Saturday, May 28, 2016

Discipline and typical patterns

There are two vast areas where we can improve in tactics: discipline and typical patterns.

We suffer from an undisciplined mind. If we have decided to soar above the board, we are drawn into any interesting looking feature of the position before we know it. If you haven't looked at a specific area of the board, you simply don't know what there is. Our addiction to interesting looking variations is of biblical proportions. And every variation is a potential tunnel.

White to move
b7/3r2k1/1pqp1pBp/p3pPr1/P1P1P2Q/1P6/3R2P1/3R3K w - - 1 1

Here I was busy with interesting looking variations with queen sacrifices, rook lifts and pawn pushes for 4:37 minutes (!) before I remembered to soar a little higher in order to be able to see where my bishop could go. I simply had not looked at that part of the board at all! This happens time and again, time and again, time and again. WE MUST NOT ENGAGE IN VARIATIONS UNTIL WE HAVE SEEN THE BIG PICTURE!

Typical patterns
The patterns of the common tactical themes are thoroughly known. There is a whole bunch of patterns though, with which we are only vaguely familiar. We cannot expect to become better at tactics, unless we have assimilated this whole bunch of patterns. So far, I have found the following areas where new patterns can be detected:
  • focal points
  • initiative
  • overworked defenders
  • standard reactions
Focal points
I gave an example of focal points here.

I gave an example of the initiative here.

Overworked defenders
I gave an example of an overworked defender here.

Standard reactions
There are standard reactions to all duple attacks we throw at our opponent. If he is lucky, such standard answer exists, and it will save his day.

White to move

8/1p4kp/p1b3p1/4R2n/P6Q/2P3pP/5r2/4K3 w - - 1 1

The clearance-with-tempo-move 1.Rxh5 jumps into the eye, followed by the duple attack Qd4.
But black can save the day by 1.Rxh5 gxh5 2.Qd4+ Rf6.
We always have to be alert for duple attacks where one target can save the other, while rescuing himself at the same time. Yet there is another common pattern here. When a queen executes a duple attack at two targets, there are often to squares available to do so. In this case, the squares d4 and g3.

We can save a whole lot of time by a disciplined mind which will not engage in any variation prematurely. You will be surprised to discover how often that happens.

Further we must detect new patterns, and assimilate them. Not by doing as much exercises as we can, but by getting the most of the positions we study. That means that the post mortem of any solution of a puzzle must be as effective as possible.

None of the given positions needs a rocket scientist to solve. We don't need to become fast, we don't need to visualize like a blindfold player, we don't need to be masters of calculation. There is no need to guide the mind by a checklist. It is about seeing trivial things fast. Seeing, btw, with the mental eye. In most positions, the solution is immediately clear, once we have seen the main idea.


  1. Position 1: I listed all the important elements from both sides (half open lines, backward pawn, K+Q standing at the same file, Q+B at the diagonal, doubled rooks and undefended Queen).

    I have noticed the Bishop and treated it as a big pawn. Therefore I did a BIG SIN: "it is a pawn and the bishop dissapears".

    The first reaction of mine: play g4 to lock the Rook. After that Qxe4+ and it is obvious white is having problems.

    After that I tried to vizualize if the Rook lift (Re3-h3) can improve the position. But I found the defence immediately (Rd8-h8).

    And after one minute thinking (evaluating) I came up with the idea to "un-froze" frozen Bishop! When can it go? The further the better! And I found the best move Be8... accidentaly! It was not logical thinking at all... it was simply a lottery!

    Position 2: I tried to check two variations - to checkmate the Black King at the last two rows. Anyway I saw very soon that after Re7+ (or Qe7+) Black plays Rf7! And immediately after that I simply tried to open the King and take g3 pawn with check (duplo attack with check!) as the Black Rook could not be defended anymore.

    What is funny, I had problems to understand what you are talking about... when you mentioned: "But black can save the day by 1.Rxh5 gxh5 2.Qd4+ Rf6". Of course it is a very good comment, but I did not analyse this variation at all! It is the same as I would be blind to it! It was invisible to my chess mind - probably because I have solved a lot of puzzles with double attack theme... and I know we should attack the pieces with the opposite direction as they could not cover the line of attack by moving into the line of attack (escaping from being captured for free).

