Friday, June 22, 2007

Board visualization: does it matter?

Check out the interesting article Training in chess: a scientific approach, where the authors give advice on the best way to train based on the psychological data (the primary author was a PhD student of deGroot). Thanks to Ray Cheng for bringing this article to my attention.

Following are some interesting snippets from the article:

Blindfold chess
We believe that playing blindfold chess is at best useless, and at worst harmful to one’s development. The ability of playing blindfold comes more as a side effect of having acquired a well organized and easily accessible knowledge base (Ericsson & Staszewski, 1989; Saariluoma, 1995). Practicing blindfold as such may be harmful when it interferes with other types of training.

Chess coaches [tempo...]
Although the necessity of having a coach is sometimes debated (e.g., Charness, Krampe, & Mayr, 1996), we believe that it is a key factor of success—most grandmasters had a coach at some point of their career. Finally, research in education has shown that students take more advantage of a private tutor than from a tutor shared in a classroom (Bloom, 1984; Cohen, Kulik, & Kulik). We believe that this is the case with chess as well.

Tactical training
Again, most chess trainers and teachers agree that practice and repetition are essential (e.g., Bönsch, 1987; Kotov, 1971). Traditional “quiz” books are quite useful, although we expect computer technology to greatly improve this part of chess teaching...It is probably best to start with positions ordered by themes, then to move to positions randomly ordered (as is fairly usual among the quiz books). [Italics added]

Opening study
[O]ne should focus on a limited number of types of positions and openings, and learn the various methods in these positions thoroughly. This focus is necessary due to the limited study time available and to the wealth of information to learn. As discussed below, this focus also facilitates access to the information through pattern recognition.

[W]ithin a restricted repertoire, the required repetition and the predictive value of generalizations is likely to lead to rules more usefully applicable to later games than the less specific and less predictive knowledge derived from multi-opening systems.

Chess scholars
[O]ne should avoid spending too much time on historical and anecdotal details. Although such information may be useful in indexing knowledge, it has several disadvantages. It can become an overwhelming mass of information, dangerously attractive but not useful for competition.

Calculation training
[T]raining depth of search per se is unlikely to yield good results. Rather, depth of search should be seen as a consequence of acquiring a large knowledge base, which, through chunking of moves and creation of templates, leads to a more selective and efficient search.

It is worth pointing out that, even for improving depth of search, it is more efficient to improve one’s knowledge base than one’s ability to look-ahead. Assuming a search with constant depth, we find that weak players (slow search speed and low knowledge) increase their depth of search more by increasing their knowledge than their search ability. Players with low search speed but with high knowledge (that is, high selectivity) actually search deeper than players with high search speed but with low knowledge. Although the assumption of constant depth of search is not quite plausible, this demonstration makes our point clear: selective search due to knowledge is more useful than sheer search speed. In addition, searching without knowledge has a high likelihood of missing a good opportunity (something well known by chess program designers), because even fast searchers can cover only a very small portion of the search space.

Studying the "classic" games
[O]ne word about studying classics. This clearly has advantages, as is often stressed in the literature. For example, ideas are easier to understand in these games than in contemporary games, because the quality of defense was lower and games were more centered around a single theme than is the case nowadays. Classical games were
also less obscured by many subtleties in the opening. However, there is the danger that, in addition to overloading LTM with anecdotal material, studying classics leads to the creation of schemata that will not be useful in practice, because the type of positions met in these games is unlikely to be seen again. This disadvantage is not fatal, however, and may be avoided by studying a judicious mixture of classical and modern games.


Blogger hisbestfriend said...

Well, it sounds like we knights are on the right track generally speaking.

I personally find the coaching part interesting. I am wondering when that part gets added in. It isn't time yet, and I am not sure how to plan on it, or who. But we are gaining some visibility locally, so it may just happen anyways.

6/22/2007 10:24:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

HBF: It seems like you are a good coach for your son. If he ends up really digging chess, I bet you'll know when it's time to get a hired coach.

Yes, it was very encouraging reading the article: basically experience experience experience, and don't try to learn a million irrelevant things. Learn patterns, get feedback, keep trying to improve. My coach has actually said I should start playing bullet chess, as I simply need to build up a core of experience, like a thousand games, as I know a lot about chess, but it doesn't show in my games (of course not just blind stupid bullet but analyzed with Fritz).

