Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Investigating the initiative II

 Let's see how a more complex situation works:

Diagram 1 Black to move

r2q1rk1/pp2ppbp/2p3p1/4Nb2/PP1Pn2N/2nQ2P1/1B2PPBP/R4RK1 b - - 1 1

[O] = Offense
{D} = Defense
Attacks that are easy to spot as harmless are coloured grey.
Tasks that play a role in the actual combination are coloured red.

[O] Attack Bf5
[O] Threatens Nxg6 - Rf8

[O] Attack Ne4

[O] Attacks Ne4
[O] Attacks Nc3
{D} Defends e2

[O] Attack Nc3

[O] Threatens Nxg6 - Rf8 
[O] Threatens Nd7 - Rf8
[O] Threatens Nxf7 - Qd8
[O] Threatens Nxc6 - Qd8 

{D} Defends Qd3

{D} Shields Qd3
{D} Defends N

Attacks Ne5

{D} Defends Ne4
[O] Attacks indirect Qd3

{D} Defends Nc3
[O] Threatens Nxg3 - Rf1
[O] Threatens Nd2 - Rf1
[O] Threatens Nxf2 - Qd3
[O] Threatens Nc5 - Qd3

[O] Attacks d4
[O] Skewers Qd3

{D} Defends Ne4
[O] Threatens check at Nxe2+
[O] Threatens Nd1 - Bb2
[O] Threatens Nxa4 - Bb2

This list immediately shows the problem with rampant usage of CCT. There are way too much possibilities. Even when I greyed the most unlikely options, the list is way too long. Can we apply logic to the list, so we can filter it? What I mean is, can I define some logic that builds a small list without even taking the redundant issues into consideration?

The first thing is to formulate what the logic should accomplish. When I tried to solve this position, I considered the line 1. ... Nxg3 2.Qxg3 without noticing the knight fork 2. ... Nxe2+, even after 7:50 minutes thinking. I was clearly overwhelmed by the amount of offensive possibilities of white. The logic should help me to focus on the relevant pieces of the combination.
 It is only necessary that the idea behind the combination is revealed. Once I have the right idea, working out the moves and checking them for refutations is relatively easy.

The easy fix I hoped for, the rule of thumb of the previous post ("harass the piece with the most tasks"), is clearly not working here. The most active piece of white is Ne5. But I already greyed its tasks, since it is easy to see that its offensive possibilities are easily refuted. So should I focus on the defensive tasks only? The white piece with the most defensive tasks is pawn d4. Although there are some ideas that almost work, none of them withstands a more thorough investigation. To save time, I played 1. ... Qxd4, based on the knight fork Nxe2+. So I had seen a knight fork, but the wrong one.

The only clue that gives something relevant away is Nc3 threatens Ne2+
And that triggers a whole bunch of ideas that are not new to me, but I never managed to apply in practice, due to too little exact understanding:
  • Start to investigate the attack on the piece with the highest value.
  • Ignore the counter attacks for the moment. I want to find the right idea behind the combination, checking for refutations can be done later.
  • Gaining wood is always accomplished by a trap or a duple attack. Suppose that the piece with the highest value under attack is one of the targets. What is the most likely candidate for the second target? Can the second target be put in place?
  • If not, repeat with the attack on the piece with the next highest value.
With this simple reasoning I would have found the idea behind this combination. I wonder if it has any use beyond this position. I see that I'm way too worried about the responses of my opponent. That makes me investigate way too much possibilities. If I attack the piece with a high value, all counter attacks against my pieces with a lesser value are irrelevant. I just need the idea behind the combination. I must trust myself that I will be able to calculate the refutations later on.

Let's see if the points I have found in this post have any use for other positions. I'll be back.


  1. I usually try to CREATE somehow reasonable a good line and then try to find a refutation and then try to fix the refutation...

    In the End a solution to a tactical situation is the most forcing of the available moves. But the target of our attack is not nesessarily the most active piece. A "Traped piece" is usually immobile and therefore quite often almost (temporarily) inactive.

    Strange how you look at the puzzle! Nxg3 threatens """mate""" by Nce2 and loss of the Queen by BfxQd3. Its an discovered attack and the discouvery is combinde with a """mate threat""" so ist a double attack too.

    More than 50% of the tactical puzzles at CT are King-related either "mate" or "mate-threat" or "exposed-king" so i think about the king first of all pieces

    1. When there are too many interactions, or contact points, or relations, or whatever we call them, the mind is easily overloaded. An overloaded mind starts to overlook things. That is what happened in this case. A confused mind can see a 1400 problem as were it a 1900 problem.

      In theory the remedy is simple: find a method to ignore the irrelevant interactions.

  2. Are you doing these puzzles in blitz or standard at CT? You keep mentioning blitz ratings, but 7:50 is a long time in blitz. I suspect the nature of the thought process is very different in those two modes.
    - mfardal

    1. I work in blitz mode. But I don't worry about the time. First I must learn to do it right, then to do it fast.

    2. Won't that render your CT blitz rating meaningless as a gauge of your improvement? Right now it's suppressing the rating. Also later when you try to solve fast again, you'll think "hey, look - my rating's skyrocketing, I must be improving really fast!"