    To be continued...

  2. What are my findings? (conclusions)

    1. WE MUST NOT ENGAGE IN VARIATIONS UNTIL WE HAVE SEEN THE BIG PICTURE! --- absolutely! The only exception is a (forced) checkmate.

    2. I simply had not looked at that part of the board at all! -- it is a BIG SIN as we are losing precious time and miss important elements to build up the whole picture of the position.

    3. This happens time and again, time and again, time and again -- Wanna be better at chess? You HAVE to overcome this habit... otherwise you may not make any (significant) progress at tactics! Sounds simple? You bet!

    4. The patterns of the common tactical themes are thoroughly known. There is a whole bunch of patterns though, with which we are only vaguely familiar. We cannot expect to become better at tactics, unless we have assimilated this whole bunch of patterns -- Yes, we have to be masters at "winning material" in 2-3 moves with the use of tactical motifs (themes). But what is more important (after becoming fluent at this) is the necessity to analyze OTHER variations to compare two or three variations (attacks) and see the main difference. Otherwise you would not be able to use "the other type of attack" if you are NOT familiar with more than the original (standard) one.

    5. We can save a whole lot of time by a disciplined mind which will not engage in any variation prematurely. You will be surprised to discover how often that happens -- yes, probably we are too human and emotional wood patzers. I know it sounds harsh, but look at chess masters - they are hard to break not because they are simply stronger (more knowledge and skills), but they do not give up hope and always trying to find a solution! It is a mental approach and I find it really difficult to build upon (at least in my case).

    And I think we have to be much better at basics: 2-3 move tactical shots... with ALL the variations explained and presenting the proofs other moves ARE NOT better nor efficient (as our move played/suggested)

    Tempo: do not get me wrong, but nowadays (at present) I rate your chess blog as THE BEST CHESS AMATEUR one in the whole Internet (world). Yes, I am simply deligthed and extremally happy whenever I can read your thoughts! I am in love with your great job and I enjoy reading and thinking it over... A LOT! What's more? I am inspired by the findings, conclusions, testing, recommendations and suggestions... of all the people who shares their ideas, thoughts, knowledge and experience. I am very grateful for ALL of you my chess friends - especially YOU my Dear Tempo! Thank you so much! Let Caiss be with YOU :)

  3. @Tomasz:

    Your point 1. is (I think) the biggest "sin" we amateurs commit regularly and repeatedly, even when we "know" we shouldn't do it! Occasionally (usually by chance) we will "see" the point of a problem immediately, but if it occured in an actual game, we often can't "see" the exact same thing. As the discussion has moved along, it appears that one common thread is the failure to "see" the BIG picture (the vulture's eye view) consistently. When we can do that without having to consciously remind ourselves ("Think WIDE before thinking DEEP!", then I think we will improve at problem solving AND at actual games. Speculation, obviously, but it seems logical to make the assumption, try it out consistently, and see the results (if any). I love empiricism!

    I'm going out on a limb here. IMHO ALL of the possible motifs and tactical devices/themes have been catalogued long ago, along with many strategical/positional themes. THIS IS KNOWLEDGE! The problem is that the "patterns" are a relatively infinite superset of combinations of these known devices/themes, and they MUST be recognizable (by the SUBCONSCIOUS) based on some characteristic that is evident in the specific position. THIS RECOGNITION MECHANISM IS SKILL! I don't consider "patterns" to be synonymous with "motifs" or "devices/themes." To me, the "patterns" are the "itch" that makes the subconscious want to "scratch" in a particular place using one or more "known" devices/themes. If there is NO itching, then there is no "intuition" that we need to scratch, much less WHAT or WHERE to scratch nor WHICH device/theme to use to scratch. The "patterns" are the interelationships between the squares and the pieces. It is almost as if these "patterns" are the "forms" from a Platonic viewpoint. We "see" the shadows on the wall of the cave of our mind, cast by the "light" of our previous training. Our knowledge categorizes the "shapes" we see, but it does not enable us to "see" what is in front of our eyes. That "seeing" is where the focus and hard work should be applied, rather than on accumulating more KNOWLEDGE. If we were youngsters, then we would simply "DO" (SKILL) rather than struggle to "TRY" to remember everything we have acquired as KNOWLEDGE. As adults, we are besotted with the idea that we can acquire SKILL by acquiring KNOWLEDGE; sorry, that just is NOT TRUE!

