Sunday, July 29, 2007

The scope and limits of tactical classifications

Before discussing the topic of the post, Knights Errant, quixotic blundering fools feeling our way in the night trying to improve at tactics, time to make room in the fire circle for allegroknight. May Caissa smile upon you. He's already got about five posts up. Please give him a warm welcome to the blogosphere.

Also, I've been thinking a little about how to classify tactics. We all know that rather than simply crunching through variations in one's head, it is helpful to construct a higher-level narrative about the position based on more general principles (e.g., see Temposchluckers's recent post for such an example with bishops of opposite color). Many psychologists would describe this as constructing higher-level cognitive chunks to describe the position at a higher level of generality than the flat-footed 'this piece is here, that piece is there' variety. Indeed, this is what most positional evaluation treatises are supplying, general principles that can be used to evaluate a position to see what weaknesses need to be addressed or exploited.

This also holds in tactics: it is very useful to have the concept of a 'fork', for instance, to classify the multifarious forks that occur in real games. This is not just for aesthetic pleasure, but can be used to provide top-down cognitive feedback in the move selection process. This is a process I call guided pattern recognition, introduced here, and see a non-chess example well-known in the psychology literature here. For example, when I think 'Is there a fork here?', a fork will often pop out at me that was previously invisible, sort of like when someone pops out in a crowd when someone says 'Look for someone in a lime-colored shirt.' (Cognitively, this is likely a top-down attentional affect, as it is well-known that we can selectively attend to particular features of a scene, over and above the previous anemic view of attention in psychology as a little beam or spotlight that is used to only pick out all the features in a spatially focused region of the visual field: rather it seems we also have a spatially extended attentional mechanism that can select individual features anywhere in the field). Helping us with pattern-searching is just one possible benefit of having a good way to classify tactics. It is also useful in discussing games with others ('Then I forked his queen and rook with a pawn': everyone knows what you mean and you don't need to give any specifics of the position).

In the previous post on guided pattern recognition, I listed the procedure I use to search for tactics. In particular, I scan the scene partly guided by a short list of tactical patterns. The problem is, many tactics I am starting to see in CTB don't neatly fall into any of the categories. This is partly a result of deficits in my classification scheme. The challenge is to find a classification system that is exhaustive but practical. This topic has been discussed fairly extensively by King of the Spill and Temposchlucker in two important posts from about a year and a half ago.

One problem with trying to classify everything is that I become somewhat blind to tactics that don't fit into my schema.For example, here is a problem that I ran into today at CTB, with white to move:

I'll put the solution in the comments in the next 24. I had a really hard time with this problem, partly because it didn't fit neatly into my tactical classification scheme. Part of my problem is that my classification scheme is really only for very simple tactics (fork, skewer, pin), whereas this problem is truly a combination that relies on seeing not only the ultimate goal, but also being imaginative enough to see how to reach it.See Footnote I guess that's the thing with brilliancies: they aren't obvious. If I could quickly find combinations like this in real games, man, I'd quit the Circles!

Is finding an exhaustive and practical classification scheme possible? Is it worth the effort? There seems to be a consensus that thinking-via-principles is very helpful for strategic thinking, which generally relies less on variation-crunching. But my hunch is that for sharp, tactical positions, it may be that aside from the basic tactical alphabet (forks, pins, skweres, etc), the Caissa smiles mostly upon concrete analysis of variations. With more than 1-3 move tactics, things get too messy and the simple categories can actually cloud the precise analytical processes needed to find answers. I guess I should revisit King of the Spill and Tempo's posts to help me think more about this.

[Footnote While such combinations may not arise a whole lot in real games, when they do it would be really sweet to see them. But, then again, I lose most games because I miss 1-3 move tactics. One nice thing about many of these multi-move combinations in Stage 5 of CTB is that little kernels of the solution have already appeared in previous Stages of the problem (e.g., the last three moves of a a five-move tactic in Stage 5 appeared as a three-move tactic in Stage 2).]


Blogger Temposchlucker said...

