Friday, April 19, 2024


 The problem set I use is based on a few simple conditions:

  • two movers
  • not mate
  • rating about 1700

Despite these straightforward choices, the set is quite diverse. Often it is questionable why it are two movers, since a lot of interesting follow up moves are left out for no apparent reason.

Besides that, the end isn't always about gaining wood, as I was inclined to think. Sometimes it is about promotion, or a winning endgame, or an invasion. I gave these problems their own tag, so I can have a deeper look at them later on.

I have seen most problems about 30 times, which gave me the possibility to write a narrative for each of them. I have been surprised how rich these simple looking problems turned out to be.

Of the 111 problems, 11 got an extra tag "invasion" by me. I'm especially interested in that, because the study of the Art of Attack in Chess by Vukovic showed the importance of that idea. Vukovic made a starting point with his book. It is a pity that nobody has picked up the gauntlet he threw at us.

The Art of Attack in Chess lays an emphasis on the lines of attack that end at or near the opposing King. There is a gap in chess knowledge between the opening and the attack of the King. Between the opening and the attack lies the LoA landscape. That landscape is formed by the pawns and the piece placement.

In the past year I had a closer look at this area. Especially CM Can Kabadayi has written a few books for Chessable that prove to be useful.

The elements of interest are:

  • Activate your pieces
  • Bury the pieces of your opponents
  • Which pieces to exchange

The role of the pawns can be quite ambiguous. Hence it is very difficult to define rules for them. The pawns are important because they move slow and can only move in one direction. That is the reason why they are at the base of any plan.

  • They form the lanes for the pieces, the LoA landscape
  • They can activitate your pieces by opening lines and diagonals
  • They can bury your opponents pieces
  • When fixed, they decide which pieces are bad and which are good
  • When mobilized, they can act as a wedge
  • They can claim space
  • They can become targets themselves
  • They can determine the outcome of an endgame
  • They can protect your king
  • They can act as a crowbar
Rules for pawns without a good grasp of the context turn out to become counter productive. And there are quite an amount of different contexts. Yet their specific properties (slow and unidirectional) are so important that we must study them.

But beware of the context! The context is now invasion.

White to move

r3r2k/1p5p/p1p2q2/3p1Nn1/1P6/P2Q2R1/2P3PP/5R1K w - - 0 1

There are three moves that are winning. Why are the pawns so important? Because they aren't there where they are needed. Can you describe the LoA landscape?

UPDATE part 1
Let me first put a few things straight. I never was very fond of the PoPLoAFun system. It emerged from the analysis of tactical problems, but it never felt universally applicable to every type of tactics problem. If you look at the previous post for instance, the tactic is best described by a concrete chain of logic.
When I studied the Art of Attack in Chess though, the PoPLoAFun system seemed perfectly suited to describe the no men's land between the opening and the attack on the king. When there is no concrete tactic yet, but the pressure is already building up. The LoA's (lines of attack) provide a handle for interrogating the position. For practical reasons I limit the scope of a LoA a bit:
  • a LoA starts with an attacker and ends with the opponent's King, or at a square next to the King
  • There is no need to stretch the LoA to the edge of the board. For me that complicates matters for no reason. The square behind the King is far enough, when applicable
  • Concrete tactics are best described by a logical narrative
  • A LoA is neutral by its very nature. It is a mere pathway. This means that sometimes a battle for domination will take place
  • The squares that makes the LoA change from direction are pivotal squares
  • A pivotal square that lies in the enemy camp is an invasion square
  • For the squares around the King I will use the PoP (point of pressure) or the focal point (coined by Vukovic)

Description of the LoA's


  • attacker Rg3
  • blocked by black Knight
  • Knight is B.A.D. (Barely Adequate Defended)
  • potential defenders K, Q, R, h7
  • focal point g8


  • attacker Rf1
  • bonus target Qf6
  • invasion square f8
  • potential defenders Q, R
  • battle for domination
  • Rf1 is B.A.D. (Barely Adequate Defended)

a1/h8 diagonal

  • attacker Qd3
  • defenders Q, R
  • battle for domination
  • target K
  • a1 = B.A.D. (Barely Adequate Defended)

Knight jump d6-f7

  • attacker Knight
  • defenders Q, N
  • targets R, K
  • discovered attack Nd6
  • knight fork f7


  • dominated by black Re8
  • target Kh1
  • invasion square e1

Intersection c3/h8 diagonal with g-file makes g7 a focal point

Intersection c3/h8 diagonal with e-file makes e5 a PoP (point of pressure)

