Tuesday, September 11, 2007

My chess thought process

[Revised on 8/12/07]

After my opponent moves, here's what I do.

1. Threat scan. Look for threats from both players' perspectives. This involves examining all forcing lines and looking for tactics. Any threatening moves that survive a cursory analysis go on the candidate move list. If there is a threat from the opponent, think about how to deal with it: either by defending against it directly or by generating a bigger threat. If there is a threat that is major, skip to the third step.

2. Planning. Use strategic considerations to generate and constrain candidate moves. Piece activity is God in this step. King safety and pawn structure are the other factors I use. Once specific plans are made (e.g., increase Bishop activity), think of moves to achieve them. These are candidate moves. If they also make threats, put 'em near the top of the candidate move list.

3. Calculate variations. After prioritizing candidate moves (biggest threats first), analyze each one to find its worst-case scenarios. What is the best my opponent can do, and how will I respond? Especially be sure to calculate until the forcing moves peter out (i.e., to quiescence). This is 'Real Chess.' I evaluate the end-nodes of the tree of variations using considerations of material (first and foremost), piece activity, king safety, and pawn structure. The candidate move with the best future is the move I plan to make.

4. Blundercheck. Quickly check for one-move offensive or defensive disasters if you were to make the move selected in step three.

5. Move

Why start by analyzing threats? See this post and this post. How deeply should you analyze in Step 3? See this post (this was probably the most helpful practical advice I ever received). How can you get better at calculating into the future? See this post. What, exactly, is piece activity? See this post. What is Real Chess? See Heisman's original article on the topic. Those posts distill out the most useful lessons I have learned in the past year about thinking in chess.

I am finding this new thought process extremely helpful in practice. My original thought process was a bit too much of a complicated idealization to be helpful.

15 Comments:

Blogger frisco said...

Your method of thinking about his threat should be:

1. Identify his threat.
2. Imagine yourself passing your move, and letting him do it.
3. Evaluate.

Purdy said: "to play this game passably well, not only do you have to recognize all the threats, you have to see the unreality of their unreal threats."

By imagining yourself passing the move and enabling your opponent to carry out his threat, that enables you to IGNORE HIS THREAT IF YOU CAN. If you determine that his threat is not real, that gives you the power TO DO ANYTHING YOU WANT.

9/11/2007 02:41:00 PM  
Blogger frisco said...

See Morphy-Lyttelton, pg. 24 in A First Book of Morphy for a terrific example of ignoring enemy threats.

9/11/2007 02:43:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Frisco: that is very useful, and very important. How many games I have blundered by responding to phantom threats! I really have to force myself to think through putative threats against me, to see if they are really threats. It is just lazy to do otherwise and puts me in a passive position.

9/11/2007 03:16:00 PM  
Anonymous friscofollower said...

Can someone pay this Frisco guy to start a blog? His stuff is pure gold. Props to BDK too for the great blog.

I just bought A first book of Morphy btw. Looking forward to it.

9/11/2007 11:53:00 PM  
Anonymous ookwelbekendalsemc said...

It is about time you get yourself that Purdy book i mentioned ;-)

Purdy is the way to go!

Tell him Frisco ;-)

9/12/2007 12:20:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

I don't think it's more books I need. I look forward to your detailed review of the Purdy book! It's on my list of books I want.

My new rule is no chess books until the end of the month, when I am more certain of whether I will be able to afford it (usually by the end of the month I realize I wasted too much money on crap and end up eating Ramen noodles for two weeks).

9/12/2007 01:34:00 AM  
Anonymous ookwelbekendalsemc said...

Note: I'll try my hand at a review, so don't expect much of it. The fact is i'm a crappy reviewer. But i'm almost certain TSFCP is worth 2 weeks of noodles ;-)

9/12/2007 01:51:00 AM  
Blogger Tynicas said...

Nice Blog BDK,

You might check mine out as well, I'm going through a thought process rebuild right now, although I haven't posted the meat of it yet....oh but I will....

always fun to read your stuff.

Tynicas

9/12/2007 10:38:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Tynicas: looks like a good start to a blog. I'll be interested in seeing what you have to say about thought process, one of my favorite topics. I am writing mine up into an article that incorporates all this stuff I've picked up the past three years. It's taking me forever to finish, though.

9/12/2007 11:42:00 AM  
Anonymous ookwelbekendalsemc said...

Tought process is your favourite topic you say? Then you'll be in for a treat with TSFCP.

9/12/2007 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

TSFCP?

That shiny fluted crack pipe?
Taking sins for carnal pleasure?
Taking silent flatulence can please?
The search for chess perfection?

There is a very good review of the Purdy book here. About the Purdy thought process, he says:
Of special interest to me was “A Method of Thinking in Chess”, as this seems to be Purdy’s most elaborate attempt to work out a system of “metacognitive regulation” and apply it to chess (see my review of Jonathan Rowson’s book The Seven Deadly Chess Sins for a definition of this term); here he explores such issues as how to choose a chess move and what to think about when it is your opponent’s turn to move. This article shows that Purdy’s thoughts and teachings were very much related to actual play, and were meant to tally with experience. Purdy’s method here is thorough, but perhaps also a little too rigid, and its very elaborateness could be a drawback in over-the-board chess, where there is generally a strict time limit (and perhaps it is worth noting here that Purdy often got into time trouble as a player). Interestingly, the good man’s own chess practice was somewhat different from his recommendation, as he confesses elsewhere in the book: “”the present writer, although convinced of the efficacy of a set method, has never had the patience to apply one consistently” (p.263). Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds!

Why don't you summarize his thought process on your web site? No way I'll be getting his book soon. I've got too many books on thinking in chess, and need to spend more time thinking in chess.

9/12/2007 01:01:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

I wrote:My original thought process was a bit too much of a complicated idealization to be helpful.

The reviewer of Purdy's book suggested the same about Purdy's process. My present method is quite simple (not quite as simple as Purdy's wonderfully simple candidate move selection criteria, but it was directly inspired by Purdy via Frisco). Most importantly, it feels natural and I don't have to think about it much during games (of course, the goal is to not ultimately consciously use a thinking process, but to just do it without thinking: e.g., look for threats first, don't think "OK, now I have to look for threats.").

It really boils down to two substantive steps:
1. Find threatening moves or moves that increase piece activity (inclusive or).
2. Play the candidate with the best consequences.

Step 1 is Purdy straight and true. Step 2 is just common sense: think ahead to see which will lead to the best position, and play it.

9/12/2007 01:21:00 PM  
Anonymous ookwelbekendalsemc said...

Summarize his thought process? Hmm... If i ever get around to it i will. Especially for you ;-)

But i don't promise you anything. I take very little time out to actually blog chess. I prefer spending most of my time studying chess.

P.S.
My review of TSFCP is gonna suck compared to the review you pointed out.

9/12/2007 01:54:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

I take very little time out to actually blog chess. I prefer spending most of my time studying chess.

A good policy.

9/12/2007 02:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Derek Slater said...

6. Slap forehead as you immediately note that you hung your knight.

9/12/2007 09:20:00 PM  

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