Monday, May 30, 2016

They come in pairs

The attempt to categorize the combinations in search for new patterns already revealed an interesting point. We usually think of combinations as an infinite way to combine tactical themes. But in practice, they usually come in pairs.

If you have a double attack/fork, there are two targets involved. That can be pieces, or another tactical theme. For instance:

piece + piece
piece + mate threat example
piece + loading a battery (discovered attack) example
piece + invasion example

There are about 18 common used tactical themes:

Preliminary moves
Capture/replace target
Quiet Move

Duple attack or trap
Discovered Attack
Fork/Double Attack
Mate threat
Promotion/advanced pawn
Removal of the guard
Skewer/X-Ray Attack
Trapped Piece

These 18 themes can combine with each other in 18 x 18 = 324 ways. In practice, not every combination occurs equally frequent. A thorough knowledge of, say, the 50 most frequent combinations, should make a lot of difference. To be continued. . .


  1. Replies
    1. Can he study for me? Then he will have to play my games too ;)

  2. he might be interrested to do some statistics and find the most common combined combinations

    1. There are a few reasons to do it myself. I learn from it, the frequent combinations I fail are highly personal, and the tags at CT are somewhat unreliable.

  3. How are the vultures? Still well-fed?

    Rather than considering arbitrary combinations of motifs, I wonder if it would be more effective to investigate individual motifs in more detail. Break the phyla into genera and species. For example, removal of the guard is a general theme that encompasses overloading, distraction, and capturing defender. Capturing defender often is defended with a zwischenzug, which can be defeated by "take with check" or "boomerang capture" (that's my own not very satisfactory term) among other means. Each of those probably has particular cases that come up often enough to be worth remembering. --mfardal

  4. The individual motifs are well known. It is there were two motifs meet, that new aspects of tactics reveal themselves. The choice isn't arbitrary, it is based on the frequency of my failures. So far, I found the following motifs that need further investigation as part of a combination (in descending order of frequency of failure:

    Mate (castled king)
    Double attack (one of the targets is not a piece)
    Counter attack
    Removal of the guard
    Preliminary moves

    It is remarkable that from all the duple attacks, only the double attack causes me trouble. The discovered attack, pin and skewer are apparently not problematic. When I find something interesting while studying combinations, I will let you know, of coarse.

  5. I am thinking about one GENERAL idea all the time

    The general idea is EXTREMALLY simple - you have to:
    1. Know what is important (what elements you have to focus on)
    2. Know why it is important (what is the reason behind these things)
    3. Know how to connect these pieces into the whole (how to go from the starting position to the final position).

    Now a simple example:

    Look at the position (the one of the left at the end of the article):

    1. What is important? The white pieces are overhelmed by Black. If white cannot find the best move he will be shredded into pieces.

    2. Why it is important? It is important to look for the best move, because the material advantage is huge! White has to find a mate (to win), perpetual check(to draw - or not to lose the game) or forcing the move repetition.

    3. How to connect these pieces into the whole.

    White can take any of six pieces, but it will not save the day. It means we have to look for mate. Any ideas? Yes, there is ONE visible tactical motif - bank rank (weakness). The King is at the last rank and the pawns blocks the way of escape.

    Now let's see how we can get there (as fast as possible). There is ONLY one way to do so: 1.Qe8#.

    Now please comment (here) at this example and let me know if you noticed and similar things we have been exploring all the time. For example - one can analyse all the captures, the other can count how many times the pieces are defended and you can even count how many pieces control the center, what to do with the passed pawn, if some pieces protects each other, etc.

    To me this example is EXTREMALLY good one, not because it is very easy one, but because we can express our thoughs and ideas how we can implement our findings (conclusions, methods, tools, processes, perception, visualization, thinking, etc.) to more challenging puzzles. And we can ask ourselves - what is the most important difference between the complex and easy example - and what to do with it!

    BTW. The more I read Tempo's blog (and also comments!) the more creative examples and conclusions I can get! :). Does it sound familiar in your case? ;)

    1. The problem is to know what to look at. What are the standard things to check in this position. The ones that could possibly spoil the solution. Those are here:

      Is my king in check?
      Is my attacker pinned to my king?
      Is the attacking square protected?
      Is it possible to block the check?

