Thursday, June 23, 2022

About the future

Proof of concept

 Chess improvement is always very unpredictable. I started the preparation for the oncoming tournaments with a complete new openings repertoire, and via endgames I ended up with aural visualization, which is the main part of my training now. It feels as if it is working. So what's the plan?

The tournaments will be decisive. If they show that aural visualization is the missing link in tactical improvement, I can base my plans on that. If it is not working, well, then it's back to the drawing board.

Endgame training

Endgame training will be a substantial part of my training the coming year. Even though it will only gain me 70 points or so, it is necessary to embed it in my games. It makes a whole lot of difference when you can decide at any moment in your game, now I'm going to liquidate into an endgame. Your options will double.


Studying "The art of attack" of Vukovic deeply, has been on my bucket list for a long time. Especially the preconditions of an attack have my interest. If the tournaments show that aural visualization is working, I know exactly how I'm going to approach the study of that.

Positional play

 Creating micro plans fast is a definite hole in my chess ability. Studying "Mastering chess strategy" of GM Johan Hellsten is designed to fill that gap. I have no idea how many rating points that will yield, but at least it should help to avoid time trouble. Like endgames, it is a necessary part of your chess education.

His System

After reading My System a few times, I became convinced that there is indeed a system hiding in the book. But it will take a lot of time and effort to decipher the work. To be honest I was a bit disappointed about the book of John Watson "Advances since Nimzowitsch". The book seems to battle against the idea of rules in chess. Since every rule has its exceptions, and exceptions form the majority of the cases, and rules are always overruled by concrete calculation. Well, he has a point, of course, but is that a reason to abandon the idea of rules all together? I don't think so. The aural visualization is designed to take care of the calculation department. Within two months we will know if that is sufficient. At the same time it is a pity that Watson didn't build further on the work of Nimzowitsch. The theory of chess, and I don't mean the openings, didn't seem to come any further since then. Of course every super grandmaster has its own ideas about how to conduct a game, but there doesn't seem much consensus and coherence between the super grandmasters mutually. Or maybe I just mist it.

 Piece activity

At the same time, I'm working on my own system. I don't like the longlists of for instance "How to reassess your chess", where you have to fill in a list of more than 10 points to assess your position. Although these long lists might have a solid theoretical base, they are not practical. During a chess game there is little time to think, and working your way trough a whole bunch of checklists isn't of any help in practice.

My investigations show that you can replace all those checklists by just one rule: improve the activity of your pieces. Such checklist of just one point is easy to remember, and offers enough guidance to judge whether a piece has to move or not. For long, piece activity has been the nec plus ultra guidance for my games.

Sitting ducks

The king and the pawns are the slow moving pieces of the board. That makes them the natural targets to hunt for. In their wake they might slow down other pieces, when these are obliged to slacken too, for reasons of defense. Slowing down due to function. I have been looking for ways to combine piece activity with the idea of the sitting ducks. The PoPLoAFun system proved to be the glue which cement both ideas together. A piece cannot be considered to be active when it is not aiming at a target. Only when an attacker is connected via lines of attack and points of pressure with a target, a piece can be called active.

The pawn landscape provides the lines of attack which can be used to bring the attackers in contact with the targets. So you have the creation of the lines of attack, followed by the battle to make use of them. What is left behind in the endgame are the remnants of the pawn landscape. In the middle game, piece activity should be your guide.

Some day, I hope to combine the ideas of PoPLoAFun and piece activity related to sitting ducks, with the ideas of Nimzowitsch. In some way.


  1. GM Jacob Aagaard, in his book Grandmaster Preparation: Thinking Inside The Box, discusses his view of "rules" and his public disagreement with an unnamed person (I presume IM John Watson, since he is the most vociferous champion of "no rules" in chess). Chapter 10 Strategic Concepts and Chapter 11 Dynamic Strategic Concepts are very good chapters pointing to his views on rules. Instead of "rules," he prefers the notion of strategic principles or concepts which are generally applicable but not as "cut and dried" (definitive) as implied by the word "rules." It is one thing to follow a "rule" (and also to be aware of the myriad exceptions that inevitably exist) and something much more flexible as remembering a concept and trying to apply it.

    ". . . In chess terms, I only learned one thing from this whole debacle, which is that the word "rules" is very confusing to a lot of people."

    "A beginner might make the mistake of thinking that a "rule" in chess is something that is always relevant. As we shall discuss below, this is not the case."

    "At the time, I tried to solve the issue by arguing that we intuitively operate with a hierarchy of rules, where (an unwritten rule like) "mate wins the game" is a more important rule than "the rook belongs behind the passed pawn", to summarize an old Tarrasch story."

