Monday, January 11, 2016

Honing in on the question of the method

In the previous post I came to the conclusion that my errors at CT are common and trivial oversights. Like missing a knight fork, overlooking a defender, missing a simple take back etcetera. And I asked the question: "Why do these simple things pop up so difficult?"

As an answer, AoxomoxoA sent me a video a few times. Which I didn't notice of course, since I was busy with other things ;)

The answer is: you don't see things you are not looking for. In the video above, you are asked to focus on the amount of passes of the white team. Hence you miss the moondancing bear.

What's the remedy? There seem to be two directions of thought here.

Focussing out.
 If I want to see the bear, I have to focus out, and forget about the instruction "count the passes". The problem with that, is that there are a zillion things to see. The details of the clothes, the gender of the participants, if they are wearing glasses, how the bridge is build, the colour of the ball etcetera. And every time I can ask you a question about the video about something you probably didn't notice. Most of the information isn't relevant, and is just a burden for the STM when noticed. If you are delivering a forced mate, the information that your rook is hanging is redundant.

Guide focus.
In stead of focussing out, you can guide your focus by means of a thought process. The problem with this is, that a thought process is truly slow by its very nature. The conscious thought process in itself is a tremendous ballast for the STM. The hope is, that somehow the unconscious mind will work its magic some day, and that the thought process will become internalized and taken over by the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind of an adult can be taught how to drive a car in about 50 hours. I have dabbled around with conscious thought processes for hundreds of hours, but I never had the slightest indication that this will work.

Which way to go?
Both directions don't seem very promising. As said in a previous post, you need stronger cues. Not only before you start to calculate you need the information to pop up, but even during calculation the necessary additional information should pop up. If it takes an average of 50 seconds for a cue to fire, you won't come very far. Which in fact happens to be the harsh reality.

So I will try to find a third direction. From the 22 errors I analysed, there were already 3 missed knight forks, 3 simple takes, 3 overworked pieces and 2 mates. So the list of oversights might be not very long. Around 50 at most, I guess. I'm going to dive deeper in this list of oversights, in de hope that I find a way to tell my unconscious mind to not longer overlook these trivial facts.


  1. PART I:

    If you don't already have a copy, may I suggest (STRONGLY!) to purchase or borrow a copy of GM Jonathan Rowson's book The Seven Deadly Chess Sins. (Contrary to first impressions based on the title, it is NOT a book on the "theology" of the First Church of Caïssa — or is it?!?)

    GM Rowson speculates that "the brain will use what it has to make sense of what it is given." There are attentional and evaluative aspects to our thinking at a subconscious level which precede our conscious "sight" of what (we think!) is going on in a given position. Just as the video demonstrates, the instruction to "test your awareness" by counting the number of passes already focuses the attention and provides an evaluative framework to such an extent that all other aspects, such as the moonwalking bear, are not within the realm of attention and therefore CANNOT be seen! Why? Because the mind has already been preconditioned to eliminate anything that does not contribute toward the set goal. (To the extent that you CAN count the number of passes, you have successfully completed the given task. The moonwalking bear is irrelevant to the task.) He quotes Luchins (1942) (which is not listed in the Bibliography):

    "Habituation creates a mechanized state of mind, a blind attitude towards problems; one does not LOOK at the problem on its own merits but is led by a mechanical application of a used method."

    So, how do we avoid this problem of NOT "seeing" what is right in front of our eyes? We must make a conscious effort to not "jump" on the first thing that our attention "sees" in the position. We need to think about our thinking when solving a problem and observe if that is what we are doing. That shifts the focus from the immediate chess problem to a higher level of meta-cognition about the limiting aspects of our thinking, in which we can refocus our attention on WHY we are NOT "seeing" the forest for the trees.

  2. PART II:

    GM Rowson quotes Douglas Hofstadter's (Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid) idea of "Jumping out of the system as a means of refocusing the attention ("zooming out," so to speak):

    "It is an inherent property of intelligence that it can jump out of the task which it is performing, and survey what it has done; it is always looking for, and often finding patterns. Now I said that an intelligence can jump out of its task, but that does not mean that it will. However, a little prompting will often suffice."

    He follows that quote with this observation.

