Saturday, January 09, 2016

Keep it simple

When I started my visualization training with problems at CT in blitz mode, I initially was mainly interested in the "yellow and red" problems. The one I failed or which took me a terrible long time. Although these problems are clear indicators of what is wrong with my tactical ability, they might not provide the fastest road to improvement. Because I fail to solve them quick and correct, there are some problems connected to these positions for me. These problems are highly personal, of course. But since they are somehow problematic to me, they take a lot of time to master.  After experimenting a little, I noticed that the "green" problems might provide a faster way to improve my vision. The green problems are solved correctly in time. Those problems take me usually somewhere between 40 - 80 seconds. Yet if I look closer at them, it should be possible to solve them way faster. This is exactly the kind of exercise I'm looking for. I look around for 40 - 80 seconds, and the right chess knowledge pops up. Why should that take so long? That knowledge should be available right away! Let me give an example.

White to move
It takes under 5 seconds to see that the black bishop is pinned to the king, and that there are 3 attackers and 3 defenders of the bishop. This information pops up immediately. Then it stops for a while. Only to see much later that you can remove easy two defenders at the cost of just one attacker.

This is a clear case of chess knowledge that pops up way too late.

If a piece is pinned, it is temporary immobile. The first question that should come up is: can I attack the bishop once more? Since that is not the case, the next question should be: can I get rid of the defenders?

But somehow this basic chess knowledge is not integrated in my system. So I dabble around with some trial and error moves, until after 50 seconds or so it pops up in the mind "look at the defenders!". It takes only a few seconds to find and assess the right moves and then solve the position. In essence I wasted 50 seconds.

If I want to solve these kind of problems faster, I need to get rid of those spilled 50 seconds. I must teach my mind to look for an extra attacker first, and when that leads to nothing, the mind should look directly at the defenders. Without further ado.

The motifs "function" and "geometry" are the most important ones for me and I concentrate on these. In this particular position "geometry" means the pin, and getting the rooks off the 7th rank one way or another. "function" means, who are the attackers, who is the target, who are the defenders. To just be aware of the functions of the pieces and their geometry is enough to let the suitable moves pop up. In this simple case.


  1. It seems that we have come full circle back to NM Dan Heisman's recommendation to practice tactics using simple problems, until we can "knock them out of the park" (mixing in a baseball metaphor) by just "looking" at them.

    At first, we have to really think hard (i.e., in a disciplined way) about what we should "look" for. After a certain amount of disciplined practice, the thinking process will sink into the subconscious, turned into skill. This is one of the mysterious and marvelous things about the mind. It is just like your analogy of driving a car. At first, you have to consciously think about so many different things linearly, and it makes the car driving almost impossible. As the "steps" sink into the mind, the process smooths out on its own.

    I KNOW in my case that I attempt too difficult problems in excellent (BUT N-O-T FOR ME!) books like Imagination in Chess: How to Think Creatively and Avoid Foolish Mistakes by Paata Gaprindashvili. (I have this book, but it is mostly shelfware, because each time I start trying to solve the problems, I find it is WAY over my head!) It is like a beginning juggler, trying to toss five balls into the air and keep them there. HAH! I can't even keep one ball in the air, so what makes me think I can throw FIVE up at once?!? WHY?!?!? Because my ego tells me that I have progressed past the simple stuff, I can't (or don't want to) "SEE" that I have NOT actually learned to focus on the right thing(s) in the simple problems.

    Thank you for this new series of blog posts. I have learned some very valuable lessons!

    1. Hi Robert, based in your posts, I can infere that you have a vast culture, even beyond chess I would say. I really appreciate all the insights you have provided on the improvement tactics. I also wanted to thank you since your comments made me appreciate the "Lasker Manual of Chess" in its true value, which was hidden to me before your posts.

      For that reason I would like to exchange some topics with you, if you accept. First I would like to know your opinion about positional training.
      In my humble opinion, that subject has not been explored us much as tactical training. What books, Videos or resources and what Methods would you consider valuable to give a try? Is there Positional or Strategic vision the same way as Tactical Visionand now could it be improved?
      I apologize to Temposhlucker if this is kind off-topic from his blog. If you prefer, we can use e-mail in order to not disturb the blog main topic, and obviosly I appreciate if Temposhlucker or somebody else participate in this
      Best Regards

    2. Thank you for the compliment, although I'm not sure I deserve it. Many subjects pique my interest!

      I will provide a short reply here, waiting for Temposchlucker to "approve" any further discussion on this topic.