      Stanislaw Ulam had a theory that recall from long-term memory works like a pack of dogs, all hunting for a buried memory in parallel. I wonder if solving chess puzzles is a short-range version of that. When a line of thought sees the King or Queen, it barks really loud. When it meets up with another line of thought, they sniff each other and then both bark. Eventually the crucial pieces and squares are made clear with all the barking. I doubt solving a puzzle will ever be a purely logical, algorithmic process, at least for me.
      - mfardal

  3. Yes, at the moment my blitz rating is meaningless. My start rating was not, though. I started with 1700. When it is 2000, I call it a success.

    Two or three dogs seems to be deaf. I'm not looking after an algorithm. I'm looking for ways to stop emulating stupidity.

    Most of the problems at CT are simple. I want to learn to see them for what they are: simple.

  4. What would be your reaction If I could tell you - I solved this puzzle in less than 6 seconds? ;). Is is just pure luck or something strange happended? How can you explain this? ;). First shot and sure shot - is it possible at such a lightning speed?

    1. Of course we should be able to solve these positions in under 6 seconds, because they are simple.
      Well, maybe under 30 seconds, let's not be to harsh on ourselves.

      In this blog I focus on my failures, and that always looks a bit ugly. But since it exactly shows what the problem is, I don't care how it looks. I'm sure everybody has his own ugly failures. The point is, what do we do with it.

  5. PART I:

    I think Aox hit upon the clue to thinking about this position (and potentially others). To the CCT hierarchy, Neiman adds in "mate patterns." These are "stock" mating patterns which should be understood fist and then memorized. The hierarchy then becomes (1) Checks, (2) Mate patterns, (3) Captures, and (4) Threats, applied in that order.

    The first "clue" is that Black is to move. I generally ignore anything the opponent could do when trying to get a "feel" for the overall position. As long as I have the initiative (and having the right to move first always provides a measure of "initiative" as long as the opponent is kept too busy (responding to MY threats) to force me to respond to his threats).

    The only CHECK that Black can give is 1. ... Nxe2+. That provides a clue, but (by itself) doesn't do anything really bad. The White Queen snaps it off, leaving nothing more for Black to do. To me, the crucial point is that something potentially important has been found for Black, but it cannot be applied immediately; it doesn't work in isolation from everything else.

    The next thing on the "list" is a stock mating pattern. I'm pretty sure that with all the tactical problems you have solved, you have seen the stock mating pattern of two Knights checkmating the enemy King: one Knight at g3 (g6) and the other Knight at e2 (e7). The "box" around the White King is almost completely closed (it can only move to h1), and would be closed if the Black Knight gets to g3.

    1. ... Nxg3 is also a Capture and it unleashes a Threat at the same time (2. ... Bxd3) against the White Queen. That combinationis always important to investigate.

  6. PART II:

    We've now found two different threat sequences, but (individually) they don't seem to go anywhere. At this point, we try to merge them together. Perhaps there is some combination of the two sequences that will work. That is the essence of discovering COMBINATIONS!

    If we try 1. ... Nag3 first, then there is the threat of MATE with 2. ... Ne2 AND an immediate CAPTURE of a Pawn A-N-D the THREAT of taking the WRf1 AND the discovered attack (THREAT) against the WQd3. That is extremely FORCING and the very essence of a combination!

    The discovered attack on the White Queen, coupled with the other threats, overload the defensive capabilities of the White Queen. Obviously, the White Queen must move out of attack, or some other piece must deal with the discovered attack.

    2. Nxf5 takes care of the direct threat to the White Queen. However, now the mate threat is applied: 2. ... Nxe2+ and White is forced to play 3. Qxe2, allowing Black to pick up the Queen with 3. ... Nxe2, with a safe exit route for the Black Knight back out of the position. Count up the material and Black is ahead.

    The alternative counter is 2. Qxg3, moving the White Queen out of the discovered attack from Bf5 AND countering the mate threat. But now an alternative appears: 2. ... Nxe2+ 3. Kh1 (forced, because there is no White piece to capture on e2) 3. ... Nxg3+ 4. fxg3. Count up the material and Black is ahead.

    There is a reasoning process that will lead to the solution. I know in my case, I often "see" something significant as a "clue" but then get fixated on that ONE clue and then try to make something out of just that one clue. The difference in approach I've just outlined is to "see" as many different clues as possible, and then determine if those clues can augment each other. Often times, the key is to change the move order, or to meld the two together as one sequence.

    Maybe that's way too esoteric, but that's how I TRY to think about solving these problems. I don't always succeed, because I get too locked in to a preconceived idea of the solution BEFORE I've really looked hard at ALL the possibilities. That is definitely a thinking process problem that I have to remedy. For example,if I get locked into the thought that the problem is about mate, I will ignore the possibility of gaining material, and spin my wheels trying to force mate. THAT thinking error is usually responsible for lots of wasted time. Repeating (for MY own benefit), THINK WIDE BEFORE DEEP.