      We even invented the salt mines to speed these actions up. But the real time waste issue here is not in the execution of these tasks. The real issue is that it takes time to come up with the relevant tasks.

      Statistics allow a certain degree of gambling. Most of the time my king is not in check. Most of the time my attacker is not pinned. Most of the time the attacking square is not protected. Most of the time a piece cannot block the attack. Gambling at CT disguises the fact that you failed to do some checks. People at CT optimize their gambling unconsciously, till it pays of the most. We save time by surpassing some checks. In a slow game that is punished. But hardly so at CT. And we usually fail to notice that we skipped some checks. And the rating of the problems at CT are adjusted accordingly. When there are no kings in check, pinned attackers, protected attacking squares, interfering pieces, the problem gets a lower rating, since people solve theme faster correctly, due to a lucky gamble.

      I can solve almost any problem at CT when I take enough time to do all checks. More complexity means more things to check. Hence more time.

    2. @Robert, I left a reply back in the May 25 thread. --mfardal

    3. @Tomasz:

      In this type of position, I "run aground" long before I start looking at any of your hypothetical questions. Why? Because I get stuck on overriding questions: How unrealistic is this problem in terms of teaching me something useful? Why is Black so obviously superior to White in this position and yet, has left an elementary back-rank mate available for White? Why is White still playing after losing everything except his Queen? Can I imagine a more lop-sided postion than this? And as a result of those questions, I lose any interest in "solving" this problem, and am ready to move one to the next (hopefully, more realistic in a chess sense) problem.

      My apology if this seems pejorative; I just have no interest in trying to learn to solve composed problems that are unrealistic in nature. YMMV.

    4. @mfardal: See my response there. You can improve your board vision, which will enable you to improve your "score" at the board memory test. How much that will improve your actual chess playing SKILL is an open question.

    5. Robert, this brings up an interesting topic I've been doing a little research on for my site. It's the idea of "transference of skills" that has been tackled in education for years. For example, in martial arts, some instructors say to improve your balance in your stance you should do stuff like standing on one foot, walk balance beams, etc. while others say practice "being balanced" in your stances. One method is trying to separate the attribute and train it independent of context while the other says to work on the attribute in context. Although I tend to lean towards the latter camp in both chess and martial arts, I am open to the idea that the "answer" could be somewhere in between. However, there has been some research both within chess and outside of chess that transfer of skill occurs best when the practice closely resembles the environment, context, and actions that will actually be used. That seems to make a lot of sense too. I'm rambling, but the bottom line is that we only have so many hours in a day, and so we be careful about diving into too many rabbit holes. Cheers!

    6. @Bryan Castro:

      First, thank you for your interesting articles on The Chess Improver (your last article on developing the tactical "shield" is outstanding!) and on your blog Better Chess Training.

      For the absolute (or nearly so) beginner, I think it is vitally important to introduce the fundamentals one at a time, separating them out from and training them outside of context. The reason is to avoid overwhelming the student with too many things to learn at the same time. However, as soon as possible after fundamentals have been acquired, I think it is vitally important to shift the focus of training to include the (eventual) context.

      An anecdote from martial arts training, illustrating that working on skills within context is vitally important AFTER FUNDAMENTALS HAVE BEEN ACQUIRED.

      My daughter-in-law had trained for a couple of years in Tang Soo Do and had reached the green belt level (approximately 1/3 - 1/2 of the way to 1st degree black belt). She decided that she wanted to learn some self-defense jujitsu. I invited her and my son (a 2nd degree black belt instructor at her school) to my dojo to provide her some training. The first thing I did was to ask her to get into an attacking stance, and then to use a lunge punch to strike me in the chest. I told her before she got into position that I would NOT block or evade her strike. She gave a loud "KIAI!" as she stepped forward, punching at my chest. Her fist landed about 2 inches away from my chest, without touching me at all. I grunted as if I had just been hit by a freight train, and then asked if she would like to do it again. She looked puzzled. My son told her, "Just knock him on his ass!" So, she got back into position, gave another loud "KIAI!" then stepped forward and almost touched my gi. Again, I grunted as if I had actually been hit, and asked to try one more time. My son was literally jumping up and down berating her for NOT knocking me down. The third time she repeated everything and actually managed to touch my gi, again with no force into my body at all.

