Monday, January 04, 2016

Reducing the load of the brain resources

If we look at what grandmasters can do when it comes to blitz, blindfold chess, simuls or smacking your average Joe from the board, it seems that they can work miracles. They must have superior brain resources, shouldn't they?
That is what I though before I started to think about chess improvement. But when I saw our club champion having his ass handed over by a 14 yo boy, I knew for sure: it's a trick! The boy couldn't focus very well on the board, since his mind was way too fickle to look at the board. Most of the time he looked around, inpatient waiting for a move from my red headed club fellow.

I've been devoting twelve years to get my head wrapped around this trick. The main problem always seems to be that our brain resources were way too limited to play a complicated game like chess. Every time we discussed this, I always ended with the conclusion that we should reduce the load of our brain resources somehow. I never believed for long that we should speed up things, but that we should do something different in stead.

My overall improvement due to tactical training was a 324 rating points, which is not too shabby for an adult. But I always felt that the actual improvement was gained in a very short amount of time. Say 6-8 weeks. I remember two or three of such periods in the past twelve year. I recall the first period, where I had my biggest improvements, the best. I worked on papa Polgars brick, which is solely about mate. I could feel very well that my vision improved. Especially during the mate in ones. In stead of looking at the pieces, you had to look at the squares they covered. Which is a change in vision. With hindsight, I can say that all those periods of improvement coincided with a change of vision.

Over the years, we tried all kinds of vision exercises. But because it were isolated experiments, it was hard to assess their effect. See for instance this experiment, which is an exercise in vision of the geometrical motif.

The special thing about vision, is that it relieves the load from the brain resources, like the STM. It cuts down on calculation in a dramatic way. Vision contains both precalculation and a glance into the future in a very condensed form, a picture.

What I failed to identify so far, is which kind of vision should be trained. But now, after a break of two years and reprocessing all information from the past, it turns out that Lasker has already has worked out which vision we should train (hattip to Robert). Each combinational motif needs its own dedicated vision exercise. The function motif seems to be the most important.

These are the motifs, if I remember well:
  • Function of the pieces. Role and status. Tells you the vulnerabilities due to obligations.
  • Geometrical motif. Gives you a glance into a possible future. Prevents tunnel vision.
  • Undefended piece. LPDO
  • Encircling. Mate and entombing.
  • Assault. Not quite sure what it means, chesswise.
  • Do I miss one?
After theorizing the need for training different visions related to the combinational motifs of Lasker, its time to work out the method and a try to proof if it is viable. 


  1. PART I:

    Of the 6 motifs that I previously gave from Dr. Lasker, the only one missing is the desperado motif. Please note: there are many more motifs given by Dr. Lasker. I pulled out the ones that I thought were the most commonly applicable to most positions. I figured that I had to start with something, rather than try to grab everything at once. Just as you have noted, there are 30 tactical themes and 28 mating themes (more or less) that most likely have specific VISUAL cues (motifs) associated with them in various combinations. (I'm too lazy at the moment to do the math to calculate how many different permutations that might be.) If those cues can be internalized (along with the tactical themes/devices and mating themes), I think it highly likely that it will enable a relatively high level of play. Master level? I don't know, but I think so.

    BTW: I posted a comment on the post A vision problem (31 DEC 2015) giving my analysis of the problem that Tomasz posed. Please check out my analysis. I think it was quite difficult to "solve" time-wise. I found myself using "monkey mind" (jumping back and forth from variation to variation), and had to work to stay focused on the "idea" that I saw during the initial examination of the position. It might have been easier if (a) I did not have any interruptions [I was at work] and (b) if I had the position set up on an actual board. Somehow (for ME!), I find it easier to "SEE" when I have a board and pieces in front of me. I usually solve problems from the diagrams, which probably does not have the same benefit as setting up the pieces (at least, for practical play), but on the other hand, it does take less time!

  2. PART II

    I don't really have a mental "picture" of a specific piece design (Staunton, for example) in my head as I analyze or play blindfold. Instead, there is a vague sense of the geometrical relationships based on the specific type of piece in question, with lines of movement “radiating” out from the pieces. I don't "see" the entire board and all of the pieces at once; I have to shift my "view" and attention from one area of the board to another.