    "To have a lot of floating concepts is not a problem for me (I feel my way), but again, some people reject it, because you cannot keep them all clearly visible in your head."

    "And the purists argue that because it was not specifically written down in a manual out of print for at least 75 years and only spoken about in Chinese whispers, it cannot be classified as a rule."

    "At some point, I realized that the problem is the language. Some people are not able to change the mindset from the idea that a "rule" is something you implement instead of [in place of?] thinking, rather than something that can help you in your thought process. . . ."

    "Summing up the historical perspective, I would say that chess has gone through five ages, where the main features were: discovery, imagination, philosophy, research and assistance management."

    "What is a strategic concept?

    "Getting away from the rules mentality, there is no determination linked to this kind of thinking. There is no certainty. Chess is far more complicated for that. It is after all a mathematical game of combinatorics. All strategy is a human interpretation of what we see on the board. . . .

    "I always implore my students to pay attention to recurring patterns, typical reactions to typical scenarios, the strategic concepts. The reason for this is that understanding them truly, why they matter and how they matter, is what is useful for the top players. A grandmaster would never follow a rule blindly, but he would recognize a lot of patterns automatically and include them in his decision making; most of the time subconsciously, but at times consciously as well. Some more than others, of course, but they all do it. Their language gives them away."

  2. PART II:

    Some examples of strategic concepts:

    Always take back.

    When you have an advantage, you are obliged to attack; otherwise you are endangered to lose the advantage.

    Do not hurry! as a method of exploiting an advantage, especially i the endgame.

    Pawns cannot move backwards

    Eight principles of dynamic strategic concepts:

    1. Include all the pieces in the attack.
    2. Momentum.
    3. Colour (of square complexes which are controlled).
    4. Quantity beats Quality.
    A piece can only attack a square once, no matter its alleged exchange value in pawns.
    5. Attack the Weakest square.
    6. Attack the Strongest square [and thereby force a weakness].
    7. Evolution/Revolution [see Nimzovich's My System].
    8. The killzone (the "box"].

    The book is a summary of the entire Grandmaster Preparation series - and well worth the price!

  3. OFF-TOPIC - Please defer review and discussion until after your tournament success!

    I'm still studying analogization and categorization, and the possibility of consciously storing "patterns" into System 1.

    What triggers System 1 to encode patterns ("connect the dots" between two positions) that (on the surface) are completely different but share the same essence?

    I was reviewing Martin Weteschnik's Understanding Chess Tactics (again), and had a "feeling" (System 1) that I had seen a similar IDEA (by analogy) in one of my other books. I was reasonably certain that it was in Emmanuel Nieman's Tune Your Chess Tactics Antenna: Know when (and where!) to look for winning combinations. The only "pieces-on-squares" commonality in the two starting positions is the location of two pawns: BPe5 and WPg2. There is a "common" material basis of queen, rook and bishop on both sides, but none of them are in the same positions on the board.

    What are the shared (common) characteristics which triggered that "feeling" of similarity? It could be the similarity in "solution", but that is only recognized after the solution has been determined.

    1. Weteschnik, pg 26: Schatz - Giegold, Hof 1928:

    FEN - 7k/pb2q3/1p3p2/2prp1p1/6P1/QP1R4/P4PP1/1B5K b - - 0 1

    At first glance, it appears that Black must be careful to avoid getting his queen pinned against the king. However, Black goes ahead and does it anyway! After 1...Qh7+, can White win the Black queen with 2. Rh3? Is there a better alternative (IE, not losing as White did in the game)?

    2. Nieman, pp 171-172: Hou Qiang - Yang Kaiqi, Pattaya 2011.01.14

    FEN - 8/5q1k/p1bQ4/4pr2/2P5/1p4R1/1B4P1/6K1 b - - 0 1

    What if Black plays 42...Rf1+ instead of 42...Bxg2 as was played in the game?

    The game:

    Hou, Qiang (2284) vs Yang, Kaiqi (2399)
    Date: 2011-04-14
    Event: 11th BCC Thailand Open, Pattaya THA
    Round: 6.7
    Result: 0-1
    Opening: Sicilian Defense, Kan Variation, Polugaevsky Variation (B42)

