Friday, January 08, 2021

Finally some answers

 After almost 3 weeks of terrible back ache, matters finally are getting a bit better.

I saw a lot of issues coming along in the comments. I realized that we might be able to formulate a lot of answers to some longstanding questions. Like:

  • Why did FM Stoyko gain 100 rating points per exercise while we do not?
  • Why must we study master games?
  • How should we perform such study?
  • How to perform deliberate practise?
  • What's the difference between old and new patterns?
  • Why is it so difficult to get any further once you plateau?
Robert gathered a whole lot of information. As far as I can see, all the answers to the above questions came along. I couldn't formulate it because I could only lie on by back in one position, the past weeks. Now I physically make a bit progress, lately, I will give it a try.


  1. Glad to hear your back is getting better!

    I'm looking forward to your elaboration of these issues!

    As always, I caveat anything and everything I put into my comments: the sources from which I draw information deserve all the credit; I am merely a rolling stone which managed to gather some moss.

  2. Sorry about the back problems Tempo and good luck in the recovery. Did you spend your time imagining a chessboard on the ceiling like in The Queen's Gambit? --mfardal

    1. Non events become big events with a sour back. When the central heating goes out, it usually takes me 10 minutes to get it back up and running again. Now it took me three days. So life mainly consists of trying to make big events non events again.

  3. PART I:

    I solved this problem last night. It's Exercise 89, Fundamental Chess Tactics by Antonio Gude. It's a good illustration of applying PoPLoAFun. At least it’s MY way of applying it; your method may be different.

    I found the game in which the position occurred on

    LINK: ””


    [Event "New York"]
    [Site "New York, NY USA"]
    [Date "1977.??.??"]
    [EventDate "?"]
    [Round "?"]
    [Result "1-0"]
    [White "Heikki Westerinen"]
    [Black "Gudmundur Sigurjonsson"]
    [ECO "B96"]
    [WhiteElo "?"]
    [BlackElo "?"]
    [PlyCount "63"]

    1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6
    7. f4 b5 8. e5 dxe5 9. fxe5 Qc7 10. Qe2 Nfd7 11. O-O-O Bb7
    12. Qg4 Qxe5 13. Be2 Bc5 14. Rhf1 Bxd4 15. Rxd4 O-O 16. Rd3 f5
    17. Qh4 b4 18. Qxb4 Bxg2 19. Rg1 Be4 20. Nxe4 fxe4 21. Rdg3
    Nc6 22. Qb7 Rab8 23. Qxd7 Qxb2+ 24. Kd1 Nd4 25. Qxg7+ Kxg7
    26. Bd8+ Kh8 27. Rg8+ Rxg8 28. Bf6+ Rg7 29. Bxg7+ Kg8
    30. Bxd4+ Kf7 31. Rf1+ Ke7 32. Bxb2 1-0

    The problem position arises after Black’s 24th move:

  4. PART II:

    FEN: "1r3rk1/3Q2pp/p3p3/6B1/3np3/6R1/PqP1B2P/3K2R1 w - - 2 25"

    White is to move.

    White has a Bishop (and the two Bishops) for 2 Pawns which are doubled.

    Gude notes: “Both kings are in jeopardy, but White’s pressure on the g-file proves decisive.

    The problem is NOT about pawn promotion. It could be about checkmate or material gain, but the “clue” given is ambiguous. Since White’s King is in jeopardy, White must use a forcing sequence of moves (the Attack Motif). Given the line-moving pieces, the Geometrical Motif is also likely to play a role.

    I started by looking for the most obvious point of pressure for White. Since Gude explicitly identifies the g-file as being the source of decisive pressure, g7 is the most obvious PoP. Capturing with the White Queen on g7 seems obvious as the first thing to look at. It forces a recapture by the Black King, and denudes the kingside simultaneously. So, at first glance, let’s try 1. Qxg7+ Kxg7 (forced).

    I drew out the lines of attack of the remaining White pieces: WBg5 has two diagonals c1-h6 and h4-d8. Wbe2 has two diagonals f1-a6 and e2-h5, followed by h5-e8 (if it is moved to h5). The two Rooks can continue an attack along the g-file, or on the h-file or the f-file, depending on what is needed.

    A most important consideration for checkmate is HOW to keep the Black King “inside the box.” The two Bishops can control the diagonals h4-d8 and h5-e8, along with the action of the two Rooks, either along the g-file, h-file or f-file.

    The overriding follow-up question will be where to launch the discovered check by the Bishop on g5. Simply retreating to c1 and then capturing the Black Queen does not seem like a good idea; Black can recapture, regaining a one-Pawn material advantage and the attack on the King is gone. 2. Bc1+ Kf7 (or Kh8) 3. Bxb2 Rxb2 and White has lost both his material advantage and kingside attack.

    I first looked at 2. Bh6++ (double check); 2. … Kxh6?? 3. Rh3# means the Bishop cannot be captured. Unfortunately, Black can simply run away with 2. … Kf7. Now a check with 3. Bh5+ Ke7 simply puts the King outside the “box” and in safety, because the White dark-squared Bishop no longer prevents his escape. So, that means I would like to keep the White dark-squared Bishop on the h4-d8 diagonal. Perhaps 2. Bf6++ works? No, the Black King captures with 2. … Kxf6 and (again) he is out of the “box.” 2. Be7+ allows the Black King to attack the Bishop with 2. … Kf7, escaping from the “box” again with gain of tempo via e8. After 3. Bh4 Ke8, the Black King has escaped to safety again.

    By process of elimination, the apparently best move is 2. Bd8+. The h4-d8 diagonal remains off-limits, and if the Black King tries to escape with 2. … Kf7??, then 3. Bh5#. That possibility means that the Black King must retreat to h8, staying in the “box” and IMMOBILE. That certainly looks promising!

    How to follow up? Checking on f6 with 3. Bf6?? allows 3. … Rxf6 and the attack ends, so there must be another way of taking advantage of that immobile Black King on h8.

    AHA! 3. Rg8+ forces the BRf8 to allow the check on f6 after 3. … Rxg8 (forced). Now 4. Bf6+ forces the Black Rook to g7 via 4. … Rg7 (forced). White can now capture on g7 WITH CHECK: 5. Bxg7+ Kg8 (forced).

    AHA #2! Now White can give a discovered check, capturing a piece AND threatening the Black Queen, all with one move: 6. Bxd4+ Kf7 7. Bxb2 and White is winning.

    There’s no immediate checkmate, so the problem was actually about using attacks on the Black King to limit his movement until simplification could win more material.

  5. Here's a "problem position" and associated game from Chess for Zebras: Thinking differently about Black and White by GM Jonathan Rowson, pp. 48-50, but without GM Rowson's commentary or game notations.

    FEN: 1r2r1k1/1pqn1pbp/p2p1np1/P1pP4/4P3/2N1B2P/1PQ1BPP1/R4RK1 b - - 0 16

    Form a general opinion (taking the “vulture’s eye view”) of the position.

    Which side is better?

    Is 16. … c4 a good idea for Black?

    If it is NOT a good idea, WHY is it not a good idea?

    This is where PoPLoAFun can help. c4 is B.A.D. after the Pawn move. White can easily add an additional attacker, but it is not readily apparent how an additional defender can be added. (Defending with either Black Rook just allows White to capture the c-Pawn with the White Bishop.) Black ( a 2000-rated player) ASSUMED that he would be able to play “tit-for-tat” by capturing the a-Pawn after 17. Ra4 Nc5 (attacking the Rook) 18. Rxc4 (capturing the Pawn and pinning the Knight) Qxa5 (regaining his material).

    What was the result of assuming quiescence and stopping his analysis at this point?

    Epp-Theil, Boyleston Chess Club rapidplay, Boston 2002

    1. Nf3 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. d4 c5 5. d5 e6 6. e4 exd5 7. cxd5 d6 8. Be2 O-O 9. O-O Bg4 10. h3 Bxf3 11. Bxf3 a6 12. a4 Nbd7 13. Be3 Re8 14. Qc2 Rb8 15. Be2 Qc7 16. a5 c4 17. Ra4 Nc5 18. Rxc4 Qxa5 19. b4 Black resigns

    Just to show that even masters have played into this position:

    Additional games (Chess Tempo):

    Fradkin, Boris (2375) vs Parkanyi, Attila (2275)
    Date: 1990
    Event: Zalakaros, Zalakaros
    Round: 1
    Result: 1-0
    Opening: Indian Game, Queen's Pawn Opening (E00)
    1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 c5 4. d5 exd5 5. cxd5 d6 6. Nf3 g6 7. Bf4 Bg7 8. Qa4+ Bd7 9. Qb3 Qc7 10. e4 O-O 11. Be2 a6 12. a4 Nh5 13. Be3 Bg4 14. h3 Bxf3 15. Bxf3 Nf6 16. O-O Nbd7 17. Be2 Rfe8 18. Qc2 Rab8 19. a5 Ra8 20. Ra4 Rac8 21. Bf4 Ne5 22. Bg3 g5 23. Nd1 Ng6 24. Ne3 Nd7 25. Bg4 Rcd8 26. Bxd7 Qxd7 27. Nf5 Be5 28. Ra3 Kh8 29. Bxe5+ Rxe5 30. f3 f6 31. Rd1 Rf8 32. Rb3 Ne7 33. Ne3 Nc8 34. Qc3 h5 35. Rf1 Rf7 36. f4 gxf4 37. Rxf4 Rg7 38. Nf5 Rg5 39. Qf3 Qh7 40. Ne3 Rg8 41. Rxf6 Rxe4 42. Rxb7 Re7 43. Rxe7 Nxe7 44. Rxd6 h4 45. Qf6+ Rg7 46. Rd8+ Ng8 47. Nf5 1-0

    Watanabe, Akira (2374) vs Espinosa Flores, Rafael Emilio (2406)
    Date: 2000-12-18
    Event: XIII Carlos Torre Open, Merida MEX
    Round: 5
    Result: 1-0
    Opening: Benoni Defense, Classical Variation, Traditional Variation (A72)
    1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. d5 e6 4. Nc3 exd5 5. cxd5 d6 6. e4 g6 7. Nf3 Bg7 8. Be2 a6 9. a4 Bg4 10. O-O Bxf3 11. Bxf3 O-O 12. Bf4 Ne8 13. Qb3 Qc7 14. a5 Nd7 15. Be3 Rb8 16. Be2 Nef6 17. Qc2 Rfe8 18. h3 Re7 19. Ra4 Rbe8 20. Rd1 h6 21. Bf1 Nf8 22. g3 N8h7 23. Bg2 h5 24. Nb1 Nd7 25. Nd2 Qd8 26. Nc4 Ne5 27. Nxe5 Bxe5 28. f4 Bg7 29. e5 h4 30. g4 dxe5 31. f5 e4 32. fxg6 fxg6 33. d6 Rd7 34. Qxc5 Re5 35. Qb6 Qe8 36. Qb3+ Qe6 37. Qxe6+ Rxe6 38. Bf4 g5 39. Bh2 Nf6 40. Rc4 Bf8 41. Rc7 Rd8 42. d7 Bb4 43. Bf1 Re7 44. Rxb7 Bc5+ 45. Kg2 Rdxd7 46. Rdxd7 Nxd7 47. Bxa6 e3 48. Bc4+ Kf8 49. Kf1 Re4 50. Bd3 e2+ 51. Bxe2 Nf6 52. b4 Bxb4 53. Rxb4 1-0

  6. PART I:

    Here’s another problem from Test Your Chess IQ: Master Challenge, Problem 351.

    FEN: 3r2k1/pp3ppp/2n3q1/2p1pb2/2P5/BPQ1P3/P4PPP/R2B2K1 b - - 2 18

    Black is to move.

    No Pawn promotion is possible. There are no hanging piece targets. This position is likely to be about checkmate. That conclusion is tentative, because (at the moment) Black does not appear to have the superiority against the White King [1:2]. The only potential White piece kind of supporting the King is the WBd1, which restricts the capability of the WRa1 to shift to the kingside; both the Wba3 and WRa1 seem to be out of play, which takes time. That can give a RELATIVE superiority (which is all that is needed for success), especially since Black enjoys more space and greater freedom of movement. Black currently contests the open d-file with the BRd8, which may be important either with a rook lift to Black’s 3rd rank via d6 and then either f6, g6 or h6, and can also be used as a means to eliminate the WBd1 from the defense if needed. The WQc3 might be able to get over to the kingside, but it will take some time to get to or clear a path. Black must always keep in mind that his own back rank MIGHT be a little weak in some lines, so the ATTACK MOTIF is paramount.

    The first move seems obvious: 18. … Bh3, threatening mate. White is forced to reply 19. g3; trying to run away is fatal (19.Kf1 Qxg2+ 20.Ke2 [20. Ke1 Qf1#] Bg4+ 21.Ke1 Qg1#). This creates a new weakness on f3 – and the White King is in the box, with only the possibility of moving to h1! This will prove to be insufficient IFF Black can gain access to f2, f3 or g2. However, there are still some obstacles to overcome.

    My first attempt was to remove the WBd1 with check 19. … Rxd1 20. Rxd1 and then attack both f3 and d1 (LPDO!) with 20. … Qh4, planning to invade via f3. Unfortunately, White can simply ignore the threat with 21. Qd2! (threatening the Black back rank) 21. … h6 (perhaps) 22. f4 and White is out of the woods. An alternative is to toss the f-Pawn with 21. f3 Qxf3 22. Qd2! (threatening that weak Black back rank), protecting WRd1 and preventing mate on the g2-square. (I “knew” that the solution could not be that obvious!)

  7. PART II:

    The second attempt was to try to get to f3 via a different route: 18. … Bh3 19. g3 Qe4, threatening mate on g2. Unfortunately, that is easily blocked by 20. f3. It would be nice (CLUE!) if the Black Queen could capture with check on e3, but the White Queen protects e3. Black must retreat the Queen, losing the opportunity to try for mate. BUMMER! But we are NOT giving up on trying to figure out the solution!

    Hey! There’s a thought: attack the defender with another piece, thereby removing the defender! Instead of rushing to get to g2, attack the White Queen, forcing it away from the defense of e3. So, 19. … Rd3 20. Qc2, in essence “pinning” the Rook to the Black Queen. That piece arrangement has similarities to the Neiman “swing door” tactical device/THEME. As a result, e3 would no longer be protected. 20. … Qe4 now threatens g2, forcing White to play 21. f3 to block the mate threat, while simultaneously opening the 2nd rank for the White Queen to defend g2. The White Queen now has a FUNCTION to perform. The WBd1 must protect the Queen AND the f3-Pawn, and is thus overloaded with TWO FUNCTIONS – REMOVE IT WITH CHECK! After 21. … Rxd1+ White is forced to recapture with the White Queen (22. Rxd1?? Qxc2) – 22. Qxd1, leaving g2 unprotected. The path to g2 is via e3 and f2: 22. … Qxe3+ 23. Kh1 (forced) 23. … Qf2 and White has run out of options. The Black Queen is attacking g2 and f3, and the White Queen has no safe square from which to defend both squares; e2 and f1 are controlled by Black. 24. Qg1 Qxf3+ 25. Qg2 Qxg2#

    GM Averbakh saw “the handwriting on the wall” after Bh3 19. g3 Rd3 20. Qc2 Qe4 21. f3 Rxd1+ and resigned.

