Sunday, January 29, 2017

Applying the system

At November 27, I started with my new approach. The past two month has been in the light of developing a new thought process. The surprising result was the tree of motifs, and my derived personal twist of it, PoPLoAFun.

The past
I have been developing thought processes quite a few times in the past decades. But invariably I had to ascertain after a month or two that the effort to apply the TP (Thought Process) was far off balance with the (potential) gain that could be harvested from it. The main reason for that is that any TP comes with redundancies, and when you repair a redundancy, you will find that your TP lacks commonality. In other words, you are left with a set of solutions for problems that don't occur much in practice.

The present
This time, it is different. Even after two months, I still have the feeling that the effort and the result are in balance. The main cause for that is, that we have a solid fundament this time. The motifs encirclement, geometry and function of Lasker have a high frequency of occurrence. They can be applied in any problem to solve.
I happened to introduce a few redundancies every now and then, but once I pruned them, I was still left with a viable system. If you read my post about how to identify a PoP (Point of Pressure), paragraph "how to identify a relevant PoP", I introduced a complicated method to find PoPs (that I even called to fall under KISS!). But we are no beginners, and we don't need a system for beginners. You can just instruct your mind with "give me all PoPs", and it will return most relevant PoPs in a wink. Of course you will miss an important PoP every now and then, but hey, that is something we need to train.

No panacea
When you solve high rated problems with the aid of this TP, you will find that it doesn't give an answer to everything. Sometimes it doesn't bring forward all important details. Sometimes other motifs are involved, like promotion, or king assault et cetera. But overall, it guides your attention well, and even when you are in the state of tunnel vision, it helps you to take distance from the road kill and leads you to the broad vultures view again.

Developing vs applying
Developing a TP is quite different from applying it. I belief that the development has become advanced enough to begin to apply it. I made a checklist that I use next to the problem I'm solving. The goal is to exercise the identification of all relevant PoPs, LoAs (Line of Attacks), Functions, Attackers and Defenders. I'm not bothered by not finding the actual solution, missing details, other motifs and the like. That can be investigated later, if necessary. I just focus on the identification process: have I found all relevant items? My main vulnerability is the habit of going into  T&E (Trial and Error) mode at any impropriate time.


  1. Key statement: "it doesn't give an answer to everything." AND IT'S NOT INTENDED TO!

    The purpose of this TP is to provide a focusing of attention on the REQUIREMENTS of the position. If you can't "see" those requirements, then the only thing you can use is "trial and error" which, as has been demonstrated repeatedly, is a great time consumer (if not time waster).

    Why does this TP (find all PoPs, LoAs, Funs) succeed where other "logical" processes have not? Because it derives from the very nature of chess itself, instead of from abstract logical reasoning in generalities. Consequently, it is specific to chess. It is quite easy to create an abstraction of chess and apply those abstract principles to a wide variety of situations totally removed from chess. I have done this myself at times, wishing to have a good metaphor for explaining why some things work as they do. (I'll forgo illustrating how strained this can become at times, if carried to an extreme.)

    The TP based on PoPLoAFun is an integral part of the so-called "survey" or "examination" of the position. It is extremely useful for focusing attention on specific and unique concrete features in the given position. The direct side effect is to narrow down the potential set of candidate moves. Another aspect of this "survey" ("examination") process is the investigation of "short-term tactics" (simple themes/devices that cover 1-3 immediate moves). These provide the "stepping stones" which allow accurate calculation to quite a significant distance into the future.

    My curiosity is piqued: why is it that exploring this series of topics (in the direction of a preliminary thinking process) has resulted in more "silence" than anything previously written? May we hear from some of the usually "loquacious" commenters?

  2. I do not know other commentators (readers) stay away from making comments, but I know about me a bit ;) :).

    1. This system (method) is too complex for me.
    2. This system (method) is too theoretical one (I hope it will be shown and explained at puzzles and after that I will be able to understand what's going on).
    3. This system (method) involves too many concepts and I am lost which one is important, how to recognize ideas, etc.

    Do not get me wrong! I really appreciate autor's approach and effort, but unless I can see how this theory can be applied to REAL (tactics) positions I have to admit I am too dumb to get it.

