Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Deep understanding

My mind is easily overwhelmed. When my mind is overwhelmed, it stalls.

That is the feeling I have when I play chess.

The reason that my mind is overwhelmed, is that it can not handle complexity. Probably no mind can. The only way to prevent the mind from being overwhelmed, is to get rid of complexity.

There are quite a few areas in life where I managed to get rid of complexity. I studied the book Progress and poverty of Henry George for about six years. In the beginning it was impossibly to apply his ideas to modern economic events. But when it finally dawned on me, I could see through complicated economic events in seconds. Because the events where no longer complex.

One of the characteristics of complexity is that you see things as different while they actually belong to the same category.

The mind is overwhelmed by numbers (vast amounts). When you see that things are different that are actually the same, you add to the numbers. By adding numbers, you add complexity. The conscious mind can handle only a few numbers at the same time. That is why it is overwhelmed so easily.

When I started this blog, it had the subtitle "chess improvement by effort (hatsjoe)". It was a joke, but since nobody knew the dutch word "hatsjoe", nobody recognized the joke. Only when I explained that the dutch hatsjoe was the same as achoo in English, the allergy to effort became apparent.

I learned six languages at school, and to me all languages were essentially different dialects of the same language.

Once I had to translate a brochure from Swedish. I never had been in contact with the language before. But by pronouncing it as old English with a German accent, it became suddenly clear what the words meant. All of a sudden I recognized about 80% of the words.

Only when you think that all languages are different, you  manage to introduce complexity.

groot, groß, grand, grande, great, gran, grut, gwo, are all the same word in different languages. You add to the amount of numbers by seeing them as different.

We talked a lot about the subconscious working miracles. I always wondered in what area these miracles would be when it comes to chess. When complexity disappears, miracles are being worked. To recognize that groot, groß, grand, grande, great, gran, grut and gwo are all the same, is such miracle from the subconscious. But you must first realize that the words are actually the same.

I have gone at great length in the past  in understanding chess problems. But what I failed to do, is to consolidate that knowledge. I analyzed, but I didn't systemize the knowledge that emerged from analysis. The analysis rendered the problem as simple, in the end. But I didn't simplify the analysis.

I have wandered every path of chess improvement under the sun. I have fallen in every pitfall one can imagine. I even didn't miss a single pitfall you cannot imagine, the past 18 years. Which makes matters very simple nowadays. Only one thing I haven't tried. And that is what I'm up to now. Deep understanding. Even so deep, that matters become simple. Time to put in some effort again (hatsjoe).


  1. Robert said:

    I'm looking forward to your explanation of "deep understanding" AND how to achieve it in chess.

    I was recently reading (and rereading) Nassim Nicholas Taleb's excellent book Skin in the Game - Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life. As you may know, he is famous for The Black Swan.

    At the beginning of Chapter 2, pg 78, he writes (my emphasis added):

    "The main idea behind complex systems is that the ensemble behaves in ways not predicted by its components. The interactions matter more than the nature of the units. Studying individual ants will almost never give us a clear indication of how the ant colony operates. For that, one needs to understand and ant colony as an ant colony, no less, no more, NOT a collection of ants. This is called an "emergent" property of the whole, by which parts and whole differ because WHAT MATTERS ARE THE INTERACTIONS BETWEEN SUCH PARTS. And interactions can obey very simple rules."

    That somehow brought to my mind this excerpt from Lasker's Manual of Chess (pp118-119):

    "The motifs of a combination, in themselves SIMPLE, are often interwoven with each other. What is it that unites the multiplicity of motifs? We call it the "idea." Motifs, as for instance, a simultaneous attack against several pieces or the encircling of the hostile King, are tricks of the trade, technicalities. The idea which links the motifs is artistic, it creates something that had never before been there. Motifs can be taught, ideas must be discovered by original effort. Ideas come from nowhere, they are sudden inspirations; the place of motifs is definite: the memory."

    While thinking about these ideas, I was struck by how we focus on the "units" as the basis for pattern recognition. Regardless of whether we "look" at at units at the "contact" level (Averbakh) or more typically at the device/theme level (pin, forks, etc.), or even at a higher conceptual level of motifs, we are still down in the "weeds" at the unit level. We work very hard to "recognize" (System 1) "patterns" which constitute these low-level units - and as a result, we fail to "see" the patterns of interaction of the various units, thereby missing the "idea" (the whole) of the potentialities for combination(s) in a specific position. We can logically work at "combining" the various low-level units into something that "works" but we often can't figure out (using System 2) what should be done on this basis - and it eats up an enormous amount of time in the process. This is nothing more than applying the "chunking" hypothesis. The "chunks" that we need to "see" are the INTERACTIONS of the various low-level units in a specific position, not just recognizing the PRESENCE of the low-level units.

    I think this may be an area where we "miss the forest for the trees" with regard to training pattern recognition.

  2. Robert said:

    Here are two examples of the need to "see" the interactions of the "units" rather than just "seeing" the individual units and trying to logically combine them into a "solution." The positions (but not the entire games) were given in GM Valeri Beim's excellent book How to Calculate Chess Tactics - A revealing look at the nuts and bolts of chess thought".


    Black to move after 22. R(f)c2

    FEN: "1r4k1/p1R3pp/4pn2/8/3pP3/5P2/2R3PP/r1B3K1 b - - 4 22"
    Loek van Wely vs Viswanathan Anand (1999)
    Viewable chess game Loek van Wely vs Viswanathan Anand, 1999, with discussion forum and chess analysis features.

    White to play after 30. ... Qxd4

    FEN: "8/2pk2p1/Q1pb4/3p1P2/3q4/1KP1r3/PP1N1RP1/8 w - - 0 31"