    My approach to training blindfold chess (until I could do it without losing "sight" of all the pawns and pieces) was to focus first on just 4 squares. There are 16 groups of 4 identical sets of squares. The basic 4-square "mental square" (for example, a1, a2, b1, b2) can then be "moved" VISUALLY around the board. The vital center squares (d4, d5, e4, e5) are also one of these basic VISUAL squares.

    After I got used to visualizing just 4 squares at a time and moving that 4-square "box" around the board to "see" all the pieces, I started combining 4 of those "boxes" into a larger "square" composed of 16 squares. Actually, it is a kind of "chunking" mechanism, whereby I could "see" 4 chunks of 4 squares. That reduces the board to just 4 16-square "boxes" or "chunks." By mentally "seeing" the pieces that have moved (there is no need to "see" the pieces that have NOT moved; they are still on the original squares in the mental image) and placing them into one of the four 16-square boxes, I can keep track of all the pieces and their interactions. Initially, the problem was getting a clear "picture" of line-moving pieces that crossed from one big box to another one. I hit upon the idea of visualizing the connection points from one box to another one, and that made it easier to mentally "move" a piece completely across the board; it was simply a matter of relocating it into a different "chunk."

    Dr. Lasker had this to say about the importance of good visualization of the board geometry:

    "The student should endeavor to acquire the habit of designating the squares and of VISUALIZING [my emphasis] their position. There are many Chess-players who fail merely from their incapacity to master this GEOMETRICAL [my emphasis] task, not suspecting its value." - Lasker's Manual of Chess, pg 4.

  3. My reason for naming only 6 of the motifs given is the following comment by Dr. Lasker:

    "Of the above [6 motifs], some occur often, some rarely. The reason for this difference in frequency is the initial position. There the pieces have certain prescribed positions; the struggle in which they engage, though very varied, still follows a certain trend, and therefore certain types of combinations tend to recur. - Lasker's Manual of Chess, pg 130.

    Definition of the assault motif: Allow no time for the defense to move a piece into position to defend; this is accomplished by using forcing moves. [IMHO, this is NOT a "VISUAL" motif.]

    Definition of the desperado motif: Sometimes a piece, without intending to, performs a task favorable to the opponent. For instance, it obstructs a passed Pawn that would otherwise Queen; or it renders a too feeble resistance and threatens to fall easy prey. Such pieces are possessed of a veritable fury of aggression. They run "amok." They are desperados. The desperado motif is very frequent. (Dr. Lasker)

    Dr. Lasker provides the clearest explanation of the classical theory of Steinitz, extending it beyond Steinitz by addressing what approach should be taken in balanced positions. I find the following remarks intriguing.

    "The task of following the principles of Steinitz in BALANCED positions is no easy one. In a position where I hold the advantage, I do the hitting, my opponent may have to be patient and submissive and may have to lose in the end nevertheless. But in BALANCED positions I am the hammer in one part of the board and anvil in another; the [peanut] gallery may not understand, but this is a harder test. Each move where I obtain an advantage, is paid for by a disadvantage. (pg 244)

    Or, to make it much more succinct, quoting a certain Bobby Fischer: "You have to give squares in order to get squares.

    TANSTAAFL - There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch!

  4. The trick of what we call for convenience "vision", seems to be based on the fact that it allows to handle multiple squares in "parallel mode", while grinding through the tree of analysis is a sequential activity. The multiple squares being the covered squares that radiate from the pieces.

  5. ( Motor ) Skills can be performed parallel ( written in some scientific paper ).
    Masters dont see a bishop and (some of ) its moves they see controlled diagonals ( someone said somewhere )
    To be aware of the squared controlled by a piece without looking ( at the piece and along its possible moves ) is called board vision. ( might be measured as a bullet piecedrop rate ;)
    I think tactical vision is mainly a board vision of second or sometimes even third order.
    These visions are skills, they make sense only if they get used propper.

    1) a propper thinking process is needed to make use of aquired skills ( not only vision skills )
    2) aquired skills enable to aquire the related propper thinking process ( more easy )

  6. @Aox, it seems more logical to switch 1) and 2)
    The vision skills contain knowledge too: the condensed knowledge from the thought process of Mr Lasker.