Wednesday, April 24, 2024

A clear picture emerges

How does the transformation of knowledge into skill work? A clear picture starts to emerge. When you look at a position there are visible salient cues and hidden salient cues. The visible cues are already absorbed by system 1. It is about the hidden salient cues where the knowledge hides which isn't transformed into skill yet.

You can use every tool at your disposal to reveal the hidden salient cues. Logic, analysis trees, standard scenarios, mnemonics, books, chess engines et cetera. You are ready when the cues are no longer hidden, but are clearly visible.

All those tools are only useful in the study room. Behind the board these tools are often worse than useless. OTB games give you the necessary feedback to pinpoint your weak areas which need more attention.

Sounds like a healthy base for a study plan to me.


  1. Onward ! Btw. I found the following rule of thumb to be interesting. The 20% Rule – if your pawn has advanced to the 5th or 6th rank, moving it forward is quite often your best option. (From Mirov)

  2. Seeking clarification:

    When you speak of the difference between visible salient cues and hidden salient cues, are you referring to the difference between surface-level cues and the deeper essence?

    We previously discussed surfaces and essences. Visible salient cues lie on the surface, pointing toward the deeper essence (the so-called "requirements of the position"). Novices (and those whose skill level has not yet reached mastery) "SEE" only the “obvious” cues and are oblivious to not-so-subtle cues not lying on the surface. Consequently, they are unable to penetrate to the deeper level(s) of the essence.

    I’m not sure that knowledge is the sine-qua-non of skill. I glibly speak of “KNOW THAT” and “KNOW HOW” as if I “know” how to differentiate between them. Although both terms use “KNOW” (KNOWledge), I don’t think skill in applying “KNOW THAT” is actually a matter of knowledge. Knowledge (whether concrete or abstract) is necessary but insufficient. Skill is a different kind of knowledge, if it IS knowledge.

    I’m also pretty sure I’m not clarifying the difference: “I know it when I SEE it” is a totally inadequate description.

    On a different topic, I realized something while studying Steinitz vs von Bardeleban, Hastings 1895. I backed up a couple of moves from where most commentators designate the beginning of Steinitz’s famous combination and set GM Stockfish to work. I allowed him 30 hours to work on the position. Not surprisingly, he found nuances that no one had commented on previously.

    I moved forward one move - and GM Stockfish chose a totally different continuation as his recommended variation – after more hours of cogitation!!

    Then it struck me: THIS IS STUPID. If it takes 30 hours for GM Stockfish to work out the correct moves (with all the nuances), then he would have lost the game on time. Even if I could “SEE” all those nuances in the same amount of time, I would also lose the game on time. Talk about NOT “SEEing” the forest for the trees!!

    Perhaps a better use of my time would be to give him no more than 5 minutes (at most 10-15 minutes) and try to understand what he tells me - in human terms.

  3. ""When you speak of the difference between visible salient cues and hidden salient cues, are you referring to the difference between surface-level cues and the deeper essence?

    No. Hidden salient cues are as clearly visible as surface-level cues. That is because they are exactly the same. I just happen to not see them because I do not look in that direction. Think of the lesson Larsen learnt me. Think of the long diagonal a1/h8 from the previous post that I didn't notice before I started to fiddle around.

    Skill represents implicit knowledge. Knowledge that is summarized as a pattern. Place a knight of your opponent on the board. Then place your own king on the board, in a position that it cannot be checked immediately. If you know the pattern, you place your king on the same diagonal as the knight, with one square in between.

    Two days ago I played against a lower rated player. I won a piece by annihilating its defender. When we talked about it, it was evident that he had the knowledge, but he had not absorbed the pattern. Hidden means, it is buried in system 2 and you can only access it when you calculate. Visual means, the pattern is recognized, even when the knowledge behind it is forgotten. You see where to put your king relative to the knight, but when you are asked about it, you have to reconstruct the knowledge behind it. You do not know it when you see it, but you can reconstruct it.

  4. Think of Susan Polgar, where research showed that she had hijacked her fusiform face area for chess pattern recognition.

  5. The problem is, that when we can reconstruct certain knowledge, we are inclined to think to master the subject. Reconstructing is an activity by system 2. Meaning, it is no skill. The ability to reconstruct hides the fact that there is a problem. That is why post mortem analysis by players is usually totally useless. It doesn't go beyond reconstruction, and hides the fact that you do not master it. It gives the false feeling that you do, though.

    System 1 and system 2 don't speak the same language. That is why books by former chess prodigies are often so bad. They reconstruct what they think they do. Not what they actually do.

    Or you get the advice of Susan Polgar, "let your hands do the work". When you have not educated your hands, that advice is worse than useless.

  6. "Perhaps a better use of my time would be to give him no more than 5 minutes (at most 10-15 minutes) and try to understand what he tells me - in human terms."

    Yes, we must work with human terms.

  7. My opponent played chess for 60 years, yet he had not assimilated the pattern of removal of the guard. Meaning: you will not absorb it by accident.

    I remember when I absorbed this pattern, albeit I cannot find the post directly. Even so, I absorbed the pattern after 30 years or so, but only after a conscious effort.

    Hence we must check our list with tactical themes. Do we have absorbed them all, or are there themes that we are only able to reconstruct with system 2?

    And if we go beyond tactics, for instance in the opening, have we absorbed the consequences of our moves as a pattern? Do we SEE that the difference between Nf3 and Ne2 is that you can move f4 or not? It is not rocket science, but you cannot absorb it by accident. You need a conscious effort.

    1. FWIW: I found two very good posts of removal of the guard in your blog archive. The first one is most likely what you were thinking about.

