Sunday, May 21, 2023

Closing in on the middlegame.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. For starters, it is about the lines of attack that end in the vicinity of the opponent king. With the black king on g8 that would be the f, g and h files and 7th and 8th rank for the rooks, and the diagonals that start on a3, a2, a1, b1 and c1 for the bishops. All of these for the queen, and the squares close to the king for the knight.

    The pawn battles sculpt the LoA-landscape. While the pieces stride for dominance on the lines of attack.

    Tricks like luring the opponent pieces away and let them commit to the wrong battlefield are the beginning of starting to play chess instead of just moving pieces and see what happens.

  2. I'd be interested to hear what you think about Euwe and Kramer's classics works The Middlegame: Book 1 (Static Features) and Book 2 (Dynamic & Subjective Features). I need to study them seriously, unfortunately I have not done so yet. Maybe I'll have the time later this year.

  3. It is long ago I read those. Maybe 40 years or so. At a certain moment I abandoned the works of Euwe. He was (is) very influential in the Netherlands. His approach was very paternalistic. He made chess boring for me. So I abandoned chess for about 20 years due to his books.

    All those works about middlegames had one thing in common: they didn't provide a coherent way to think about the middlegame. I remember the advise of Euwe about the importance of getting the bishop pair. I made all sorts of concessions in order to get it, and when I got it, I was so afraid of losing it that I was constant busy to avoid the trade of them. Of course such play was detrimental.

  4. My System is quite inaccessible due to the fact that the information is coded in an artistic way. But you cannot decode it before you have a certain level, and you can't get a certain level without a decoded system.

    Watson made matters worse by replacing rules with concrete calculation. You cannot throw your side wheels away before you can cycle. You can't get a decent level of calculation without rules.

    The Art of Attack in Chess is still in its infancy, as the writer himself admits. But nobody seems to take up the gauntlet.

  5. I found the following Chessable course Thinking In Chess: A How To Guide by Kramnik. That seems to provide a more modern approach to chess thinking. So far, the PoPLoAFun system is holding its ground quite well after watching 4 hours of video (from the 12). I only must find a way to make it more practical.

  6. In reply to your blog post on 21 MAY 2019 [How to educate system I?], I made some comments on 15 JUN 2019 that (I think) addresses some of the issues of incorporating PoPLoAFun as part of a more practical ‘thinking process. I won’t repeat those comments here.

    I was reading (again) some of IM Erik Kislik’s advice in his excellent book Applying Logic in Chess: A top trainer demystifies modern chess thought.

    Pg 45: What Should You Ask Yourself During a Game?

    When I started playing chess, my thought process during a game was completely chaotic. [Perhaps his process was mostly based on trail and error?] I had read a lot of books, but did not really have a good idea about what I should be thinking about at the board specifically. I often focused on prophylaxis and what precisely was weak in my position, but nothing beyond that consciously. Applying logic in chess at a basic level often just means asking yourself simple questions that have obvious answers when you think [consciously] about them. Sometimes, for instance, when we consider whether an attack can work with, say, various badly placed pieces or no clear focal points, the answer seems obvious to us because we have just thought about things from a different perspective for clarity thanks to simple logical questions.

    At a late point in my chess development, I read the three POSITIONAL questions proposed by Grandmaster Aagaard in the book GM Preparation: Positional Play. [These three questions are also propounded in Aagaard’s book Grandmaster Preparation: Thinking Inside The Box]. I agree with his questions and utilize basically identical ones, which are:

    1. What are the weaknesses?
    2. What is the worst placed piece?
    3. What is the opponent’s idea?

    IM Kislik elaborates and elucidates how to go about using these three questions (and others of his own) to focus attention and bring the salient features of each position into conscious thought so that the mind focuses on them. He states the goal:

    The ideal long-term goal here is unconscious competence.

    He spends several pages (with game fragments) illustrating how to use simple questions to achieve a better awareness of all important aspects of a given position. He reorders Aagaard’s three questions, putting the third question at the head of the liast.

    The opponent’s idea(s), based on his previous moves and the general direction of play I consider to be the highest abstract level: the vulture’s eye view. If that overview provides good clues, then an evaluation of the weaknesses (of both players) is already constrained to PoPLoAFun. We can then engage in a search for the ‘bluebird of happiness’ [a combination of all those disparate factors into a coherent plan of play, misquoting Tal]. Only if there is nothing else left to do we then evaluate the various pieces to either find (and fix) our own worst-placed piece, or try to figure out how to prevent the opponent from doing the same with HIS worst-placed piece.

    The most important thing for ME is to NOT switch on the System 1 ‘autopilot’, thereby failing to logically consider the salient uniqueness of each position move-by-move, beginning from the very first moves in the opening.