Franky, I probably won't take him up on it, but perhaps I'll try 1 12 a few times instead of 2 12. I end up spending more time analyzing the game than playing it. Often 10 minutes looking over the opening, five minutes finding tactical blunders.

6/22/2007 10:43:00 AM  
Blogger funkyfantom said...

I loved the part about avoiding learning about chess history, since it fills your brain with irrelevant stuff that won't make you a better chess competitor.

I would also recommend throwing away all your history books. How is learning about Betsy Ross sewing the American flag going to make you a better chess player?

But keep the driving manual from Drivers' Ed. If you can avoid being killed in a crash by stopping at stop signs, that should improve your chess results.

Provided you generally win more than you lose.

6/22/2007 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

I wrote a comment on my blog.

6/22/2007 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Funky: Also, we should quit our jobs so we don't get our heads filled with irrelevant job-related facts.

6/22/2007 12:33:00 PM  
Blogger HardDaysKnight said...

Excellent work BDK; a great service to us;

I haven't read the article yet, but I certainly agree with the calculation notes; I think it ought to be mathematically obvious (though I'm just beginning to admit this to myself) that with non-forcing moves, nobody can calculate to any great depth; (what do I mean, “just beginning to admit this?” I mean that I am just beginning to allow this obvious truth to impact my play;) further, even if such calculation were possible, to attempt it in a tournament is time-control suicide;

I think most players experience (certainly mine) is that entering into the marsh of calculations can contribute significantly to bad move selection and loss; when I enter into laborious calculation, I make significant errors--it's not that I can't figure out how to remove Tal's hippo from the marsh (obviously, if he couldn't, then neither can I), it's that I become the hippo and drown!

So, I think de la Maza's approach is correct: no laborious calculations or complex plans; the practical result? More won games, and a higher rating.

6/22/2007 12:52:00 PM  
Blogger funkyfantom said...

Looked at the article.

I'm a bit skeptical at the claim that Masters lose relatively little of their skill when they play speed chess. ( Here we go again! But I think I am on-topic since it is one of the five main claims here.)

My personal experience ( as I related a couple of posts ago ) contradicts this- the story about the speed chess champion I beat twice at a 5 to 15 handicap.

Obviously, this is hardly a statistically valid scientific experiment.
But you agreed that it was roughly a 250 point handicap.

More importantly, I seem to recall that St. Dan of Heisman has said as much in one of his Novice Nook columns ( not 100% sure.)

I am open-minded on the issue- where in the article is this claim proved?

6/22/2007 01:05:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

FF: there isn't much proof in the paper, but more assertions backed up only by references to other papers. I think you are right that they have to lose SOME skill with speed chess (otherwise why would they all complain about the fast time controls we are heading towards). But the fact that they can destroy 200 people in a simul suggests there is a core set of skills that doesn't depend on taking long thinks.

It would be relatively easy to quantify this. Have a tournament-experiment with a hundred players, and make them play with time odds to calculate the relationship between time and ELO effects.

Note: I don't belive everything they say, but think it is an interested research programme (I pretty much ignore the speculative theory of human cognition that takes up the first third of the paper). It seems more of an advertisement than a scientific paper.

6/22/2007 01:34:00 PM  
Blogger funkyfantom said...

My hunch is that the core set of skills that don't depend on long thinks is what we call positional chess.

The Master knows in a split-second whether the situation is tactical or not. If it isn't, he recalls quickly an analogous pattern from his memory of important positional knowledge. This is like a database lookup with a fast index.

Of course, Masters also calculate tactics a bit more quickly and accurately than non-Masters, but those times during a simultaneous exhibition when the Master seems to hesitate an extra-long time are probably wild tactical positions rather than trying to come up with a plan in a quiet position, as in some Jeremy Silman book.

6/22/2007 01:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Q: Board visualization: does it matter?

A: Yes

Of course you shouldn't spend an inordinate amount of time with it, but I think it's important to know the board inside and out. I only spend 15 min each day on my blindfold chess exercises and they've helped in ways I hadn't anticipated.

6/22/2007 02:04:00 PM  
Blogger Eric Thomson said...