    And what may sound curious - I understood the last article quite well!

    So far my best and proven method is... T&E! [quote]"My main vulnerability is the habit of going into T&E (Trial and Error) mode at any impropriate time". In my case it is the biggest advantage! LOL

    1. Do you understand what PoPs (Point of Pressures) are?
      Do you understand what LoAs (Lines of Attack) are?
      Do you understand what is meant by the Function of a piece?

    2. @ Tomasz:

      Here's a rather well-known position to analyze. Try T & E for a little while, and see if it gets you anywhere. If it doesn't (and I have excellent reason to believe it will NOT), then try the PoPLoAFun approach as outlined here. See if that "survey" (examination) gives at least a strong hint of the direction to "look" for the candidate move(s).

      FEN: 5bk1/2n1qr2/p1Q2pp1/2p1p3/4P3/2N1BP2/PP4P1/2KR4 w - - 0 26

      FWIW: I remembered this position while contemplating Temposchlucker's post. It didn't come clearly and completely to mind; I had to look it up to get it exactly right.

      I have to work days tomorrow, so I won't be back on until after work, possibly even later because my granddaughter has cheerleading tomorrow night. Eventually, I'll give you the complete game score and my source (including the author's comments) for this position. I would really love to see your comments!

      You can look it up by position if you have a chess database. I can guarantee that you will gain NOTHING in understanding this TP if you do that without first examining the position carefully and thinking about it through the prism of PoPLoAFun. The point is NOT to "solve" the problem; it is to learn how to "see" the indicators in any position.

    3. PART I:

      The position above was taken from GM Kotov's Think Like A Grandmaster, diagram 25, pg 56.

      Fritz 11 Database (Game 78919)

      Spassky,Boris V - Kortschnoj,Viktor [E83]
      Candidates final Kiev (7), 1968

      1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 0–0 6.Be3 Nc6 7.Nge2 a6 8.Nc1 e5 9.d5 Nd4 10.Nb3 Nxb3 11.Qxb3 c5 12.dxc6 bxc6 13.0–0–0 Be6 14.Qa3 Ne8 15.h4 f6 16.c5 Rf7 17.Qa4 Qc7 18.Bc4 Bxc4 19.Qxc4 Bf8 20.h5 dxc5 21.hxg6 hxg6 22.Qe6 Rd8 23.Rxd8 Qxd8 24.Rd1 Qe7 25.Qxc6 Nc7 (FEN) 26.Qb6 Kg7 27.Nd5 Qe6 28.Bxc5 Bxc5 29.Qxc5 Nb5 30.Qe3 Qc6+ 31.Kb1 Nd4 32.Rc1 Qb5 33.Nc7 Qe2 34.Ne6+ Kh7 35.Qh6+ 1–0

      Here is GM Kotov's tutorial on this position.

      'Creeping Moves'

      Over the many years of my chess career I have had occasion to see—and have played myself—moves of the most varied content, strength and effectiveness. Sometimes a spectacular move shatters in an instant the bastion that has been long and painstakingly built up to seem impregnable. Sometimes an insignificant pawn move refutes a deep scheme of the opponent.

      I can boldly claim to have seen every sort of move that the wit of man can think up, but there is always one type of move that has always won my admiiration and respect. It happens that a position looks quite level and one cannot see any way of gaining an advantage for either side when suddenly there caomes a simple, insignificant looking move. In a trice ones assessment is changed as the opponent's position is now seen to be indefensible. Yet this quiet move does not destroy any defensive bastions, does not lead to a forced combination; it merely changes slightly the piece formation. After such a creeping move the opponent sometimes has to resign straight away.

      Let us start wth a quite recent example. The final match of the 1968 Candidates' Tournament was played at Kieve bewteen Spassky and Korchnoy. A group of Moscow players, including myself, received the moves as they were played over the telephone. Our correspondent phoned us the first 25 moves of the seventh game and we started to analyze the following [FEN] position.

      White's advantage is undeniable. . . Black's pawns are weak and the QBP practically indefensible. The Q5 square where a white knight will soon establish itself can serve as a transfer pointfor the advance of other White attacking pieces. NEVERTHELESS OUR GROUP COULD NOT FIND A CONCRETE WIN FOR WHITE. [Emphasis added.] How can White continue so as to insure the win? If 26.Nd5 then 26. ... Qe6! and Black defends all his weaknesses, Nor are other lines too convincing.