UPDATE part 2

Let me recap. The first action of the eagle is to get an overview of the position:

  • status of the targets (B.A.D. (Barely Adequate Defended), LPDO)
  • status of the defenders (Fun)
  • status of the LoA's (PoPs, invasion, pivotal, blockaders, clearance)
  • immanent tactics (discovered attack, pin, fork)
That is seeing every salient cue in the position. This is a task that belongs to system 1, the eagle. The second step is to use your logic, in order to reveal the hidden features of the position. System 1 and system 2 work together in a cyclic process. Neither the frequency nor the order in the cyclic process is important.
Once all salient AND hidden features are known, it is time to build a logical narrative. Which is as sequential as possible, with a clear beginning, order and end.

When I looked for the status of the LoA's, I completely missed the knight jumps and the diagonal c3/h8.

While fiddling around with the Knight, I asked myself, what is the difference between 1.Ne3 and 1.Nh4? The first move is winning while the second is equal. Why? That revealed that the knight blocks a counter attack along the e-file when placed on e3.

1.Nd6 is a discovered attack against Q and R. Fiddling around showed what happens when the black Queen takes the knight. The black Queen is overloaded. When the black Queen doesn't take the knight on d6, the knight fork on f7 starts to wink. The black knight on g5 and the black king are on a knight fork's distance.


  • Seeing salient cues
  • Revealing hidden cues by logic
  • Stitching everything together in a logical narrative

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Chain of logic

 In the comments of the previous post, I mentioned the PoPLoAFun system to be a single branch idea. It is a line from attacker to target. The mnemonics describe the different elements you can encounter along the way.

The study of Vukovic had learned me that the PoPLoAFun system is especially suited for a description of the kingside attack. Where the end of the line of attack is the king, and an invasion square is a point of pressure.

But I'm not sure whether it is the most adequate way to describe all other tactics. Let's have another look at this diagram.

White to move

2rr1bk1/p1nq1p1p/1p1N2p1/3QP3/8/6B1/PP3PPP/2R2RK1 w - - 1 1

What is the chain of logic here?

  • First of all, The white Queen is under attack. So it seems logical to save the Queen with an additional punch.
  • The white Knight attacks the rook on c8, which is the defender of the Knight on c7
  • So it is logical to place the white Queen somewhere where it attacks the black knight too
  • Hence Qc4 and Qb7 spring to mind
  • The rook on c8 cannot move, so black must look for a way to remove the attacker of Rc8
  • Hence Bxd6 springs to mind, removing the attacker of c8
  • If you started the branch with 1.Qc4 (which I did not), here the branch ends. You have to prune the branch and go further with 1.Qb7
  • Qb7 pins the black knight against the black Queen
  • The black Queen itself is not in danger, which is a subtlety of this specific pin
  • But it makes Rd8 overloaded
  • Hence Rc8 is under defended
It is not rocket science. First of all you must SEE all the salient cues easy. Without that, you must calculate everything, which goes easy astray. Besides that, you must be able to reason logically and consequent.

Only when I fiddled around with the pieces, I was able to make the story  complete.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Fiddling around

 Jim said:

"I am interested in how pieces are lured off the back rank to capture . Then forced to block a rook check. on the 8th rank .the attack now has a tempo to play with."

Black to move

r3r1k1/5ppp/2pR1q2/2P5/1p2B3/1Q4Pb/1P3P1P/4R1K1 b - - 1 1

In the comments of the previous post I was somewhat worried about whether my dataset of just 111 problems was rich enough to guarantee a sufficient frequency of occurrence of the tactical elements. With that in mind I had another look at the dataset I work with. I soon  realized that there is no reason to worry for two reasons.

The first reason is that I hang everything onto the PoPLoAFun framework. That framework appears in every game, so I have to work on the details anyway. As long as that condition is met, I'm making progress.

The second reason is that I fiddle around with the pieces a lot. Always with the question in mind "what if ... ?". Thus milking all details out of the position.

Have a look at the following diagram.

White to move

2rr1bk1/p1nq1p1p/1p1N2p1/3QP3/8/6B1/PP3PPP/2R2RK1 w - - 1 1

After I solved this position I started to fiddle around with the pieces, and I asked myself "what is the difference between 1.Qb7 and 1.Qc4". Can you find the difference?