    This is the first time I intuited the existence of the “swing door” tactical device/THEME during the analysis of a position. It does not take the “pure” form, but is similar enough to enable the pattern recognition mechanism somewhere in the RCCM.

    I have no idea how much time I spilled working out the solution. I started trying to solve it right before turning out the lights to go to bed last night. I laid there with the position in my mind, and couldn't let go of it until I figured out all the variations. I think this illustrates an important point for improvement. Too often, I get frustrated because I can't "SEE" the solution quickly, and so I just look up the solution, rather than working it out completely myself. I may have a reasonably good idea of some of the required moves and variations, but I don't work until I can clearly "SEE" everything. I was determined to stop doing that with this problem. It also is a big confidence booster to know that I CAN do it if I put my mind to it. By taking this mindset and making it into a habit, the long amount of time it took to work it all out is irrelevant.

    Perhaps this is how FM Stoyko could gain 100 rating points, by following a similar "process" - not a step-by-step "thinking process" but nonetheless, a "process" or more accurately, an attitude.

    GAME (Chess Tempo)

    Averbakh, Yuri L (2550) vs Kholmov, Ratmir D (2560)
    Date: 1970-12
    Event: Riga ch-URS, Riga URS ch
    Round: 16
    Result: 0-1
    Opening: Nimzo-Indian Defense, Classical Variation (E32)
    1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2 d6 5. e3 O-O 6. Bd3 c5 7. dxc5 dxc5 8. Nf3 Nc6 9. O-O Bxc3 10. Qxc3 e5 11. Nd2 Qe7 12. Ne4 Bf5 13. Nxf6+ Qxf6 14. Be2 Rad8 15. b3 Qg6 16. Rd1 Rxd1+ 17. Bxd1 Rd8 18. Ba3 Bh3 19. g3 Rd3 20. Qc2 Qe4 21. f3 Rxd1+

  8. Here’s another problem from Test Your Chess IQ: Master Challenge, Problem 354:

    FEN: r5k1/p3np1p/1p3Q2/3b1p2/1q1N4/1B6/1P3PPP/3R2K1 w - - 4 25

    Chess Tempo Problem 142363: r4k2/p4p1p/1p3Q2/5b2/8/1q6/1P3PPP/4R1K1 w - - 0 29

    I looked over this problem immediately before getting into bed and turning out the lights. Then I began reconstructing the position in my mind. Somewhat surprisingly, I was able not only to recall every piece location, but was also able to “zoom in/out” to look at specific local areas of the board. I also mentally switched my view back and forth between a White perspective and a Black perspective. I worked out what I considered a winning solution.

    1. Nxf5 (threatening mate on g7) Nxf5 (forced) 2. Bxd5 and the BRa8 is threatened as well as mate by 3. Bxf7+ Kf8 4. Be6+ Ke8 5. Qf7#. If Black protects against mate with 2. … Rf8, then White simply captures the BNf5 with 3. Qxf5, up a piece.

    I then flipped the light back on and checked the solution. GM Tal had played something more aesthetic (of course – he IS the “Magician from Riga”!); see the game continuation starting at move 25 below for his “magic”.

    On a “learning lark”, I brought up the game from Chess Tempo’s database, and ran GM Stockfish on the position after Black’s 24th move. Imagine my shock when GM Stockfish provided the following analysis (after 3 minutes):

    D29 +7.80 25.Nxf5 Nxf5 26.Bxd5 Rf8 27.Qxf5 Qxb2 28.h4 Kh8 29.Be4 Qg7 30.h5 a6 31.Rd6 h6 32.Qf4 Re8 33.Rxh6+ Kg8 34.Rxb6 Qa1+ 35.Bb1 Qe5 36.Qg4+ Qg7 37.Bg6 Kh8 38.Rxa6 Re1+ 39.Kh2 Re8 40.g3 Rf8 41.Kg1 Qh6 42.Qd4+ Qg7 43.Qd5 Qh6 44.Kg2 Qg7 45.Bd3 f5 46.Rd6 Re8 47.Rb6 Rf8

    D29 +6.67 25.Qg5+ Ng6 26.Bxd5 Re8 27.g3 Re1+ 28.Rxe1 Qxe1+ 29.Kg2 Qe5 30.Qxf5 Qxf5 31.Nxf5 Ne5 32.Nd6 a5 33.f4 Nd3 34.b3 Nc5 35.Nxf7 Kf8 36.Nd6 a4 37.bxa4 Nxa4 38.Kf3 Ke7 39.Nc8+ Kf6 40.Nxb6 Nb2 41.Ke3 Nd1+ 42.Kd4 Nf2 43.Be4 Ke7 44.Nd5+ Kd6 45.Bxh7 Ng4

    D29 +6.33 25.Nc6 Bxb3 26.Nxb4 Bxd1 27.Qxe7 Bb3 28.Nc6 Rc8 29.Qg5+ Kf8 30.Qh6+ Ke8 31.Qd6 Rxc6 32.Qxc6+ Kd8 33.Qb7 Bc4 34.Qxa7 b5 35.Qc5 Be6 36.Qxb5 Ke7 37.Qc5+ Ke8 38.Qe3 Kd7 39.Qb6 Bd5 40.Qd4 Kc6 41.Qh8 Be6 42.Qxh7 Kc5 43.Qh5 Kd5 44.Qh6 Ke5

    D29 +5.70 25.Bc2 Rf8 26.h4 Re8 27.h5 Ng6 28.Nxf5 Re1+ 29.Rxe1 Qxe1+ 30.Kh2 Qe5+ 31.Qxe5 Nxe5 32.Ne7+ Kg7 33.Nxd5 Kh6 34.f4 Nc4 35.b3 Nd6 36.Nf6 Kg7 37.Nxh7 Nb5 38.Ng5 Nd4 39.Bd1 b5 40.Nxf7 Kxf7 41.g4 a5 42.g5 a4 43.bxa4 bxa4 44.Bxa4

    D29 +5.55 25.Bxd5 Nxd5 26.Qc6 Rd8 27.Nxf5 Qe4 28.Ne3 Qe8 29.Qxe8+ Rxe8 30.Rxd5 Re4 31.Rb5 Rd4 32.g4 Rd2 33.Kg2 Kg7 34.Nf5+ Kg8 35.Kf3 Rd3+ 36.Ne3 Rd2 37.Nc4 Rd4 38.Nxb6 Rd3+ 39.Ke2 Rh3 40.Nd5 Rxh2 41.Ra5 h5 42.g5 Kg7 43.Rxa7

    D29 +0.17 25.h4 Bxb3 26.Rd3 Ng6 27.Nxf5 Qe1+ 28.Kh2 Qe5+ 29.Qxe5 Nxe5 30.Rg3+ Kf8 31.Rxb3 Rd8 32.Rc3 f6 33.h5 Rd3 34.Rc8+ Kf7 35.Ne3 f5 36.g3 Rd2 37.Kg1 Kf6 38.b3 Ng4 39.Nxg4+ fxg4 40.Rc7 h6 41.Rxa7 Kg5 42.Ra4 Rd1+ 43.Kg2 Rb1 44.Rb4 Kxh5 45.Rxb6

    Oh happy day! I actually saw a “better” continuation than GM Tal! Ha! Ha! Ha!

    Not bloody likely that I would have ever gotten such a position against GM Tolush, and would most definitely NOT have “seen” that finishing continuation during an actual game.

    As the old saying goes: even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut.


    Tal, Mikhail (2610) vs Tolush, Alexander (2560)
    Date: 1958-01
    Event: Riga ch-URS, Riga ch-URS
    Round: 1
    Result: 1-0
    Opening: Nimzo-Indian Defense, Normal Variation, Gligoric System (E53)
    Problems: 142363
    Near Duplicates: 1030915
    1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 c5 5. Nf3 d5 6. Bd3 O-O 7. O-O Nbd7 8. a3 cxd4 9. Nxd5 exd5 10. axb4 dxc4 11. Bxc4 Nb6 12. Bb3 dxe3 13. Bxe3 Nbd5 14. Bc5 Re8 15. Re1 Rxe1+ 16. Qxe1 b6 17. Bd4 Bb7 18. Rd1 Qe8 19. Be5 Qb5 20. Bxf6 gxf6 21. Qe4 Qxb4 22. Nd4 f5 23. Qe5 Ne7 24. Qf6 Bd5 25. Nc6 Qxb3 26. Nxe7+ Kf8 27. Re1 Be6 28. Nxf5 Bxf5 29. Qh8#

  9. Another blindfold “experiment” last night from Test Your Chess IQ: Master Challenge, Problem 355. The game might also be useful for opening study purposes.

    FEN: 3q2k1/3b2r1/1p1p4/p1n2p2/1PPNpPrp/P3Q3/1R3RPP/5BK1 b - - 0 47

    I “saw” the tactical implications of 47. … Rg3 fairly quickly IFF White grabs the “free” Rook. 48. hxg3 hxg3 and Black is going to get his Queen into the White King’s “box” with devastating consequences. (At least, that was my opinion until GM Stockfish took a look at the position.)

    The curious thing to me was WHY White grabbed the Rook instead of just hunkering down defensively. It appeared to me that in spite of being tied down to defense of the King, White can weather the storm (at least better than the game continuation) by playing 48. Qe1. I couldn’t find anything immediately winning for Black. (I am aware that “Iron” Tigran, the boa constrictor, was the antagonist.) The PoP g2 seems to be defended sufficiently and Black cannot indefinitely increase the pressure; the ENCIRCLING motif just doesn’t seem to apply.

    I looked up the game this morning on Chess Tempo and, sure enough, that’s what happened. White took the Rook and lost to a fairly obvious kingside attack. So, it was time for GM Stockfish to tell me what MIGHT have happened after 48. Qe1.

    I was not prepared for the evaluation of the game continuation (up until 49. Rf3, giving back the material):

    D31 +0.13 47...Rg3 48.hxg3 hxg3 49.Rf3 Qh4 50.Be2 exf3 51.Nxf3 Qh8 52.Qd4 Ne6 53.Qf6 Rh7 54.Qxh8+ Kxh8 55.bxa5 bxa5 56.Rb8+ Kg7 57.Rb6 Nxf4 58.Rxd6 Be6 59.Nd4 Kf6 60.c5 Nxe2+ 61.Nxe2 Ke5 62.Nxg3 Rc7 63.Ne2 Rxc5 64.Rd3 Bc4 65.Re3+ Kd5 66.Kf2 Bxe2 67.Kxe2 Kc6 68.Rf3 Kd6 69.Rf4

    So what about my idea of 48. Qe1 (I didn’t “see” 48. Qc1)?

    D35 -0.10 48.hxg3 hxg3 49.Rf3 Qh4 50.Rxg3 Rxg3 51.Qe1 Na4 52.Re2 Qxf4 53.Nxf5 Bxf5 54.Rf2 Qe3 55.Qxe3 Rxe3 56.Rxf5 Kg7 57.bxa5 bxa5 58.Kf2 Rxa3 59.Rxa5 e3+ 60.Kf3 e2+ 61.Kxe2 Nc3+ 62.Kd3 Rxa5 63.Kxc3 Ra2 64.Kd4 Kf6 65.c5 dxc5+ 66.Kxc5 Ke5 67.Kc4 Rc2+ 68.Kb3 Rf2 69.Bb5 Rxg2 70.Kc3 Rg3+ 71.Bd3 Kd5 72.Kd2 Kd4 73.Bf5 Rg5 74.Bc8 Rb5 75.Bg4 Rb1 76.Bf3 Rf1 77.Ke2

    D34 -0.12 48.Qe1 Nd3 49.Bxd3 Rxd3 50.Rfd2 Rc3 51.Nc2 h3 52.Ne3 Rxa3 53.bxa5 b5 54.Ra2 Rxa5 55.Rxa5 Qxa5 56.cxb5 Be6 57.Qc1 Qb6 58.Qc3 Rxg2+ 59.Rxg2+ hxg2 60.Kxg2 Qxb5 61.Kf2 Kf7 62.Qd4 Qb3 63.h4 Qd3 64.Qxd3 exd3 65.Nd1 d2 66.Ke3 Kg6 67.Kxd2

    D34 -0.18 48.Qc1 Nd3 49.Bxd3 Rxd3 50.Rbd2 Rh3 51.Rc2 Qe7 52.Rce2 Rd3 53.Rd2 h3 54.g3 Bc8 55.Rxd3 exd3 56.Rf3 axb4 57.Re3 Qb7 58.Nf3 b3 59.Rxd3 b5 60.Rxb3 Rc7 61.Qe3 Rxc4 62.Rb2 Qe4 63.Kf2 Bb7 64.Qxe4 fxe4 65.Rxb5

    So, 48. Qe1 was very slightly worse than 48. hxg3 hxg3 48 Rf3. I don’t feel bad being 2 centipawns worse than GM Stockfish, especially since I didn’t “see” much beyond the initial moves!


    Keres, Paul (2610) vs Petrosian, Tigran V (2690)
    Date: 1959-01
    Event: Candidats Tournament, Bled/Zagreb/Belgrade
    Round: 4
    Result: 0-1
    Opening: Sicilian Defense, Accelerated Dragon, Maroczy Bind, Breyer Variation (B39)
    1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 g6 5. c4 Bg7 6. Be3 Nf6 7. Nc3 Ng4 8. Qxg4 Nxd4 9. Qd1 Ne6 10. Qd2 d6 11. Be2 Bd7 12. O-O O-O 13. Rac1 Bc6 14. Rfd1 Nc5 15. f3 a5 16. b3 Qb6 17. Nb5 Rfc8 18. Bf1 Qd8 19. Qf2 Qe8 20. Nc3 b6 21. Rc2 Qf8 22. Qd2 Bd7 23. Nd5 Rab8 24. Bg5 Re8 25. Re1 Rb7 26. Qf2 Bc6 27. Qh4 f6 28. Be3 e6 29. Nc3 Rd7 30. Bd4 f5 31. exf5 gxf5 32. Rd2 Bxd4+ 33. Rxd4 Rg7 34. Kh1 Rg6 35. Rd2 Rd8 36. Red1 Rd7 37. Qf2 Qd8 38. Qe3 e5 39. f4 e4 40. Ne2 Rdg7 41. Nd4 Bd7 42. a3 Qa8 43. Kg1 h5 44. Rb1 h4 45. Rbb2 Rg4 46. Rf2 Qd8 47. b4 Rg3 48. hxg3 hxg3 49. Rfd2 Qh4 50. Be2 Rh7 51. Kf1 Qxf4+ White Resigns 0-1

  10. Please take a look at Richard James' excellent article Novices and Experts on The Chess Improver.

    Link: Novices and Experts

    In particular, take a look at the linked article Constructivism is not Pedagogy.