      Saturday, July 23, 2016
      Removal of the guard

      Wednesday, August 22, 2018
      REDUX problematic initiative

      There are a few others, but the major topic was not removal of the guard.

  8. PART I:

    If I understand you correctly, the “problem” is insufficient focused (motivated) attention by System 2 to what System 1 (intuition) provides us to work with and on. Instead, we should ask ourselves this question as we ponder what we SEE:

    Have we considered EVERYTHING that is available to us as salient cues?

    As Dr. Kahneman proposed:

    What You SEE Is All There Is” [WYSIATI]

    If you don’t SEE it (for whatever reason), for practical purposes, it doesn’t exist, even though we can physically see it with our eyes.

    NM Dan Heisman emphasized the importance of focused attention when he stressed asking this question:

    What are ALL the things that this move does?

    I’ve included this story in a previous comment:

    GM Rowson, in his excellent book Chess for Zebras: Thinking Differently about Black and White, section The Lazy Detective, opens with a quote from Gordon Rattray, Scottish club player rated around 2100 (and one of GM Rowson's students):

    I currently view myself as a 'lazy detective'. I want to solve the case based on some loose and shallow theories. I don't want to get my hands dirty with tedious details. "He's got blood on his shoes, must have been him ... and it was him last time ... stands to reason it will be him again ... no need to question him …”

    It is that psychological desire to "make things easy" that can blind us to what is readily available as "salient cues" on the surface level. This is referred to as the “Law of Least Effort.” Our minds are wired to expend the least amount of energy required to reach a conclusion. There is no “built-in” mechanism to cause us to spend additional energy checking to see if we have considered ALL possibilities and constraints. As much as I despise it, the following statement encapsulates this idea of ‘least effort’:

    It’s ‘good enough’ for government work!

  9. PART II:

    Consider (again) the following problem from Thinking, Fast and Slow, and pay attention to the (almost instantaneous) answer provided by System 1:

    A bat and ball cost $1.10.
    The bat costs one dollar more than the ball.
    How much does the ball cost?

    A majority will intuitively answer: $0.10.

    This is an easy puzzle that triggers an answer that is intuitive, appealing—and WRONG. However, there are several surface-level cues that could have triggered more attention. Most people are primed by the first assertion as being the most important cue to focus on, to the exclusion of considering the ramifications of the second assertion. The second assertion (merely because it IS the second assertion) is accorded less importance, and thereby less (or no) attention, in essence becoming “hidden.” It is also a constraint on the solution, not an obvious part of the solution process.

    I purposefully put the first assertion in BOLD characters to trigger a subliminal response that it was the most important part of the problem. It “primes” System 1 to focus attention on it. The second assertion requires an indirect response, which nowadays is eliminated from most education: CHECK YOUR ANSWER! Does the intuitive answer meet ALL of the visible, explicitly stated requirements, or have we overlooked something (in other words, has some requirement become “hidden” based on our intuitive ASSUMPTIONS regarding the relative importance of some salient cues)?

    Another “hidden” social cue is: Why would anyone propose such an “easy” puzzle with such an “obvious” answer? Most of us are not conscious of that indirect question at all, and do not calculate [“That’s maths – it’s just too hard to do maths in my head!”] the “obvious” defect in our intuition: if the ball costs $0.10 AND the bat costs one dollar MORE than the ball, ie, $1.10, then the combined cost will be $1.10 + $0.10 for a total cost of $1.20. BZZZT: WRONG ANSWER! The first assertion clearly states (it is “hiding” in plain sight) that the total cost is only $1.10.

    It is NOT lack of knowledge of the “hidden (in plain sight)” cues, because as soon as those cues are brought to our attention, they (somehow) seem to become “obvious” and we blithely ignore our wrong answer—thereby failing to LEARN from our mistakes. Although those “hidden” cues ARE salient, they are “hidden” because System 1 only triggers on the most visible IMPORTANT cues [AND it does NOT provide any indication to consciousness that it selectively considered only a subset of the available cues], and System 2 “rubber stamps” that (perhaps limited) set of cues as being all that is needed to come to a correct conclusion with no awareness that some of the clearly visible salient cues are ‘hidden’.


    Skill is consistently using processes that can be relied upon to ferret out ALL salient cues, regardless of the amount of focused attention (and energy) that may be required to find the correct solution. Too many of us fail to fully engage our attention, and as long as we are comfortable with that failure, we will NEVER gain mastery no matter how much “study” we engage in.

  10. Close, but no cigar. You are certainly right that we have to solve the bat and the ball problem at a certain moment. But not on this moment yet! A few chess problems already come to mind. And even the Bent Larsen problem falls in that area. T

    But there is a difference between two visible salient cues that compete for attention, and a visible and a hidden cue. The hidden cue is no real competitor of a visible cue. The hidden cue gives itself away because you have to calculate it. You can't do without some activity of system 2. You need the cheat sheet of the priest.

    In an ideal world: you absorb all hidden cues in the study room. So that they are no longer hidden. This means, that in the tournament hall, you see all relevant visible cues, and there are no longer any hidden cues. In that ideal situation, you use your system 2 for two things only: guiding your attention along the lines of logic, and stitching the visible cues together into a logical narrative.

    In a not ideal world your system 2 has an extra task: construct a visible cue from a hidden one.

  11. Not knowing what a removal of the guard sounds like my life before chess books. . Prior to age 43.....

  12. Replies
    1. When I click on the link above, I get a "about:blank#blocked" page. Yet I have no problem getting there through the Search function.

  13. That removal of the guard post is an excellent example of shuffling the pieces around and SEEing what impact it has in terms of the "rules" that are derivable by slightly "bending" the position. GM Davies would be proud!