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Skill times Knowledge

 I start to get a pretty good idea where my boat is leaking. I use my own games to have a good look at the leaks at both sides. There are different areas that need attention. The first division in type of categories is skill and knowledge.

I postulated that Result = Skill x Knowledge = How x What

Furthermore, I postulated that skill is the fundamental "trick" that makes child prodigies to become grandmaster at the age of 14. Whereas the knowledge is provided by their coaches.

Both Skill and Knowledge have their own problems.

Recently, I'm studying Birds and Latin vocabulary with the aid of Anki. I noticed that in both studies I suffer from the same problem, which I will call the "priest problem" from now on. It is the problem that you need to add more energy during the learning process. To begin with Latin, there are words that are hard to learn because they seem unmeaningful, and no associations are coupled to them:

  • nam
  • etiam
  • tum
  • quot
  • num

Etcetera. As you see, it are often short words, there is not much to go on, and it is difficult to find an association.

For bird sounds, it is even worse. The sounds are often sounding the same, there are songs, calls, alarms and different reasons for birds to produce sounds. And we have no language to base an association on. Furthermore, there are good imitators among them.

To learn these difficult to learn items, you must add sufficient extra energy to the learning process. You must take a resilient flashcard, and decide not to click it away before you are sure you know it. You must build artificial associations, even when there aren't any natural ones. And before all, you must keep an administration of the mistakes and realize that you cannot go any further before you absorbed them.

The next diagram is from my own game. I played black and have just threatened my opponent's knight with 20. ... a4

BE AWARE! White to move!

2r2rk1/1p3p1p/1q4p1/3p2b1/p1nN4/1NP2P2/PPQ1R1PP/1R5K w - - 0 21 

After 5 minutes of thinking he played 21.Nd2??

Which is a blunder, ofcourse. Why did he make this blunder? Usually he is very good at counting defenders and attackers. That is the skill he used. On d2 his knight is attacked twice and defended twice. But what was not in his skill, was that he wasn't able to SEE that the defenders cannot defend at all because they have too high a value.

The hunt for skill is based on hunting for these type of skills. If you don't realize you have a problem, you will not give the subject enough energy. It is like a flashcard which you click away without absorbing it. And my opponent can be sure to make this mistake again.

The skills you need to obtain are not rocket science. But before you can obtain them, you must know what exactly the problem is. What did you miss and and why did you miss it? And be sure to add enough energy to the solution so that you won't make this mistake again!

Of course my opponent could have calculated the move. That would have disguised the lack of skill, and the problem would have gone by unnoticed. But blundering and ignoring the problem is even more hideous. Yet that is what we do all the time.


Earlier in the game I was saddled with an isolani. The moment I noticed it, it was too late to prevent it.


BEWARE! White to move

This happened after 

  • 1. e4 e6 
  • 2. d4 d5 
  • 3. Nd2 c5 
  • 4. exd5 exd5 
  • 5. Ngf3 Nf6 

This showed a leak in my boat. After 4.exd5 I can safely take back with the Queen and avoid the isolani.

But that is not what I wanted to show you. After the game, we talked about the isolani, and he started to recite some platitudes from GM Euwe about it, like "you don't need to worry about getting an isolani, there is still a lot to be played for", or something like that.

Well, that was not my first problem, I don't mind an isolani, when I choose for it deliberately or when I cannot avoid it. That was not the case here.

The problem for my opponent was, that his knowledge about the isolani was in fact pseudo knowledge. Since he had no real idea how to play the position. I immediately shifted gears, and started to avoid any trades and to add all kinds of pressure to the position.

It shows that a lot of our knowledge is in fact pseudo knowledge. It prevents us from digging deeper because we think we already know.

And it is always easier to see what other people are doing wrong than to look at ourselves.

Btw, beware of the priest problem!

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Plugging the holes

I finally seem to have created some basis for future developments.

In the past 24 years I have paid little attention to other parts of the game than tactics. Now I seem to book some results in that department, the omissions start to show themselves.

I work like a madman to repair the holes and to get the water out.

Of course it is an insane idea to throw all your openings out of the window and to replace them all at the same time at once. Especially when you do that so rigorously that you start all over again when an opening doesn't work out as you thought it would. Throwing an effort of two years out of the window. That happened quite a few times.

Opponents seem to have a nose for the holes in my repertoire. Or they avoid the main lines that I trained, or they throw obscure gambits at me that take too much time to learn the theory. Or they play rare openings that I only encounter once every five years. The past two years I encountered the Dutch Defense six times, while a friend of mine hasn't seen it in six years. And an anti Dutch system isn't in my repertoire yet.