      What was the point of the exercise? I had watched classes at my son's school for some time. They taught and practiced "air karate": strikes and kicks were "pulled" prior to making contact, in order to avoid any possibility of injury to the students. I was reasonably certain that her training would kick in, and that she would be unable to actually hurt me, even though she had trained more than sufficiently to knock me down. It took a lot of training to re-orient her previous training into actual self-defense skills. Now I wouldn't dare make the same offer to her!

      I was trained (and I also taught) with one primary maxim: YOU FIGHT LIKE YOU TRAIN. A secondary maxim is: DO WHAT WORKS; DUMP EVERYTHING ELSE. I have one objective in a fight: I'm going to walk away at the end of it; my opponent may not. Lest you think it is a totally unprincipled way of training or fighting, consider what my teachers hammered into us. "If you can walk away without a fight, WALK AWAY. If you can run away from a fight, RUN AWAY. If the person seeking the fight then catches you, INJURE OR KILL HIM AS FAST AS YOU CAN."

      As much as possible, I carry that mindset over into chess. Or did I get that mental attitude from training chess for many years prior to martial arts training (beginning at age 40)?!? Hard to tell now. . .

      In any event, I'm firmly in the "train within context" camp - after the beginner stage.

    7. Thank you, Robert. I'm glad you enjoy the articles.

      Just to clarify. I do believe in separating some elements (like tactical motifs) in training in chess - particularly at the beginner stages...I guess I was referring to maybe more esoteric things. A chess example would be visualizing squares on a chessboard independent of solving a tactical or checkmate problems (which I think ARE good). Another example that I'm on the fence on (pending further research) is blindfold chess for improvement of visualization.

  6. I don't quite agree with you,Robert. When I use a position to make a point clear, more often than not, the variation-addicted-readers of my blog get lost in the thickets of the tree of analysis, long before they reach the point that I want to convey. I would like that it was possible to make a diagram without the kings, so that everybody would know that it is not about the position, but Lucas Chess doesn't allow a diagram without kings.

    Of course the position that Tomasz provides is nonsensical, and I advice him to keep the variation-addicted-readers happy, but he clearly has comprehended something from this blog and its comments, and he wants to share that. There is always something you can learn from a position, and I always like positions where matters are exaggerated to the extreme, because the fastest way to end up in the middle is via the extremes. The position shows that a lot of things we tried to improve in the past, like counting attackers and defenders and so on, aren't always relevant to a position, and we must know when they are redundant, since we cannot speed up calculation when we keep doing redundant things.

    What I learned from the position is that I almost forgot about the standard-reaction-check when I do my daily puzzles. So I try to reintegrate that again.

    Another thing I learned, is that some people (Robert) think hierarchical, which prevents them from studying nonsensical positions. Which in itself is very good, of course. I'm afraid I wasted a whole lot of time the past 14 years in not doing so.

  7. Tempo - you saved my life! :). That's was the reason I shared the link to my blog. My main idea is NOT providing the variations or writing chess books for players. I only want others to stimulate (encourage) to think in different way.

    And I am not going to provide any variations unless it is "a must". You can like my style of sharing ideas or not - it does not bother me at all.

    And I quote what I found the best: "The position shows that a lot of things we tried to improve in the past, like counting attackers and defenders and so on, aren't always relevant to a position, and we must know when they are redundant, since we cannot speed up calculation when we keep doing redundant things...

    What I learned from the position is that I almost forgot about the standard-reaction-check when I do my daily puzzles. So I try to reintegrate that again."

    If even one person could see chess (ideas) in a new perspective or in another way then before... I am more than happy!

    And what I found (not it was comfirmed) is most people stick to the positions... not the ideas. In my opinion it is one of the biggest chess sins ;). You can ask one GM who wrote the book related to the sins (7 deadly chess sins) :)

  8. @Tomasz: I have no issue with how you choose to share your ideas. I find your comments quite encouraging! My apology if my comment above seemed to discourage you from using whatever position(s) you think will illustrate your thoughts; that certainly was NOT my intention.