Higher cognitive strategical chunks helps you to define first your longterm goal and afterwards your short term plans. Like I want to trade my dark squared bishop for his knight.

We use tactics mostly in a very narrow sense: if it gains wood or mates the king we call it a tactic. But actually any concrete means that we utilize to reach our goal or plan is tactical. I propose to use the word "tactics" in the broadest sense as possible.

In my game I could force the trade because I could pin the knight first. Which is a tactical solution for a strategic problem.

The problems arise when the tactical means arise above our head. When there are "thickets" of relevant variations. When I analyse my games with my opponents at the tournament, it stands out that we hardly differ in calculation skills. We see about the same things. But when I analyse with a much higher rated player, it becomes clear that he finds his ways thru the thickets of variants much faster than me.

After the tourment I intend to think how to improve this part of the game. The complex tactical middlegame.

7/29/2007 07:04:00 PM  
Blogger transformation said...

no enegy now to comment meanignfully now,

but just to thank you, as always, and appreciate your regular and substantial efforts.

if i were to make one observation, from days ago, either from email or your post (i think the latter), it would be that i questioned whether you needed 100 slower games in order to classify types of situations.

one hundred slower games, of course, is to be applauded heartily; but not for the purpose of classification. it just doesnt feel necessary.

as Zen Master Soen Sa Nim used to always tell us: "Try, try, try, only 'go straight don't know'. Keep don't know mind. Go straight don't know. Try, try, try."

To me, where you are at is that simple. You are clearly getting better, and integrating your chess literacy to your game. But you don't need another plan, but to keep executing.

I don't knwo your exact plan, of course, but I feel what I am saying and bet that I am right.

It comforts us to reconcieve new plans, set new plans, revise plans.

I'd love to drink. And feel that I can handle it now. But why mess it up? Three years in five weeks, and my body is well tuned, and, for the most part, facing reality around me. Whether I can still taste red wine (Pinot or Merlot) in the back of my tongue or Malty tripple ales in the back of my throat still is besides the point.

So just keep playing, just build your endgame and tactical knowledge and prowess.

I thought that I was too tired, but, as usual, cannot stop myself.

we have many bright men (mostly male here, lets face it) and, some women here who can do this for you, and you can listen in. Don't be distracted. Just be a workman at chess. You don't need a Nietzschain transvaluation of all values, let temposchlucker and Raise and Shine do that. :)

So, yes, not tired now...

Feelings do that, when we get in touch with them. :)

7/29/2007 07:12:00 PM  
Blogger transformation said...

tempo {i was obviously typing my comment concurent to his}: i respectfully submit, you are talking about 'higher cognitive strategic chunks', but BDK just needs to learn to see the board, and calclulate, then calculate more quickly once able to do so.

as my manager told me at Piper Jaffray Investments: "David, first you need to make enough phone calls. Then, we can talk about now to make better phone calls" (closing techniques in sales).

we all want magic, and special things, and higher truth. but sometimes we just need to run laps, do sit ups, not feldenkreist or Rolfing or Paladies (sp?).

sometimes we dont need therapy or interventions or trainings, but to sit and view the trees, or to be a good coworker, or basic efforts.

and just to keep going. in a simple but big and persistent way.

i feel that BDK is trying to be you or Takchess or Loomis, but he is BDK.

7/29/2007 07:20:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...


I would play the slow games anyway, as I am back in a slow tournament and need to get back into that rhythm. In running training there is something known as 'tempo' training, when during a particular run you run at different paces. I'm kinda doing that with chess. I had enough blitz for a little while, and will get back to it during the tournament interim.

7/29/2007 07:21:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Tempo: yes, the variation thickets kill me. I either get lazy, take too much time, or make a mistake (or all three!).

7/29/2007 07:22:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

DK--I don't really understand what you are saying. I am not talking about changing anything in my training. I am just combing over some concepts (as I have done in my blog since its inception).

If you are saying that I am too much of a novice to worry about these high-falutin topics, that I should just focus on playing lots of games, I disagree: I can have both!

