Improve Your Chess Tactics - 700 Practical Lessons & Exercises, Yakov Neishtadt, pg 46. It is focused on tactical theme/devices rather than motifs, but is still an excellent compendium of tactical problems.

    Position 144:

    rn3rk1/p5pp/2p5/3Ppb2/2q5/5Q2/PPPB2PP/R3K1NR w KQ - 0 1

    [Schulten-Horwitz (London 1846)]

    "How should we answer 1. Qb3?"

    Hints regarding MOTIFS (not in the book):

    (1) What is the FIRST motif to consider?
    (2) What is the function of the White Queen on f3 which is lost when it moves 1. Qb3?

    Position 148:

    3r1n1k/3P3p/pp3qb1/2pQp3/P1P3B1/3N2R1/1P5P/6K1 b - - 0 1

    [Nei-Petrosian (Moscow 1960)]

    "Does Black have to exchange on d3?"

    Hints regarding MOTIFS (not in the book):

    (1) What is the FIRST motif to consider?
    (2) What is the function of the Black Bishop on g6 which is lost when it captures on d3 1. ... Bxd3?

    I'll provide the "solutions" next time.

    Happy solving!

  8. FWIW:

    The game Schulten-Horwitz (Position 144) can be found here:


    The game Nei-Petrosian (Position 148) can be found here:


    (BTW, this is the same "Iron" Tigran Petrosian who was considered to be the greatest defensive World Champion of all time!)

  9. Oops! I screwed up the link for position 144, switching back and forth between two different tabs. Let's try it again, Sam.

    The game Schulten-Horwitz (Position 144) can be found here:


    I'm sorry about that!

  10. I am not sure, but thinking about all of these things (motifs, themes, functions, variations, evaluations, etc.) make me really confused. Is it really that easy/difficult? Maybe we are following the wrong path? What about looking at the position AS LONG as we need - and AFTER that trying to reach the conclusion base on the simple (possible) variations? What about building blocks method - like I showed above? (list of trials and every time improving is - with the help of looking for refutations).

    The more I analyse these positions the more confused I am. Even relatively simple tactics seems really difficult to me - not because of long or hard variations to follow, but because of the difficulty to describe them in a comparison of differences! What a mess in my head... ;)

  11. I think Temposchlucker is correct: we need to arrive at a "picture" of the important factors in a given position. We need to be able to "SEE" the relevant factors and their interaction(s), without verbalization, in order to be able to play stronger. Unfortunately, explanations seem to require verbalization in order to make sense of the picture. Otherwise, we all would learn instantly by just looking at some pictures - and we don't learn that way.

    I'm not so sure that a simultaneous exhibition is a good basis for generalizing about a general learning method. I've done simultaneous exhibitions (nothing on the scale of Judit Polgar; that's not what I'm trying to express). I had more skill and knowledge and experience than my opponents. Consequently, I could "SEE" things they could not see, and so I used that advantage to win. I didn't try to experiment with the openings or take unnecessary chances in the middlegame. I generally allowed my opponents to beat themselves. I once played GM Arnold Denker in a simultaneous exhibition. He did nothing out of the ordinary; he just waited for the inevitable mistake/oversight (even though it was not an egregious error) and then just ground me down with technique.

    Consider this a counter example, perhaps: If everything needed to play at the highest level is available instantly to Judit Polgar without thinking, then why does she (and every other master, IM and GM) take so much time when playing ONE opponent who is at the same skill level? They should be able to blitz out the moves in either situation - but they do not do this. Something else must be going on that is not obvious to me.

    Perhaps it is similar to learning martial arts. There are any number of books with lots of pictures as well as detailed verbal explanations accompanying the pictures. I guarantee you that a picture is NOT worth a thousand words in this case! (I am a 4th-degree black belt in Isshinryu Karate-Do and hold the Renshi title, so, in this case, I DO know what I'm talking about!) No one can learn a martial art from the pictures in a book (or a DVD or a movie). Neither can they learn it from the accompanying words with the pictures. You actually have to DO martial arts in order to learn martial arts. (This is why the movie The Karate Kid is so laughable to trained martial artists. Wax on, wax off - yeah, right, and that will automatically make you a "black belt" level competitor.)

    Luke: All right, I'll give it a try.
    Yoda: No. Try not. Do... or do not. There is no try.

    Aye, Master Yoda, there's the rub: DO WHAT?!?

    I hear the sound of crickets in the swamp. . .

    @Tomasz: Maybe all of these different verbal discussions just muddle the needed "picture?" We are so busy thinking about and discussing the individual pixels that we fail to grasp the essence of the overall "picture."

  12. Robert

    At the most general side - it looks like we are trying TOO hard. Thousands of explanations, rules, looking at the specific relationships, comparing patterns, etc. There MUST be another (simpler) way, but for now it is hard to me to imagine what it may be - except "thinking with pictures". What does it mean? You just look at the picture - and after some time passes by - you know the answer.