      I believe that positional chess is nothing more than a logical consequence of the overall goal in chess (to checkmate the opponent's King), with potential sub-goals (relative gain of material primarily, along with relative gains in space or time) combined with the tactical means to achieve those goals step-by-step. Dr. Lasker provides an outstanding introduction to positional play in his book as Fourth Book: Position Play, detailing the theory of Steinitz and extensions to it for balanced positions. As a long-time student of Dr. Lasker, I can only concur with his conclusions.

      Consider the following thoughts from two other sources.

      Emmanuel Neiman, Tune Your Chess Tactics Antenna: Know when (and where!) to look for winning combinations, pg. 17:

      "The calculation of variations is the most difficult part of chess, and arguably the most important. If you learn [teach] a chimpanzee to play chess and give him abilities in every part of the game but no calculating strength, he will remain a poor player. If you don't learn [teach] him anything, but give him the calculating ability of, say, a 2600 Elo grandmaster, then he will be around master level (2400). By the way, we don't use chimpanzees, but machines, who don't have any intelligence at all. Yet, by mainly using calculation (to make it even more unfair, they are also given huge opening knowledge) they are able to beat the best players, however stupid they may be!"

      M. M. Botvinnik, Computers, chess and long-range planning, pg. 9:

      "Dear reader, only when we firmly decide, together, to reject all this mystical nonsense [miracles, geniuses, incomprehensible laws, and other kinds of 'creativity'] can we put the question: what, properly speaking, goes on in a chess game?

      In my opinion, the process of playing chess (and probably any game) consists in a generalized exchange. By this term we mean an exchange in which (in the general case) the values traded may be tangible or positional ("invisible," situational). The goal of a generalized exchange is a relative gain of these tangible or positional (situational) values. There are not and cannot be other goals. In the end, this generalized exchange process must lead to the winning of infinitely great tangible value (i.e., to mate).

      The proof that something like this goes on in other games is outside our task. But we may remind ourselves that in a game as far from chess as soccer there is an exchange of tangible values (fatigue will change the effective strength of the player) and positional values (conjunctures). Independently of whether the player has the ball or not, he moves with respect to the ball, the goal posts, and other players so that the position of the team shall become more favorable. The objective [in chess], which ends the game if it is attained, is to win an infinitely large material value.

      The tangible values of the pieces in chess is well known to all beginning players. But what of the invisible, conjunctural (positional) value of the pieces? This value depends on the position of the piece and on the role of the piece in the general combat then taking place on the board. The positional value of a piece is subject to sharp changes: the intangible value of a Pawn can be very great, for instance when it mates the enemy King.

    3. Sure, I have no problems with any side step discussions. Feel free to fire away. After another post of mine, this discussion shifts into a quiet corner of the blogosphere all by itself.

    4. Thank you Temposchlucker fpr your kind gesture. Thank you Robert for your interest.

      With regard to: -Tune Your Chess Tactics Antenna- authors remark, I tend to agree but something still makes me doubt; You can calculate deep and fast, but calculation without a fine evaluation is probably useless, so you need some kind of knowledge in order to make your calculations useful. Modern engines have a refined kind of knowledge which make them evaluate position better. To give an example, the last big battle between Komodo and Stocfish is not decide on calculation as both calculte with similar deepth (Please correct me if I am wrong).
      To give another point of disscusion, I wonder if Capablanca was a Calculation Machine, or just he was ahead of his time, so no true rival for him, evn if they could calculate deeper than him.
      I agree that at the end, it is all about chaeckmating the King, but may I ask Robert (and Temposchluker if he likes to reply) how would you train to improve in assessing correctly positions without much contact between pieces, without fire, in other words, positions in which calculation does not seem to be the main skill to play them accurately?
      For sure you will have interesting ideas on that

      Best Regards to all.

    5. In response to your earlier request for information vis-a-vis positional training:

      CAVEAT EMPTOR: My last (1975!!) USCF OTB rating was 1810, which corresponds to FIDE 1618. I "think" I am a stronger player now than then, but that is impossible to confirm in the absence of recent OTB play. I recently won ONE "Quick Chess" game from a FIDE Woman Master but consider it merely a fluke; "one swallow doesn't make a summer." Please keep that in mind when you consider my recommendations.

