Saturday, November 19, 2022

Verbal absorption

 Trying to SEE the solution of a problem often felt a bit awkward. It often made me ask "system 1 are you paying attention? Or "system 1 are you ready with absorbing?". 

It felt unnatural since there has been no moments in life where system 1 had to learn this way. System 1 always worked its miracles in the background.

But yesterday I came to the logical conclusion that system 2 must be in the lead, and now a more natural approach presents itself. We tend to look upon system 2 with some scorn. But the processing of verbal narratives by system 2 might be slow, the words themselves contain a high level of abstraction.

Take for instance the verbal description "double attack". It is totally piece and location independent. It doesn't matter which piece is the attacker, nor which pieces are the targets, nor on which squares the pieces are. "Double attack" says it all. It describes that there is a tempo problem for the opponent. Two targets are under attack at the same time, and the only way he can save himself is with a double tempo move, where he must save two targets with just one move.

In the past we already concluded that seeking for a higher level of abstraction is the way to acquire knowledge that is transferable from one position to another.

But we know already all highest levels of abstraction when it comes to tactics: There are the 50 tactical motifs that we know of (mates, duplo moves, traps, promotion and all preliminary moves). So what is the work?

We must present system 1 with positions, and describe all tactical motifs that are at work verbally. So system 1 can retrieve all verbal motifs that you need to reason about the position. Can you see how this is related to the tree of scenarios? Since every tactical motif has its limited set of scenarios. An opponent has a limited amount of options to free himself from a double attack.

We must absorb the tree of scenarios. System 1 must present the possibilities based by association. The patterns in any position must trigger the chess logic so system 2 can do its work. Just like system 1 provides the words when we tell a story.

White to move

1k1rr3/pp3ppp/2p1b2q/4R3/1QPPN3/6P1/P4P1P/R5K1 w - - 1 2 


An evident double attack presents itself: 1.Nd6 attacks both b7, threatening mate, and Re8. The only way that black can save both targets is 1. ... Re7. But that leads to the next double attack: 2.Nf5. Black cannot save himself from this double attack since the black bishop is pinned.

The three tactical motifs describe it all: double attack, double attack and pin. Highly abstract and highly verbal. And highly related to the tree of scenarios.


  1. In previous comments, several times I've referenced Emmanuel Neiman's EXCELLENT book Tune Your Chess Tactics Antenna: Know when (and where!) to look for winning combinations, often with respect to one aspect or another of "SEEing" MOTIFS ("signals,” in Neiman's terminology) as the precursor (trigger) to application of THEMES/DEVICES, as well as an overall general thought process.

    In light of the Magnus Carlsen interview, I now understand why Neiman consistently used complete games to illustrate his points. Rather than merely presenting the position as a puzzle, the context of a game provides for the application of ‘Carlsen’ logic.

    For purposes of “connecting the dots” from the tree of scenarios to the tactics/mates, I think Neiman offers several cogent connections. Each “signal” includes typical themes which are generally most often used in support of that signal. The verbiage is independent of pieces and pieces-on-squares, and at a fairly high level of abstraction (with sufficient detail to determine the “triggers’).

    For example, regarding “trapped pieces,” Neiman says this:

    Part I – The Seven Signals

    Chapter 5: Trapped Pieces

    The fifth signal is a MOTIF inherent to all board games. Given that the number of squares is limited [to 64 in the case of chess], the theme of DOMINATION (meaning that a piece has no more available squares, and is therefore dominated by the opponent’s pieces) is possibly THE MOST IMPORTANT IN CHESS, checkmate being the supreme form of domination.

    We will study TWO TYPES OF TRAPPING. In the first type, the piece has no more squares and is taken. In the second type. The piece cannot be taken, but is just kept in jail, so that it has no more influence on what happens on the rest of the board. The first case results in material gain, the second in positional gain.

    PART II – Find the Relevant Theme

    Chapter 12: Trapped Pieces

    The main thing is to identify the signal. The domination has to be spotted.

    Once the MOTIF of a ‘trapped piece’ has been noticed, the main THEMES in order to use it efficiently are:

    - Line/square closing (in order to keep the prisoner from escaping);
    - Line clearance (in order to open the line for attacking the [trapped] piece);
    - Elimination of the defender (of the trapped piece).

    The domination theme is arguably the most important theme in chess tactics.

    End of excerpts

    The connections between the phases of the reflexion (thinking) process are made explicitly. Each phase leads inexorably to the next phase in concrete terms.

    1. Global vision (Vulture’s eye view)
    2. Analysis of the position
    3. Looking for the theme (identifying a plan)
    4. Looking for candidate moves
    5. The calculation of variations

  2. PART I:

    Happy Thanksgiving Day to everyone from the USA—regardless of where in the world you’re located!

    While re-reading in Neil McDonald's Coach Yourself: A Complete Guide to Self Improvement at Chess, I came across this position.

    FEN: r5r1/3n1p1k/2p1q2p/1pp1pR2/4Pp1P/pP1P1N1Q/P1P2P2/1K1R4 w - - 4 27

    (The game is in Chess Tempo’s database.)