    Link: Constructivism is not Pedagogy

    The interesting area of pedagogy is that broad area which includes those of us who are no longer novices but not yet experts, i.e., most adult chess improvers. We no longer need to be directly spoon-fed knowledge, yet we (usually) are unable to self-direct our own training.

    Unfortunately, there is no universally applicable single pedagogical method that will cover that middle ground.

  11. I have been re-reading Douglas Hofstadter’s magnum opus Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid and came across an interesting tidbit in Chapter X: Levels of Description, and Computer Systems. In this Chapter, Hofstadter discusses Chunking and Chess Skill in the context of different levels of programming languages. At the hardware level, the programming language is “hardwired” as a “machine” language. At a slightly higher level of abstraction, the assembler language allows the machine language to be used via symbols rather than by a series of 1s and 0s. The higher levels of language abstraction include compilers and interpreters for ever more abstract (symbolic) languages, such as C (a glorified assembler for the Digital Equipment Co. PDP series), then FORTRAN, and so forth. As we move more and more away from the hardware level, we gain two things: we can “chunk” higher-level (more abstract) concepts (thereby becoming more productive per line of code) and we thus “simplify” programming because of the chunking.

    The parallel to chess skill is essentially 1:1. As we abstract higher-level concepts (principles, motifs and themes) from studying and playing chess, we increase our capability to handle cognitive load because the higher-level concepts allow us to fold more possibilities into a smaller “chunk”. This is the process whereby we gain skill. The novice “sees” the individual pieces and squares with little or no chunking. Consequently, it is not surprising that the novice feels overwhelmed. The expert “sees” higher levels (more abstract hgher-level chunks) and is therefore less burdened by what he “sees”. Chunking gives us a simplified view of more of the picture.

    So, we need to be aware that there are multiple levels (many more than 2) involved as we look at a position, and we need to be aware that the similarity of the language used across all the levels may be a problem. To illustrate different levels, a fork (in general) is at a higher (more abstract) level than a Knight fork (more specific) which is more abstract than a White Knight fork on f7 of the opponent’s King on h8 and Queen on d8. By using the terms THEME and MOTIF interchangeably, we blur these levels together, which increases the cognitive load. Avoiding this “blurring” of levels is why I am careful to distinguish between tactical devices/THEMES and MOTIFS: they reside on two different abstract levels. The analogy allows us to understand that we are trying to get a picture of what part(s) is important to “drill down” on (i.e., move from a simplified high-level view toward a more concrete deterministic low-level view).

    The interesting “tidbit” is described in Hofstadter’s section The Trade-off between Chunking and Determinism. (I had never given any thought that there might be a “downside” to chunking, assuming that it was always positive to chunk.)

    There is, however, perhaps one significant NEGATIVE feature of a chunked model: IT USUALLY DOES NOT HAVE EXACT PREDICTIVE POWER. That is, we save ourselves from the impossible task of SEEING people as collections of quarks (or whatever is at the lower level) by using chunked models; but of course such models only give us probabilistic estimates of how other people feel, will react to what we say or do, and so on. In short, IN USING CHUNKED MODELS, WE SACRIFICE DETERMINISM FOR SIMPLICITY. . . . A chunked model defines a “space” within which behavior is expected to fall, and specifies probabilities of its falling in different parts of that space.

    The power of having a higher-level view (via chunks) is simplification of the cognitive load, but it comes at the cost of being somewhat more vague in its predictive power. Here is another of the conundrums which face us when trying to improve by gaining skill.

  12. From Test Your Chess IQ: Master Challenge, Test 45, Position 357.

    FEN: r4r1k/p5p1/q1p1p2p/3n4/2p1B3/6Q1/PP3PPP/R2R2K1 w - - 3 27

    White is to move.

    There is no possibility of Pawn promotion, and no evident gain of material: nothing is “hanging”. The position must be about checkmate.

    There are two significant PoPs: h7 and g7 (both are B.A.D. [1:1]). White has much better Pawn structure: 2 islands to 4 islands (with doubled Pawns) for Black. White has two pieces aimed at the Black king’s position. (Remember the high-level concept of the “three piece” rule for King attacks!) Black’s Queen and BRa8 are not readily available for kingside defense.

    My first thought was 27. Qg6, threatening mate on h7. I immediately saw that 27. … Nf6 covers h7 and prevents the White Queen from taking on e6, and threatens to take off the WBe4. In response, I thought that MAYBE White should first remove the BNd5 to prevent this defense. Unfortunately, 27. Rxd5 cxd5 attacks the WBe4, delaying the possibility of threatening mate with a Queen/Bishop battery, ad opening up the possibility of getting the Black Queen back into the defense. While looking at this line, I realized that if the Black Knight moves, then WRd1 could get to the 7th rank via 28. Rd7, adding an attacker to g7 and threatening mate again. If the BNf6 has the Function of preventing mate on h7, then it could not capture the Rook! Black has no alternative to 28. … Rg8 to defend against this new mate threat. This in turn means that the g7-Pawn acquires TWO Functions (a duplo attack becomes likely): it must protect the BNf6 AND prevent the WRd7 from checkmating on h7 (if it moves); the BRg8 now “squeezes” the Black King into a very tight “box”! Consequently, 29. Qxf6 is a killer move. Black resigned in view of 29. … gxf6 30. Rh7# As an alternative (given in the book), 29. … Rae8 (what else?!?) 30. Qxh6+ gxh6 (forced) 31. Rh7#.

    GM Stockfish says that Black had a couple of better alternatives on his 26th move, keeping the balance:

    D22 +0.12 26...Rad8 27.h3 Rf8 28.b3 c3 29.Bxd5 cxd5 30.Qxc3 Qb6 31.Qd4 e5 32.Qxb6 axb6 33.Re1 e4 34.Rac1 b5 35.Rc7 Kg8 36.Ra7 b4

    D22 0.00 26...Nf6 27.Bc2 Rad8 28.h3 Rxd1+ 29.Rxd1 Qxa2 30.Qe5 Nd5 31.Qe4 Nf6

    D22 -0.09 26...Qb5 27.b3 Rad8 28.h3 c3 29.Rac1 Qb4 30.Qg6 Nf6 31.Re1 Rd2 32.Re3 Red8 33.Rcxc3 Nxe4 34.Qxe4 Qxe4 35.Rxe4 Rxa2 36.Rxe6 Rdd2 37.Rg3 Rxf2 38.Rxc6


    Witkowski, Stefan (2340) vs Gromek, Jozef (2508)
    Date: 1967
    Event: POL Ch 24th, Szeczin
    Round: 13
    Result: 1-0
    Opening: Scotch Game, Mieses Variation (C45)
    1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nxc6 bxc6 6. e5 Nd5 7. c4 Nb6 8. Bd3 d5 9. exd6 e.p. cxd6 10. O-O Be7 11. Qc2 Be6 12. Bf4 h6 13. Rd1 O-O 14. Nd2 d5 15. Nb3 Qc8 16. Nd4 dxc4 17. Bh7+ Kh8 18. Nxe6 fxe6 19. Bg3 Bg5 20. Bd6 Rd8 21. Be4 Nd5 22. Be5 Qa6 23. Qe2 Bf6 24. Qh5 Bxe5 25. Qxe5 Re8 26. Qg3 Rf8 27. Qg6 Nf6 28. Rd7 Rg8 29. Qxf6 Black resigns 1-0

  13. Aox: Thanks for the link to that tool. For those who have Anki and use it for training, this tool may be very useful to you.

    When the opposing King is “in the box” - ATTACK!

    Test Your Chess IQ, Master Challenge, Position 362.

    FEN: rnb2k1r/p3q1pp/2p2n2/1p2pP2/2B5/6Q1/PPP4P/2KR2R1 w - - 0 1

    From the game Vishnyatsky-Perevoznikov, Tashkent, 1950.

    White to move.

    No potential Pawn promotion. White is down 2 Knights and a Pawn; it might be about material gain (in some variations), but is likely to be about checkmate.

    The Black King is “in the box.” Black is WAY behind in development, which triggers the ATTACK motif. I presume Black’s last move was 0. … b5, attacking the WBc4. g7 is B.A.D. g8 is in White’s favor [3:2]. [I know that sounds somewhat absurd, given that the g-file is currently closed, but it’s about “seeing” the “auras” of the pieces, especially the line-moving pieces (Q, R, B), from their current locations all the way to the edge of the board.] There’s an available forcing check on d8.

    First thought: 1. Rd8+. Capturing the Rook is not good: 1. … Qxd8 2. Qxg7+ Kf8 3. Qf7#. So, Black must retreat the Knight with 1. … Ne8. The box begins to close.

    Second thought: we need to open lines (if possible) for attackers, with forcing moves (if possible). 2. f6 forks the Black Queen and the g7-Pawn. Capturing with the g7-Pawn opens the line to g8: 2. … gxf6 3. Qg8+ Rxg8 4. Rxg8#. Black now has two choices: capture with the Queen or capture the WRd8. Capturing WRd8 costs considerable material. So, 2. … Qxf6.

    Here’s where it gets a little sticky. The Black King now has an “escape hatch” from the box on e7. How can we close that hatch? AHA! 3. Qa3+ Qe7 (forced) closes the hole. Now White has the choice of two different continuations.

    4. Rf1+ Bf5 5. Rxf5# (which I saw, but is not given as a possibility. I presume that neither the winner of the game or Master Livshitz gave much thought to this possibility.)

    4. Rxg7 Qxa3 5. Rf7+ Kg8 6. R(d8)xe8+ Qf8 7. R(e8)xf8# (The continuation given in the book.)

    GM Stockfish likes my first option:

    D24 Mate 12 4.Rxg7 b4 5.Qxb4 c5 6.Qxc5 Kxg7 7.Qxe7+ Kg6 8.Rd2 Rg8 9.Rg2+ Kf5 10.Bxg8 Nf6 11.Rf2+ Kg4 12.Qg7+ Kh4 13.Qg3+ Kh5 14.Bf7+ Kh6 15.Rxf6#

    In previous times, I would run into a “roadblock” after a couple of moves (like after 1. Rd8+ Ne8 2. f6 Qxf6, and either dismiss the variation as “too complicated for ME” or spin my mental wheels trying to keep all the possibilities in mind. Using MOTIFS, tactical THEMES/devices and (most importantly) staying focused on the goal with maximum attention allows me to solve this level of problem.

    1. Nice analysis
      i like do add

      First thing to look for imho is KingSafty
      After recognizing puzzle is about checkmate the next step for me is : Looking for potential checks and checkmate pattern: Qa3, Qg7, Rd8..
      Now I see that i "see" nothing
      counting material, looking for under protected pieces
      decision : time to calculate (for checkmate)
      Most forcing move 1.Rd8 , bringing a piece closer to the king, has to be good ;)
      now 2.Qxg7+ ? nope
      2.f6? yes

      check, captures, attacks (especially the big ones)

  14. PART I:

    Intermezzo – repeating an improvement "theme."

    I'm just rereading Talent Is Overrated – What REALLY Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, by Geoff Colvin, Senior Editor at Large, FORTUNE. Here are some excerpts.

    The Elements [of Deliberate Practice]

    (1) Deliberate practice is specifically DESIGNED to improve performance.

    An example is given of "practicing" golf. Grab a couple of buckets of balls, head out to the driving range, and knock them out onto the grass. No particular club in mind, no particular target in mind, no thought about your swing – just hit them balls! If some of them go awry, no big deal - just hit another one that may go (more or less) to where you thought it would go. It may be "practice" (of some sort) but it is NOT "deliberate" practice. I very much doubt if it would even be classified as “purposeful” practice. There is no purpose other than being able to claim that you have “practiced.”

    A chess analogy would be to "tee up" a session of tactical puzzles on or Try to get through them as fast as you can. If you miss some of them, take a casual look at the proposed solution, and then move on. After all, Michael de la Maza didn't waste time trying to actually STUDY anything specific. Remember that you're trying to memorize the solutions to a specific set of problems. By repetitive osmosis, those “seen” problems will automagically transfer into long-term memory and be instantly available through pattern recognition the next time you get a similar position. Focus on gaining KNOWLEDGE; SKILL (like talent) is highly overrated.

    The reason a coach is often required is because most of us have no idea what our specific weaknesses are. “I’m more of a positional player, so I try to solve a few tactical problems regularly.” “I’m not comfortable in endgames, so I try to play openings that will lead to a win/lose situation in the middlegame.” Any idea what the specific tactical weaknesses are? Any idea what specific endgame situations should be studied in depth? “Nope, don’t know, don’t want to know and don’t care if I never find out.” Even if we accidentally recognize one or two specific weaknesses, such as Knight forks or Rook endgames with all Pawns on one side of the board, we have no idea how to set up a training regimen targeted at that specific weakness. In short, we don’t know how identify our own weaknesses, and we don’t know HOW to set up targeted training for ourselves.

    Deliberate practice REQUIRES that one IDENTIFY certain SHARPLY DEFINED ELEMENTS OF PERFORMANCE [SKILL, not KNOWLEDGE] that need to be improved, and then WORK INTENTLY ON THEM. We must isolate remarkably specific aspects of what we do and how we do each aspect, and focus on each of those specific things individually until they are improved.

  15. PART II:

    (2) During deliberate practice, the specific task can be repeated a lot.

    HIGH REPETITION is the MOST IMPORTANT DIFFERENCE between deliberate practice of a task and performing the task for real, when it counts, as in a chess game. It is the difference between what you do away from the board and what you do at the board. Repeating the activity playing games) over and over is what most of us mean by practice, yet for most of us IT ISN’T ESPECIALLY EFFECTIVE, because we are focused on WINNING, and don’t consider a game to be an opportunity to practice, much less learn. Our focus and attention are on something other than specific improvement.

    Deliberate practice is distinguished by two points:

    (1) a properly demanding narrowly targeted activity in the Goldilocks “learning” zone (not in our “comfort” zone, and not in our “panic” zone). The “learning” zone is just outside our current SKILL level; we can barely compete the task with some difficulty; it takes EFFORT AND FOCUS to be able to do the training activity.