      The “best” instructional material for YOU “depends” on YOUR current playing skill and knowledge. There is a rough (VERY ROUGH!) correlation between your OTB (over the board) rating and your playing capabilities, and therefore, what material(s) might be appropriate at that skill level. In the absence of any knowledge of your current playing skills and knowledge, my recommendations will be very subjective and general.

      The great chess teacher, author, and publisher, USCF Senior Master Ken Smith wrote, “Until you are at least a high Class C player [1500 – 1600 USCF rating], your first name is “Tactics”, your middle name is “Tactics”, and your last name is “Tactics.” Converted to FIDE ratings, that means if your rating is FIDE ≤ 1400, you should be focused on tactics almost entirely. But, since you asked about positional training:

      For a good method to get a quick handle on positions, I highly recommend IM Jeremy Silman’s How to Reassess Your Chess: Chess Mastery Through Chess Imbalances, 4th Edition. It will give you considerable insight on how to deal with various imbalances based on positional thinking. IM Silman’s Silman’s Complete Endgame Course is also highly recommended, based on the idea that “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” The combination of these two books, in conjunction with LOTS of tactical study, should provide plenty of “food for thought” for quite some time.

      SURPRISE: I highly recommend Dr. Emanuel Lasker’s Lasker’s Manual of Chess. It has the best explanation of Steinitz’s classical theory that I have ever found. (It also has an outstanding explanation of how to “SEE” motifs and tactical themes/devices.) The Third Book The Combination and the Fourth Book Position Play are worth their weight in gold.

      I recommend Peter Romanovsky’s Soviet Middlegame Technique. The book actually is a combination of two books: Part 1: Planning and Part 2: Combination. There is some conceptual overlap between Romanovsky and Dr. Lasker’s ideas, but Romanovsky's material is more in sync with current practice. That is not surprising, since their chess careers overlapped in time to a certain extent.

      I recommend Aron Nimzovich’s My System. It clarifies and extends Steinitz’s theory in several significant ways. The First Part: The Elements is more useful for a lower rated player; the Second Part: Position Play is more useful for a higher rated player, with the Third Part: Illustrative Games being useful to all players.

      I have no recommendations for videos, merely because I have none of them. Perhaps others with actual experience with them can make good recommendations.

    6. Gustavo asks:

      "How would you train to improve in assessing correctly positions without much contact between pieces, without fire, in other words, positions in which calculation does not seem to be the main skill to play them accurately?"

      I would start with a personal judgement of the relative merits of the respective positions. Who is better, by how much better, and WHY? (Hat tip to NM Dan Heisman for that very revealing question.)

      I would then address the structural ideas, based on the Pawns. What kind of structure does each player have? Do you have more (or less) space than the opponent? Where is the space advantage (if any) located: on the kingside, queenside, or in the center? Are there geometrical ideas (open files and diagonals, or files and diagonals that could become opened)? What is the relationships between the opposing pieces? What imbalances exist between the opposing sides? (There are ALWAYS imbalances, even in symmetrical positions!) What are the prospects for the middlegame? What are the long-term prospects for the endgame? Are there any general principles that seem to apply to this specific position, providing clues as to how to handle this specific position?

      Carefully consider the opponent's last move, because it will have very important "clues" as to the direction of his thoughts. Try to anticipate the direction of his play over the next few moves, and forestall or stop him from achieving his goal(s). What is he trying to accomplish?

      Most importantly, what prospects are there for initiating favorable tactical ideas based on dynamic piece play? In this regard, "talk to your pieces" (ala GM Rowson). Find out what each piece "feels" about its current position. Fantasize about the ideal location of each and every piece. Mentally "rearrange the furniture" into the best possible position for both players.

      Do a quick summary of the material, but always try for the initiative, even if it costs material. Don't obsess over maintaining or regaining a material balance; just try to be as active as possible.

      That should give you some general guidelines to work with initially. Ultimately, you will have to gain experience and form judgments on your own. IMHO, it is worthless to memorize any fragment of a game (especially opening lines played by a player who is WAY ABOVE your current playing level) and attempt to re-create it in a game without understanding WHY it works. Even if you manage to remember it exactly, you will come to the end of the memorized line, and then promptly throw away whatever advantage you might have because you don't understand WHY it was played, and what to do once your memorized line ends.

