Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Getting persnickety

 How do chess prodigies get their teachings when super grandmasters are not able to coach them?

I stumbled upon this serendipity and made this half serious and half with tongue in cheek statement. But the ensuing comments showed that I might try to develop a hypothesis from this.

  1. Basic tactics. Tactics with a name (black and white)
  2. Advanced tactics. Tactics with no name (50 shades of grey)
  3. Basic positional play. Manoeuvres with a name  (black and white)
  4. Advanced manoeuvres. Manoeuvres with no name (50 shades of grey)
  5. Basic knowledge. Knowledge with a name  (black and white)
  6. Advanced knowledge. Knowledge with no name (50 shades of grey)
The first four points, I reckon to be skill. The last two are knowledge, evidently.

I master points 1, 3 and 5 to a certain degree. And I assume that that applies to most adult plateauing club players. I have some black and white skills, and some black and white knowledge.

I reckon that from candidate masters and higher, they master point 1 to 5 to a certain degree. Kramnik had his epiphany in 1995, due to a lecture of Evgeny Bareev about prophylaxis. Kramnik wrote a Chessable course Thinking In Chess: A How To Guide about it, which I'm studying. Of course that is not going to help me, since it is about point 6, and that is about advanced knowledge and not skill.

I'm following a two-track policy. I'm working on point 2, advanced tactical skill. I have the feeling the method works, albeit I don't know how efficient it is. But at the end of this year, I will probably know whether it works or not for sure.

Working on advanced tactical skill is just a matter of methodically grinding on. Which creates some room for my mind to bimble around. Since skill is so paramount in chess, the advanced knowledge of point 6 is treated very stepmotherly. Usually point 5, knowledge of openings is way more appealing, even for the advanced chess player.

This two fold division in skill and knowledge, and in basic and advanced suffices to explain all chess development phenomena that we have encountered the past 18 years.

Of course knowledge is futile, when you have no skill to apply it over the board. Yet there lies a vast terra incognita ahead.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Closing in on the middlegame.

 Now I have decided on my openings, it is just a matter of time to master them. With daily exercise I suppose to be in a much better shape at the end of the year, when I projected a nine day tournament.

On the other end of the spectrum, I do daily exercises with the nine most frequent occurring mates. I expect to master them too fully at the end of the year.

So I'm closing in on the middlegame from two sides.

There are only two works about the middlegame that I'm aware of that try to dive deeper in the theory behind the middlegame: My System of Nimzowitsch and the Art of Attack in Chess of Vukovic.

My System seems to be gearing around blockading pawns and to encircle and undermine them. Be it in the opening (hypermodern), the middlegame (blockading the center) or the endgame (undermining the pawn blockade and creating a passer).

While The Art of Attack in Chess is dedicated to the attack on the king, especially inspired by both Alekhine and Capablanca.

The Art of Attack in Chess is totally compatible with the PoPLoAFun system. I study the book in order to make the PoPLoAFun system more robust and general. At the same time it becomes clear that the Art of Attack in Chess was a work in progress. It just gives an impetus to the study of the middlegame, but it is by no means finished or complete. So I'm afraid I will have to think for myself again.

Thursday, May 18, 2023


 The first area of attention is the killbox. Is there already a killbox, or must you erect the walls first? Is the king already in the killbox, or must you chase him into it? Have you already access to the killbox or must you pry it open with a sacrifice first?

All normal tactics can play a role. Like double attack, discovered attack, clearance, pin, blockade, lure, magnet et cetera.

Tempo moves are extremely important. 80% are checks, the rest mostly threatening mate in one. Capture is irrelevant.

What patterns and logic plays a role with a killbox?

A few examples

Diagram 1. Black to move. Mate in 3

6k1/1p4n1/8/2RPQ3/4p3/P3qbP1/7K/2R5 b - - 1 1 


Here you must divide the killzone first. The white king must decide in which killbox he wants to be mated. The black queen  must split the killzone by a double attack, where the double attack means delivering mate in killbox 1 or in killbox 2. This splitting is a common theme.

Diagram 2. Black to move. Mate in 3

3r2k1/2p2pb1/1p1r3p/p5p1/P3P3/1P2NnPq/QB3PN1/3RRK2 b - - 0 1 


Another common theme is to cover the escape square. At all costs, in this case.

Diagram 3. White to move. Mate in 3

r4k2/4p3/5NpN/1bp1Q3/P7/7P/1P4PK/3q4 w - - 1 2 


Another common theme. The white king is in the killbox, but there is no adequate check to deliver mate. A common tactic as a discovered attack adds a duplo threat to the equation.