    (2) the amount of repetition. A few dozen tactical problems every day (with minimal focus and attention and no attempt to “think through” each problem carefully, using a general set of problems) should be more than adequate “practice” for most of us, am I right?

    The most effective deliberate practice activities (for developing long-term SKILL) are those that can be repeated at high volume. Think of Ted Williams, baseball’s greatest hitter, who practiced hitting baseball every day until his hands bled. Or consider “Pistol” Pete Maravich, whose college basketball records still stand after more than thirty years, who went to the gym every day when it opened in the morning and shot baskets until it closed at night. Or consider golfer Moe Norman, who was one of the most consistent golf pros at hitting the ball where he wanted to: he hit 800 balls a day, five days a week, keeping track of how he hit them and where they went and the total number of balls he had hit over all the years.

    (3) Deliberate practice REQUIRES immediate and continuously available feedback on the results of the practice.

    You can work on technique all you want, but if you can’t “SEE” the effects, two things will happen: You won’t get any better, and you’ll stop caring about improving.

    Aspiring chess masters “practice” by studying chess games played by the greatest players; at each position (after each move), the aspiring student CHOOSES A MOVE [as if he is actually playing the game himself, with the same focus and concentration as in a game] and then gets immediate feedback by seeing what the champion did. It is very important for improvement to know WHY specific moves were played. Difficulties arise when the results require interpretation. [MORE ON THIS BELOW.]

  16. PART III:

    (4) Deliberate practice is HIGHLY DEMANDING MENTALLY.

    Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and attention. No one can sustain it for very long. Four or five hours a day seems to be the upper limit. This much practice time must be broken into sessions lasting no more than an hour to ninety minutes. Overall, the factor that limits practice time is the ability to sustain concentration. NO (OR LITTLE) FOCUS AND CONCENTRATION EQUALS NO IMPROVEMENT IN SKILL.

    (4) Deliberate practice is NOT much fun.

    If you are relaxed and having fun, you can safely assume you are NOT engaged in deliberate practice. Instead of doing the same old thing (again and again) that we are good at, we have to constantly seek out what we’re NOT good at. We then have to identify the painful difficult activities that will make us better – and then do those things over and over. After each repetition, we force ourselves to “SEE” – or get others to tell us – exactly what still isn’t right so we can repeat the most painful and difficult parts of what we’ve just done. We continue that process until we’re mentally exhausted.

    Most people won’t do this – which is why most people do not improve beyond a relatively low level of SKILL.

    End of excerpts from the book.

    FM Stoyko opined that he was able to gain 100 rating points from ONE “Stoyko” exercise, which is nothing more than setting up a specific position and figuring out what should be played. I suspect that gain might be somewhat of an exaggeration (much as MdlM’s claim for improvement by working through the Seven Circles of Hell is probably exaggerated), but assume it’s true for the sake of argument.

    Studying master games is the royal road to SKILL improvement – IFF it is done properly. Merely playing over the moves of master games will NOT significantly improve your SKILL. Memorizing master games may (or more likely, may NOT) lead to SKILL improvement. It is not the knowledge of specific strategies, a set of tactical tricks or anything else that should be trained. Rather, it is how you approach the studying process itself that is important. Focus and concentrate as if you’re playing a real game. That is what is usually missing from our training practice. The purpose is to develop a disciplined thinking process. The specific steps and the order of those steps is really not important; there is no need for a long and involved step-by-step logical thinking process. The purpose of this kind of training is to improve your intuition, i.e., your pattern recognition AND your capability to work through all ramifications of a given position. Toward this goal, initially it doesn’t matter how long it takes to complete a given exercise. It DOES matter if you can keep focused until you “solve” it satisfactorily. Rinse, lather, repeat.

    Unfortunately, if you’re not willing to do this regularly over a relatively long period of time (months and years, not just for a few weeks), it is highly unlikely that you will improve significantly outside of your current “comfort” zone.

  17. After posting the comments above, as I was headed for bed at 1:00 AM, I was struck by a weird thought. (Don't laugh, I get struck in the head by weirdities quite regularly; I think my tin-foil hat might attract them.)

    Several researchers have guess-timated the number of "patterns" that are held in long-term memory, which are REQUIRED to be able to play at certain levels of skill. I think Simon and Chase were a couple of the firsts to make a "guess", estimating (on the basis of the MAPP computer simulation) that recognition skill level at the master level would require the PROGRAM to "know" approximately 50,000 "patterns" (with no actual definition of the required patterns). I've also seen estimates (without any documented basis) of approximately 10,000 patterns to get to "high" club player (around 1800-2000 USCF, 50,000 for USCF Master, and anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000 for FIDE Grandmaster. Some "wag" suggested that Magnus Carlsen might "know" 1,000,000 patterns but I think that "might" be a tad too high.

    Have any of you given any thought to fitting a curve for number of patterns required for a specific rating, across the entire rating range from total novice to World Champion?

    My expectation is that a curve mapping number of patterns required for a given skill level to the different rating levels would definitely be non-linear.

    Just another shot in the dark. . . What do you think?

  18. PART I:

    I think I’ve found the reason (or at least one reason) for the apparently conflicting advice given regarding the efficacy of formal thought processes. Most of the following is taken (but not word-for-word) from Sources of Power – How People Make Decisions, 20th Anniversary Edition, by Gary Klein.

    Should we follow a step-by-step logical process [using System 2] while choosing each move?

    It depends on the level of expertise and what the player can “SEE”.

    If a novice is attempting to figure out what to do, a logical thought process (based on System 2) provides much needed guidance for how to choose a good move; the step-by-step process is substituted for experience.

    On the other hand, an expert relies on intuition based on experience (System 1) to guide decisions. That is, IFF the “expert” has knowledge and experience (through intuition based on pattern recognition) regarding the given position, then it is highly likely that he will NOT use a formal step-by-step decision making process to choose a move. Instead, he will use a recognitional primed decision-making process, essentially observing and choosing an option, mentally simulating the consequences of choosing that option, and, if it seems applicable, takes the action(s) associated with that option. If that option has anomalies, then it is rejected and the next applicable option is explored. Eventually an option will be explored which matches sufficiently without anomalies, and the corresponding action is taken. This process is much more similar to GM Jonathan Tisdall’s variation processing approach than to any step-by-step formal process.

    However, if the position is unfamiliar (with no identifiable patterns to use as guidance), then reverting to a more formal (System 2) approach is the sensible thing to do, even for the expert, PROVIDED there is sufficient time, adequate information about the position and formal evaluation criteria to apply that method. Time pressure and inadequate/murky information are critical reasons for NOT following a formal step-by-step comparative evaluation process to arrive at a final decision.

    Weteschnik [Understanding Chess Tactics clarifies the difference in approaches to finding good plans and moves used by less-experienced and more-experienced players.

    After you have learned the elements of tactics [KNOWLEDGE], you need a METHOD that will enable you to analyze a position as a whole. Otherwise you might arrive at faulty conclusions, as in the initial analysis of the position above. This method has to be easy to understand and it also has to be easily applicable. Above all, the method should not turn into a tyrant. If it required you to go through every step every time it was your move, you would not use it. If you tried, you would lose on time. On the other hand it makes sense to have some kind of checklist, in the same way pilots do. You cannot take back moves on the board. Decisions are final in chess. It is a bit like flying a plane where every mistake could be the last. Nevertheless, there must be a safe way for pilots as every day thousands of planes fly around our globe, landing safely at their destinations.

    The STATUS EXAMINATION provides you with similar checklists.

    Advanced players might not need any of these checklists. Nevertheless, they will still benefit from reading through this chapter, as some of the points made will deepen their understanding of tactics.

    Initially weaker players will benefit from these checklists as they help them to become aware of and avoid blunders and oversights. But they should abandon checklists whenever they feel they have become useless routines.

    1. We need to follow lists/programs till they are automated. Think of all the rules of our teachers we do now automatically.

  19. PART II:

    The classical decision analysis method is called the Rational Choice Strategy, and taught at the MIT Sloan School of Management. [Klein, Source of Power – How People Make Decisions] It is based on the definition of DECISION: a deliberated choice between two or more options.

    1. Identifies the set of options.

    2. Identifies the ways of evaluating these options.

    3. Weights each evaluation dimension.

    4. Does the rating.

    5. Picks the option with the highest score.

    Rational Choice Strategy applied to chess:

    NM Dan Heisman’s 5-step thinking process (given in The Improving Chess Thinker) is typical of a rational choice strategy, and is as follows:

    1. What are all the things my opponent’s move does?

    In other words, what are all the moves he can do now that he could not do before, what are his threats, and how did his move parry my previous threat? Don’t forget the important step of asking about his move, Is It Safe? Also, don’t stop when you find ONE reason for your opponent’s move, because the ones you miss may cost you the game.

    2. What are ALL the positive things I want to do?

    This is the main goal of planning, and your decisions should be based on both sides’ threats, strengths, and weaknesses. This step also includes identification of potential tactics.

    3. What are all the candidate moves which might accomplish one or more of those goals?

    I once read the advice, “Don’t look for the best move; look for the best plan and the moves which accomplish that plan.” This advice describes a combination of Steps 2 and 3. The moves identified in this step are initial candidates.

    4. Which of those initial candidates can I reject immediately because they are NOT SAFE?

    In other words, are there any opponent checks, captures, or threats which can easily defeat an initial candidate? Once you have eliminated these “unsafe” candidates, the remaining candidates are final candidates. Doing this step consistently I call “Real Chess.” As stated in Error List #1, NOT doing it is “Hope Chess.” In the protocols [given in the remainder of the book based on de Groot], the majority of players made their move without checking to see if their opponent could reply with a decisive, forcing move.

    5. Of the final candidate moves, which one is best I can find in a reasonable amount of time>

    This is the hardest step by far; if you can perform this step perfectly then you can play World Championship chess. On the other hand, as will be seen in Chapters 3-7, weaker players don’t usually compare final candidates. They often just latch onto one idea and play a move they think meets Step 2, ignoring World Champion Emmanuel [sic] Lasker’s advice: If you see a good move, look for a better one. For analytical moves, Step 5 involves both finding best move sequences (searching for the Principal Variation; PV) and comparisons of possible positions to see which one is the best. Assuming the opponent plays his best move, the move which leads to the best position is the best move.

    Interestingly, strong players usually perform Steps 1-4 in a very short period and then spend the overwhelming majority of their time on Step 5. In a sense, many “improvement” chess books (except those on planning) are about performing Step 5. However, most weak players omit one or more crucial steps in performing Steps 1-4, or, conversely, spent way too much time on them! Consistently being able to complete all the steps at least moderately well in a reasonable amount of time usually means that you are on your way toward becoming a good player.


  20. PART III:

    Peer Soelberg at MIT taught Rational Choice Strategy for years. In his Ph.D. dissertation, Soelberg studied the decision strategies his students used to perform a natural task: selecting their jobs as they finished their degrees. He assumed that they would rely on Rational Choice Strategy [which they had been taught was the optimal strategy for making critical decisions].

    He was WRONG. His students showed little inclination toward systematic thinking. Instead they would make a gut choice. By interviewing his students, Soelberg found that he could identify their favorite job choice and predict their ultimate choice with 87% accuracy-up to three weeks before the students themselves announced their choice.

    Soelberg had trained his students to use rational methods, yet when it was time for them to make a rational and important choice, they would not do it. Soelberg was also a good observer, and he tried to capture the students’ actual decision strategies.

    What did the students do during this time? If asked, they would deny that they had made a decision yet. For them, a decision was just what Soelberg had taught: a deliberated choice between two or more options. To feel that they had made such a decision, they had to go through a systematic process of evaluation. They selected one other candidate as a comparison, and then tried to show tat their favorite was as good as or better than the comparison candidate on each evaluation dimension. Once they had shown this to their satisfaction (even if it meant fudging a little or finding ways to beef up their favorite), then they would announce as their decision the gut favorite that Soelberg had identified much earlier. They were NOT actually making a decision; they were constructing a justification.

    So how do “experts” make time-critical decisions, if they do not follow a formal step-by-step decision method?

    Klein’s research (across many fields, including chess) resulted in the recognition-primed decision model. Klein emphasizes that this model is DESCRIPTIVE, not PRESCRIPTIVE. The process goes on primarily using System 1, which means the processes are hidden.

    I’ve tried to layout the model (given as a diagram in the book) as a procedure written in pseudo-code below. Short definitions of key terms are embedded within the code.

    Recognition-primed Decision Model - Figure 3-2, Klein.

    1. Experience the Situation in a changing Context

    2. Is Situation Typical? [Prototype or Analogue – Pattern Recognition]

    2a. If answer 2 is NO, Diagnose [using Feature Matching and Story Building] and go to step 2.

    2b. If answer 2 is YES, go to step 3.

    3. Recognition has four byproducts:

    3a. Relevant Cues

    3b. Expectancies

    If there is an Anomaly, Clarify that anomaly.

    3b1. If more data is needed, go to Step 1.

    3b2. If an inference can be made as to WHY the anomaly exists, go to step 2a.

    3c. Plausible Goals

    3d. Action 1…n

    3d1. Evaluate Action n [using Mental Simulation – look-ahead using short variations]

    3d1a. WILL IT WORK?

    If YES, Implement Course of Action. [Ignore Dr. Lasker's maxim regarding looking for a better move.]

    If YES but, MODIFY the Action; go to step 3d1.

    If NO, go to step 2.

    The model given above depends on three different reactions.

    (1) An “if...then” reaction where an antecedent is followed by a rule-based response. The expertise is in being able to recognize when the antecedent condition has been met.

    (2) An “if (???)...then” with the decision maker deliberating about the nature of the situation.

    (3) An “If...then (???) as the decision maker ponders the outcome of a reaction.

    Note: throughout this process there is no evaluation/comparison of one option to another, following a comparative evaluation [Principal Variation or “King of the Hill"] approach. Each option is evaluated independently on its own merits. This MAY result in a sub-optimal solution because action is taken as soon as all factors seem to fit the current option.

  21. Robert said: "His students showed little inclination toward systematic thinking."

    Knowledge is NOT skill

  22. I have started to play league of legends. It is quite strategic, but like bullet, quick thinking is also needed.
    There exists an elo-rating, too. Called "MMR", but it is hidden, I dont know why. Anyway, 5 vs 5 players it is, a team effort game, and the MMR (Match Making Rating) is used to get gather people together, so that each team has about the same elo rating.
    Needless to say I am comparably bad, cause I am a beginner. 85% of all players are better than me. (But I play against opponents who are bad, too).

    I learned a lot, it is fun.
    What you might want to know for "what has that to do with chess?" - Well, you can improve in League of legends even if you are a matured adult.
    I improved, and my rating in league of legends rose.