    1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. Bd3 Bc5 6. Nb3 Be7 7. c4 d6 8. O-O Nf6 9. Nc3 Nbd7 10. Be3 O-O 11. a4 Qc7 12. a5 Re8 13. Na4 Nc5 14. e5 Nxa4 15. exf6 Nxb2 16. Bxh7+ Kxh7 17. Qh5+ Kg8 18. fxg7 Kxg7 19. Bh6+ Kh7 20. Bc1+ Kg7 21. Qh6+ Kg8 22. Bxb2 e5 23. f4 Bf8 24. Qg5+ Bg7 25. f5 f6 26. Qg4 Bd7 27. Rf3 Rac8 28. Rg3 Re7 29. Rc1 b6 30. h4 bxa5 31. h5 a4 32. h6 axb3 33. Qh4 Bc6 34. Qxf6 Rf8 35. Qg6 Kh8 36. hxg7+ Rxg7 37. Qh6+ Kg8 38. Rcc3 Rxf5 39. Qe6+ Qf7 40. Rxg7+ Kxg7 41. Rg3+ Kh7 42. Qxd6 Bxg2 43. Qd3 e4 44. Qd2 Bf3 45. Qd8 Qf8 46. Qd7+ Rf7 47. Qh3+ Qh6 48. Qxh6+ Kxh6 49. Kf2 Rc7 50. Ke3 Rxc4 51. Kf4 Rc6 52. Kf5 Rc5+ 53. Kf6 Kh5 54. Bd4 Rb5 55. Bf2 Bg4 56. Rg2 Rf5+ 57. Kg7 Bh3 58. Rh2 Kg4 59. Bd4 Rd5 60. Bc3 Rc5 61. Bd4 Rd5 62. Bc3 Rd3 63. Be1 e3 64. Kf6 Rd1 65. Bc3 Bf1 66. Rb2 Bc4 White resigns 0-1

  4. I'm still studying analogization and categorization, and the possibility of consciously storing "patterns" into System 1.

    I have seen about ten different variations of the combination you give past weeks. The MoveTrainer of Chessable presents you with the moves with spaced repetition. So in the end you repeat the moves even far more often than with the 7 circles of madness. In the first stage you focus on the moves. During the second stage, you focus on the auras of the pieces. In the third stage you focus on understanding the moves. In the fourth stage you look for concepts and analogies.

    For the example you give, you need a bishop on the long diagonal, a rook with access to the back rank, a queen with access to the rook file and a pawn on the knight file, ready to be pinned against the enemy king. The combination itself is based on the pseudo rook sac in the corner, where it works as a magnet to draw the king into the pin.

    In the fifth stage, you ask yourself, how did this position came about? Why are the pieces where they are? Why isn't the back rank defended? Which opening was played? Which preconditions of Vukovic are met?

  5. BTW ii is not only about imagining the aura of the current pieces, but about imagining the aura of the fictitious pieces on their virtual future positions as well.

  6. Thanks for your insights!

    Somewhere in System 1 is a concept of a pin on g2-square, a queen capturing on h3-square with check, followed by checkmate on g2-square.

    The points you enumerated are essentially "pieces-on-squares", generalized of course.

    (1) Bishop on the long diagonal
    (2) Rook with access to the back rank (but no back rank mate possibility)
    (3) Queen with access to the rook file (h-file)
    (4) Pawn on the knight file, ready to be pinned against the enemy king.
    (5) Pseudo Rook sac on the corner square to draw the enemy king into the pin.

    There are other "less visible" commonalities.

    All three available 'attacking' pieces have Lines of Attack available toward the enemy king position, while two of the potential defender pieces are not placed as required to help defend the king. Apply the three piece concept ("rule"): one piece to sacrifice, one piece to protect the final attacker, and the final attacker performing the mate. The Attack Motif tells us to NOT "shilly-shally"; forcing moves are the first consideration: REVOLUTION is the order of the day!

    Since we are attacking the enemy king, it is reasonable to look for potential 'kill zones'. Both examples have potential "corridor mates": back-rank mate and h-file mate. There's also a 'kill zone' formed around the g3-square. Why? Because the enemy king can "skedaddle" off either the back rank or the h-file via the g-file, but cannot "escape" because the black bishop and the black e5-pawn cover two of the "escape" squares. In example 1, the f2-pawn prevents escape, while in example 2, the black rook covers that f2-square. Obviously, in both examples the g2-pawn prevents the enemy king from escaping there.

    Defensively, in both examples it appears that the defender can interpose a Rook if a check is given by the attacking queen, simultaneously creating an absolute pin against the attacker's king. This is a key factor of the essence of both examples, because it creates an emotional reaction to the danger posed. "Queen may be pinned to the king - DANGER, WILL ROBINSON, DANGER!"

    If we look at the Lines of Attack (LoA) [auras extending all the way to the edge of the board through any and all obstructions and targeting all squares along that trajectory], we can "see" that the knight pawn is "pinned" to the h1-square, regardless of whether the square is currently empty or occupied by the enemy king. I don't think this comes into focus until after starting to investigate possible move sequences.

    Psychologically, it is very difficult, when your king is attacked and there is an available absolute pin, to NOT get fixated with this possibility, while ignoring everything else.

    "Seeing" all of these factors (and perhaps more), there is a feeling of similarity between the two examples.