Saturday, May 21, 2016

Is logic logical?

So far I found two types of positions that cause me trouble: positions where I overlook a tactical element and positions where my logical reasoning goes astray. And of course there are combinations of those two types

Logical reasoning reinvestigated
After doing a lot of problems with my previous post about logical reasoning in mind, I can't help but wondering if logic reasoning is actually the best tool for the job. I remembered a lot of muttering reactions long ago when I proposed to exchange logical reasoning for something that you actually see. The most grumbling was founded by the idea that human thinking is so much more than pattern recognition, and chess is so much more than a simple game, that we need at least to engage the whole human mind in thinking about a chess position, with a big role for the human reason.
Albeit that might be true fore a complex middlegame position (I commit the heresy to doubt that), the battering of our human vanity by computers the last two decades, and the fact that chess tactics at CT with a below 2200 rating are simple in essence most of the time, gives me the courage to ask this question again.

I insist in calling the below 2200 problems simple, since that is how they look with hindsight. The fact that these problems are high rated is due to the fact that there are a lot of dumb counterparts out there that play chess like an idiot just like I do, and spoil the statistics in doing so. But the fact that broddlers can't solve a problem is no reason to call a problem complex. It is only a reason to call us broddlers. From time to time I get a problem that remains complex, even after solving it, but I make a note of that to study them later. If I was a master, I would see the problems as simple beforehand.

Think like a grandmaster
When you were of grandmaster level, most of the below 2200 rated problems would look quite simple. A grandmaster would apply very little logical reasoning, since most things are evident for him.

I noticed that when I start logical reasoning during solving, it is as if I dive into a tunnel. Being only aware of what is in the tunnel. When I come out of that tunnel a few minutes later, I have either confirmed the line I'm investigating, or I have falsified it. Since logical thinking is quite error prone, a lot of checking must be done to verify the result. Which is another time consuming activity.

So if a master doesn't need much logical reasoning, why should I? When I took a closer look at the position of the previous post, I realized I could do well without logical reasoning. The missing tactical theme can very well be seen.

In fact, when I apply logical reasoning, I should be very suspicious, since it is a tell-tale  sign that I'm in tunnel mode. I should zoom out and start scanning again at level 3 (total combination)

Chess heuristics

Robert Coble wrote a long article about applying the methods from training pilots and karateka to chess. I made a little survey of it for myself. It inspired me to start from scratch, and make a checklist that aims specifically at seeing the combination as a whole. I will let you know how it goes.


  1. PART I:

    I share your "heresy" in rejecting "logical thinking" as the sine qua non of chess, IFF the definition of "logical thinking" is a CONSCIOUS step-by-step process. I do think that logical thinking processes that have been "burned" into the subconscious are the foundational essence of skillful chess playing.

    For example, let's examine a simpler game Tic-Tac-Toe. When first encountering the game, most people have to consciously and logically think about which squares to mark and the order to mark them. After playing for some time, (or, perhaps, after someone points out the way to "think" about what to play), a strategy becomes "obvious" (usually, but not always) of how to avoid losing at all, and how to win if the opponent makes a mistake. At that point, the game becomes "simple" (trivial?) and we lose interest in it. Initially, we use "logical thinking" to work through the possibilities (even though they are trivially simple). After "seeing" the solution, we no longer use logical thinking; we just "know" how to make the correct moves because we have abstracted the logical process into some generalized "rules." For instance, if we are the first player, we mark the center square first. I think that if asked WHY, we would have to spend a little time articulating the logical reason for that move. At each stage, we again would have to think about WHY we move as we do. Once we have generalized the solution, we no longer use the step-by-step logical thinking process, but just "see" the solution at each step.

    As an example from chess, consider the lowly King+Pawn vs. King endgame. I am willing to bet that you can probably glance at the board in that scenario, and make an instant judgment as to whether the player with the Pawn can force a win or not, or whether the player without the Pawn can draw or not. Now consider how many different pieces of information have been buried into your subconscious. The location of the Kings relative to the Pawn, the location of the Pawn relative to the 8th rank, the file on which the Pawn is running, the "rule of the square," the possibility of gaining the Opposition, etc. - all of these things are taken into consideration in seconds at most, and you "see" exactly what is required to win (or draw). However, you had to "learn" each one of these things separately, until they became part of your subconscious "tool set." I guarantee you that lower rated players do NOT have this aresenal of logical thinking processes internalized. In fact, I'd bet you that they cannot (in most cases) even figure them out using a CONSCIOUS logical thinking process and considerable time. And yet you "see" them just as fast as a grandmaster can "see" them. "Seeing" the correct process (not necessarily the entire sequence of moves) does not require any logical thinking at all and can be done at blitz speed. This gives us an important "clue" about the difference between us and the grandmaster: he has internalized more of the basic level stuff and consequently reserves his logical thinking for higher level issues.