    However, maybe it is in chess like this: every matured adult can reach a certain level in chess. It might be an individual thing to how well you can get, but my guess is, that ever adult who starts to learn chess with over 40 years of age can maybe reach 1250 Fide elo. From here on, some might improve a little further, and few might not even reach 1200, no matter how hard they try. I guess that around 1500 Fide elo is the upper limit for all new-to-chess adults above 40. Above that is 99% impossible. This is just a guesstimate.

    btw: due to league of legends my chess bullet rating suffers. The reason is mainly: waiting for a match to start (finding 10 people with similar MMR/elo takes time) is often several minutes. Waiting is boring, and I then often start bullet chess while waiting. However, when leage of legends start, I have to click accept, and that costs time switching between windows. Later I have to declare my champ and whom I ban, so again 2 disruptions. And this is enough to lose a lot of bullet games on time.
    I dont mind, though, cause I know, if I wanted to, I can get my bullet rating up again, back into 1900s.

    Bullet chess made me suffer losing rapid and class rating points, as it makes me more impatient and move faster, even though in rapid I had enough time.
    Guess it is a trade-off: too much bullet ruins your patience in longer time controls.

  23. P.S. Like in chess, I assume that a polylingual person wins not only in chess more, but also in league of legends more. Both are complex games, and you have to have the attitude "there is more than one solution to the problem" (polylingual people can express the same sentence in different languages = more than one solution to say something).
    Polylinguals are a bit better in handling several tasks at once, but have no advantage if a monolingual and a polylingual concentrate on one tasks.

    Especially in league of legends, I would expect female players to do better. However, girls play such fighting games less often. Why would leage suit a female player better? Because it is typical male to look into a fridge and doesnt find nor see anything what is inside of it. The look for the yogurth in the same place, and if it was simply moved into a different shelf, it is typical male not so find it in the fridge.
    In league you have to consider and see several things at the same time.

    Then again - we still dont have a female world master best player. All best players in the world have always been male. Judith Polgar only came close.
    So... this is all highly speculative.

  24. PART I:

    Taking another pass through GM Andy Soltis’ book What It Takes To Become A Chess Master, I was struck by the advice given for improvement, which seemed to center around one consistent suggestion for study.

    Think of this as somewhat of a book review. If you like what you see, then buy the book!

    GM Soltis observes the typical chess player’s playing skills, and then asks a cogent question:

    “Only a tiny fraction of people who play chess become masters. In fact, only two percent (2%!!) of the people who take chess SERIOUSLY make master. WHY?

    Here are his observations in nutshell form, along with that consistent study suggestion.

    “Many of these [master] attributes are kinds of KNOW-HOW, such as understanding when to change the pawn structure or what a positionally won game looks like and how to deal with it. Some are habits, like ALWAYS LOOKING FOR TARGETS. Others are refined senses, like recognizing a critical middlegame moment or feeling when time is on your side and when it isn’t.”

    [Here comes that consistent study suggestion.]

    “You already know the main method of acquiring these skills, traits, and habits: STUDY MASTER GAMES. But that advice alone is much too vague to help anyone improve. You need more specific answers to questions like: Which games? WHAT AM I LOOKING FOR WHEN I STUDY THEM? What exactly am I supposed to get from a game?”

    Chapter 1: What Matters Most

    “A master can figure out what future position he wants to play because he can isolate the one or two factors that are most important. He knows what matters most.

    Prioritizing Practice

    “A good way to develop and refine your sense of what matters most is to examine early middlegame positions from master games. Your aim is to figure out what are White’s priorities, what are Black’s and why some changes in the position will favor one side significantly.”

    “One approach is to focus on middegames that arise from opening variations that are new to you, ones you’ve never played or studied before.”

    “The reason that examining games like these [the examples given in the book] is valuable is that IT INCREASES YOUR KNOWLEDGE OF DIFFERENT KINDS OF POSITIONS.

    “Aside from examining late opening positions — which are easily found in books, magazines and databases or on the Internet — there is another good method for enriching your sense of what matters. It’s your own games. Unfortunately for your ego, it’s usually your losses. . . . The best way to find out what you don’t understand is by examining positions you didn’t understand when you played them.”

  25. PART II:

    Chapter 2: Habits

    A master always looks for targets.

    “When you were a beginner you probably got into the habit of looking at all the captures available to you when it is your turn to move. The habit of looking for targets is just an extension of this. In addition to ‘What can I take?’ you want to ask yourself ‘What can I attack in a few moves?’ ”

    Failing to identify targets “blinds the player to opportunities”. Identifying PoPs, B.A.D. pieces, LPDO — all of these involve potential targets. The intersection of geometrical lines (LoA for line-moving pieces) should also be viewed as potential targets. Pieces with identified functions (Funs) should also be viewed as targets.

    “Once you identify a target — and determine that it’s worth going after — the next step is to figure out how to get at it.”

    “Beginners often make a concerted effort to threaten their opponent’s queen simply because it’s so valuable. But queens are valuable because they’re so mobile. They can run away. The best targets are typically pawns because they tend to be stationary. Most stationary of all are square because, obviously, they cannot move.”

    Having a good appreciation for the ENCIRCLING MOTIF is very helpful. (1) Immobility (of a target) and superior force on the square of the target are the essence of this motif. In a sense, the motif tells you what to look for (any target that is or can be immobilized), and then how to attack it (increase the number of attackers, or force a reduction in the number of defenders). The specifics are in the tactical themes/devices.

    Targets = Initiative

    “Chess can be a simple game if we forget about positional subtleties and just look for targets. In the same way, an initiative can be nothing more than a series of threats to different targets. . . . Both attacks and initiatives are fueled by targets. But for a defender, a target means something else: it’s a source of counterplay. A target is the difference between active and passive resistance.”

    [Here comes that consistent study suggestion.]

    “How do you acquire the habits of a master? Some master traits maybe unobtainable. But most good habits of masters can be learned. For example, you can train yourself to ‘always look for targets’ by clicking through games slowly and making a note, mental or written, every time a newly visible target appears.”

    “Positional, rather than tactical, games are more suitable for this [type of training]. And master games tend to be better study material because too often in amateur games, play becomes chaotic and there are simply too many targets. When you click through a game, or play it over on a board, look at it from White’s point of view. When you’re done, replay it from Black’s perspective. Regardless of who won, you should be able to make target searching part of your chess routine.”

  26. PART III:

    A master makes his pieces work harder.

    “Masters get more out of their pieces. It’s not because they have more pieces. Or smarter pieces. They have the same pieces you have. . . . But they get them to work harder. . . . Their pieces have to do something, not just look good.

    Moving the Furniture

    “Because there are so few unoccupied and safe squares in a typical middlegame, it stands to reason that the right square for one piece may be unavailable because it belongs to another. To make his pieces work harder, a master rearranges them. He ‘moves the furniture around’, often with surprisingly strong effect.”

    Work it or Trade it

    “When you hear someone say that master chess is ‘more concrete’, what they mean is that VARIATIONS TRUMP APPEARANCES. If a piece — even a good looking one — isn’t pulling its weight, a master looks for a way to get rid of it.”

    “Often, two good habits fit together to produce a good move or plan. Don’t be frightened by the word ‘plan’. A plan is usually just two or three useful moves that fit together.”

    PoPLoAFun provides a way of “looking ahead” without calculating variations. By SEEING the intersection squares of line-moving pieces (going from each piece all the way to the edge of the board without considering the obstacles in the way), we can “SEE” (somewhat) into the future potential of those pieces. The same thing can be done with Knights.

    [Here comes that consistent study suggestion.]

    “One of the best ways to train yourself to get more out of your pieces is — once again — to reexamine your losses. When you lose a game positionally, or even when you get mated, there is probably a piece (or pieces) that you mishandled. After you resigned yo may have concluded that you lost because of, say, an opening mistake, or getting a bad pawn structure. But there was almost certainly a lazy piece that cost you. TAKE ANOTHER LOOK AT THOSE GAMES.

    “If you’d prefer study material that is less of a threat to your ego, PLAY OVER GAMES of Bobby Fischer, Anatoly Karpov, Magnus Carlsen, Michael Adams or one of the other grandmasters who rarely seem to have bad pieces — and managed to skillfully dispense with them if they did.”

  27. PART IV:

    Low-Calc Thinking

    “Masters are more efficient with their pieces — and with their calculations. They trained themselves to be that way. A third good habit to acquire:”

    A master doesn’t calculate more than he has to.

    “Let’s be honest. The best players can calculate very, very long variations. They can see much farther ahead than you. But masters are also more practical. They know that the longer the variation a person tries to calculate, the more likely he will miss something. The likelihood escalates if he’s tired from calculating other long variations earlier in the game.”

    “Masters recognize that they can often get a better read on a position by evaluating it in general terms, rather than calculating.”

    “One of the low-calculation techniques is VISUALIZING. This means looking in general terms at the near future. What good moves are available to you? What are the best squares for your pieces?”

    “Calculating is different from visualizing because you have to take your opponent’s moves into consideration. But you can reduce the amount of calculation by just getting a taste of a few sample variations.”

    “Visualizing plays an important role in determining whether you have winning chances in a particular line of play you are considering.”

    Again, this is one of the benefits of using PoPLoAFun. You get a “look-ahead” capability without having to do any calculation. Once you “SEE” what is available, calculation becomes much easier because you can more easily focus on the essentials of the position, trimming away those aspects which are irrelevant.

  28. PART V:


    “There are, naturally, bound to be times in a game, particularly a complex game, when you absolutely must calculate. High on the list are situations when you are defending.”

    “Defense tends to require more exact and thorough calculation than attack. On the other hand, when you have the initiative or are simply better developed, you can sometimes rely on a calculating minimum.”

    “A master knows that keeping command of the position — is what matters most.”

    “Reducing calculation to a minimum is a more difficult habit to acquire than the others discussed in this chapter. One training method might help:”

    [Here comes that consistent study suggestion.]

    “After each of your tournament game, try to remember the variations that you calculated. [This can also be done after playing through a master game.] You don’t have to recall every single move. Rather, you should try to recollect the candidate moves you spent significant time on and whether you looked three, four, five or more moves into the future. (You might be able to make this part of a postmortem analysis with your opponent, or even record it.)”

    “Some time later, go over the game again and see how many variations that you looked at were wastes of time and energy. You’’ probably find that the best moves you played could have been selected with a fraction of the time you spent on them. This can show you how much more efficiently you can think.”

    All of the above is extracted from the first two chapters. My point is that GM Soltis gives several very good reasons for studying games. Yes, it is important to gain familiarity with the lines of our chosen openings. Yes, it is important to try to acquire a larger knowledge base of patterns that we can use in our own games. I post this comment just to show that there are many additional (perhaps more subtle) reasons for studying master games, as well as our own games.

  29. PART I:

    Sometimes I run across game positions that look eerily similar to some of the more bizarre composed study positions. Here is a case in point, taken from Livshitz’s book, Test Your Chess IQ: Master Challenge, Test 49, Position 386. The game was Rusakov-Kalinkin, Omsk, 1963. I can hardly imagine how a master (Boris Kalinkin’s FIDE rating in 1963 was 2208) could deliberately play to get into the Black position. Consider how massed together the Black pieces are, effectively smothering the Black King! [Yuri (also spelled Yuriy) Rusakov has no FIDE rating.] I could follow Black’s “logic” up to the 16th move, where he opened the floodgates for the White pieces.

    Note to self:

    NEVER capture if it opens lines for the attackers in the sector of the board where you have no defenders!

    FEN: 2rrk3/1pqb1ppB/p1nnp1N1/4p1P1/8/P1N5/1PP2QPP/4RR1K w - - 4 21

    This is an interesting position, but only from the standpoint of determining exactly how to slaughter the Black King in the quickest possible way.

    White is to move.

    Black is up in material by a Pawn. As a consequence, there is no urgent need to regain material. There is no possibility of Pawn promotion. So, the position MUST be about checkmate. (Without even thinking about it, that seems fairly obvious from the position itself.)

    The strategic factor most in White’s favor is the weak King position, coupled with the bizarre posting of Black’s pieces, all lumped together like a wall – on the queenside. The BRd8 and BBd7 have NO MOVES! That means there is a solid “wall” preventing the Black King from escaping to the queenside!

    The f7-square is B.A.D. Using a CCT approach, there is an immediate capture on f7, sacrificing the Queen with check – it’s hard to get more forcing than that!

    1. Qxf7+ Nxf7 (forced)

    There are now two possible ways to continue.

    When I first looked at the position, I was struck by the fact that the Black Knight has lost its influence (defense) of f7-square (it can’t capture on the square it sits on) AND that it is now pinned to f7. Pinned? Against what? Against the f8 square (which is empty); if it moves, White checkmates with 2. Rf8#. (Following the dictum to always look along the “aura” of the pieces to see which squares are indirectly under pressure.) Oh goody! A piece which has acquired a Function, totally restricting its movement! Perhaps the ENCIRCLING motif might be applied: an immobile piece and superior force attacking that piece. The ATTACKING motif is definitely applicable, and (to some extent) the GEOMETRICAL motif is also applicable. Like a good optimist, if there is this much “pony manure” (motifs) piling up, there’s got to be a “pony” (winning sequence) nearby!

    2. Bg8

    Why not? It’s the closest White piece in the immediate proximity of the target to add as an attacker on the f7-square. What can Black do to defend? NOTHING! None of the 6 Black pieces can get to f7 in less than 2 moves.

    2. … Nxg5 3. Rf8#


    2. … Qd6 3. Bxf7#

  30. PART II:

    So I was feeling pretty good: I had seen the (obvious, I thought) checkmate after less than a couple of minutes cogitation. So, I turned to the solution page – and was somewhat surprised to see that I had NOT gotten the right “solution” (as played in the game). GEEZ! I hate NOT “seeing” the “right” solution.

    As you can see from the game score, White played:

    21. Qxf7+ Nxf7 22. Rxf7 Kxf7 23. Rf1+ Ke8 24. Rf8#

    Nothing wrong with a brute-force checkmate! White simply drives through a Rook to the f8-square, mating.

    Is there a “right” solution when playing a game? YES! If a forced checkmate sequence can be found, then by definition, it IS the “right” solution. It really does not matter if we don’t “see” every other possible way to checkmate. This goes somewhat against the advice of mister Lasker: “If you SEE a good move, look for a better one!” It doesn’t get any better than forced checkmate, regardless of the number of moves required.


