Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Scanning-skills as guide for pattern recognition.

I'm trying to falsify my hypothesis by putting it to the test via Chess Tempo.
I focus on the following motorskills:
  • identifying targets
  • identifying attackers of those targets, including the path the attackers have to go
  • identifying squares where my own pieces converge
  • visualize the "radiation" from attackers and how this limits the mobility of the opponent's pieces but especially the king
All these skills play a role in initially scanning the board.
Today I encountered this problem:

White to move.

While I was looking at the black queen as target with my rook as attacker, I considered 1.Rf8
Immediately I recognized the pattern of a rook sac on h8 with an invasion of the white queen via h6-g7
1.Rf8 Qc6 2.Rh8+ Kxh8 3. Qxh6+ Kg8 4.Qg7#

Because of the order of the scans I persist to use, I recognized this more complex pattern before I had the chance to look at a more simple pattern:
1.Qxh6+ Kxh6 2.Rh3#

This simple Anastasia's mate only occurred to me while I was executing the 4th scan, to visualise the radiation from the knight and how it limited the black king.

The recognition of a pattern is triggered by the guidance of the scan.

Intermezzo about pattern recognition.
General is thought that for chess you need to be able to recognize 50,000 to 100,000 positions. These figures are based on a scientific study by Prof. Adraan de Groot. It's my belief that the professor has put us on the wrong foot here. The amount is much less. The mere ability to recognize patterns itself multiplies this little figure into a big figure. Since everybody possesses the ability to recognize patterns only this little figure (i.e. the # of patterns you need to know) is of relevance. It is my take that almost everybody who has done tactics on a regular basis knows the most relevant patterns.

The difference is made by the scanning that guides your pattern recognition. That determines if you will find the pattern or not. The problem is not in the recognition of patterns but in the scanning-skills. Those guide your eyes to the different parts of the board plus they determine how you look.

Initially it is pretty difficult to learn to scan effectively. At first you have to do the process in a conscious way, using your thoughts to steer your focus. Exactly as you start to learn any motorskill. Endgoal is to perform the scans unconscious and automatically without effort.


  1. ok, the first thing i saw was the queen sac and mate. but not cause i'm good or know what i'm doing. i didnt' even see the attack on the black queen, and i thought about why i saw the answer. it's not cause i recognized the anastasia's mate patter, or any pattern for that matter. it's just that i look to kill the king first, then if i can't, i look to see what else.

    could "priorities" affect how we see things? my top priority is to kill the king, so that is what i look for first. that often works against me, because i fail to see more obvious and better moves that don't involve the king. i'm "too focused" on him, which makes me blind to other stuff.

  2. CL,
    could "priorities" affect how we see things?

    They certainly do. We are prone to guidance by scan-habits. Maybe I'm an extreme case, but if I'm on the look out for a positional move, I don't see a tactical one. In fact everybody has this tunnelvision. (6 Mb, Java required, try to focus on the two balls simultaneously)

  3. A very interesting move. I am thinking you might be right here--there is much to be learned by our scanning habits. I know this is a theme you've developed extensively, and I am starting to get more converted.

    It's like eye movements are to chess as body movements are to a great pilot. Pilots just flick the dials and stuff without thinking, know exactly how to move and steer the throttle. The problem is, in chess, the dials and switches change places in each game, so being good at chess is harder than being a pilot (and pilots are allowed to use Fritz, autopilot, during the flight)! It's like entering a plane where the dials and stuff start out in the same place each time, but there is some evil demon behind the console switching things around. So you have to become good at scanning for the locations of key buttons and such.

    It will be interesting to see your development as you focus on the skills you listed.

    PS I got that problem right away, but I think, frankly, it is because I am actually less full of knowledge than you. Until I reach 1600, I will focus only on very simple tactics, because 1) they are the ones that come up most often in real games, and 2) I don't want to get so caught up in complex stuff that I miss the simple stuff (that happened a lot to me).

  4. PS I got that problem right away, but I think, frankly, it is because I am actually less full of knowledge than you.

    It's my take that I'm more addicted to declaritive thinking than you, so I tend to ignore or try to control the signals that arise from the procedural part of the brain.
    I'm the type of guy that will always miss the gorilla in the video I mentioned in the comments above since when I instruct my mind to follow the balls everything else is ignored.

    If there are 40 men around my board because I'm playing the last game of the evening I hardly notice them. If other people talk during a game I don't hear it at all. Declarative thinking is so time consuming that there is little room for other impressions.

    If I focus on a target on e8 I don't see the Anastasia's mate elsewhere on the board.

  5. Blue,
    the video of the gorilla and the basketballplayers is rather famous so I assume you know it. Have you an idea whether the gorilla just not enters the brain or is it seen and ignored?

  6. thank you tempo. great stuff. too tired for any other comment, just worked a ton of days in a row, and as always, notice of a new posts by you well reward the effort. take care, dk

  7. My first thought was “how can I use the open file”, but I immediately I saw Qxh6+ and Rh3#. I Recognized the pattern. Training with CT-art does pay off

  8. 2nd thought was can I give check with my highest piece on the board and there was the solution

  9. DK,
    thanks for the cheering and have a good nap.

  10. Caq,
    that's why I chose this problem, it demonstrates clearly the influence of motorskills on pattern recognition.

    The higher rated problems at Chess Tempo aren't usually higher rated because they are so complex but because they have multiple good solutions. We are seduced to chose the winning line we see first and not the one with the least moves.

  11. Tempo: on inattentional blindness.

    Clearly the optical information from the gorilla is entering our yes, probably influencing things a few processing stages in, but for some reason never hits consciousness. That is a good example, but I partly think the problem isn't attention when playing chess (of course we have to pay attention), but being able to attend at a level that facilitates finding what we need to find.

    I've talked before about guided pattern recognition, such as 'looking for pins' and then they pop out (like the knight squares pop out). Is this different from scanning?

    The key, though, as I learned, was for the initially consciously guided pattern recognition to become procedural. That is, I just scan for forks, I don't think "I'm gonna scan for forks now." It started to happen, but now that I just play blitz my thought process has gone to shit.

    So the question is: do you work on these scanning sub-problems in isolation like is often the case in swimming, or is it important to work on them all together?

  12. Blue,
    So the question is: do you work on these scanning sub-problems in isolation like is often the case in swimming, or is it important to work on them all together?

    Both. But the main work is done by adressing the sub problem in isolation. Just as with singing where I have sung toneladders for 6 months everyday to fix my pitch-problems with both tones and overtones. (Margriet hears absolute pitch so I can't come away with plusminus as in most choirs) Once the problems were fixed in isolation it was relative easy to integrate it in singing actual songs.
    Troyis is another indicator that an isolated approach works well.