      Finally the telephone rang and we got Spassky's next move. It was a surprising one, elegant, far from obvious, modest—in other words a 'creeping move.'

    4. PART II:

      Well, there's a STRANGE situation! A group of strong Soviet grandmasters cannot even GUESS the next move!?! This "inquiring mind" would like to know: WHY NOT?!?

      Let's approach this from a logical perspective and determine what we can "see" using PoPLoAFun to point us to the critical points in the position. I'll loosely follow GM Valeri Beim's suggested examination procedure (at least in the initial stages).

      Material is even.

      The White pawn structure is better: White has two pawn islands versus Black's three pawn islands.

      Let's look for one or more points of pressure as a starting point.

      The c5 square is SCREAMING "LOOK AT ME!" Why? Because it is a B.A.D. (Barely Adequately Defended - 2 immediate attackers versus two immediate defenders). As Temposchlucker has pointed out, this calls for (first) more attackers, and, if there are none available, (second) thinning out of the defenders. This is nothing more (or less) than the encircling motif in action: an immobile target and superior force at that point. Well, c5 is certainly NOT totally immobile but it isn't getting out of harm's way anytime soon.

      The a6 square is another B.A.D. square (with 1 attacker; 1 defender). However, using an intuitive approach, I just "feel" that the issue will revolve around c5 and NOT primarily around a6.

      So, let's continue our PoPLoAFun logical analysis with c5 as the focus of our attention to PoP.

      There is an immediate attacker which can be added: 26. Na4. Here’s where the lines of attack (LoA) come into play. Let’s imagine the Queens are off the board (26. Na4 Qe8 27. Qxe8 Nxe8) and the way is clear to just grab the c5 pawn. Now Black has the possibility of pinning whichever piece takes on c5. I’m not sure whether that is good or bad, so this will require more calculations (later, perhaps).

      Well, how about the second option: 26. Nd5, with the idea of removing a defender? GM Kotov has already nixed that idea, with 26. … Qe6! As more than adequate to hold everything together.

      So, maybe there is one more arrow in our quiver. Let’s look at the functions of the pieces involved in these two scenarios, especially the last one. The Black Knight “protects” the Black Queen when it goes to e6. White cannot take advantage of it because the White Queen is unprotected – Loose Pieces Drop Off! Suppose we change that White Queen into a protected piece (directly or indirectly). BUT, the White Bishop CAN “protect” the White Queen IF the White Queen moves to the (extended) diagonal from e3 – b6. Now Black cannot move to e6, attacking the White Queen AND protecting a6, because White can simply take with 27. Bxc5. Here is the function motif.

      We have arrived at GM Spassky’s move.

    5. PART III:

      GM Kotov continues:

      White simply plays his queen one square sideways 26. Qb6! But what a difference it makes as the position now comes alive for White. Black in fact is now in Zugzwang as the saving move in many variations—Qe6—no longer works now that the white queen is no longer on c6 [AND IT IS NOW “PROTECTED” INDIRECTLY BY THE WHITE BISHOP]. 26. … Qe6 would now be simply met by 27. Bxc5.

      [He gives the rest of the moves in the game, and then summarizes.]

      I am still not sure, however, which queen move of Spassky’s was the best—the sacrifice to force mate or the ‘insignificant’ Qb6. The first move [the sacrifice later in the game] is far prettier but is not too hard to find. The second [the ‘creeping move’] is the sort that MANY PEOPLE JUST WOULDN'T THINK OF AT ALL [Emphasis added].

      My final point is this: IMHO, if the group of grandmasters had “looked” at the position using PoPLoAFun FIRST, then I doubt that there would have been any hesitation about suggesting Spassky’s move 26. Qb6! It changes the functional relationship of the various pieces involved in the pressure on c5 [PoP} utilizing the lines of attack [LoA] and the functions [Fun] to trigger the analysis and calculations.

