Sunday, March 05, 2006


[Note added 6/7/07: This version is obselete, see this link for the most recent version of Chessplanner.]

I've cobbled together a thought process to help me in the chess middle game. The five step procedure, which I call Chessplanner, is my best attempt to weave various recommendations that pepper the literature into a thought process that is simple and flexible enough to grow with my skills.

The full description of Chessplanner, in PDF format, can be downloaded here. The rest of this post contains brief excerpts from the full manuscript to give a sample of its content and style.

The five steps in Chessplanner are:
Step 1: Use pattern recognition to generate an initial set of candidate moves.
Step 2: Evaluate the board to generate goals and correlative plans.
Step 3: Real Chess: Select the best candidate move generated in Steps 1 and 2.
Step 4: Blundercheck.
Step 5: Make the best candidate move.
These steps incorporate three valuable insights about chess, emphatically not of my discovery, into a practicable procedure for move selection. The first insight, used in Step 1, is that pattern recognition is a crucial ingredient of chess mastery. The second insight, used in Step 2, is that sound planning derives from sound board evaluation. The third insight is that when considering a candidate move, it is crucial to consider your opponent's possible responses and whether you will have adequate replies, a process that Dan Heisman calls Real Chess. This third insight is employed in Step 3.

Chessplanner aims to increase the likelihood that the knowledge you already have will be put to good use in actual games. For instance, every beginners knows that they shouldn't leave their queen en prise, but we have all left her hanging, appalled at our sloppiness. Diligent application of Step 4 before making each move would eliminate such blunders altogether. In general, a thought process is a procedure that encourages what you already know to demonstrate itself over the board. Hence, the more time you have already put into chess study, the more Chessplanner should help you. Conversely, Chessplanner probably won't teach you any momentous new facts about the formal structure of the game of chess.

So far, Chessplanner has helped my game: when I apply it I make fewer blunders and beat better players than when I don't apply it. One reason it helps is that it forces me to slow down and more carefully consider each move and its consequences.

I welcome any comments on Chessplanner, as my goal is that the process evolve in parallel with my chess skills. One plan for reaching that goal is soliciting constructive criticisms from anyone who has taken their valuable time to read and think about Chessplanner.


Blogger Edwin 'dutchdefence' Meyer said...

Your chessplanner is looking good to me :-)

But i would try to really stick to the most important stuff you want to ask yourself during a game (so far it is looking good). Because i have seen similar chessplanners, that make you wonder if you have any time left to even make a move at all, once you finish thinking over every rule on the planner :-)

3/06/2006 12:44:00 AM  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

I think you got the main point right in your chessplanner: avoid redundancy.

The problem I notice with beginners (ok, sometimes they play allready 40 years, but they still are beginners in the game) is the discrepancy between their knowledge and their actual play.
If they have to instruct pupils they know exactly how to open a game etc., but when you play against them they offend against every rule themself.

3/06/2006 05:58:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Note that the excerpts leave out lots of discussion and content that is in the full manuscript. For instance:

Section 4 discusses practical concerns. For instance, is it important that I apply the steps in order? Does Chessplanner chew too much time off the clock?

Section 3 discusses each step of Chessplanner in some detail.

Section 5 discusses a few caveats. For instance, Chessplanner is meant only for the middle game. Second, it mainly integrates knowledge that is already out there, distributed in many sources that address the thought process in chess (e.g., Heisman). Finally, Chessplanner will not help everyone. Thinking is a pretty idiosyncratic thing.

Section 2 discusses the five evaluation factors I am using in more detail (material threats, material net worth, king safety, space, pawn structure).

3/06/2006 10:51:00 AM  
Blogger funkyfantom said...

Just my lousy two cents, but unless working on ChessPlanner is giving you a lot of satisfaction, I wouldn't spend too much more time on perfecting it, unless you have a lot of spare time to spend on chess.

It just seems to me ( again just my humble opinion ) that Dan Heisman has pretty much already said most of what there is to say about the issues that concern you ( and most of us).