FF: I'm not sure. Certainly simple tactics are part of pattern recognition (I see a fork or skewer immediately without thinking). But certainly complicated tactical situations are those which all the GMs say they need to do detailed calculations on.

6/22/2007 02:36:00 PM  
Blogger Loomis said...


I just saw your question regarding the Duke Chess Club on DG's blog. The club hasn't really met in quite a while. There were meetings of 2-3 people occassionally the last year or two.

There are players in Durham who meet to play at Francesca's on Ninth Street. I'm not sure what day of the week they are meeting there (maybe Tuesdays or Wednesdays). They are generally nice guys and their ratings range from 1200-1800 or there abouts. If you're looking for live action in Durham, it would be worth heading over to Francesca's at 8pm during the week to see if they are there. Not a bad place for a piece of cake either.

6/22/2007 04:21:00 PM  
Blogger Grandpatzer said...

A few comments:

1. I would agree that the biggest bang for the buck is studying simpler tactics inside and out. If you can imagine a histogram of numbers of games where a certain level of error occurred (1-move blunder, 2-move, 3-move, etc; positional error; endgame error), for a lot of us the numbers will weigh heavily to the simple tactics. Longer tactics have more room for loopholes. One thing that studying master games have shown is that the longer the variation given, the greater a chance of an error in the calculation.

2. Studying simple tactics helps in the visualization of longer tactical sequences. The quicker you can spot the motifs if they're in front of you, the quicker you can see them in the position you're visualizing 4 ply ahead.

3. Still no need to shit on Silman. When there's not a tactical shot or a weakness to shore up, you have to find something constructive to do for your pieces. Chess strategy doesn't have to be some grand 40-ply construct. You can conduct the game by a series of mini-plans of a few ply in length, well within your range of calculation. Plans such as "I'm going to force a swapping of minors to get a good N vs. bad B situation", or "I'm going to inflict him with doubled isolated pawns", etc. A lot of practical top-level play is based around mini-plans and accumulation of advantages.

6/22/2007 05:49:00 PM  
Blogger The retired pawn said...

BDK, This is exactly why I read the blogs of the Knights. You men of de la Maza always have the goods. Capital article!

6/22/2007 06:32:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

GP: good points. Thanks.

Loomis: thanks for the tip. I'm thinking about starting a club, trying to guage the interest tomorrow at 'Durham rising' by hanging out at the newly installed chess tables downtown (!).

Does that guy who wears the beret go to Francescas? You know, that guy who is always at Whole Foods playing, who goes to everything chess related in the triangle area?

6/22/2007 09:03:00 PM  
Blogger Loomis said...

I don't want to name names, but I think I know who you are talking about. I always thought it was closer to a beanie than a beret. But yes, he can be found at Francesca's on the right day.

I didn't know they had installed chess tables in downtown Durham. Usually I avoid the area, the last time I was there it was still a 'hole.

6/22/2007 10:28:00 PM  
Blogger King's Assasin said...

tactics are the meat and potatoes of chess.

6/23/2007 02:00:00 AM  
Blogger King's Assasin said...

THE MOST INSTRUCTIVE GAMES OF CHESS, by Chernev taught me what was required to play a winning game of chess.

6/23/2007 02:03:00 AM  
Blogger transformation said...

loomis/BDK small world it is...
even in 1984--i think it was--i went to the ninth street bakery in durham, and not sure if this is the same place now.

but my place was winston-salem, where i lived after high point after japan, making it often to the rainbow news cafe in winston now closed, or maliprops in asheville. sound familiar?

so many fine specimens of... :)

6/23/2007 05:28:00 AM  
Blogger transformation said...

kings assasin: i have been raving of the salutary benefits of a CLOSE READING of Chernevs The Most Instuctive Games of Chess Ever Played since day one.

I have done extensive analysis of these games without recourse to annotations, and it is all in that book as you suggest.

the idea of that book is not unique in our sphere, but establishing it to the highest ranks isnt quite set here yet, i believe. thank you.

6/23/2007 05:33:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Thomson said...

I just added a bit on studying classic games. They are weak on their discussion of the study of annotated games, as the quote shows.

6/23/2007 10:41:00 AM  

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