      We mere mortals need every “crutch” we can find to help QUICKLY point us toward the right idea(s) in a given position. As previously stated, PoPLoAFun does NOT give a complete solution—primarily because it is NOT intended to do so! Also, as Bryan pointed out, chess is considerably more complicated and CANNOT be “solved” with a relatively simplistic approach like PoPLoAFun. However, we CAN gain some critical signposts that at least point our thinking in the correct direction if we utilize this thinking process initially. We may only have a hammer in the toolbox, but at least we can figure out which nail to hit first! We can add other tools as we gain expertise using this one.

      Pulverize that road kill and make it easier to digest!

    6. PART IV:

      Just for the sake of "completeness" (for those who want variations) here is the analysis by GM Stockfish DD 64 SSE4.2 (5 highest valued responses):

      1. +- (1.75): 26.Qb6 Kg7 27.Kc2 g5 28.b3 Qe8 29.Kb2 Qe7 30.Rh1 Qe6 31.Bxc5 Bxc5 32.Qxc5 Rd7 33.Qg1 Qd6 34.Qh2 Qd2+ 35.Ka3 a5 36.Qh8+ Kf7 37.Rh7+ Ke6 38.Qg8+ Kd6 39.Rxd7+ Kxd7 40.Qf7+ Kc8 41.Qc4 Kd8 42.Qc6 Qxc3 43.Qxc3 Nb5+ 44.Kb2

      2. +- (1.63): 26.Nd5 Qe6 27.Qxe6 Nxe6 28.Rd3 f5 29.Rb3 fxe4 30.fxe4 Kg7 31.Rb6 Nf4 32.Bxf4 exf4 33.Kd2 g5 34.Ke2 g4 35.Rxa6 f3+ 36.Kf1 c4 37.a4 Rb7 38.Rb6 Ra7 39.gxf3 gxf3 40.Rb5 Rxa4

      3. +- (1.57): 26.Qa4 Qe6 27.Rd8 Kg7 28.b3 Be7 29.Rd1 f5 30.Kb2 f4 31.Bf2 Bf8 32.Nd5 Nb5 33.Qa5 Qd6 34.Rc1 Nd4 35.Qa4 Qe6 36.Bxd4 exd4 37.Rh1 Kg8 38.Kc2 g5 39.Qc4 Qd6 40.Kb1 Kg7 41.Kb2 Rb7 42.Kc2 Rf7 43.b4

      4. +- (1.57): 26.Rd3 Kg7 27.Qb6 Qe8 28.Rd1 Qc8 29.Rh1 Kg8 30.Kb1 c4 31.Rc1 Qd7 32.Rd1 Qc8 33.Qc6 Qe6 34.Qxe6 Nxe6 35.Nd5 f5 36.Rc1 fxe4 37.fxe4 Bc5 38.Bxc5 Nxc5 39.Rxc4 Rf1+ 40.Kc2 Ne6 41.Kd3 Rf2 42.Rc2 Nf4+ 43.Nxf4 Rxc2 44.Kxc2 exf4 45.Kb3 Kf7

      5. +- (1.57): 26.b3 Qe6 27.Qa4 Kg7 28.Kb2 Qb6 29.Rh1 Kg8 30.Rc1 Qe6 31.Rd1 Kg7 32.Rd8 Be7 33.Rd2 Bf8 34.Rd8

      An aside: do you really expect ANYONE to believe that there is a substantial difference between a variation rated +1.75 and one rated +1.57?!? Is +0.18 something YOU can use over-the-board to differentiate between two variations as to which is "best"?!? Especially when a group of Soviet GRANDMASTERS cannot even "GUESS" the possible continuation?!?

      Well, YOU might be able to make those "hundreths of a pawn" distinctions when evaluating variations, but I certainly can NOT! Truth to tell, I don't think there are ANY human beings who can differentiate that finely.

      This is the whole point of using a thinking process (TP) that is designed by HUMANS for HUMANS, not computers.

  3. Always looking for corroboration of the ideas I am learning. Searching for "chess line of attack," I found a training program called Chess Training Wheels by Josh Weihnacht at Chess Training Wheels. It's the closest thing I have found yet to incorporate some of the ideas currently under exploration. I haven't had time to study the design yet, but cursory examination leads me to believe that it is both too simplistic, too cluttered and insufficiently focused for the level of most people here. However, it could prove to be "food for thought" if someone (anyone?) decided to try to build a training program that would focus on the PoPLoAFun motifs.