I admire your effort and initiative here, but shouldn't it suffice to just study all the relevant Novice Nook columns? Maybe I'm missing something, but what is the "value added" of ChessPlanner?

Of course, if it works for you, that is the bottom line.

3/06/2006 02:13:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

What can I say, I dig systematization. Probably a reason I like to study openings.

I address your concerns on page 10 of the document:
Chessplanner may seem almost trivial to some chess players. Seasoned
club players might say, "Of course plans spring from an evaluation of the board. Of course you need to think about possible responses to each candidate move before
selecting your move. Etc.." This would be a welcome criticism. I gratefully acknowledge that the best ideas here are taken from master-level player/instructors whose writings are geared toward the novice. If anything is unique in Chessplanner (and it probably isn't), it is the integration of useful information that is spread out over different books and the internet. There is lots of discussion of the importance of having a thought process, of the link between planning and board evaluation, of the importance of pattern recognition. I tried to bring these great chestnuts together into a thought process that is practicable.

Some of the most helpful scientific articles that I have read are review articles. They bring together information from a bunch of different sources in a way that uses a consistent language and conceptual framework. Nothing particularly new is generated, except perhaps improved conceptual organization and a more synoptic vision than can be provided from any of the individual sources.

You could look at Chessplanner as a review article with a practical aim. It was not only fun organizing the information, but in the process I have digested and understood it in a way I never would have before. If it only helps me, it will have been worth it. I hope that isn't the case, though. Most Knights are probably not in need of such basic stuff, but my friends starting out in chess don't want to spend the time to sort through Heisman's articles etc..

3/06/2006 03:06:00 PM  
Blogger katar said...

hey, you inspired me to think about right vs. left brain thinking.

i noticed chessplanner is entirely left-brain. which is emphatically NOT a bad thing. especially if you're a computer programmer who thinks that way.

me, i was a music major. i just zone out at the board seeing patterns and vectors and shapes (colors?!) for afew minutes then i make a move. (right brain approach)
it's just a different approach for a different brain.

most likely, a balanced approach is "best". i will be blogging about these ideas at chess for blood.

i enjoy the blog! cya

3/06/2006 03:16:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Patrick, interesting spin. As a neuroscientist, all this left-brain right-brain stuff rubs me the wrong way, but I understand what you are saying and am familiar with the split-brain studies that originally suggested such a functional split.

Pattern recognition, which you might say is "right brain", is indeed very important. That's why I include it as an explicit step in the process. As I discuss in the document, I initially didn't include this step, but it seemed to counterproductively limit my spontaneous, intuitive, pattern-based thinking.

On the other hand, when I play purely based on pattern recognition, without explicit calculations, I end up making really, REALLY bad blunders.

Some people are pure pattern, though, and kick ass at chess. Thought processes are as unique as people, so no process will be universally applicable. Blah blah yadda yadda, it's in the paper.

3/06/2006 03:59:00 PM  
Blogger CelticDeath said...

Put simply, my thought process is sort of like this:

1. Look for tactics and decide if I need to either attack or defend immediately

2. If no tactics, develop/implement a plan that either weakens my opponent's position and/or strengthens mine

Of course, both tend to be much more complex as far as attending to the details.

3/07/2006 12:05:00 PM  
Blogger sciurus said...

In my opinion, having a plan (both for the game and the though process) is a good thing. But how does one learn to stick with a thought process such as your chessplanner? I tried to make one for myself, but in every game after 15 moves or so realized that I forgot all about it in the heat of battle. This is one reason why I started to play correspondence chess, no heat there :-) Then I have time to go through all the steps in my (abbreviated) version of the chessplanner. May be I learn to stick with it when I go through it often enough.

How do/did you train yourself to stick to something like the chessplanner?

3/07/2006 01:51:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Sciurus, good to see a new chess blogger! I'll put you on my sidebar when I update the site this weekend.