    [Event "Lodz"]
    [Site "Lodz (given as Omsk in Livshitz)”]
    [Date "1963.??.??"]
    [EventDate "?"]
    [Round "?"]
    [Result "1-0"]
    [White "Yuri Rusakov"]
    [Black "Boris Kalinkin"]
    [ECO "B96"]
    [WhiteElo "?"]
    [BlackElo "2208"]
    [PlyCount "47"]

    1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6
    7. f4 Bd7 8. Nf3 Qa5 9. Qd2 Nc6 10. Bd3 Rc8 11. a3 Be7 12. O-O
    O-O 13. Kh1 Qc7 14. Rae1 Rfd8 15. e5 Ne8 16. Qf2 Bxg5
    17. Bxh7+ Kf8 18. fxg5 dxe5 19. Nh4 Nd6 20. Ng6+ Ke8 21. Qxf7+
    Nxf7 22. Rxf7 Kxf7 23. Rf1+ Ke8 24. Rf8# 1-0

  31. [FEN="5k2/6p1/p2q3p/b7/2QB4/7P/P5P1/6K1 w - - 0 1"]

    Bruendtrup-Budrich, Berlin 1954 (I couldn't find the game score.)

    After 1. Bc5 [absolute pin], Back tried to defend with an absolute counter-pin 1. … Bb6. Now White has a winning fork 2. Qf4+, attacking the pinned Black Queen and the Black King. After 2. … Ke7 (apparently defending the Black Queen), White simply captures the Black Queen and Black Bishop with 3. Qxd6+ Ke8 4. Qxb6.

    Chess Tempo – Stockfish (after 10 minutes analysis)

    D39 +62.12 1.Bc5 Bc7 2.Qd4 Ke7 3.Bxd6+ Bxd6 4.Qxg7+ Kd8 5.Qxh6 Kd7 6.Kf2 Kc6 7.Kf3 Kd5 8.Qd2+ Kc6 9.Qa5 Kb7 10.Qd5+ Kc7 11.Qd4 a5 12.Qa7+ Kc6 13.Qxa5 Bc7 14.Qa6+ Kc5 15.Ke4 Bb6 16.Qb7 Ba5 17.Qd5+ Kb6 18.a4 Be1 19.Qb3+ Ka6 20.Qd3+ Kb6 21.Qb1+ Ka5 22.Qxe1+ Kxa4 23.Kd5 Kb5 24.Qe7 Kb6 25.Qc5+ Ka6 26.Qb4

    D41 Mate -18 1...Bb6 2.Qf4+ Kg8 3.Qxd6 Bxc5+ 4.Qxc5 Kf7 5.g4 Ke6 6.Qc6+ Ke7 7.Qxa6 Kf7 8.Qb6 Ke7 9.Qg6 Kf8 10.Qe6 g6 11.Qxg6 Ke7 12.Qxh6 Kd7 13.g5 Ke7 14.Qf6+ Kd7 15.g6 Kc7 16.g7 Kb7 17.g8=Q Ka7 18.Qgf7+ Kb8 19.Qh8#

    After playing 1. Bc5 and another 10 minutes of analysis, Stockfish comes up with this:

    D42 Mate -35 1...Bc7 2.Qd4 Ke7 3.Bxd6+ Bxd6 4.Qxg7+ Ke8 5.Qxh6 Kd7 6.Kf2 a5 7.Qh7+ Kd8 8.Kf3 Be7 9.Qe4 Kd7 10.Qd5+ Kc7 11.Qxa5+ Kd6 12.g4 Ke6 13.Qc7 Bf6 14.Qc6+ Ke7 15.Qe4+ Kd7 16.Qd5+ Ke7 17.Qf5 Ba1 18.g5 Kd6 19.Qd3+ Kc5 20.Ke4 Bh8 21.Qd5+ Kb4 22.Qb7+ Ka4 23.Qa8+ Kb4 24.Qb8+ Kc5 25.Qxh8 Kb5 26.Qc3 Kb6 27.Kf3 Kb7 28.g6 Kb8 29.Qe5+ Kb7

    Pin, cross-pin, fork – all stock tactical themes/devices which should be “obvious” to those of us who are beyond the beginner/novice stage. But how many club players could actually figure out the right moves to play if that position arose in one of their games?

    The first pin IS fairly obvious, the second is not nearly as obvious, and the fork with check is even more difficult to “see” from the starting position, simply because it’s 5 ply away.

    None of that is what I want to focus on.

    One of the rules of the game is that the King cannot be moved into a position that allows it to be captured. It is natural to try to defend an attacked piece with the King, especially if there are no other possible defenders available. It is NOT obvious that in any multi-piece exchange, the defending King MUST be the LAST piece to capture. If, for any reason, the King cannot capture LAST after all possible exchanges are exhausted, the King is NOT a defender. In essence, there is an “aura” surrounding the King which limits its ability to function as a defender in some circumstances.

    It’s fairly easy to look at an ENCIRCLED square (one which has several attackers and defenders) and simply count up the number of attackers and defenders. The definition of a B.A.D. [Barely Adequately Defended] square is that there is a delicate balance between attackers/defenders. One of the potential disruptions of that balance MAY be the inability of the defending King to capture LAST on that square.

    It illustrates the importance of being aware of the PoPs [Points of Pressure], LoA [Lines of Attack], and the Functions (with subsequent limitations) of ALL the pieces in all positions. We can NEVER leave out the King's functions!

  32. PART I:

    FEN: r4rk1/5ppp/p3b3/1pb5/1q1N4/7P/PPB2PP1/R2QR1K1 w - - 0 1

    (From Livshitz’s book Test Your Chess IQ, Master Challenge, Test 52, Position 414.)

    This is the kind of tactical puzzle that drives me CRAZY! I did the usual PoPLoAFun approach to figuring out the potential variations – and totally went off the rails, at least according to what was played in the game Totschalk-Alef, Corr., 1966.

    My first thoughts are usually somewhat defensive: I don’t like having hanging pieces! The WNd4 is hanging. There are a couple of possible moves to get it out of immediate trouble: 1. Nxe6 and 1. Nc6.

    1. Nxe6 gets rid of the hanging piece, eliminates Black’s two Bishops and messes with his Pawn structure. Unfortunately, it also opens the f-file for the BBc5 and BRf8 for an attack on the f2-square, potentially with check. The b2-Pawn is hanging, and White cannot immediately capture the e6-Pawn. This does not look appealing, so skip it for now and come back to it later if nothing else is found.

    1. Nc6 is slightly more appealing because it attacks the Black Queen and (at least temporarily) puts the Knight on a “safe” square. Maybe it can get back over to the kingside via the e7-square with check. The Black Queen must move, and has a choice of capturing on b2, or moving to f4 or h4. Moving to h4 attacks f2 and also covers h7. Moving to f4 gets the Queen into the middle of the board (recommended by GM Tisdall as a good move, whenever possible).

    I begin to get a bad “feeling”; this is not going to be an easy one to solve. So, let’s take a look at 1. Bxh7+ Kxh7 2. Qh5+ Kg8 3. Nc6. The BBc5 still prevents a check on e7, and the Black Queen needs to move somewhere. Black can sac the BBc5 with 3. … Bxf2+ 4. Kxf2 because Black can then capture on the b2-square WITH CHECK 4. … Qxb2+. White can try a trap with 5. Re2, hoping for 5. … Qxa1?? 6. Ne7#, but simply 5. … Qf3+ covers the e7-square WITH CHECK, gaining time to attack the White Queen with . . . g6 next. After 5. Kg1, Black can follow up with 5. ... Rfe8, covering the vital e7-square and also protecting the BBe6. It looks like White’s “attack” has dried up.

    Back and forth, back and forth, wasting time. . .

    Per my usual practice, after spending adequate time (over 15 minutes) trying to figure out the position, if I can’t get a good feeling for the solution, I look at the answer. No sense wasting time trying to figure out what I couldn’t figure out. Maybe I can learn something new!

    The first move played in the game is 1. Bxh7+!! (“!!” given by Master Livshitz). It’s “obvious” (on a rudimentary level), but the followup is what threw a monkey wrench in my evaluation of this possibility. The game continuation was 1. Bxh7+!! Kxh7 2. Qh5+ Kg8 3. Nc6!! (freely giving the exclamation marks) g6 (attacking the White Queen) 4. Qh6! (What?!? no double exclams?!?) Resigns. RESIGNS?? The BBc5 stops the mate threat on the e7-square. Black can play the fork with 4. … Bxf2+ 5. Kxf2 Qc5+ 6. Qe3 Qxc6 and seems to be doing quite well. What about 4. … Qxb2, threatening f2-square?!?


    For some reason, I was (and still am) “blind” to why the game continuation was the best continuation.

  33. PART II:

    So, what to do to try to understand what I (obviously) did NOT understand? Give the position to GM Stockfish on ChessTempo and see what it had to say about the initial position.

    After 10 minutes, this is the evaluation. Note that the game move might have had unwelcome consequences for the eventual winner.

    GM Stockfish (10:13 minutes):

    D31 0.00 1.Nc6 Qf4 2.Bxh7+ Kh8 3.Qc2 Bxf2+ 4.Qxf2 Qxf2+ 5.Kxf2 Kxh7 6.a4 Rac8 7.axb5 axb5 8.Nd4 Bc4 9.Red1 Rfd8 10.Rac1 b4 11.Nf3 Rxd1 12.Rxd1 Be6 13.Nd4 Kg6 14.Ra1 Bd5 15.Ra6+ f6 16.Rd6 Be4 17.Rb6 Rc4 18.Rd6

    D31 0.00 1.Nxe6 fxe6 2.Qh5 g6 3.Bxg6 Ra7 4.Rxe6 hxg6 5.Rxg6+ Rg7 6.Qd5+ Rf7 7.Rxg7+ Kxg7 8.Qg5+ Kh8 9.Qe5+ Kg8 10.Qg5+ Rg7 11.Qd5+ Rf7

    D31 -0.47 1.Nb3 Bb6 2.Re4 Qe7 3.Nd4 Rad8 4.Qh5 g6 5.Qe5 Rxd4 6.Rxd4 Bxd4 7.Qxd4 Rd8 8.Qe5 Rd5 9.Qe1 Rd7 10.Bb3 Bxb3 11.Qxe7 Rxe7 12.axb3 Re2 13.Rxa6 Rxb2 14.Rb6 Rxb3 15.g4 Rb1+ 16.Kg2 b4 17.Rb7 Kf8 18.g5 b3 19.Kf3 b2 20.h4 h5 21.Rb8+ Ke7

    D31 -0.54 1.Qd3 g6 2.Nxe6 fxe6 3.Rxe6 Rxf2 4.Kh1 Qxb2 5.Qb3 Qxb3 6.Bxb3 Kh8 7.Rc1 Ba3 8.Rc2 Rxc2 9.Bxc2 a5 10.Bd3 b4 11.Ra6 Rxa6 12.Bxa6 a4 13.Bd3 b3 14.axb3 axb3 15.Kg1 Kg7 16.Kf2 Kf6 17.Bb1 Be7 18.Ke2 Ke5 19.Kd3 Kd5

    D31 -0.55 1.Rxe6 fxe6 2.Nxe6 Rxf2 3.Kh1 Be7 4.Qd3 g6 5.Qd5 Raf8 6.Nxf8+ Kxf8 7.Bb3 Kg7 8.Qe5+ Bf6 9.Qe3 Qd4 10.Qxd4 Bxd4 11.Rd1 Be5 12.Kg1 Rxb2 13.Kf1 Kf6 14.Rd7 a5 15.Rxh7 a4 16.Rf7+ Kg5 17.Be6 b4 18.Rf2 Rb1+ 19.Ke2 Kh6 20.Ke3 b3 21.axb3 axb3 22.Kd3 b2

    D31 -0.56 1.Re4 Qxb2 2.Rb1 Qc3 3.Rc1 Rfd8 4.Rxe6 Qxd4 5.Qxd4 Bxd4 6.Rc6 a5 7.Rb1 Rab8 8.Ra6 Bb6 9.Ba4 bxa4 10.Rbxb6 Rxb6 11.Rxb6 Kf8 12.g4 Rd2 13.Ra6 Rxa2 14.Rxa5 Ke7 15.Ra7+ Kf6 16.Kg2 a3 17.h4 Ke6 18.g5

    D31 -1.27 1.Bxh7+ Kxh7 2.Qh5+ Kg8 3.Nc6 Bxf2+ 4.Kxf2 Qxb2+ 5.Kg1 Rfe8 6.Qc5 g6 7.Rad1 Kg7 8.Nd4 Bc4 9.Re7 Rxe7 10.Qxe7 Qc3 11.a3 Qg3 12.Nf3 Rc8 13.Rd6 Qf4 14.h4 Rh8 15.Rxa6 b4 16.Ra4 b3 17.Rb4 Rc8 18.Qe5+ Qxe5 19.Nxe5

    D30 -2.25 1.Nf3 Qxb2 2.Ng5 g6 3.Re2 Rfd8 4.Qe1 Bc4 5.Bd3 Qb4 6.Bxc4 bxc4 7.Rc2 Rac8 8.Ne4 Rd3 9.Nxc5 Qxc5 10.Qe4 Rd4 11.Qf3 Rcd8 12.Rac1 h5 13.Rc3 Kg7 14.Qe2 Rc8 15.Qb2 Qb5 16.Qa3 Rd2 17.Rf3 a5 18.Qe7

    D30 -3.89 1.Nf5 Rad8 2.Qf3 Rd2 3.Re2 Rxe2 4.Qxe2 g6 5.Nh6+ Kg7 6.Ng4 Qxb2 7.Rb1 Qc3 8.Bb3 Re8 9.Qe1 Qd4 10.Qe3 Qxe3 11.Nxe3 Bxb3 12.Rxb3 Re4 13.Rc3 Bxe3 14.fxe3 Ra4 15.Rc2 a5 16.Rd2 b4 17.Rc2 Kf6 18.Kf2 Ra3 19.Kf3

    D30 -4.53 1.Ne2 Rfd8 2.Qc1 Rd2 3.a3 Bxf2+ 4.Kh1 Qh4 5.Qxd2 Bxh3 6.Qf4 Bg4+ 7.Qh2 Bxe1 8.Ng1 Qxh2+ 9.Kxh2 Ba5 10.a4 Rb8 11.axb5 Rxb5 12.Kh1 g6 13.b4 Rh5+ 14.Nh3 Bxh3 15.Rxa5 Bf5+ 16.Kg1 Bxc2 17.Rxa6 Kg7 18.Rd6 h6 19.Kf2 Be4

  34. PART III:

    So, let’s charge off down the game variation and see what GM Stockfish has to say at the point of resignation.