    Please elaborate on Kramnik's thinking process.

  7. Kramniks system is geared around 4 questions: 1. Is there a forceful continuation for me? 2. Does the opponent threaten something? 3. Wat is your opponents plan? 4. What is your plan?

    The answer to the first two questions is usually "no", in the positions that he provides for studying.

    Questions 3 and 4 are about "what". Only when these two questions are answered, you can think about the "how". How can your opponent implement his plan, how can you stop it and how can you implement your own plan at the same time.

    The problem is, that the way he finds these plans remains unclear. His plans are generated by system 1, and he is unaware how he does it. Where we need four pages of explanation, he isn't able to provide any. for the simple reason he is unaware that he does it and how he does it

    But his positions are useful since they are not tactical. That gives another taste to the PoPLoAFun system. We can use the system to reconstruct what might be the plans in the position. "Improve your worst piece". How do you know what is your worst piece and how do you know what is the best place to put it. The PoPLoAFun system can help us here, where we don't have a Kramnik-like system 1 or a RCCM of our own. The best place of a piece is where it stands on the beginning of a LoA pointing at a PoP.

  8. Which raises the following question: how do chess prodigies get their teachings when super grandmasters are not able to coach them?

    1. PART I:

      Way back on 26 MAY 2016, I made reference to a quote by GM Nigel Davies, cribbed from GM Jonathan Rowson’s book Chess For ZEBRAS: Thinking Differently about Black and White. I just found an abbreviated copy of that article from on a Go site – Go Game Space. [“GO” figure.] The excerpt is rather short, so I include it below [emphasis added].

      Nigel Davies on “The How and the What

      September 17, 2021

      The how is more important than the what. It really doesn’t matter what you study, the important thing is to use this as a training ground for thinking rather than trying to assimilate a mind-numbing amount of information. In these days of a zillion different chess products this message seems to be quite lost, and indeed most people seem to want books that tell them what to do. The reality is that you’ve got to move the pieces around the board and play with the position. Who does that? Amateurs don’t, GMs do.

      Chess is not a game that can be learned from a book any more than tennis or golf. It may look rather academic and there are some scientific elements to it. But the truth is that wiles and playfulness count for far more than “knowing the book.” Interestingly my grandmaster colleagues tend to be quick witted, jovial and street wise rather than serious and lofty intellectuals. And most of us will recommend keeping a clear head both before and during a tournament rather than hitting the books. So why do amateurs believe it is otherwise? One reason may be that people have linked hard work to success and are convinced that the former is a prerequisite of the latter. In many fields this may be true, but the evidence indicates otherwise in chess. Most GMs have just played lots of chess and analysed their games because it was fun! I have read a few books from cover to cover, but many of my colleagues have not.


      I should point out that today’s chess industry does have a vested interest in persuading you that you need to be serious. They like to present it as something intellectual to keep selling books, it wouldn’t do at all if you were to go to a tournament and spend your time in the bar or analysis room. But this is where you’ll often find the titled players, moving the pieces around the board or just relaxing.

      —Nigel Davies, from a ChessCafe column

    2. PART II:

      Starting with GM Rowson’s book subtitle: Thinking Differently about Black and White. Since the introductory main title is about Chess (for “Zebras,” with no indication as to who or what a “zebra” is in HIS context - not OURS), our logical mind “maps” the main title context to the subtitle and goes on down the tracks into the tunnel based on that context, blissfully unaware that we are about to crash and burn when we collide head-on with the metaphorical chess train. Maybe that “assumed” context is completely wrong. [The “Zebra” hides in plain sight.] The things “going on” in a chess position (never mind an entire game) are rarely if ever “cut and dried” in black and white terms unless it is trivially simple – and there is little value in the trivially simple “obvious” things. Perhaps GM Rowson is teasing those of us who are not at his exalted level of GM to “think differently” about the HOW and the WHAT of our thinking processes, NOT WHAT is going on [strategically, positionally or tactically] in a specific chess position or game, nor HOW we should employ that “what” knowledge.

      Temposchlucker raises an interesting question:

      [H]ow do chess prodigies get their teachings when super grandmasters are not able to coach them?

      Obviously, it is NOT about accumulation of KNOWLEDGE. All of the GMs I know of have been coached SUCCESSFULLY, even the notorious “loner” Robert James Fischer.

      The difference is that chess prodigies grasp things intuitively through analogical processes, “seeing” how to “connect the conceptual dots,” not by acquiring more and more explicit knowledge. There IS an increase in knowledge over time, but that additional knowledge is NOT the reason for the increase in skill. I think that is exactly what we adults must do, IF we are ever to improve our SKILL at chess. An emphasis on knowledge acquisition will actually obstruct what and how we need to learn to “see”.