Most of these quasi-psychological conceptual explorations of chess have been very helpful, not only for my appreciation of the game, but over the board (e.g., my understanding of piece activity, and of when deep analysis is called for, triggered major changes in my thought process during games). Experience, of course, is crucial. But understanding makes it more fun, and they are not mutually exclusive. Higher-level conceptual understanding and practical experience coevolve. This isn't a new style for me, it's part of who I am. For that matter, even if I were to improve ratingwise faster if I didn't think so much about the game, chess would become a lot less fun for me so I'd be less motivated to play in the first place!

Also, the topic of the post is actually quite practical: is it worth the time to try to find tactical classifications beyond the basics? If so, then I should do it (it certainly has helped me for the basic categories like the fork), if not (as I alluded might be the case), then it isn't worth taking the time.

PS Instead of taking a sip of whiskey I will often just smoke a cigar, though I sometimes prefer both.

7/29/2007 08:01:00 PM  
Blogger transformation said...

i sincerely then and now had doubts about my remarks after i made them... then, laying in bed with 1001 sacrifices and combinations in the quiet of sunday, felt a well of upset in side me, so its all me.

sorry, i appologize. im not sure what i am trying to say, and i now know that i am very upset today.

i tried to diagram or chart it all in my mind, and the further i went, the more boundless it became, as i tried to trace it back to the root, but the list grew and grew...

too little help at work, too little rest, too few wins, too few dates, too little sleep, not enough stock market down days (im short the market), landlord yelling and screaming, my right arm that surgery, my L hand (switched to L before that, which i of course write with), family, friends, self. ouch. cat, L&I injury insurer entanglement starting back, the cat, the tv, bush, hillary... the mideast, the wealthy yuppies, the weather...

sorry, its all me.

7/29/2007 11:17:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Hey DK--no worries. It sounds like things are really piling up. I hope you can get some time off for R&R!

What triggered my post, I just now realized as I was just struggling with a 10 move combination (!) in CTB, is that the questions I asked are quite relevant for this final stage of the Circles. I am being dragged into a level of tactical problems that are quite difficult and hard to classify (like the one I showed in the post), and am wondering how much I should worry about classifying them (this helped me a lot with the earlier simple tactical problems), versus how much I should use this final stage as an opportunity to let my hair down, attack the problems with a more analytical mindset, to really practice carefully thinking ahead (a key skill in long games, much less so in blitz).

Incidentally, I've played a few slow games, and I enjoy them even more after the break from them with Blitz. It feels like I am being pampered, all this time to look at the position, make plans, check around for various tactics. What a luxury! I am curious to see how you feel once you start in with the slow games again.

Do you have any plans to play in OTB tournaments? I think a bunch of bloggers are gonna trek to the World Open next year. I am really hoping I can make it!

7/29/2007 11:38:00 PM  
Blogger transformation said...

thank you. very kind.

i feel my feelings, and today is a megaton day.

funny you should ask.

ive not been to a tournement since 1973 when i quit as a 1671 elo before ratings inflation, was it, or was FORCED to quit by my mom (when i was 15), and i had this feeling, that if i didnt work for my perniciously constrictive retail employer (read big orange box or big blue box!),

then i would like to go. it feels like i wont make it, but might be a good age 50 present, and we can all go have drinks. do they have coca cola in valley forge?

i could see us all at a table, making fun of ...

warmest, dk

7/30/2007 03:41:00 AM  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

The idea's and questions of BDK often help me thinking, and I'm not worried about his chess-soul for the least.

If people were able to follow good advice, they would be able to devise it themselves.

7/30/2007 04:34:00 AM  
Blogger funkyfantom said...

For anyone interested in a truly different and captivating tactics book I recommend Martin Weteschnik's book, from Quality Chess Books.

Many of these problems can be classified several ways. The one in BDK's post seems like a deflection to me

7/30/2007 09:40:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Note that the problem is a decoy sacrifice as part of a pawn promotion.

Solution: 1. Bg8 Kxg8 [1...Kh8 2. Be6+] 2. Rf8+ Kh7 3. e8=Q.