I am still on the learning curve with consistent application. AS I discuss in the document, I started backwards, so to speak. At first, I only worried about applying steps 3-5 on every move, not worrying about HOW candidate moves were generated, but trying to make sure to think of their consequences to pick the best one, and to blundercheck. Now that I have the hang of those steps (to some degree), I have been applying Steps 1 and 2 as well, trying to do so on every move.

As I use it, it is becoming more automatic and effortless, and I don't see this trend toward automaticity slowing down any time soon.

That said, I am still working on it. Frankly, I probably apply it on 50% of my moves. I don't do any thinking in the opening until I'm off (my) book. Then, in the rest of the game I sometimes get lazy etc..

Applying the blundercheck visualization exercise that I discuss at Pawn Sensei's once a day for a couple of weeks really helped me remember to blundercheck. I am simply not good enough to skip that step. Now I probably forget to blundercheck only about 20% of my moves, whereas before I would forget on 80% :)

3/07/2006 02:04:00 PM  
Blogger Calvin said...

I like the chessplanner. thanks for the pdf. I really like the combination of pattern recognition and evaluation that you have.

I have one big problem with chess thought processes, namely, i don't remember to apply them. how do you remember to use the process after every move? i can't seem to do it, because after a while i go back to my old way of playing without knowing it. any tips would be great.

again, i really liked the chessplanner process.

3/07/2006 11:17:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

General. It isn't easy: I still lapse when I get excited or terrified about something going on in a game. I just try to remind myself that the first move that pops out at me may have serious problems, and that I will play better if I slow down and think about it. I find that avoiding blitz and thinking about my thought process before the game helps me get into the mindset. Also, the more I try to apply it effectively, the less I have to keep reminding myself to apply it.

3/08/2006 01:31:00 AM  
Blogger katar said...

pandolfini's solitaire column seems like it would be a good practice to go through the steps. you could even have "figure 1" in front of you as a reference.

i'll have to try this tonight after school/work.

3/08/2006 12:34:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Patrick: that is a great idea. I'll get Pandolfini's book and try it out.

Figure 1 really sums it all up. I'm glad you noticed :)

3/08/2006 09:53:00 PM  
Blogger King of the Spill said...

Well done! Anything that helps, helps. I certainly think it was worth doing and applaud the effort.

One difficult aspect of planning for me is where to draw the line, how much "mechanical" steps or structure is one aiming for. Somewhere I have a move planning list that was really long, so long in fact that it's unreasonable to achieve in 5 minutes. I can search for it if your interested.

Reading through your document, some things came to mind, based on my own mistake tendencies:

1. Discipline-doing it EVERY move is quite challenging for some reason. Perhaps over time you could add to the document about what it took to follow it consistently.

2. Defense- like in "Looking for Trouble". I suspect if you do circles on the problems in that book, even the just the 1-2 level ones, you will change the way you play. Defense doesn't seem like blunderchecking to me, but perhaps it fits there at this point.

3. Experience- I don't know how to address this other than the observation that experienced players who continue to improve seem to automatically do certain things that help them win, and usually use time more efficiency.

4. Checkmate thinking -you can't afford not to look at mating threats on both sides.

5. After the move consideration-part of blunderchecking, specifically asking if your move will hang a piece, block a piece from defense, get trapped, move into pin, etc.

btw - I think Patrick was talking about the monthly article in "Chess Life" magazine.

3/09/2006 03:52:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

King 'o the Spill: thanks for the comments. Given your ability to systematize, I could imagine that any thought process you'd write out would be incredibly detailed! :) That would be interesting to see. You seem to be a systematizer extraordinaire! (You would be a great philosopher, I bet, and I don't mean that as an insult).