    D27 +7.63 4...Qxb2 5.Qh4 Rfe8 6.Rab1 Qxa2 7.Rbc1 Bf8 8.Ne5 Bg7 9.Ng4 Bxg4 10.Qxg4 Rxe1+ 11.Rxe1 Qc4 12.Rb1 a5 13.Qd7 b4 14.Qa4 Rc8 15.Qd7 Qc2 16.Re1 a4 17.Qxc8+ Qxc8 18.Re4 Qc5 19.Rh4 a3

    D27 +6.17 4...Bxf2+ 5.Kxf2 Qc5+ 6.Kg3 Qxc6 7.Rac1 Qd6+ 8.Qf4 Qxf4+ 9.Kxf4 Bxa2 10.h4 Rad8 11.Red1 Kg7 12.g4 Bb3 13.Rxd8 Rxd8 14.Ra1 Rd4+ 15.Ke3 Rxg4 16.Rxa6 Rxh4

    D27 0.00 4...Qc4 5.Rac1 Qd5 6.Re5 Qxc6 7.Rh5 gxh5 8.Qg5+ Kh7 9.Qxh5+ Kg8 10.Qg5+ Kh7

    D27 -0.40 4...Qa4 5.Rac1 Bd5 6.Rxc5 Bxc6 7.Rxc6 Rfe8 8.Rec1 Qd4 9.b3 Re2 10.Rc8+ Re8 11.Rxa8 Rxa8 12.Re1 Rc8 13.g3 Qc3 14.Re2 Rd8 15.Qf4 Rd1+ 16.Kg2 Qc6+ 17.Qe4 Qxe4+ 18.Rxe4 Ra1 19.Re8+ Kg7 20.Re2 Rd1 21.Kh2 b4

    D27 -3.16 4...Qxe1+ 5.Rxe1 Rfe8 6.b3 Rac8 7.Ne5 Bf8 8.Qf4 Bg7 9.Nf3 Bd5 10.Rd1 Bxf3 11.Qxf3 Rcd8 12.Rxd8 Rxd8 13.g4 Rd6 14.Qa8+ Bf8 15.Kg2 Kg7 16.Qe4 Re6 17.Qb7 Rd6 18.h4 Rd2 19.Kg3 Rxa2

    D27 -4.84 4...Rfe8 5.Nxb4 Bxb4 6.Re4 Bf8 7.Qe3 Rac8 8.Qb6 Rc2 9.Qxa6 Rxb2 10.Rae1 Bc5 11.Rxe6 Bxf2+ 12.Kh2 Rxe6 13.Rxe6 fxe6 14.Qxe6+ Kh7 15.Qf7+ Kh6 16.Qf4+ Kh7 17.Qc7+ Kg8 18.Qe5 Bg1+ 19.Kxg1 Rc2 20.Qe4 Rc4 21.Qxg6+ Kf8 22.Qf5+ Kg7 23.Qxb5 Rc1+ 24.Kh2

    D27 -5.55 4...Bf5 5.Nxb4 Bxb4 6.Re5 Bc2 7.Qh4 Bd6 8.Rd5 Rad8 9.Rc1 Be7 10.Qxe7 Rxd5 11.Rxc2 a5 12.Rc7 a4 13.a3 Rf5 14.Rc6 Rf4 15.Qe5 Rc4 16.Ra6 b4 17.axb4 Rc1+ 18.Kh2 Rc2 19.b5

    D27 -6.14 4...Bd5 5.Nxb4 Bxb4 6.Red1 Bc4 7.h4 Rfc8 8.h5 Bf8 9.Qf4 gxh5 10.b3 Be6 11.Rd3 Bg7 12.Re1 Rc6 13.Red1 Rac8 14.Rd8+ Kh7 15.Qe4+ Kh6 16.Qh4 Rxd8 17.Rxd8 Bxb3 18.Qf4+ Kh7 19.axb3 b4 20.Qxf7 Rg6

    D27 -6.25 4...Qd4 5.Nxd4 Bxd4 6.Rxe6 Bg7 7.Qg5 fxe6 8.Qxg6 Rf6 9.Qg3 Raf8 10.Re1 Rf4 11.Rxe6 R8f6 12.Re8+ Rf8 13.Re5 R8f5 14.Re3 Rf8 15.Qg6 R4f6 16.Qg5 Rf5 17.Qg4 a5 18.Re4 R5f6 19.Qg3 a4

    D26 -6.86 4...Bd4 5.Nxb4 Bg7 6.Qg5 Rfe8 7.Re2 Bc4 8.Rd2 Re6 9.Nd5 Bxd5 10.Qxd5 Rc8 11.Qb3 Bh6 12.Rdd1 Rec6 13.a4 Rc1 14.axb5 Rxa1 15.Rxa1 axb5 16.Qxb5

    Apparently, both 4...Qxb2 and 4...Bxf2+ lead to a winning position – for BLACK!

    I still fail to “see” what Alef (and apparently Livshitz) saw that would cause resignation by Black.

    It must be my “amateur mind”.

  35. FEN: 1k3r1r/pp6/3n1P2/3q4/b1pnN3/P7/2P3BP/R1Q1BR1K b - - 1 27
    Test Your Chess IQ - Master Challenge, Test 53, Position 422.

    Chess Tempo Problem 74893762 FEN: 1k3r1r/pp6/2nn1P2/3q4/b1pPN3/P4B2/2P4P/R1Q1BR1K b - - 0 26
    (NOTE: The Chess Tempo problem occurs 1 move prior to the Test Your Chess IQ problem.)

    I had no real problem calculating through to the end of the game. What did cause me a problem was figuring out WHY White resigned. For some reason, I couldn't "see" the continuation(s) to the end that caused White to resign. So, I spent considerable time visualizing the variations in my head.

    I used GM Tisdall's idea of "stepping stones" to make it easier. I treated the end of the game
    as a new position, and slowly worked all of the relevant piece positions into my "vision."

    The breakthrough occurred when I "saw" that White could not escape from the mating net without severe loss of material. The squares g3 and g1 (and others, after certain moves) are "mined" because of the potential fork of White King and Queen. Analyzing the position AFTER WHite resigned is an excellent exercise in calculating variations!

    [Event "29. HUN-ch"]
    [Site "Budapest HUN"]
    [Round "2"]
    [Date "1973.11.??"]
    [White "Sax, Gyula"]
    [Black "Farago, Ivan"]
    [WhiteElo "2460"]
    [BlackElo "2440"]
    [Result "0-1"]

    1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 Ne7 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 c5 7.Nf3 Qa5 8.Bd2 Bd7
    9.Be2 Ba4 10.O-O c4 11.Ng5 h6 12.Nh3 Nbc6 13.f4 O-O-O 14.g4 f5 15.exf6 gxf6
    16.f5 e5 17.Be1 Kb8 18.Qc1 Nc8 19.dxe5 fxe5 20.Kh1 Nd6 21.g5 hxg5 22.Nxg5 Rdf8
    23.f6 d4 24.cxd4 Qd5+ 25.Bf3 e4 26.Nxe4 Nxd4 27.Bg2? Rxh2+ 28.Kxh2 Rh8+
    29.Bh3 Rxh3+ 30.Kxh3 Bd7+

  36. I love finding analogies to chess in other (perhaps unexpected) places. One of my favorite philosophers is Dr. Edward Feser. I recently read this article by Dr. Feser, and noted how the abstract concepts discussed in it could also be conceptually applied to chess.

    Here's the relevant link and excerpt.

    Edward Feser

    (LINK: Edward Feser: What is mathematics about?)


    Some say that mathematics [CHESS] is fundamentally about the study of quantity; some say it is fundamentally about relations; some say it is about structure; and some say it is about patterns.
    Franklin discusses all of these possibilities and notes that, arguably, the study of relations and the study of structure more or less amount to the same thing.  The difference would be that the former starts with the elements of a structure and then works up to an account of how the relations between them give rise to a larger whole, whereas the latter starts with the whole and then works down to the relations between the elements.  The study of pattern might also be seen as the study of certain kinds of relations or certain kinds of structure.  So, these approaches to understanding what mathematics is about might, in Franklin’s view, plausibly be unified.  They can, in particular, be accommodated to the view that mathematics [CHESS] is about the study of the structural features of concrete reality.

    What cannot be so easily assimilated to this approach, in Franklin’s view, is quantity.  For certain quantitative phenomena, though they have structural features, are not entirely reducible to structure.  (He gives size as an example.)  Hence Franklin thinks that there currently exists no entirely unified Aristotelian approach to the question of what mathematics is about.  We have to say that it [CHESS] is the science of quantity and structure (as he does in the subtitle to his book).


    I'm not saying that there is a one-to-one correspondence at all points between mathematics and chess, merely that there is an analogy between some of the philosophical points made in the article.

    There are four conceptual skeletons that are discussed in chess literature quite often: quantity; relations; structure; and patterns.

    Most authors (and students of the game as well) often focus on one of those four aspects at a time while avoiding study of the other three.

    From a pedagogical viewpoint, this narrow focus is understandable: it makes the "lessons" much easier to teach. Unfortunately, a side effect is that individual "silos" of knowledge and expertise (with "walls" between the individual concepts) inevitably arise. The "walls" then blind us to the reality of CHESS qua CHESS.

    In some ways, it is analogous to the apocryphal story of the blind men and the elephant. (Look it up if you are not familiar with the fable.) We fumble around trying to "see" the ELEPHANT and grab on to the first thing that seems to make sense, without realizing that we're not grasping the "elephant" qua ELEPHANT. Perhaps it's too large for our minds to grasp, except in small pieces. Unfortunately, grasping one particular element yields a distorted partial view (at best) of the overall structure.

  37. I am a "sucker" for books on chess improvement. I keep hoping for some tome which will deliver key insight(s) into the best process(es) for achieving RAPID chess improvement. (Who wants to improve s-l--o---w----l-----y?!?) As a consequence, I bought MdlM's Rapid Chess Improvement. After studying his "method," I decided that it was not useful - for me, at the very least.

    The most recent tome is Chess Improvement: It's all in the mindset by Barry Hymer (Emeritus Professor of Psychology in Education at the University of Cumbria, one of the UK's foremost authorities on the educational applications of mindset theory) and GM Peter Wells (a 30-year veteran of the chess wars and a highly respected author and coach).

    After I finished reading it, I realized that I had gained very little that would help ME to improve. The primary thesis of the book is to apply the "mindset" theories (proposed by Professor Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University) to chess.

    "A mindset is simply a belief about the mutability or otherwise of concepts such as intelligence. Individuals holding fixed mindsets for intelligence tend to believe that intelligence or talent is essentially stable and resistant to significant change. With this mindset, the provenance of intelligence is something of a mystery, but it likely lies in our genetic makeup. And we all know that genes are highly resistant to environmental manipulation - don't we?

    For individuals holding growth mindsets, by contrast, we see our skills or talents not simply as the fruits of some chromosomal alchemy but as an indicator of the extent to which we have seized on learning opportunities, persisted in the face of obstacles, increased our effort, improved our learning strategies, and so on. We don't deny the existence of such abstract concepts as 'intelligence' or 'ability', but we see these things as starting points, not as predetermined destinations.

    Given just this introduction, you can get the gist of the entire book. Approaching chess improvement with a "growth mindset" is much more likely to result in actual improvement (over time).

    I'm always struck by the obvious:

    If you really believe that improvement is largely a result of the genetic lottery, why on earth would you ever work to improve at anything?!?

    There are several tables contrasting the two mindsets. The gist seems to be that as a coach or parent, there are things that you can do to foster the "growth mindset" in your students - or conversely, to foster the "fixed" mindset. That's all well and good, but what about some specifics for chess improvement? That is the title of the book! Unfortunately, on a first read, I didn't see much of anything to address the subject.

    A couple of days ago, I received my monthly Chess Life magazine (from the US Chess Federation). IM John Watson had a book review on this book, which I wish was available prior to my purchase of it. Here is a summary statement:

    Unlike most improvement books, Chess Improvement doesn't supply exercises or study plans. . . . Chess Improvement may not be a consistently easy read for everyone. . . . but might prove a little frustrating for those looking for a strong message and simple path forward.

    That would be ME: frustrated because I don't there is anything particular I can use to improve.

    Oh well, you pay your money and you take your chances.

  38. One of my life-long habits is to periodically return for another look at some of the things I've studied in the past. This usually results in gaining a new perspective (and insights) into the subject that I missed on previous investigation. This has happened several times as I've repeated study of Emanuel Lasker's Lasker's Manual of Chess. The same thing occurs with other authors such as Aron Nimzovich's My System. I seriously doubt that these books have changed over time, so any "new" insights must come from taking a different perspective on what the authors have written. The books remain unchanged; I have changed.

    I recently revisited Momir Radovic's ("RoaringPawn" on elaboration of "contacts" identified in GM Yuri Averbakh's theoretical AND practical treatise, Chess Tactics for Advanced Players.

    GM Averbakh identified the individual contacts as:

    1. The attacking contact (ATTACK)
    2. The restricting contact (RESTRICTION)
    3. The queening threat
    4. The protective contact (PROTECTIVE)
    5. The interposing contact (INTERPOSITION - BLOCK/COVER/PIN)
    6. Refuting the queening threat

    Radovic restricts his emphasis to the four "contacts," using the acronym APRI while effectively ignoring the "queening threat" and "preventing the queening threat." He postulates that this four-letter "chess alphabet" is the basis of dynamic chess structure (the interactions and interrelationships between pieces, and pieces and squares), analogous to the structure of DNA, which is founded on four chemical bases: G, C, A and T. [1]

    It's an intriguing analogy, but there is also a practical downside to it. Consider that the basic "alphabet" is extremely low-level. Even if it is true that the basic "alphabet" consists of these four contacts, it remains merely a theoretical basis with virtually NO practical application to the problem of how to play better chess.

    WHY NOT?!?

    "Seeing" and cataloging the individual contacts is relatively easy to do (albeit tedious in the extreme). Unfortunately, the sheer number of these contacts in most practical chess positions overwhelms the human capability to use them DIRECTLY. It is analogous to the difference between how humans and computers play chess. Computers rely on extremely large, deep search trees (using relatively simple evaluation criteria at the leaf nodes) whereas that approach is completely beyond human capacity. The combinatorial (a most appropriate term when discussing chess!) explosion cannot be handled by the human mind by using extremely low-level brute force algorithms and concepts.

    Radovic tries to utilize these basic contacts as the basis for a "new" way of teaching chess. The problem is that the concept of these contacts are very easily learned - but cannot be used beyond the most elementary chess relationships between individual pieces. They are concrete, but cannot be combined and carried directly upward to more abstract complicated relationships such as the various tactical devices/THEMES.

    By analogy, it would be like trying to map out and understand human cognitive processes in terms of DNA itself. In theory, you could do this; in reality, you cannot.

    [1] PRINCIPIA SCACCHORUM, Part 8: Bricks in the Wall, or How Chessmen Interact

  39. lichess puzzle rating:

    30 days - 2489
    60 days - 2277
    90 days - 2264

    It appears that I am (FINALLY!) making progress in solving tactics problems on lichess. This is the first time that I've consistently stayed above 2200 - ever. My usual pattern is to get somewhat over 2200, then in the next session or two, fall down as far as into the 1800s.