    "Of course it is difficult to draaw a clear line between 'inside' and 'outside' the system and this idea's validity also depends a lot on what 'the system' is. In this case I want to suggest that your chess patterns are your system, that if you 'think' along normal lines you will not be able to break free from 'inside' the bondage of these patterns. If you are 2850 it's no great trauma to be caught 'inside' your system and you could still dispose of 99.99% of chess-players with your intuition. But if you are weaker, and aspire to be stronger, you can jump 'outside' of your system by thinking in unusual and provocative ways; talking to your pieces, or looking for 'jokes' for examples."

    May I suggest that when you first look at a new position, let your mind automatically focus on whatever grabs your attention. That is your intuition based on your current knowledge, and it should be respected. However, don't lose yourself so completely on the "solving" goal that you cannot step back 'outside!" If you do not "see" an 'obvious' solution within approximately 10 seconds (you can set this time value however you like), then immediately force yourself back 'outside.' Ignore whatever initially 'grabbed' your attention, and 'LOOK' at something else in the position to see what else might be there as a cue.

    Please report if this seems to help.

    BTW, Hofstadter's GEB is a great book for twisting your mind like a Möbius strip, if you like that sort of thing (and I do!).

  3. PART III:

    Now, let's "cement" the method into our brains. Perhaps you have heard this aphorism:

    "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

    Let's go "fishing!"

    My suggestion (in PART II) is analogous to fishing, in this particular way. If you have ever fished with a bobber, you know that the hook is down below the surface (our conscious), hidden by the murky water (our subconscious). There may (or may NOT) be a big fish (idea) at our fishing spot (the specific problem), but we have caught big fish at this location before, so we have good reason to be hopeful that fish is on the menu tonight. The bobber is nothing more than our alert system, allowing us to relax and enjoy the summer breeze and to relax beside the stream (of thoughts) without having to strain our attention. The bait on the hook is there to attract the big fish (the specific "solution" to the problem). When the bobber starts to jiggle, it might only be a little minnow nibbling on the bait. When we realize that it is just a little minnow (one cue or motif or tactical theme/device) BUT not the big fish (solution) that we want to catch, we pull up the hook (jump 'outside' our system) and drop it in a slightly different place, off to the side; perhaps there is a bigger fish to catch in the same general location, but not at this exact spot; the big fish is there, but just not close enough to "smell" the bait. After doing this (perhaps several times), suddenly the big fish (the solution) grabs the hook and swallows it! The bobber plunges down under the water (into the subconscious), out of sight, screaming "NOW!" to bring our attention to full alert and focus, so we yank on the pole, snagging the big fish (solution) that we are trying to catch.

    Like all analogies, it probably falls apart if examined too closely, and it certainly could be elaborated on in different ways. The point is that it is a STORY that gives us another way to access the desired method, increasing the likelihood that we will not fall for the first thing that we "see" by "hook, line and sinker." (How do you like that as a moral?!?)

    If that story does not "float your boat," please feel free to create your own narrative. I guarantee that no matter what story you concoct, you will find it easier to do the analogous thing (penetrate deeper) when needed. Like all skills, practice does NOT make perfect; practice only makes PERMANENT. ONLY PERFECT PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT! (This was hammered into my body by my karate Sensei.)

    Lather, rinse, repeat.

  4. I gathered a few numbers.
    Of 150 problems, I made 53 errors. 27 (50%) of those errors are just 4 different types of repetitive oversight errors:

    Mate 14
    Knight fork 5
    Overworked piece 4
    Simpel take 4

    If I can fix just these 4 types of oversights, I should be doing good. I will have a closer look at the errors to see if there are common factors. The mates are king chases where I easy change to trial and error mode, causing loss of overview. Despite all specialised training, it is still easy to miss a knight fork every now and then. An overworked piece is easy to miss when the pieces stand in a crowded position. Overseeing a simple take (back) seems to be an error that exists solely in the training room. In an OTB game that is never overlooked. It has to do with that one needs time to acclimatize to the position. And with looking for more complex things, overlooking the simple.

    If I succeed in fixing these 4 types of errors, it should be measurable by the rating at CT.

    @Robert, I will try your advice.