  4. Sorry about that: I just "ran" the jar file and it doesn't do anything useful. Just consider the idea rather than the implementation.

  5. It is difficult to follow this blog. A lot of abbreviations and terminology, a lot of referencing to previous posts and comments. If you don't follow this blog's each and every post, you will soon loose the thread. I mean, if you don't know the history of vultures on this blog, any reference to a vulture will be incomprehensible. I know how difficult a post is by measuring the response time. It takes time to digest and comment. Blogging is thinking out loud to me. Only after sorting and filtering my thoughts will become more understandable for other people.

    Yet each post generates about 900 unique page views. Not the first day, but after two or three weeks.

    But feel reassured, a lot of thinking has been done. Now I'm in the phase of applying stuff, matters will soon become more clear.

  6. On another note: positional knowledge without comprehensive knowledge of PoPs, LoAs and Functions, must be very superficial and probably close to useless. Since positional play must be about manipulating PoPs, LoAs and Functions.

    1. I can attest to the truth of that! When I first started tournament play, I was told that studying Nimzovich's My System was an absolute requirement for progress in playing skill. I was able to digest most of the simpler stuff and apply it at least occasionally. Unfortunately, I could "see" the potential for all those grandiose ideas, but I could never carry them out because I had never studied tactics at all, much less PoPs, LoAs and Funs, even though I had (superficially) read through Lasker's Manual of Chess. I have made significant improvement in my playing SKILS as a result of the various investigations into adult chess improvement and especially the quest of the Knights Errant, and blogs such as this one. Aox had a wonderful blog but it is now closed to the general public. This is one of the best and deepest blogs on the subject-PERIOD!

  7. This is one "vulture" who has been avidly following each and every blog post AND the comments!

    1. It feels good to have at least one reader who understands what I'm talking about. There has been times that even that wasn't sure. :D

    2. You have to know that my previous comments pointing towards mister Lasker's notions of motifs would generate rabid excitement in me when you began exploring those concepts and extending them far beyond Dr. Lasker! I only wish I could have generated the clarity of thought and conceptualization that you have brought to this issue so far!

  8. Very interesting post and conversation. I think how people may benefit from this post is not necessarily to adopt Tempo's specific thought process line by line (although some may wish to use it as a template to start with perhaps), but instead as an example by which to create one's own thought process. I think people at different skill levels would modify it their own needs or create their own.

    Your systematic personal research and testing is impressive. I agree with Robert in that the system is not designed to solve "every problem" (I hope Chess is too complex for that)...but instead as a discipline for focusing one's attention and thoughts.

    It's good to see you writing again.

    Best regards,

  9. At first sight, the system of thinking I describe here might look rather complex and daunting. That is mainly caused by the fact that I'm in uncharted territories. The route I describe is not the best route right away, because I'm exploring new land for the first time. When knowledge of the land advances, the description of the best route will become better and better.

    The importance of the tree of motifs can't be overestimated. I always played chess as a game of gambling. I found my moves by trial and error, and everything that happened on the board hence happened by accident. My approach to become better at chess was based on an attempt to become a better, more intuitive gambler. An approach that is doomed to failure.

    I have always felt that gambling was a very unsatisfying approach to chess. The main reason I quit to play chess was the fact that I find it silly to play chess like a gambler.

    With this TP (Thought Process), for the first time I feel that I apply logic to the game. I think about the logical continuation of the game based on the position, in stead of trying randomly if there is something that works. If I find a move by logic, that is way more rewarding. For the first time I feel that I actually play chess.

    Reread the stuff over and over again till you get the hang of it. It isn't rocket science, but it takes time to digest.

    And as I said before, for the first time I feel that I have a base to build positional play on. Later.

    1. Would it be possible to present your findings (discoveries) at the form of table or any other visual objects?

      I want to have it in a comprehend form to understand all the relationship. Of course if you could explain to at some examples (positions) it would be simply great! Thanks in advance!

      BTW. What (maximum) level have you achieved playing in the style of gambling (guessing)?