    3. PART III:

      Let me illustrate using a different field of expertise – music. I had piano lessons for a couple of years (age 8-10) which were essentially “Teaching Little Fingers to Play.” It was a similar (classical) style of teaching that mirrors the idea behind touch typing: “monkey see, monkey do” by rote repetition. What you see (on the sheet of music) is what you play (on the piano). Disconnect your brain from your hands and let System 1 control your hands. I HATED IT! There was no “soul” to the music I played.

      I had more fun a few years later learning to play (poorly) on guitar. A friend showed me a few chords and the finger positioning, and then we played music, lots of music. While in college, I took an elective course in playing folk music on guitar. We just attended class and played various folk songs. There was no music theory, and no attempt to increase theoretical musical knowledge; it was all about gaining skill playing the instrument. I enjoyed playing!

      About 25 years later, I picked up a diatonic harmonica. I a couple of weeks of “noodling,” I was able to figure out how to get reasonable sounds out of it and could play along with others. Still no theoretical musical knowledge. Then I started investigating why I was limited to certain notes, and discovered that there were alternative tunings that would increase my range of playing. I started asking my oldest brother for explanations of musical theory, in addition to studying theory online. Very rapidly, I could play much more complex music but it was NOT because of the increased musical theory knowledge – it was because I was experimenting on the instrument on a regular basis at every jam I played in.

      About 10 years ago, the jam I was playing in regular lost its bass player. I had NEVER played a bass guitar, even though I had one. I took it to the next jam, and played on every song. The other participants asked how long I had been playing and how a years I had taken lessons. They were astounded to find out that I had never had a single lesson, and that I was playing it for the first time. How could I do that? I had a rudimentary knowledge of chords from playing regular guitar, and I “knew” that chords could be outlined on bass by playing scale degrees 1 and 5 alternatively. That was the sum of my “knowledge.”

      About 4 years ago, after playing harmonica for a couple of years in a bluegrass band (and getting paid for it – occasionally), I decided to learn how to play dobro (slide guitar). The very first night I took it to the jam and played along – listening intently to the music being played AND where I could find similar sounds on the dobro. About halfway through the session, I was asked to take an improvisational break - and I did. I now play both instruments in the band.

      Am I some kind of “child prodigy”? ABSOLUTELY N-O-T!

      I am just not afraid to follow my own intuition, even it results in embarrassing myself in public by my lack of knowledge. I realized that SKILL does not necessarily come from an accumulation of KNOWLEDGE. It is a practical approach to learning, rather than an academic path to credentials. You would not believe how many times I have been approached by credentialed “musicians” who cannot play, asking for the “secret” of my skill. It’s simple: learn HOW as opposed to learning WHAT! Unfortunately, academia is all about learning WHAT rather than learning HOW. Regurgitate that knowledge on exams and get credentialed.

  9. Hugh Patterson – A Foundation for Beginners Ninety Three - The Chess Improver

    May 27, 2023


    A suggestion I make to all my students is to not panic. Beginners, because they are new to the game, tend to see things in black and white. Chess is a game that rewards those who see the grey areas, such as not panicking and making desperate moves.

    Another opinion on ‘seeing’ things in black and white, or, being aware of the 50 Shades of Grey.

    [Pun intended.]

  10. I think there is not just one method. I suggest: Find bad moves of yours and ask yourself : what did go wrong? how could i have found a better move quick.

  11. Iron Mike Tyson (heavyweight world champion boxer) famously said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

    The sad fact is that most of us get "punched in the mouth" regularly and repeatedly while trying (and failing) to find a workable method of learning to improve our skill. GM Emanuel Lasker (unfortunately) in his superb Manual of Chess - aimed squarely at amateurs, bequeathed us an estimated (and apparently totally unattainable) "goal" of 200 hours to reach the level of play at which a master could no longer give us odds and expect to win, by following his programme of learning based on the book.

    I don't KNOW Lasker (since he died 7 years before I was born), but I DO know that I'M NO LASKER!

  12. At some point if you want to explore a more modern Art of Attack. Aagaard took a good run at it , See Jim's review *me* on goodreads ,

  13. As I think of accessing the hidden system , I suspect these sort of things to be helpful. maintaining humor ,being deeply curious, having some rules of thumbs and asking yourself questions without settling for a quick answer. one thing I noticed of very good players is not having a certainty that a move they made is best. They seem very open that reality may correct them. Again and Again I find myself moving a Queen to a strong square but not the best square . I wonder if ingraining the list above in my play might catch those cases more.