Friday, August 03, 2007

Empiricism versus rationalism. And next up, McNeil Lehrer.

Rise and Shine said in response to a previous post:
There's no need to classify tactics unless you're writing a book on them. All you have to do is become familiar with them through study and your brain will classify and recognize them for you. This is a group of people dedicated to chess improvement. This is not a group of people dedicated to pontificating about a bunch of pseudo-academic gobbeldygook. If that kind of stuff floats your boat, then have fun with it. It will not make you a better player.
First, the anti-intellectual tone surprises me, given the practical nature of my questions about tactical classification. As I started to hit harder tactical problems that didn't fit into the simple beginner schemes, I wondered if there was a more general scheme that experts use, that they found just as helpful to them when they started to improve as the basic 'forks' etc were to beginners.

That is, the point of my posts was to ask how much more detail a classification scheme needs to be useful in practice, once you get beyond the basic motifs (which, incidentally, in practice were very useful to know). While it is a practical question, that doesn't mean finding the answer is simple and won't require some thought. What is obvious to the expert will be confusing to the novice (i.e., me) and require conscious attention (just like a kid learning long division). So I chalk his acrimony up to stylistic taste. I wasn't called the 'PBS of chess blogging' for nothing. If you get bored or impatient that is likely jusifiable.

Ok, enough crap about style. Let's get on to chess improvement. Taken at face value Rise and SHine is saying that we shouldn't worry at all about classifying tactical patterns, that experience is sufficient. This seems wrong for a couple of reasons.

First, the experiment I discussed shows that people do better in the future when they construct explanations of positions. This is not pseudo-academic. It is data. You can argue about its interpretation, but there it is, data about chess improvement that could have practical implications. Simply playing is not as good as playing with an eye to explaining what is happening in the position.

Note that this thesis is not new, or some out of touch academic theory. Chess instructors don't explain positions to hear themselves talk! Annotated game collections have more than variations in them for a reason. Tisdall (Improve your chess now) says it is extremely helpful, in practice, to construct internal narratives at a general level about the position. This was also discussed in a nice post at the Kenilworthian. Perhaps Rise and Shine thinks such higher-level explanations are not useful for tactics, or that tactical classification schemes are not needed in tactical explanations. Perhaps he will clarify in the comments.

Second, taken literally, Rise and Shine is saying we shouldn't teach beginners what a fork is, or teach them that, when you have a piece pinned, attack it. No need to learn all that, as it will happen automatically if you just play enough games (unless you are writing a chess book, in which case you will be teaching these useless classifications to beginners who apparently don't need to know them). There is something to be said for simply playing a lot, but there is a middle ground. If having an elementary conceptual toolbox helps someone learn tactics faster, then they should learn it. The question is, how far, if at all, do we need to go beyond the basic classifications in practice? I concluded that we don't need to go far at all, as most combinations seem to be built up from such elements.

An anti-intellectual conclusion reached from pseudo-intellectual premises.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ugh...nevermind. You could write a book with all the words you just put in my mouth. All I'm saying is that making up an exhaustive list of different tactical motifs is a lot less effective than the repetition of problems where the tactical themes are present. I never said forks, pins, etc. should be learned by experience alone. Remember I'm doing the circles too!

8/03/2007 02:00:00 PM  
Blogger transformation said...

Thank you BDK for your always excellent work.

A general note of appreciation: at first, I questioned the need for a classification, such as RiseShine seems to question here. I appreciated the effort, as discussed, but said 'not for me' to myself.

But results and influences occurs in what happens, not in the mind alone, and as I had written you elsewhere. What did I wind up doing?

I myself wind up starting again to classify my 1504 classic GM game collection. I hadnt had a chance to tell you, but I started that in 2003 or so, but ran out of gas for that.

And the result now, is after seeing your effort to classify, I got the energy from your work. You or your work, if you will, awakened those energies, previously in place, but long dormant: record, ply, center, king saftey, ending type, piece play, sacrifice, ECO, year, promotion, etc.

What followed then, was more energy to view and review THOSE games, more games. The result of that, I had more energy again for CTS. The result of that: two wins in a row against a +300 player at lightning.

So blog posts have many impacts, some unseen, some seen, some unrealized, some concrete.

thank you again.

8/03/2007 02:39:00 PM  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

You seem to invite people to become your chessmom

8/03/2007 02:48:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

DK: thanks for the note. It sounds like your database is starting to contain what we'd find in the Appendix in a chess book. Perhaps it will turn into a chess book! :)

RSGN: Content--I agree that doing problems is more useful than classifying what types of problems I might see. The problem was that I was hitting problems I could no longer classify.