  10. I have seen several recommended "thinking processes" from the "experts" over the years. There are at least two serious problems with all of them.

    Problem 1: Too general.

    The TP has a few steps that are general so as to be applicable in all possible positions. This usually means that there is little or NO explicit advice for how to deal with THIS SPECIFIC POSITION. The usual disclaimer is "oh, THAT position is an exception to the rule." Unfortunately, as John Watson pointed out in excruciating detail in Secrets of MODERN Chess Strategy [my emphasis on the word "MODERN"], in reality there are no generally applicable "principles" or "rules" without so many exceptions that the "rule" becomes worthless for directing our play.

    Problem 2: Too detailed (too many steps).

    In an attempt to be complete and to cover every possible situation, the author of the TP includes so many "rules" and steps that the TP becomes totally unweildy; in addition to directing attention away from the problem at hand (how to find as much of the important ideas as possible in the minimum amount of time), these complicated TPs still provide no guidance for when to break the "rules" or when to decide to use one variation of the "rules" instead of some other variation.

    The beauty of the PoPLoAFun preliminary process is that it succinctly summarizes a three-step preliminary logical examination process which is directly aimed at figuring out what's important and what's not as important IN THE SPECIFIC POSITION, in specific terms. Once this process is conscientiously completed, you have a much better chance of finding the tactical themes/devices needed to "stitch" together a short-range (and possibly a longer-range) plan of play which meets the needs of the SPECIFIC position. It is not a abstract process but a very concrete process designed to get you thinking about the possible candidate lines of play. It supports quite far-looking lines because it is formed on the basis of "looking" through obstructions (all the way across the board) and "seeing" the potential for interactions between the pieces and the squares deemed to be of interest. It is supported by explictly noting the functional relationships (in a chess sense) that each piece is or will be performing in the immediate future.

    No, not a panacea by any means, certainly NOT "solving" chess, BUT it does provide a rational approach to "seeing" the contours of ANY SPECIFIC position.

    It may not be complete, and it may seem complicated (but it's not really, once you get used to THINKING while using it) but it is the ONLY thing that I've ever encountered that has given me more tactical "vision" than I've ever had before. I am extremely grateful for the clear conceptualization of this TP that has been provided here!

    Thus spake the resident cheerleader!

  11. I really enjoyed the "PoPshow"!

    A small caveat: I cannot comment on the latest post. Is it because you want no comments on this post (comments seem to be grayed out), or is there a "hitch in the get-a-long" on Blogger?

    In any event, I was very surprised to find the blitz ratings of these 4 problems: (1) 2115.8 (2) 1971.2 (3) 2081.7 (4) 1901.7 for an average rating of 2017.6. WAY above my skill rating of 1470.5 on Chess Tempo (crazybob)!

    And yet, the first problem is the only one I missed, and I got the right idea, just too slow in execution. I could "see" that the White Bishop was needed on the b1-h7 diagonal. I got stuck on 1. Ba2 with the idea of 2. Bb1 - but it's too slow because it is insufficiently forcing; GM Stockfish (used AFTER solving myself) says that 1. Bc2! is the ONLY move that retains the advantage. I missed the closing of that diagonal with the White Knight after the Black Queen has to capture the White Bishop.

    The remaining three problems I solved in less than 2 minutes TOTAL!!

    I can assure you that, without PoPLoAFun, I would NOT have been able to solve any of these problems.

    1. Your experience indicates we are really on to something.

  12. Notice how every PoP accommodates a B.A.D. (Barely Adequate Defended) piece. That seems to be always the case when there is no additional motif like assault or promotion etc..

    1. I DID notice the presence of the B.A.D. pieces! That seems to me to be a very important clue for focusing the vision. Strangely, when a Knight is involved, it seems to almost stand out from everything else. It is somewhat similar when the promotion motif or the attack motif come into play. I have no idea why; maybe it's just me, being "Crazy Bob." Maybe I'm just hallucinating, but the vision seems to be either on target or very close to the target in many more problems than previously using T&E or trying to rely on pattern recognition alone. The PoPLoaFun seems to QUICKLY trigger the pattern recognition memories in most cases. As you said, the remaining cases should become solveable after considerable practice using the processes that have been discovered.