I've developed a new method for learning tactical problems in which attention is focused most on solutions to problems rather than the original position.
After spending about a year on the circles I have come to believe that, for learning tactical problems, spending a lot of time staring at the original position is a mistake. While staring at a position for 10 minutes without moving is a good way to practice calculation
(looking ahead in one's mind), I now believe it is not the best way to quickly learn the problems
. For one, this technique has a certain awful side-effect: I sometimes learn the original board position, recognize it the next time through, but do not remember the solution
. Even worse, when I spend a large amount of time thinking about the incorrect first move on my first pass, in the future I often incorrectly remember that as the correct move in the position! Takchess was the first to point out this humbling phenomenon of pattern recognition without answer
recognition, in this classic post
from last October, a post well worth reading.
This suggests there is something quite inefficient about the de la Maza stare-for-ten-minutes method for learning new problems. If all I remember is the position, but not the solution, then I am learning, but not what I want to learn! My new technique, which I've been using for a few days now, is to spend the majority of my time and mental energy focusing on the solution to the problem
I'll look at a position for a minute or two, try to find the answer, and make what seems the right move. If I am wrong, the program will show me the solution. Then, the real work begins. Before moving on to the next problem, I actively engage with the solution by following these steps (acronym FOVEA):1. Fast repetitions
Quickly mouse through the answer many times, especially focusing on the correct first move. This gives me an overall sense of the flow of the answer.2. Once through
Work once more through the solution, slowly, being sure to visualize each move before I make it. 3. Visualize entire solution
Go to the start of the problem and visualize the entire solution from start to finish, without making any moves on the board. And then make them.4. Explain solution
Explain the solution to myself. This step is inspired by the study
that showed explaining moves to oneself improves memory of the solution. My explanations involve a description of the major tactical and strategic elements involved in the combination, particularly focusing on plans that the position demands. For instance, "A mating net initialized by decoying his rook to h5, which cleared the g-file for my rook battery." I also identify the general features of the position that made the tactic possible (e.g., he only has a knight on his kingside, while I have four pieces in that area and an open file).5. Alternative moves
Look over defensive resources that I might have missed in Steps 1-4, any alternative resources that the opponent could have used. That is, are there in-between moves, interpositions, and the like that CTB didn't include in the variations? If so, how would I deal with them? Also, determine why other potential moves are not
as good in the position. This is where I sometimes need to do some heavy calculation.
My experience using FOVEA is that it is extremely
taxing mentally, especially Step 4 where I try to self-explain the position. There is no way to apply this method passively. I simply can't do it well when tired. Note that it isn't important that I do all the steps in order, only that I do them all before moving on to the next problem.
What do I hope to gain from this? Simple: I am hoping I learn the solutions faster. I am not using the Circles to get better at calculation, but to learn a bunch of tactics cold. By hand. Recognize the solutions like a friend's face. BAM! Calculation is a skill I work on implicitly in my slow games, and which I can worry about after the Circles. I am ready to be done with these bloody Circles and start with a more balanced form of chess study (including just playing a lot)!
If you want to work on calculation, don't use this technique. If you want to learn a finite set of tactical problems quickly, you might give this solution-oriented method a try. Focus your FOVEA
on the solution, baby!