  9. @Robert - OK, I got it. I know not everyone likes or agrees my comments or articles. Showing the extreme positions gives me a better understanding of the concepts I am thinking over or discussing.

    And what was my biggest point at this article? It was presenting ONE simple (extremally simple if you wish) position that refuses (or can refuse at least) most of our ideas combined. It was not my intention TO FOOL anyone (to make anyone stupid or wasting time).

    And going back to this specific position (1.Qe8#) In my opinion it clearly shows sometimes there are key concepts that overwhelmes the others... without further thinking, evaluation, comparison and testing. And my point is: if we can SQUEEZE such critical (key) points/concepts without much effort (it equals lack of wasting time pondering over the position) we can MASTER tactics in a high level. Of course I do not mean looking at complex position and finding the best move in few seconds, but much more below 1,5-2 minutes. The more concepts we know and can merge into one (reasonable) part - the better we can crunch the tactical puzzles.

    Please take notice how well we can solve the positions with a low degree of complexity. Why is that? What are the necessary components of it? How could we transfer this skill into the more complex positions? It is what I am constantly looking for and thinking over.

    I hope this can clear some doubts why I present "nonsensical" positions asking to "see the hidden ideas/concepts" inside these. I am sorry if someone may not catch what I am trying to share. My intention is to inspire - not to teach in a direct way (showing the plans, variations, evaluation, etc.).

    1. @Tomasz:

      I always appreciate very much your thoughts and comments. In answer to your (rhetorical?) questions regarding complexity of training positions: we can solve low complexity problems quickly because - they are low in complexity. (DUH!) Usually there is only one (or maybe two or three at most) very simple ideas to be grasped. More complex positions may have many potential ideas/motifs/themes, which interact and interfere with each other, and then we can no longer handle them easily. I am firmly convinced that "mastering" fundamental ideas is a NECESSARY first step along the road to skill improvement. However, I have serious doubts that mastering fundamental ideas is SUFFICIENT for mastery of more complex ideas. I think the ideas and mental problems change as the complexity increases toward an actual game of chess. Perhaps I am in the grips of a delusion in this respect. . .

      Perhaps I have been unduly influenced by Dr. Lasker. His book Manuel of Chess was one of my first chess books, acquired nearly 50 years ago. (I was encouraged to see GM Nigel Davies also considers Dr. Lasker to be one of his favorites; see Better Chess Training: Chess for Personal Growth with GM Nigel Davies. YOU FIGHT LIKE YOU TRAIN, ergo, TRAIN LIKE YOU FIGHT is one of those ideas. I will just give some of his ideas below without cluttering his observations with my own thoughts. Again, I am NOT saying anything against your method per se; I am merely giving the background for MY own way of thinking. Surely there is room for considerable differences of opinion regarding the value of a particular position for pedagogical purposes!

      Third Book: The Combination [closing remarks]

      On Made-Up Combinations and on Combinations Arising in the Course of a hard-fought Game

      To construct positions according to the motifs discussed above and thus to invent surprising combinations is as easy as telling a fairy tale. The reader may do so for practice, but is earnestly advised to do only a little of it. A method commonly followed with this end in view is to construct the final position which has some very surprising feature and then to lead up to it by a forced move and again to lead up to that position and so, always going backward a move to arrive at a position where the fundamental idea is fairly hidden. Thus many combinations have been comnposed from time immemorial. Again, you may take up a comgination that arose in actual play get rid of non-essentials and thus refine it. This method is superior. But there are masters in the art of composing combinations who follow their own methods adn who, perhaps, work with no method relying only upon the fertility of invention. Of this art and its strong aesthetic impression, more in another chapter. For the moment may it suffice to say that artistic combinations, the solution of which is often concealed as deeply as human wit can hide itself, have been published in immense numbers and have given pleasure to millions. But for all that, it is only the hard-fought game that produces the prodoundest and most precious ideas, just as Nature, not the artist, creates the most wonderful works, just so again as the precious metal is not discovered in the retort of the alchemist but in Nature's own recesses: in the mountains and in the rivers.

      Not too completely, therefore, must the adept of Chess give himself over to the charms of constructed combinations. Rather should he strive to trace and to master the combination in actual over-the-board play.