Quibbles--I didn't put words in your mouth, but spelled out the logical consequences of your unqualified claim that 'there is no need to classify tactics.' Perhaps you should have been more clear.

8/03/2007 02:53:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Tempo: lmao. I wish I were higher rated, then fewer people would be tempted to write as if I were a child!

Note to commenters: I am not a child. I am bad at chess. There is a difference.

8/03/2007 03:01:00 PM  
Blogger funkyfantom said...

OK, BDK really hit the bull's eye this time.

Tisdall (Improve your chess now) says it is extremely helpful, in practice, to construct internal narratives at a general level about the position.

I don't know exactly what an internal narrative is, but constructing a narrative would have helped me not drop a piece in my game last night. I should have said to myself "Danger! my knight is deep in enemy territory with no support...make sure it can't be trapped!".

Of course, following Dan the Man's "real chess" recipe would have worked, too, but we are all too lazy to do that all the time, alas.

8/03/2007 03:13:00 PM  
Blogger Schereschevsky said...

Months ago I asked to my coach about doing tactical exercises. I told him about the circles, which he didn't know about it. He told me "you are STUDYING tactics, not only doing exercises". Of course repetition is good, as when you STUDY other subjects, but you should add higher level thoughts on each loop. For example, ask yourself after solving a position "what were the positional factors that made it a win for white here ?". Then I realized, it is not only exercise-repeating task, it is about studying, like any other thing at the school or the university.

I think that classifying or "whatever" you do with the tactical problems is REALLY GOOD for STUDYING TACTICS. You are incorporating higher level thoughts in order to make more "neuronal connections" on your brain to the learned PATTERN. That way, you have more chances for the pattern to pop-up on the right moment.

Sorry for my english, it is not my mother's tongue.

Thanks BDK for what you are doing, think you are firing a lot of thoughts on us.

Sebastian Schereschevsky.

8/03/2007 04:29:00 PM  
Blogger transformation said...

support in x & y axis alike to both RiseS and BDK:

i actually agree a bit with some of what he says. sometimes--me included--we get more involved in talk about chess and tactics than ACTUALLY doing them.

at the same time, BDK is demonstrably improving rapidly, and it is easy to take his previously subordinated rating for granted, but i predict he sees a jump, in time.

we all are hard workers, and it is not like we just chat. we work, and it can be a solitary endeavour, and we naturally enjoy fanfar and comrodery (sp?).

just as there are three types of comments, so comments have beginnings, middles, and ends.

and so also in chess study, we have beginnings, middles, and ends.

for me, classification is becoming more and more important, such as removal of the guard, weak squares, remembering king safety in incepting an attack and avoiding full counter attack.

perhaps we can talk some more not just of tactics, classification, but WHEN in our development this occurs.

what might be good for BDK might not be good for FF or RiseSh or vice a versa. as i said, i have been skeptical of classification. and RiseSh is exactly right, that the key is to just do it.

but then again, we are also talking not just of the content, i think, but how the message is being delivered.

someone could instead say, "hey, BDK, you work your ass off, and are to be commended for this effort. you do your chess work. big results are not yet present, but will.

"you also provide a service to us, like it or lump it, and deserve a certain respect for that, irregardless of chess rank, but social rank lets admit it also has verity.

"we wont admit it, but it is there. rank exists in economics, knowledge, beauty, youth, gender, access to tools, ownership of capital and control of resources... ya ya...

"having said all that, i just dont like your idea. maybe for someone else, but not for you.

"just study, and dont do this stuff [dk: i dont feel this way about BDK but giving a voice here... THIS is bdk's way, and for him it must work.

"But if it gives you energy, i say go for it, but count me out.

"thank you for your hard work. this is the Knights saloon where we can all meet for drinks after work.

8/03/2007 04:43:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Shakhmat: I agree with your coach! That is how, too, work, by the coevolution of practical experience and my conceptual understanding....

DK: the x and y axis. I love it. I agree that chess improvement is simply an eclectic affair, and a thousand flowers should bloom. Each has his or her own path, and it must be tailored to his prexisting personality.

One thing is for sure: if you do nothing to improve you won't improve as quickly as when you do something to improve.

8/03/2007 05:13:00 PM  
Blogger transformation said...

Tractaticus Logicio Philisophicus,
last line of book:

"And the rest, is silence".

8/03/2007 05:26:00 PM  
Blogger BlunderProne said...

Blunder says ( so take with a grain of salt):

Get out of your head and on to the board. Do what Rowson suggests in Chess for Zebras... PLAY chess. Stop trying to define it first. Stop trying to Figure it all out without making the first move.