  5. @Temoschlucker:

    I note that your most significant "problem" appears to be Mate. Try using the moveable "box" idea in order to see the "holes" in the "box" around the opposing King that allow a successful Mate. If the King moves as a response to your mating attack (usually, when a piece is sacrificed to draw him out), then remember to move the "box" with the King! More times than not, when I have had problems with a king chase, it is because I forget that the "box" has moved, and I don't "SEE" what is needed to keep the King in the "box." In other words, I moved the King mentally, but did not visualize a new "box" at the new King location. It is very important to see that all squares of the new "box" location can be covered! I KNOW that you "know" this, but it is vitally important to think about it when conducting a king hunt. Otherwise, that wily fox may slip through the net.

  6. It is a long time issue for me, and I never got rid of it.

    Now I see how important it is for my failures at CT, I will dive deeper in.

  7. Robert said
    "GM Rowson quotes Douglas Hofstadter's (Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid) idea of "Jumping out of the system as a means of refocusing the attention ("zooming out," so to speak):"

    As much as l like GM Rawson, he is not right using Hofstadters ideas in this context :(

    Hofstadters "Jumping out of the system" ( Chapter XV in his Book ) was not connected to anything like attention, it was in the context of logical systems like systems of mathematical axioms and their problem to possibly containing inherent truths which are not provable within this system (= Gödels findings ).
    Very often people try to (miss)use Gödels results to justify something like the "leap into faith" of Kierkegaard.

  8. @Aox:

    You are correct in a technical sense, but incorrect in a sense of analogies. It is not "one for one" surely, but that is not the point. It is to "see" something about the system by looking at it from outside the system, and realizing what cannot be seen from inside the system. That was Gödel's great accomplishment, and it IS applicable in this case by analogy. It is not the specific application mathematically, but the analogous behavior. No one before Gödel had thought outside the mathematical "box."

    Forest and trees, my friend!

  9. PART I:

    I went back to a couple of your posts (the one referenced and the subsequent one) and read them and all the comments. Perhaps I may suggest a slightly different way of approaching this general problem. I did not think deeply enough about this when I made my suggestion above about the "box." I think it may also be applicable in general, but that will require much more work to determine if it is generally applicable.

    I'm sure you are familiar with GM Jonathan Tisdall's Improve Your Chess NOW. (Funny how that word "NOW"in the title is emphasized two different ways [larger type size and different color] and really sticks out after our current discussion! Why did I not "SEE" that emphasis earlier when I read the book?!?) Chapter 2 is devoted to "Blindfold Chess and Stepping-Stone Diagrams". The basic "idea" of stepping-stone "diagrams" is to visualize an intermediate "board" in the mind that can be returned to as variations are investigated, rather than always return to the initial (current) position for every variation change. The "stepping stone" diagram also is NOT created at every step along the way! This helps to relieve the mental load, which is already enormous. My "box" idea utilizes that same notion, but in a much more limited way. While reading and pondering your current dilemma (which I share, BTW), I had one of those "AHA!" moments.

    I think it is a major problem to try to VISUALIZE every piece location and every SINGLE move in every variation; that cognitive load is enormous. The "chunking" concept (presuming that we can dictate what IS a "chunk" to that stubborn and mysterious subconscious AND WE CANNOT EVEN DIRECTLY TALK TO IT!) says that we can and do operate on "chunks," not on the individual pieces and squares. I think I have a misconception about "chunking" that I didn't "SEE" previously.

    When I looked at the problem in the earlier post, I immediately tried to "solve" it. It didn't take me very long, but I "jumped" out of the system (from the “fire” back out to the “frying pan”) and realized something that I think is very important:


  10. PART II:

    I first applied the "box" to the Black King. Then I looked for ways to smack the Black King with attacks. The "three piece" rule came into my head: one to sacrifice and two to mate. There are FOUR pieces available (the White Queen, two Rooks and a Knight) so that condition certainly holds true. Black’s Queen and two Rooks are scattered to the four corners of the board, so they provide NO defensive possibilities. The Black Queen and two Black Rooks then “disappeared” from my conscious mind, much like that moonwalking bear! Then I started looking at forcing moves. Since check is the most forcing move AND I can get rid of a defender at the same time, 1. RxNe7+ is the immediate focus of my attention. Black has little choice but to retake with the Black King, because the Black Bishop is pinned and if he does not recapture, he is just a piece down with four White pieces attacking. This is where I noticed that I was “visualizing” the geometrical relationships from the initial position WITHOUT creating a new “visualized” board! I immediately “saw” 2. Qxb7+ as a follow-up, and didn’t “visualize” the position there either. Moving to the back rank just allows a massacre, so the Black King is “forced” (not really, but you get the “picture”) so it has to move out toward the open middle of the board. At that point, I created a “stepping stone” board in my head, and again applied the “box” to the Black King. And so it went until I was sure that Black is mated.