  2. PART II:
    Your search for a "checklist" (or multiple checklists) is laudable, but, I fear, doomed to failure IF your expectation is that you can dispense with logical thinking altogether. I hypothesize that some logical reasoning will always be required, no matter what skill level you "burn" into your subconscious. The logical thinking should be used to "stitch together" the various clues provided by one or more checklists. Although you progress to a higher level of abstraction, as soon as you get to a level that has not been burned into your subconscious, you will have to use logical thinking to work through to the solution. The difference between you and a grandmaster is not that the grandmaster has a totally subconscious ability to "see" everything in every position. Imstead, it is that the level that the grandmaster is logically thinking on is at a much higher level of abstraction than you are capable of - but he is still using logical thinking at his highest levels!

    We gain proficiency (transfer knowledge into skill) in levels. We (usually) do not acquire complete mastery of each lower level prior to being introduced to the higher levels. Why not? Because we assume that we have proficiency when we really only have familiarity, and because of that "feeling" of familiarity, we try to move up one or more levels of abstraction before we are ready to do so; we lose interest in the "familiar" level because it no longer seems challenging. Because we "feel" that we have progressed beyond the "simplicity" of the familiar level (in spite of considerable contrary evidence, such as NOT "seeing" what is actually simple, like in the below-2200 puzzles on Chess Tempo), we convince ourselves that we are ready for more complicated stuff. Alas, it is the "simple" stuff that must be mastered before more advanced skills becomme ingrained into our subconscious as skill. WE KNOW THIS BUT WE IGNORE IT!

    The more we "know" the more we can play stereotypical sequences of moves from our subconscious in certain (limited) situations. However, the more we know, the more we have to use logical thinking AT SOME HIGHER LEVEL to make judgments and choose between the available stereotypical responses. We have to think about the similarities and differences between what our subconscious tells us is relevant, and the actual peculiarities of the given position. There will always be some non-trivial difference between our stereotypical "patterns" and the actual position to be solved. The only way to tease out those critical differential clues is to use logical thinking.

    1. Of course, when everything else fails, we have to fall back on logical reasoning. But you have to realize that people don't differ all that much in logical reasoning. The consequence is, that you cannot win many games because of better logical reasoning. You can't make the difference there. A grandmaster isn't much better in logical reasoning then we are. He might even be worse.

      The difference is made by what is "internalized". Which chess knowledge is automated. Converted into skill. This means, that logical reasoning is the landmark that indicates the upper boundary of your skill. The subject of your logical reasoning is the next thing to automate.

      I'm talking here about the "heavy duty" logical reasoning that leads you into a tunnel, not the "lite" version that is used to assists you in understanding what you see.

    2. Which is the same as you said, but with different accents.

    3. Completely agree; you said it much more succinctly than me. Thanks!

  3. PART III:

    Since a picture is (supposedly) worth a thousand words, let me give some simple chess “pictures’ involving stereotypical responses. None of them are particularly complex, and it really should NOT require a lot of logical thinking to solve any of them.

    1. This should be a drop-dead simple endgame. Can Black draw? Can White win?
    8/4k3/4P3/4K3/8/8/8/8 b - - 0 1

    2. This is a typical symmetrical endgame position. White is to move. Can he win or draw or lose?
    8/8/8/4p1K1/2k1P3/8/8/8 w - - 0 1

    (There are other interesting variations on the Trébuchet position. See, for instance:

    3. This is a little more complicated, but still a relatively simple endgame. Black to move. Can he draw?
    8/8/8/3P4/4K3/2pP4/2k5/8 b - - 0 1

    4. This still more complicated, but still a relatively simple endgame. Black to move. Can he draw?
    8/4rk2/4Rp2/3K1P2/4P3/8/8/8 b - - 0 1

    I seem to recall posting this last position some time before, but perhaps not on this blog. It was reached in a game between two USCF players (both nearly rated 2000) in a rated tournament game. Both players had plenty of time left on their clocks to examine this position using logical thinking, if needed. I was observing the game, and when this position was reached, I walked away, convinced that it was an “obvious” draw. Imagine my surprise when I came back some time later and found that Black had lost! So much for being "obvious"!!