    A toolbox full of the best tools in the world will do you no good if you have no idea which tools are needed to apply in a given situation. To a "fool" (WITHOUT S-K-I-L-L) with a "hammer" (KNOWLEDGE), all problems look like nails. A "fool" with a tool is still a "fool." Lest anyone be offended by my characterization of amateurs as "fools," I certainly consider myself to be a "fool" (amateur) in the sense of "court jester" (at chess) rather than merely stupid. No offense intended to anyone.

    Temposchlucker's Summary above is one of the best things he has ever written! THANK YOU!!

    1. Not so fast.
      The diagnosis of our illness is pretty sharp and convincing. But we have nothing so far that resembles a remedy. Before I started to vulturize, I had a streak of 57 days problem solving where I tried the following:

      Creating a formal thought process.
      Applying a formal thought process.
      Slow post mortem to ingrain the geometrical patterns into the brain.
      Slow post mortem to ingrain the logical patterns into the brain.
      Solving at the highest possible speed.
      Guiding the attention at level 3.
      Analyzing the time consumers
      Focussing on the squares where attackers converge
      Focussing on the defenders
      Slow problem solving
      I might have forgotten a few experiments

      None of this worked. Since then, I'm on a streak of 6 days soaring above the board. I haven't found the slightest shred of evidence, that we have found a remedy yet.

      We must close in on the remedy now. What makes that we recognize a geometrical pattern when there is an infinite number of patterns? The unconscious cannot work its miracles under these circumstances.

      We need knowledge IN THE STUDY ROOM. and we must condense this knowledge into skill. We can't do without the knowledge. Once, I had analyzed a hundred sacrifices at f7 with the king yet uncastled (from Papa Polgars' middlegame brick. That helped me to define when such sacrifice will work, and when not.
      Until today, I can assess such sacrifice in no time.

      That is the kind of knowledge I'm looking for. Of course, this knowledge must be practised to make it skill. Yet we can't skip the phase of acquiring knowledge and summarize it.

    2. Perhaps something was lost in "shooting from the lip" . . . my apology for any lack of clarity.

      I had no intention of stating (and didn't think that I had so stated) that we did NOT need ANY knowledge at all, merely that we often confuse and equate acquisition of knowledge, in and of itself, with automatic development of skill. Obviously not the same thing, from your own example. Having mere knowledge that a sacrifice at f7 can be a means toward the end of checkmating the king is not the skill that you developed from analyzing a hundred sacrifices at f7 with the king still uncastled. The knowledge is required (at the least as a starting point to direct the attention) but is not sufficient BY ITSELF for skill. The transition from knowledge to skill lies in exactly what you did: analyze a hundred different "patterns", defining when it works and when not; in short, you PRACTICED the analysis process until you acquired the skill. You put considerable "sweat equity" into acquiring that skill.

      Rather than argue the point, I'll simply concede: we DO need knowledge (of some kind) in order to develop skill in chess. It is that "some kind" of knowledge on which we MIGHT disagree, but I don't think we do.

      I'd much rather NOT detract from the search for the remedy. ONWARD!

  4. I just read the Hugh Patterson article Practice Practice Practicethrough the link to The Chess Improver. It is an excellent article! Highly recommended in light of our current discussion.

    My karate sensei were very fond of repeating this mantra: "Practice does NOT make PERFECT; practice makes PERMANENT. Only PERFECT PRACTICE makes PERFECT." I trust I do not have to explain this mantra. I will deliberately avoid another treatise on "deliberate practice".

    I've been trying something that (I think) is helping me with "seeing" how to solve tactical problems. It is the "post mortem" that Temposchlucker mentioned in his summary. In addition to making sure I have seen the BIG PICTURE, I try to "play around" with the pieces and Pawns, moving them slightly from their given position into a slightly different position, to "see" if that changes the overall situation so that different motifs and devices/themes become applicable. Maybe this is a way to gain SKILL at recognizing "patterns" and burning those patterns into the subconscious. Time will tell. . .