Slowly a secure opening repertoire emerges which act as a stabile basis from where I can plug the holes one by one. Matters are less complicated when you don't feel obliged to throw whole variations out of the window time and again, but only to plug the holes where it leaks.

Last weekend I spend two days to choose a way to combat the dutch defense.

With white I play the Colle/Barry/London family of openings, so it is logical to start with 1.d4 f5 2.Nf3 against the Dutch.

With black I'm not so far yet. The French Defense is a keeper, which makes 1.d4 e6 a logical response to d4. But when white refuses the invitation to go into the French, I haven't decided on the best route yet. I hope to get more clarity this summer, when I play another tournament.

All in all, a stable basis starts to emerge. For the first time I get usable feedback from my games. I play for instance 1.d4 d6 2.Nf3 Bg4 Ne5. Just because it is advised by some grandmasters. It is aiming at gaining the bishop pair, and indeed I managed to get the bishop pair a few times. That showed another hole in my boat: I don't know how to play with the bishop pair. But at least I'm trying AND learning. Knowing what the problem is, is much better than just fiddling around with moves with no clue what you are after.

Another hole that showed itself is the vulnerability to knight forks. In time trouble I tend to overlook those pesky beasts. So I have created a database with knight forks lately.

Furthermore, I slowly build on the scenarios that belong to the tactics department. It is not that I now throw masterpieces of tactical combinations to my opponents time and again. But slowly I start to become more confident. In the past, my positional plans were always spoiled by some tactics. Now I'm more often than not able to pursue my positional goals. Often showing that I followed the wrong plan, but hey, it is a step further, mind you!

So progress is slow, albeit I work like a madman. One day it will pay off.

Sunday, March 17, 2024


 I'm easy to surprise. And then again, I'm surprised that I am so easy to surprise by something that actually isn't surprising at all. It feels as is I'm rather naive, chesswise.

It reminds me of an old post about focal gamma bursts. Where brain scans of amateurs showed that the they see every position as new, while in grandmasters the Long Term Memory and the region of complex motor skills showed much activity.

White to move

3r2k1/ppq2pp1/3Np1b1/1N1nP2p/3Q4/Pn3B1P/5PP1/4R1K1 w - - 0 1


Treating it as a tit-for-tat problem, the first move was not difficult to find.


But I was surprised by the answer of black

1. ... Qa5

Yet this is completely logical. I continued against Stockfish.

2. Qd1 Bc2

And again I was completely surprised.

3.Qe2 Bd3

And again I was completely surprised.

What does this show?

Apparently my trial and error habit is very strong. I only focus on my own moves and am completely blind for what my opponent can do. Despite that my tree of scenarios prescribes to have a look at my opponent's position every now and then.

The good news is:

  • It totally explains why I suck at chess
  • It is not rocket science
  • The fix is a matter of discipline and not of learning something new
  • I finally am quite aware of the scope of the problem and the importance
  • It totally explains the "trick" of child prodigies
All the tactical elements are not too difficult to see. 

Sunday, March 10, 2024

What I did not see

 In the begin position of a problem I see certain salient cues. I know that there are salient cues that are not readily be seen, but which reveal themselves when you apply some logic.

On the other hand, there are salient cues that are perfectly seeable already in the begin position, but which I do not see because I'm not looking for them. Those salient cues are the ones where I can make progress because they form my blind spots.

Black to move

2r3k1/Q4n1p/p2Brpp1/1p1R4/4P3/2q2P1P/6P1/3R3K b - - 1 1

What I did see:

  • target: Bd6
  • defenders: Rd5, Rd1
  • overloaded Rd1 => Bd6 AND back rank
What I did NOT see:

  • double attack Qe5 => h2 AND d6
  • back rank defense by Qg1
  • counter attack white Qd7 => Re6 AND Rc8
  • Exchange on d6 until a LPDO is left
  • Chase K to h2
  • Prevent Qa7 from interfering
With hindsight, my blind spots are staggering and amazing. A training method must focus on these blind spots.

I can't see what I'm not looking for. Initially, logic should guide my seeing. But I feel that is just a kind of side wheels for this position. Almost everything is salient in the diagram. Maybe only the difference between Qc1+ and Qa1+ should be found by reasoning. And the difference between 1. ... Nxd6 and 1. ... Rxd6. But then again, Qg1 as blockader is already perfectly visibible. When you look for it.