FF: it is a decoy, as in a decoy you want to get a piece to a specific place usually to set up a combination (in this case the king to the back rank), while deflection wants to get a piece away from a specific place where it is performing some duty, but it doesn't particularly matter where it ends up (e.g., you might want to deflect the rook off the back rank, not really mattering where, to effect a back-rank mate). Chandler and Littlewood have good discussions of this. Strangely, Weteschnik doesn't discuss these tactics, much less the difference between them.

This is actually a good example where it probably doesn't really matter, in practice, if you understand subtle differences between different types of tactics. I.e., deflection versus decoy, sure I understand it and it helps me appreciate and describe with a little precision a game, but how much does it help? Frankly, I think it helps some, but on the other hand it is certainly possible to see and execute decoys and deflections in real games while having no clue that is what you are doing.

Hmmm, so far nobody has really addressed my questions. It may be time for another multi-post treatise...

7/30/2007 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Tempo: I can follow good advice. The problem is finding it. And when it is not even clear what someone is advising, then that complicates things considerably. :P

7/30/2007 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger funkyfantom said...

Thanks for the explanation. I really didn't know the difference between a decoy and a deflection, but now that you mention it- it is a useful distinction.

Like a duck decoy is luring ducks to a place to be shot, the King is lured to where he is getting checked, not just deflected out of the way.

7/30/2007 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

FF: oh yeah, I forgot that's the original meaning of decoy :)

But also note what Nunn (Learn Chess Tactics) says, after clarifying the distinction between decoy and deflection:
"The terminology for these different motifs is not wholly standard; the words 'decoy', 'diversion', and 'deflection' are used to mean different things by different writers. In this book our focus is on winning games, and not on the nuances of chess terminology; therefore for simplicity we will use the word 'deflection' for all such ideas."

There are splitters and lumpers. I guess I'm a splitter.

So, what is the relation between deflection, decoy, and removal of the guard? Is removal of the guard a special case of a deflection?

7/30/2007 10:38:00 AM  
Blogger Loomis said...

When I was solving the problem I thought the lines Bg8+ Kxg8 Rf8+ and Bg8+ Kh6 Bf7+ were the easiest to see. The more subtle one was the one you listed as a sideline, Bg8+ Kh8 Be6 -- by the way, what is the name of this tactic, some kind of interference or offensive interposition?

I thought the idea of blocking the file with the bishop to shield the promoting pawn was cool. And it only works because the bishop also vacates the back rank for the rook to check the king after Qxe6.

So in addition to the decoy line (Kxg8) there are two other deflection lines because the king on h6 or h8 also allows promoting tactics, one which requires a combination interference/clearance move by the bishop.

I think knowing the names helps to organize thoughts in length variations more than it helps to actually find the tactics. Instead of thinking "Bg8+ forces the king to capture on g8 where I can check again while protecting the queening square," the brain can quickly think "Bg8+ decoys the king."

Hmm, I don't think I've helped answer your real question. :-)

7/30/2007 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Loomis: a very useful analysis of the position!

7/30/2007 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger King of the Spill said...

Hio! Long time no see, eh?

I can see why they put this in the collection of problems. It's the cursed sacrificial "forcing with check" theme, no? One of many level items on that Simultaneous Advantage list :-). It is nice to see that referenced in posts.

I think I created the Simultaneous Advantage post to get out the conflicting chess training information in my head. Sort of an exorcism, and at the end of it I came to the conclusion that there are a great many things going on in simple positions. The problem in your post is not simple, requiring thinking outside of the (material) box.

Simultaneous Advantage helped me the most with chess problems where I did not fully appreciate the answers. Ultimately using it seems like good old fashioned chess study, i.e. identifying and remedying one's blind spots. =)

8/05/2007 03:04:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

King of the Spill: great to hear from you! Those are exactly the types of problems I am now hitting (i.e., I am hitting problems where I don't fully appreciate the answers).

8/05/2007 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger Glenn Wilson said...

Pawn on the seventh!! Hellooo!! That is the tactical motif.

Seriously, looking at the position I first think can I force the pawn through? How? And I work backwards from there.

8/24/2007 08:43:00 PM  

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