    So what is the point? Simply this: Because of my knowledge of basic Pawn endgames, including several different variations of the Trébuchet position, I could “see” (without any logical thinking) that Black could force a draw by simply exchanging off the Rooks. White is forced to recapture with the Pawn, Black moves to e7 to get out of check. White is in Zugzwang and will lose the Pawn at e6, OR, if he forces the e4 Pawn forward, Black will still have a basic endgame that can be drawn after capturing that Pawn. It is a matter of "seeing" based on knowledge that has been "burned" into my subconscious.

    Obviously, Black didn’t have a good basic level of Pawn endgames in his repertoire. Or is it so obvious? Perhaps relying on the GM Tarrash aphorism that “All Rook endgames are drawn,” the Black player “thought” that the best way to insure a draw was to retain his Rook, so he moved it to a7. Perhaps the opportunity to force a drawn Pawn endgame didn’t bubble up from his subconscious. In any event, a little logical thinking should have produced the quickest route to the draw but – it didn’t. If he was relying on general principles and logical thinking, he obviously was let down.

    Those various endgames are at differing levels of sophistication, but the fundamental idea is essentially the same. If one has not “generalized” the idea underlying all of them, then it may be difficult to arrive at the correct solution using logical thinking. You can't play what you can't "see."

    1. I remember you wrote about this before.

      I did some writing myself too

    2. That previous post of yours captures the very essence of what I've been trying to say. It is vitally important to "connect the dots" (generalizing to the underlying concepts) between apparently different specific positions that (eventually) drives the concepts into the subconscious. This is as true of tactics and strategy as it is of simple endgames. Knowing the "name" of the concept is worthless knowledge from a playing viewpoint; it merely provides a shorthand for conversations about the concept between those who are already familiar with the concept. The vitally important thing is to be able to "see" that one or more concepts is applicable in a specific position. By stribging together a series of stereotypical positions and appropriate responses, we can eliminate the conscious logical thinking process of "move-by-move" to solve the problem, thereby moving up the logical thinking process to a higher level. It drastically reduces the cognitive load.

      Fascinating to read how you approached Silman's outstanding endgame book! I took almost the exact same approach as you did. I periodically refresh my memory by going back through everything in those first 5 chapters to insure that it is still available when needed.

  4. I've been reading Kahneman's "Thinking, Fast and Slow". It's been funny seeing the opposed views of Aox, who has consistently emphasized System 1 (fast unconscious thinking), and Tempo, who's recently swung towards an extreme emphasis on System 2 (slow conscious thinking). Now I fear Tempo is swinging back towards System 1 too early. Like Robert, I think both systems have to be involved most of the time in solving tactics puzzles. He has put the reason for that more eloquently than I can.

    Tempo, you overhauled your thought process. What process you wind up with? Did it affect your rating? Have you now given up on it? What did you learn along the way? -mfardal

    1. It is not black and white, you know. You might think I'm going in circles, but in reality I'm spiralling like a vulture over the corpse of ultimate chess training. I constantly measure my performance and adjust my method when the feedback shows that is needed. I'm monitoring what is happening in my mind during problem solving, and that is even a better source of steering information.

      My experiences are summarized here:
      My rating was not affected.
      Checklists on level 1 (move) and level 2 (motif) don't work, since the problem lies at level 3.
      I have a short checklist for level 4 (orientation) which works.

      Now I'm investigating a checklist for level 3 (combination). Or whatever else is needed for level 3.

    2. I think your analogy of "spiraling" rather than "circling" is very appropriate for learning ever higher levels of abstraction/generalization as you improve your skills. It's funny how we "see" circles when we look down on spirals from above. Maybe MDLM should have labeled his method the Seven Spirals approach, but then he would have had to show how doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results was NOT insanity.

  5. The remedy for the problems with level 3 might already be given by Robert: see wide before seeing deep. Although he used "think" in stead of "see", if I'm not mistaken.

    1. Yes, I did use "think" but I think that "see" is a more accurate term to use. The idea was to "see" the broad contours of the specific position before attemtpting to delve into the potential variations. Unfortunately, we often tend to start down a very dark tunnel, searching for a light. When we "see" a light (any light), we often forget that it might be an oncoming train. Instead of getting off the rails (or getting out of the tunnel), we rush toward the light and the eventual "train wreck."

      The monitoring of the mind is a good thing while we are training. It is extremely bad to do while playing, because it prevents entering into the timeless state of "flow" that is necessary for peak performance.

    2. When I enter a timeless state during a game I usually get woken up rudely when my flag falls :D