I have been thinking about ways to practice CP when not in real games. I tried doing it playing Chessmaster at first, but didn't really follow through, so resolved to start playing only 30/30 or greater at least once a week. So far, my games have been much better, at least for those moves wehn I apply it. Sometimes, I have to admit, it takes me over 5 minutes in key positions, and I'd actually like to take more time. Over the past month and a half, I've tweaked the document (what I posted is actually the seventh version!) until it felt like somewhat "natural" to apply in real games. Applying it on every move, though, is still a goal, not a reality. I'll be posting updates, and let everyone know when I reach Nirvana. I suspect that my rating should reach 1200 when I apply it every move. Perhaps it isn't unrealistic for me to expect to reach 1300 or even 1400 once I finish the Divine Tragedy. Probably the former is more likely.

Pandolfini recently released a book that has fifty solitaire columns from Chess Life. When they are first published in Chess Life, they typically have a couple of errors: hopefully he's fixed them for the book!

As for defense, since the board evaluation step includes an evaluation of both sides (including checkmate possibilties), this is where defensive goals and plans come in. Blunderchecking should only be a final quick check for the grossest of hanging pieces: all the serious thinking about tactics and strategy should be done by then.

That said, however, I admit when using CP, when doing Step 2 (Board evaluation/Plan generation) it still feels much more natural to evaluate the board only from my perspective, and takes a bit of effort to conscientiously evaluate the opponent's threats, etc.. The same goes for Real Chess: it takes effort and is only just beginning to feel unforced.

3/09/2006 09:48:00 AM  
Blogger Calvin said...

i wouldn't be surprised if you passed 1400. if you play a lot of chess, you will improve in spurts, if you are anything like me. plus, you have cp. :)

3/10/2006 01:58:00 AM  
Blogger King of the Spill said...

Ah, I didn't know about the Pandolfini book. And thanks for the compliments, but as far as the chess move plan document it was someone else's, based on these:



3/10/2006 03:14:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

King of the Spill, that is a nice thinking process he has there. I'll have to read it more closely to see if there's anything there that I should include in CP.

3/10/2006 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Pawnsensei said...

Hey BD,

I just wanted to push the comments into the 20s :)


3/13/2006 11:31:00 PM  
Blogger Montse said...

Hey BDK,

When I play OTB my thought process is very condensed.

1. What possible moves can you play. Don't go checking ten candidate moves. The moves are coordinated with the idea you want to play. A weak point or square in his defense, bad coordination of the pieces etc. Two or three should be more than enough.
2. Before you move check of the move is ok. No blunder, no piece hanging, insufficient defense of the piece.
3.What is his threat? A counter-attack. Does he has one? Is it more dangerous? Does he react on my threat? Then you know you have the initiative. About threats speaking there is kind of order within the threats with the most dangerous one the mate threat.
4.Learn to know when you have to calculate deeply when not? you cannot calculate every move deeply. you will be exhausted before you reach move 15. When there is a tendency towards an increase in tension in the game then you start to be extremely careful and calculate when it is necessary.You calculate before you make exchanges and look what position you get. Does he has intermediate moves, a king check, a pin etc which can change the outcome of a simple exchange...
It is not always necessary to force an issue. Your opponent might help you coz not everbody has patience!!.

3/17/2006 04:28:00 PM  
Blogger katar said...

How about step zero:
Any tactical cheapshots on the board? Look hard for 20 seconds.

4/07/2006 03:11:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Patrick: tactics is part of Step 2, where I evaluate the board. The first factor I evaluate is material threats, which includes tactics. If there is an important one, I don't worry about pawn structure.

Step 1, just letting pattern recognition run its course, is basically there for anything, whether it be tactical or not, to quickly jump out at me.

4/07/2006 05:47:00 PM  
Blogger transformation said...

most eligently and beautifully done--inteligent and cogent. bravo.

with my getting here after 'only' 23 comments, i must be late to the party. :)

who can possibly have any second thoughts of you as the leader of the clan? your academic creditentials are abundantly illustrated, for sure.


4/15/2007 10:16:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

David: thanks for the undeserved kindness. I am excited about the next version of Chessplanner, as it will integrate the insights I've gotten recently from Soltis and others about analysis and piece activity.

4/15/2007 11:56:00 PM  

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