Diagram 4. Black to move. Mate in 3

6k1/p1p2Rbp/b6q/2pBP3/2P3Q1/P5P1/1r1n3P/6K1 b - - 0 1 


There is no killbox yet. The queen sac serves only one purpose: that the next move can be done with double check. The tempo battle is extremely important, and a recurring theme in every mate.

Diagram 5. White to move. Mate in 3

2r1k3/2q5/p1rbp1R1/2pp3Q/1P1P1P2/P3P3/7P/2R3K1 w - - 0 2 


Here you must erect the walls of the killbox first. You do that with a discovered attack. The second goal is to chase the king away from the point of pressure f8.

You see, it is not exactly rocket science. When you work your way through a themed database of 250 mates, you start to see the common logic.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Exercise in logic

 On my quest to obtain chess logic I'm constantly experimenting. Can you describe the chess logic that leads to the solution of this composition?

White to move. Mate in two.

8/5r2/7Q/R2q1b2/2pkpbR1/8/2P5/K2N2Nr w - - 0 9 


Escape room
The first area of attention is the escape room of the black king. The only square he can escape to is e5. So the first question that arises is: Is there a move that covers both d4 (target) and e5 (escape square). There is no need to vulture around and write an essay about what we SEE in the rest of the position. Mate ends the game. Prof. Adriaan de Groot proved that a grandmaster considers way less moves than an amateur. Grandmaster are faster because they consider less. They can't be faster in another way.

There are two pieces that can cover both d4 and e5. Namely Ng1 and Qh6.

Line of attack
The second area of attention are the LoA's. Let us start with the knight. 1.Nf3 does the job. Are there any obstacles on the line of attack? That brings us to the defenders.

The third area of attention are the defenders of the lines of attack. Pawn e4 covers a f3, which happens to be the point of pressure from where the knight must deliver mate. So the next question is: can we annihilate the defender? 
There is a whole host of methods to annihilate a defender. Lure it away, exchange it, attack, it block it, et cetera. It turns out that pinning it looks viable. This reveals another line of attack. From Rg4 towards the black king. So the story repeats itself. The process is recursive. What is the defender of the LoA from Rg4 to Kd4?
The line of attack is blocked by the black bishop Bf4. Which raises the next question, how can Bf4 be annihilated?
It turns out that luring it away looks the most viable option. How to lure away Bf4?

The fourth area of attention is the tempo battle. You can't just take Bf4, since this hands over the initiative to the opponent. So you must look for moves that are more forcing.
The hierarchy is:
  • Check
  • Threaten mate in one
There is no viable check here, but there is an interesting threat of mate in one: 1.Qd6.
This reveals a third line of attack: Qd6 (pivotal point)- Qd5# (point of pressure)
The  white queen is untouchable. Bf4 can't take it, because that would put pawn e4 in a pin. The black queen can't take it. since she must block rook a5.
Which reveals the fourth line of attack: Ra5 - e5. Remember that e5 is the escape square.

Summarizing: all logic revolves around PoPLoAFun.

d4 (target)
e5 (escape square)

LoA's (pointing to the points of pressure)
Ng1 - Nf3 - PoP's d4 and e5 
Rg4 - PoP d4
Qh6 - Qd6 - PoP's d4 and e5
Ra5 - PoP e5

Logic prunes the tree of analysis rigorously.

The following pieces play just a static role:
Rh1, Rf7
Bf5, Nd1
Pawns c2, c4
Since they play no role in effecting the lines of attack their moves don't need to be considered. No need to write an essay about during solving the problem. The vulture can ignore them. They are just time consuming distractions.

Opening Repertoire completed

 I finally completed a study plan for my opening repertoire. I'm not sure how long it took to develop it. Probably about four years or so. But finally I plugged the most apparent gaps. This is my choice:


  • London (53)
  • Colle (83)


  • French (99)
  • Benoni (45)
  • QID (40)

Between brackets you find the amount of necessary variations (total 320) 

These were the criteria:

  • Consistent with the Art of Attack in Chess. In the sense that you have a decent chance for an attack.
  • When I screw up the attack a chance to convert to a good endgame
  • Not popular
  • Underestimated
  • Clear plans
  • Low on theoretical lines
  • Incomprehensible for lower rated players
  • Openings must complement each other
  • No overlap between openings
  • Sound
  • Playable for the rest of my life

It was a lot of work to make all the choices. Now it's time to actually learn them. 

In July and December I have a nine day chess tournament. I aim at to complete my preparation before the tournament in december. 320 variations in 220 dagen. Sounds doable.