    The position occurred in a rapid play game between V. Anand and A. Grischuk, Moscow, 2018.

    On the surface, it looks like Black has the advantage of an extra pawn (although somewhat negated by two sets of doubled pawns) and a “nail” pawn on a3 but with no obvious means of cracking open a file on the queenside. White has three pieces over on the kingside, and Black’s king position appears somewhat insecure, but he does have his queen and rook in the vicinity.

    If we begin by looking for the most forcing moves, the candidates list drops down to two moves:

    (1) Rxf7+
    (2) Ng5+

    While contemplating what to do, I had an “itch” from System 1. The BPf7 and BRg8 form the basic “anvil” in the Dovetail Mate, assuming that White can get his queen to h6 with the Black king on g7. In the present position, that appears to be Mission Impossible.

    Starting with 1.Rxf7+ forces 1…Qxf7 (otherwise, the Black queen drops off next move). The horns of the “anvil” remain intact; it matters not which Black pieces occupy the position of the anvil horns. Now another forcing move: 2.Ng5+. After 2...hxg5 3. hxg5+ Kg7 (or Kg6) 4.Qh6# It works!

    Oh darn: Black does not have to cooperate in his own demise because he is already up by a Rook. After 2...Rxg5 (sacrificing the rook to gain a knight) 3. hxg5+ h5, Black lives and should win, being a knight up and with a defensible position. BUMMER!

    Back to the drawing board; time to take a look at the alternative first move.

    1. Ng5+ hxg5 (1...Rxg5 loses an exchange) 2.hxg5+ Kg7 and the Black queen covers h6, winning since White is a piece down with no Dovetail Mate.

    This is where most of us quit, giving up the idea of checkmating the Black king. But there IS an alternative that is hard to SEE: combine the ideas of both variations!

  3. PART II:

    Here are McDonald’s notes:

    Question: It’s White to play. Black has just moved his rook from d8 to g8. Can you find the short but great combination which clinched for Anand the game (and also the tournament)?

    There is a video of Grischuk’s face at this point. He looked totally bemused after Anand’s next move as he hadn’t seen the idea behind the knight sacrifice. Well, he didn’t have long to wait in a rapidplay game to find out:

    Answer: 27. Ng5+! [forcing] hxg5 [otherwise, the queen is lost to the fork] 28. Rxf7+! Qxf7

    Otherwise the queen is lost.

    29. hxg5+ Kg7 30. Qh6#

    Note that you can’t play the moves in the order 27. Rxf7+? Qxf7 28. Ng5+ as Black then has 28...Rxg5! 29. hxg5 h5.

    The hard move was 29. Rxf7+!. Most players would notice the possibility of 27. Ng5+ hxg5 but look at no alternatives other than 28. hxg5+?, when 28...Kg7 leaves White with nothing for the piece. It takes imagination to see that, despite only having the queen and pawn on g5 left to attack with, White can mate on h6: the Black king is boxed in by his own queen on f7 and rook on g8.

    [End of notes]

    I think this is a good illustration of what I tried to get across previously regarding using the various tactical/mate motifs/themes at each step of the variations, rather than just calculating isolated moves.

    While looking at the first variation, we can SEE that it does not force open the h file. The Black queen is left in a position to advance the h pawn, keeping the file closed. So, the first consideration is to force open the h file. Only 27. Ng5+ (with the royal fork) accomplishes this. Black could give up the exchange to prevent it, but after 27...Rxg5 28. hxg5 Black is down the exchange and the attack continues unabated. Given that White has another rook in reserve to put on the g file, it does not look good for Black.

    After 27. Ng5+! hxg5, the h file is half open. We need to divert the Black queen away from defending h6. 28. Rxf7+ forces the Black queen to capture; otherwise it’s lost on the next move. Simultaneously, we maintain the Dovetail Mate anvil. 28...Qxf7 29. hxg5+ forces open the h file completely. Black can only move to the g file 29...Kg7 (29...Kg6) 30. Qh6#.

    Once we SEE a promising idea, we have to figure out the obstacles at each step and overcome them. We must also refuse to give up on an idea until every possibility has been examined and rejected. Too often, I give up too soon.

  4. With this post, I tried to describe the interaction between system 2 and system 1. Our observation is biased by 200 millions years of evolution. It is better to accidently SEE a lion when you see a deer than the other way around. You SEE what you expect to see, even when it is not there. And you are not able to SEE what you don't expect to see, even if it IS there.

    Vulturing around is not the most optimal way to get around this, due to our observational bias. We need logic as our guide. Logic is in the realm of system 2, hence slow by its very nature though. We must invent a trick to keep up the speed. We can do that, by incorporating the logic into system 1. Meaning, that the logic must be absorbed too.

    The sacrifice of the rook for a blockade on one horn of the anvil is a standard procedure for the dovetail mate.
    The sacrifice of a knight in order to open the h-file, is standard chess logic.

    Normally, we shy away when it becomes complicated. We see lions everywhere. But absorbed logic reduces the complexity to a high degree. Only when we SEE the simplicity, we are confident enough that there are no lions around and sac a piece or two for mate.