    What has changed? I've been consistently working through a variety of puzzles, both online and in books, every day. No marathon sessions, just working through a few puzzles (usually fewer than 20 per day) with a consistent attitude. That attitude is simply: study the position until I am (reasonably) certain that I have a solution that works. I have been surprised a few times by puzzles solutions that are no faster than my proposed solution - and I do verify that my solution works. If that were not the case, my rating would be even higher.

  40. Chess Tactics for Advanced Players, by GM Yuri Averbakh

    FEN - Position 341: 3rkn2/3b3R/3b1PP1/8/8/8/8/6K1 w - - 0 1

    FEN - Position 458: 8/8/8/p7/kpK5/7R/1P6/6q1 w - - 0 1

    I recently re-read an article on about pattern recognition:

    Pattern Recognition—Fact Or Fiction?‎

    The author's definition of "pattern" is "pieces on squares" encompassing the entire position, not just localized parts of it. He then proceeds to dismiss the concept of pattern recognition as a pathway to chess improvement because it is extremely rare to have the exact same position repeat (except perhaps in the most extremely limited endgame positions). Consequently, how can you learn on the basis of "patterns" if the exact same positions never repeat?

    His definition is flawed, to say the least. If we did not have repeated patterns, we would be unable to function in life, never mind at playing chess.

    The two positions given above have a common "pattern." If you "see" the solution to one of them, it should be easy to quickly "see" the solution to the other.

    The basis for the common "pattern" is the idea of the "king in a box." There is nothing in common between the two positions based on "pieces on squares."

    In re-reading and studying Averbakh's book, I was struck that the functional relationships (based on contacts) is the basis for pattern recognition, not the relationships based on "pieces on squares." Perhaps this is the reason it is so hard to figure out how many tactical patterns must be ingrained in order to develop more skill. What You See Is All There Is (Kahneman) is certainly true, especially for lower-skilled players.

    That merely shifts the question to: What is a "Pattern"? What "patterns" must we learn in order to play at a higher skill level? How do we learn "patterns"? How many of these "patterns" must be acquired? How long does it take to ingrain the requisite "patterns"?

  41. PART I:

    One of my band mates (I play harmonica in a bluegrass/country band) sent me the following link:

    Why the Path You Take Matters

    You may have absolutely ZERO interest in learning to play banjo; I know I don't have any interest in it. However, I do have an interest in playing dobro, having taken it up about a year ago. I also have a continuing interest in chess improvement, especially methods for adult improvement.

    I took notes as Dr. Josh Turknett, a neurologist, musician, neuroplastician, expounded on why the path taken matters to the eventual success. The notes encapsulate the video lecture. I think there is some "food for thought" here that is applicable to chess. I'll leave it to you to figure out the parallels. Take the road less traveled!

    Brainjo Method - Why the Path You Take Matters

    The traditional method for teaching reading is via phonics. Start with phonics - recognize the letters and the sounds that go with them. Begin by mapping the graphemes (the smallest functional units of a writing system) to phonemes (the unit of sound that distinguishes one word from another in a particular language, and associated with a corresponding grapheme). Identify the "print to sound" correspondences. Sound out the words as they are encountered while reading, combining the two units together. This process is analogous to how we learn to speak. After learning the basic units, begin combining them into words. In essence, words are "seen" (understood) as sequential combinations of individual letters and sounds. This approach is based on sound cognitive science.

    There is a modern method for teaching reading called the "whole language" approach. When faced with an unfamiliar word, look for other clues as to what that word might be, i.e., the context in the "story," or picture(s) on the page. Recognize the words as whole units without concern for the constituent letters and sounds. In this approach, the individual letters and sounds of those letters don't carry much meaning. Recognize words similarly to how you recognize pictures, as one whole discrete unit. Grasp the word holistically rather than trying to identify and fit the individual parts together to create the "whole" word.

    Over time, the "whole language" method has been shown to be problematic. Students who learned the phonics method were much more likely to become skilled readers, whereas those who learned via the "whole language" method struggled to advance, with reading always remaining effortful - and unpleasant. Using the phonics method, reading eventually became effortless and automatic, just like learning to talk.

    Cognitive scientists knew for decades that the "whole learning" method was a bad idea. They knew that eventual success was determined by how well a reader could map letters to sounds. The most skilled readers do not use context at all to decode words and determine meaning. Academic educational advocates for "whole learning" were ignorant of cognitive science and the empirical evidence for what actually works.

    There is a tight connection between successful reading and educational success via life-long learning. Differences between readers had everything to do with how they learned to read and nothing to do with their innate ability or aptitude.

    "If we don't know how the brain learns, then how can we know how to teach?" That is a question that doesn't often get asked in academic educational theory circles.

  42. PART II:

    The goal of all education is to change the brain. Acquiring new knowledge and skill, which is what education is supposed to do, requires the construction of new neural machinery.

    Learning banjo rolls is the equivalent of using the "whole language" method for learning to read. It is essentially learning to play a whole pattern and skipping the fundamental (foundational) elements from which that pattern is constructed. In 3-finger rolls, you have melody notes, harmony notes, drone notes, all being played in succession, all being played against a rhythmic background. In order to play this style successfully, you must be able to change some of the notes "on the fly" by varying the volume or timing more than others, in order to make the melody stand out, in order to create certain rhythms, in order to create "drive." Yet if the brain has stored a specific pattern as the fundamental unit or building block, it becomes exceptionally hard to emphasize any of the specific individual components of that unit. The brain treats all individual components of the unit as the same. The individual notes may all be there, but the nuances that are key to the sound are missing. This causes trouble jamming with others, which requires flexibility; you will not be able to play exactly as you practiced on your own. You may have to deviate from your "canned" patterns. On the other hand, starting with the most fundamental elements (and building up from there) provides optimum flexibility. It is possible to learn via the "whole language" approach, in spite of it. There may be early success, but over time, the phonics approach works much better for developing skill. [Similar to the results of "massed practice" in chess.]

    How we learn is the ultimate driver of eventual success of learning to do anything well. Often, it is the learning method that hinders the learning process.

    Beginning with Averbakh's Theory of Contacts is an ideal way to apply a parallel method to phonics to the process of learning chess tactics. Start with the elementary contacts, learn to "see" those contacts in every position, and then connect them together to create more complex "words" (tactical devices/themes). Eventually, the process of "seeing" tactics becomes effortless and automatic.

    Contrast this approach with the usual "solve tactical problems until the patterns get burned into your brain" approach. The problem with this "whole word" approach is that unless a significant portion of the patterns seen previously are repeated almost verbatim in a new (unknown) position, there will be little aid from System 1 in recognizing the important pattern required to "solve" the problem. Think of solving tactical problems as trying to learn a 3-finger roll on the banjo.

    We wonder why we don't improve. It's because we have a crappy foundation which is not based on the elements. We need to learn the alphabet and how to put the letters together to form the words.

  43. PART III:

    Let's take a look at a tactics problem as an example.

    FEN: 2r3k1/pp2bp2/2q3p1/3pPp2/3P1Q2/1P5P/PB4P1/R5K1 b - - 0 1

    This position is taken from a YouTube video (at approximately 7:25):

    LINK: How to DETECT Tactics in your Games

    What could be more "natural" than attacking the unprotected White Bishop on b2? 1. ... Qc2 comes immediately to mind.

    It also ignores (unless you begin to calculate ahead) potential ramifications of this move. The Black Queen and Rook are on the same line of attack. Not to worry: they "protect" each other AND White "must" do something about his unprotected Bishop. Hope Chess at its finest!

    Unfortunately, 2. Rc1 exposes the fallacy in the "thinking" process. Yes, Black gets to capture the White Bishop, but it comes at too high a cost. 2. ... Qxb2 3. Rxc8+ and Black as lost the Exchange.

    How many times have we "seen" an attack and jumped right on it, missing the significance of other elementary factors in the position?

    If we were totally aware of the elementary contacts (actual as well as potential) in a given position, we would not fall into these traps nearly as often - and we would play better as a result!

  44. PART I:

    Excerpt from Think Like A Grandmaster, Gm Alexander Kotov, pg. 170

    Once in a lobby of the Hall of Columns of the Trade Union Centre in Moscow, a group of masters were analyzing an ending. They could not find the right way to go about things and there was a lot of arguing about it. Suddenly Capablanca came into the room. He was always fond of walking about when it was his opponent's turn to move. Learning the reason for the dispute the Cuban bent down to look at the position, said, "Si, si," and suddenly redistributed the pieces all over the board to show what the correct formation was for the side that was trying to win. I haven't exaggerated. Don Jose literally pushed the pieces round the board without making moves. He just put them in fresh positions where he thought they were needed.

    Suddenly everything became clear. The correct scheme of things had been set up and now the win was easy.

    Do you ever just reposition the pieces as needed for whatever the goal is, with no calculation of variations or consideration of moves? I don't.

    I got to thinking about this story while studying GM Averbakh's Chess Tactics for Advanced Players. (I strongly suggest getting a copy of the book, if you don't have it. Time spent studying it will pay rich dividends.)

    The section which triggered these thoughts is The co-ordinated attack, 1. The cornered king, pp. 178-182. I am fond of referring to this as the "king in a box" position, but in this case, the reference is to a literally "cornered" king - in one of the four "corners" of the board.

    Gm Averbakh first details the type and minimum number of contacts that are required to checkmate the king in this "box" position.

    "If the cornered king is to be checkmated it has to be cut off from three squares and attacked on the fourth. The mating PATTERN varies according to the attacking piece."

    Well, DUH! you might think. But let's go back to that Capablanca story and rethink that initial reaction. Suppose that we use Capablanca's idea of just redistributing the pieces as needed to achieve a particular goal as a training idea.

    For purposes of this comment series, set up a board position with the Black King on a8, and nothing else on the board. Mark the 3 squares a7, b7, and b8 with an X. These three squares must have restricting (controlling) or blocking contacts which prevent the Black King from moving to one of them to escape the attacking contact. Draw a circle around the a8 square. This is the square that must have an attacking contact.

  45. PART II:

    We are trying to train System 1 to "see" PATTERNS and trigger the appropriate response needed to achieve mate, not to "solve" a tactical problem through logical calculation.

    GM Averbakh's first example is (a) Mating with the queen.

    Place a White Queen on c8. A restricting contact is only required on square a7, because the Queen attacks a8, and simultaneously restricts the movement of the Black King to b7 and b8 squares. The a7 square can be restricted by any other White piece or Pawn. An important point: a7 could also be occupied by a Black Pawn or Rook with the same checkmating effect, but not with a Queen, Bishop or Knight, which would allow an interposing contact to block the check.

    We have our first PATTERN for checkmating in the corner of the board. This PATTERN can be replicated in the other three corners of the board.

    A serious question: Are there FOUR separate and distinct PATTERNS (one for each corner of the board) OR are all of these duplicated positions literally ONE PATTERN?

    If we take the (to me, extreme) position that in order to be a PATTERN, the exact same position must be exactly duplicated across the board ("pieces on squares"), then there are four separate and distinct PATTERNS that must be burned into System 1. (If this is true, then I can understand why there are estimates that masters have 10,000, 50,000, 100,000, 300,000 or millions of "patterns" burned into their brains.) On the other hand, if we presume (and I do) that a PATTERN does NOT have to be exactly duplicated but merely "suggest" truth through abstraction, then I maintain that there is one and only one PATTERN in the four different positions. That certainly seems to be a direction in which we can cut down on the total number of PATTERNS that we have to learn!

    Moving right along. . .

  46. PART III:

    GM Averbakh's second example is (b) Mating with the rook.

    Place a White Rook on c8. Here restricting contacts have to be created with two squares (a7 and b7), with the White Rook restricting the b8 square while providing the attacking contact on a8. The task of restricting the Black King can be performed e.g. by the White King or a White Rook. A finish in which only White pieces attack/restrict is conceivable (such as the following).

    An alternative is to place a White Knight on c6 and a White Rook on b8. Now the White Knight provides a restricting contact on a7 and a defending contact on b8, while the White Rook restricts b7 and attacks a8.

    Again, is this a totally different PATTERN or is this just a variation on the theme of "cornered king in the box"? Are there multiple PATTERNS associated with this configuration or just one PATTERN? Is it a different PATTERN if there is a Black Pawn or Rook on a7, or a Black Pawn or Knight on b7?

    There are many other PATTERNS on this theme of "cornered king in the box" shown in the book using various other pieces; I'll not bore you with them all.

    One other thought from the book and I'll end this comment sequence.

    "A combined attack ALWAYS involves an attacking contact, a confining contact and occasionally a protective contact. In this connection I would like to emphasize that THE COORDINATED ATTACK ON OTHER PIECES, which we discussed at the beginning of part 2, IS BASICALLY THE SAME AS A MATE ENDING.

    As I was thinking about this, I realized that we could set up basic typical positions and then create puzzles around them. The puzzle idea is simple. Put down a stereotypical piece configuration without all of the required contacts remove some of the contacts), then "drop" pieces into the position as needed to accomplish a particular goal (using the dropped pieces as needed to establish the contacts). This trains us to do the same kind of thing PRIOR TO jumping into the "thicket" of calculating variations using "I go there, he goes here, I go there..." until we've lost sight of the original objective.

    Or maybe this is just too simplistic an approach to have any benefit. I don't know the answer (yet), but I'm going to give it a try.

  47. PART IV:

    Here's some examples of "drop" puzzles (made up from Puzzle Streak problems on

    (1) FEN: 1k6/p1r5/PpP2p2/2r4p/6p1/8/5PPP/42K1 w - - 0 1

    Black has just played 1. ... Rc7. Drop two White Rooks on the board so that White can play a 3-move checkmate, while preventing a back-rank mate by Black.

    (2) FEN: r1bq1rk1/pp2bpp1/3p1n1p/4n3/2Bp1B1P/3Q4/PP3PP1/2KR3R w - - 0 1

    Black has just played 1. ... Ne5. Drop two White Knights on the board so that White can play a 2-move checkmate, while preventing the loss of a piece.

    (3) FEN: 5b2/5rkp/5pp1/P2Rp3/8/8/r5PP/6K1 w - - 0 1

    Black has just played 1. ... Kg7. Drop a White Rook and White Bishop on the board so that White can win the Exchange in two moves.

  48. Temposchlucker:

    Are you okay?

    Are you still reading this blog, even if you're not writing anymore?


    1. I'm okay. But my energy level is terribly low. I don't read every detail. But enough to get the main idea. I expect progress from august on.

    2. WONDERFUL!!!

      I can hardly wait to see your thoughts!