    7. Thank you Robert for your responses.

      It is nice material what you reccomend. To give you more elements to suggest me training material, I tell you that my playing strength is about 1850-1950 ELO FIDE, though depending of kind of positions or continuity in practice, sometimes I can play like a 2100 player, other times I play like a 1300 player (not necessarily for lack of understanding but for childish oversights like the ones Temposchlucker complains about)
      I consider thay my main weaknesses are: not organized method of calculation, loss of focus during long games, not trusting my intuition resulting in time pressure dur to perfectionism search (trying to calculate deep, but in a desorganized way is terribly time consuming
      I completely agree that memorizing without understanding is useless and harmful, also that at my level, opening theory is not the main field to work.
      But at this point I would like to ask: is it valuable and useful to memorize a game or several games, nce you have studied them deeply and you understand the ideas. For example the game Gelfand-Dreev, Tilburg 1993, Best game in Informant 59 is a game I always liked. I have studied it for 3 days and now I have a good understanding odf the ideas in spite that is a game far beyond my strength. Maybe I do not need to memorize it literally, but its main ideas will be in my memory, but maybe if I try to reproduce it without the scoresheet would be a good exercise?
      What do you think?
      What would be your advise to work on my calculation methos in order to make it more organized, productive, efficient, and methodic
      Thank you in advance
      Best Regards

    8. @Gustavo:

      You are already significantly above my level of play, so I'm not sure I can analyze your skills and make good recommendations, other than the generalities as I gave above.

      I'm not big on memorization of anything. Even practical methods and processes lose in effectiveness if merely regurgitated on command without having internalized them.

      As Temposclucker has stated, the improvement "problem" is to identify YOUR specific problem(s) and then figure out a training method that will address those specific problem(s). I suspect that the problems we all experience are a smorgasbord of different issues to varying degrees, so there is NO general "cookie cutter" solution to improvement.

      Good luck!

  2. if you continue analysing tactical weaknesses and the methods how they can be used.. you will be able to write chuhakins paper independed all by yourself within a few months

    1. Since I always have a little bit of a problem to accept statements at the authority of other people that might prove to be the only way :D

      "Wheel Inventor" is my middle name.

    2. Well acording to Chuzhakin g7 is a HE ( i would call it tactical weakness ) of many types: No3 , No6, No10 ( not every No6 is automatically a No10 )..
      After detecting such a weakness we supose to think about a method to make use of it and the standard method ( play against a defensive object ) would be to increase the "tension" that is: to find a new attacker or to remove a defender.

      Now to make this knowledge to a motor skill you should implement it somehow in your thinking system..

    3. One of the things that I learned from My System by Aron Nimzovich is the usage of simple positions as a basis for investigating and internalizing more profound concepts. For the longest time, I did not "SEE" that as the BEST pedagogical method. Now I "SEE" how the simple provides the required clues to "SEE" the more complicated.

      I'm going to take some "liberties" with his text (Chapter 2, On Open Files, pg. 27), and allow him to give us some advice. My substitutions and comments are enclosed in [].

      "The obvious idea is then to win the [piece] by piling up our attacks on it; firstly for the sake of gain of material, but secondly in order to break down the resistance in the file. [Did you "see" that there was a strategical value to the attack on g7? Or, like me, did you not even consider that the tactical motif might be used to support the strategical goal?] This will be technically managed by first bringing up our pieces into attacking positions. [This has already been done in the given position, so we don't "see" any of the preparatory work.] A hot fight will then be waged round the [piece]. As often as we attack, Black covers; so we now seek to obtain the upper hand by thinning the ranks of the defending forces, which can be done (a) by driving [or decoying or diverting] them away, (b) by exchange [a piece that is defending can and MUST be destroyed to remove its defensive function], or (c) by shutting off one [or more] of the defensive pieces. That is to say we transfer our attack from our [direct] opponent to his defenders, a perfectly normal proceeding, often practiced at school (in a rough and tumble, I mean).

      Note how Nimzovich uses an analogy to a schoolyard fight to "cement" the idea.

      We need to create generalized analogies as we "study" positions, in order to "cement" the idea into our minds. This creates many more neural pathways to the retrieval of the relevant interrelationships that we need to "see" in new (to us) situations. The speed of recognition is tightly intertwined with the relevant accessibility of the relevant knowledge. Speed is a byproduct of more accessible knowledge. More neural pathways (created by analogies that are not necessarily domain-specific) = more skill at a faster pace.

      There is "fast," "slow," and "half-fast." I submit that the way we approach most learning tasks (including chess improvement) is "half-fast." (There is a play on words there that may only be obvious to an American; my apology in advance if that is the case.)