    The important thing for ME was to realize that I was thinking in “clichés” of a sequence of MOVES as a “chunk”, but NOT visualizing every single board position in that sequence of moves. The “chunks” were not a particular configuration of pieces but the relationships of the attackers to the Black King in a very vague sort of way, almost like “He has to go HERE, otherwise he is crushed.” Perhaps it was just a “feeling” that I could mate the Black King once he went out into the open with no defenders (the Black Queen and Black Bishop don’t count as defenders as long as we can attack on squares they don’t control) and 3 attackers. The surprising thing (to me) was that I was not visualizing every position after every move, but only the “stepping-stones” along the way, where I had to create a new “box” around the Black King in order to determine what the next “chunk” of moves would have to be.

    Does that mirror your own experience?

    1. Not quite. It is long ago, so I forget a few details. But I remember that I felt pretty lost and disappointed that I wasn't able the problem without some help, despite all my training. It snowed under my blogging posts, and I forgot the importance of it. But now I'm back in full swing, the importance of it is evident, and I'm going to tackle this vision problem now once and forever.

      It's not about the mates, it's about the road to the mate and the visualisation of that road. My knight fork errors suffer from the same lack of vision.

      Indeed, we (well, actually you guys) tend to look way too rigid at chunks. An old French master said, my pieces are like the socks in my drawer in a dark room. Although I can't see them, I know they are there.

      Today I realized that if I have no perfect vision from the current position, I can never expect to have a reasonable vision of the future positions. So I dusted off my Intensive Course Tactics 2, and I will do the exercises again, but now focussing on perfect vision.

  11. As an aside, regarding "perception":

    The Tisdall title Improve Your Chess NOW shows an ambiguity that can be useful for "seeing" something in a different way, an insight, perhaps.

    When I first saw that title, I interpreted it to mean that it would help to "improve my chess" immediately, at this point in time, or at least very soon after reading the book. In our discussion of "seeing," we emphasize the "NOW!" concept as that "AHA!" feeling when the position becomes "simple" (only relatively, because we NOW understand what is required to solve it). So, I re-think my interpretation of the title to be: the thing which will "improve your chess" is the concept of "NOW!" and that is the focus of the book.

    "There are none so blind as those who WILL not "SEE!"

  12. @Robert
    not that it would be of any importance ;)

    you said "No one before Gödel had thought outside the mathematical "box." "

    Gödel in his "incompleteness theorems" was thinking absolutly IN the mathematical box, mainly in the logical and numbertheoretical box, he was not a fraction of an inch outside ;) So looking at Gödel incompleteness this way -> its even exactly the other way around!

    If you want to make clear that it is important to look from time up from your handy to prevent to collide with a street sign then analogies with the special theory of relativity or some other high complex math are ... hmmm ...

    Gödels results where 100% mathematical answers to the mathematical question(s) of Hilbert based on the findings of Russel and so forth.

    We may ask: why Hilbert ( an exeptional mathematical genius ) did not find Gödels results by himself? The reason for that is: Gödels results did destroy Hilberts hopes.

    So again: its easy to find what you are looking for and hard to find somthing you dont even WANT to find.

    1. @Aox:

      "So again: its easy to find what you are looking for and hard to find somthing you dont even WANT to find.

      I completely agree with you on this statement!

      The "imp" in me asked this question: Does this also apply to analogies? ;)

    2. One of the biggest problems in chess thinking is to find the point where you have to give up an idea where you did spend more than reasonable time and energy in to make it work and simply move on to then next

      -> moving on to the next

    3. I think the problem is related much more with the understanding of the position. If you KNOW what should be done and you observed (analysed) very similar play (analysis) at such type of position - you simply know what should (and what should NOT) be played! And that's the really important factor that helps us to differentiate if the tactics is present and HOW it should be applied to the position in front of your eyes.

      Think of the chess themes: smothered mate and back rank mate. These are the simplest chess motifs to me - I can see these instantly. It is the question if the best variation leads to mate of just material gain (and how big is it).