Furthermore I will continue with the absorption of the 14 most frequent tactics.

Besides that, I will continue with the Art of Attack in Chess.

I will neglect endgame study for now, in order to keep the workload reasonable. I will consider entering a won endgame as a win, just to keep up the spirits.. Even if I screw it up. I will record the type of endgames though.

Sounds like a plan to me.

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

Distinguish between the separate logical tasks

 Take the following diagram

Black to move.

5k2/8/7K/2rn4/1p5p/1R6/2p3PP/2R5 b - - 1 1 


If you look at the move 1. ... Nf4, you see that this move accomplishes three logical tasks

  • covering h5, which is a point of pressure
  • covering g6, which is a wall of the box
  • clearing the 4th rank for the black rook, which forms a part of the wall.
Can you see how these logical considerations of system 2 might inspire system 1 to work its miracles?

Friday, May 05, 2023

How to work on logic

 It is not very common that logic is used as the main source for moves. That may sound counter intuitive. But if you look around at club level, you will find lots of evidence that it is true. Take for instance the fact that everybody of adult age is plateauing for years, despite considerable efforts to get better.

Why is that? In the first place, chess is so overwhelmingly complex, that the mind is easily confused. And a confused mind cannot think logically. Secondly, chess players are addicted to variations. They cannot walk alongside a chess board without their mind going haywire. The main technique that is used is trial and error. Which is not based on logic. Furthermore, logical reasoning requires a bit more effort than trial and error. The mind is so wired, that it avoids the use of mental resources that require higher energy. It prefers to assign lower energy. Even if the price is a vast amount of lower energy.

Apparently, lower mental energy is cheaper than higher level mental energy. When system 1 must decide whether it should apply vast amounts of lower energy or a bit of higher energy, it prefers the first option. The reason for this, is that system 1 doesn't work with the concept frequency of occurrence. It simply assumes that the event is unique. And it is not going to spill long term resources to one-off events without good reason. Remember the story about the priest with the cheat sheet? System 1 isn't going to assign long term resources to learning a prayer by heart on its own account. You need system 2 for the decision to deliberately practice to learn the prayer by heart. And system 1 will follow when system 2 goes first. And that requires a higher level of conscious effort by system 2. And consciousness doesn't come cheap. Hence we shift to the automatic pilot.

Have a look at the following position.

Mate in 3. Black to move

2b4r/5k2/pQ3pp1/3R4/8/1P6/P3qBK1/3R4 b - - 1 1 


It is not too difficult to solve this problem on autopilot, simply by trial and error. There are only a few candidate moves to consider. There are not much variations.

But if you do so, you don't learn anything from the position. 

What is there what we possibly could want to learn from this position?

We want to abstrahere some chess logic from the position that is reusable for other positions. I mentioned already in the post of April 16th the grand scheme of mates. That scheme is of course pretty global, but that is exactly what I want to do: to refine it and make it more practical.

What is the most likely piece that is going to deliver mate? Usually it is the queen. So we must think how such mate might come about. Where is the mate going to be delivered by the queen? Usually on a square next to the king. Since the queen can only deliver mate next to the king when it is protected, the queen must be protected by the rook or the bishop. White is especially weak on the white squares, since he has no white squared bishop. His bishop can only defend by blocking the line of attack, not by protecting the white squares.

We must ask questions like:

Which squares are close to the white king which can be covered by a coöperation of two white pieces, like the queen and the rook or the queen and the bishop. In other words: which points of pressure can we bring about? Or as Vukovic would say it: what are the focal points. Since a focal point and a point of pressure next to the king is the same.

Potential point of pressure by Queen and rook: h1 and h3

Potential point of pressure by Queen and bishop: g2

Which leads to the following question: can we place the queen where it covers two potential points of pressure? In fact there is. 1. ... Qe4 covers both g2 and h1. It keeps the white bishop at bay and it comes with check (tempo). So white has no time for counterplay.

Wherever the king might flee to, the mate is soon going to be delivered by the queen from a point of pressure.

Can you see how even seemingly simple positions can help you to elaborate on your chess logic? Can you see how all chess logic is geared around the four areas of attention which are mentioned in the post of April 16th? Can you see how focusing on the points of pressure can transfer chess logic from one mate to another? How it makes chess logic reusable?

Of course you need a conscious effort for this. Deliberate practice, so to speak. It doesn't work on autopilot. Trial and error is useless. But it all starts with the insight that there is really something to learn that is reusable, even from seemingly simple positions.