I wasted hours trying to do all that. Trying to approach it like a thesis or an engineering assignment. Instead, its like picking up a musical instrument. Sure, you can study music theory and become really good at understanding how different chordal structures interact with each other. But in order to become any good at PLAYING... you have to pick up the instrument.

What I am trying to say... I see a whole lot of pontification happening... which is not necessarily all bad... but I have to ask... WHAT IS THE PURPOSE?

Is it not to improve? If that is the goal, then repeated practical application of these ideas is needed more than the collection of more knowledge.

I'm not good with labels.I hate studying openings for that reason... How am I suppose to play an opeingin if I can't even pronounce it let alone use it as a label to recal a certain sequence of moves and ideas of play.

Instead, I make my own up as I go along in the internal speak as I practice. I don't know the names of hte variatiosn I play in openings, rather I recall them by the positional style ( Main line C-K with a locked advanced pawn structure)

On tactical themes, I have a different method related to the peices used. Like " Oh that's the Knight around the back trick ( for the "arrabian mate" )" or that's the Bishop slam. I have to use simple terms ... I guess I am a simpleton... I do like PBS and I do listen to NPR... but when it comes to chess... I'm a Homer Simpson.

You have to find something that helps you chunk the data that you can relate to and retreive

(Standing off soap box)

8/03/2007 10:11:00 PM  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

R&S, DK, BP, etc. these guys are unbelievable. I wonder what triggered their motherinstinct?
Do they seriously think you don't work but only talk? Do they seriously think that you use words that are way over your head? Don't they see that your posting is part of the process? There must be something that triggered their behaviour, and I'm very curious what it is. Maybe they are willing to clarify it (if they noticed it in the first place)?

8/03/2007 11:37:00 PM  
Blogger BlunderProne said...

TEmpo... I'll be the first to admit... I'm insecure.

I'm not an acedemic powerhouse... I took a different path to get where I am ... quite successfully.

It's a little intimidating to see such deep rich thought put into a post as such. I wish I had teh time and capacity. My life is too full and my wife thinks I spend too much time on this crippling addiction called chess.

So, I guess I have a mixed bag of insecurities and jealousy.

That's alos why I precursored my comment with a grain of salt.

We all need to find our own path. If intellectualizing on a blog is part of BDK's process then ...great ...Huzzah! etc.

My post wasn't meant to knock him... my suggestion ...which seems to be working for me... is to play more and do less theory.

Again... we all need to find our own path. Some of these posts are over my head Not only here but elsewhere... I have to go back and re-read it over and over... I feel "not worthy" or dense.. or Homer-esque but then I look at my results... and say... well something must be working.

My path is my path... appologies if it seemed like I was trying to force others to go down mine.


8/04/2007 12:30:00 AM  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

BP, thx for your honest reaction. I'm sure BDK appreciates that. It's true that he is emmitting a lot of academic vibes. But there is a big difference between BDK and the usual academics. Academics usually have a great resistance to become concrete. In the abstract world it is safer. So everybody has his own fears. BDK is different. He steps down from his ivory tower in an honest attempt to do something practical and concrete: learn how to play chess. He excludes nobody in his quest. And guess what: despite his academic background he still operates as a headless chicken. Just like you and me. Don't let the beautiful words deceive you! But he is not going to accept to run around like a headless chicken. So be smart and let him run around and keep an eye on him. If one day he finds his head back he will lead you to the grain. I'm sure he is willing to share that.

8/04/2007 03:50:00 AM  
Blogger XY said...

Just a short post to say I'm siding with BDK. : )

8/04/2007 05:27:00 AM  
Blogger Koroviev said...

I also side with BDK.

8/04/2007 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger Koroviev said...

Nice bloog.

8/04/2007 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger Loomis said...

I think it's more than just academic to give names to tactics. You can do tactics exercises with something like CTS, CT-Art, CTB, or whatever and hope that continued exposure to all the tactics makes them sink in. And this will work for a lot of tactics, you'll begin to recognize forks and back rank mates, etc. But more than likely, there will remain blind spots, tactical motifs that haven't sunk in, weaknesses in your tactical eyesight.

What's to be done about this problem? In my experience, this can be overcome by consciously working on the tactics that give you the most trouble. I blogged about this 8-10 months ago when I was doing a lot of CTS. Maybe there is another way to approach this conscious effort, but for me it seems most straight forward to be able to say "I'm missing or overlooking double attacks -- often with check -- by the queen, so make sure to look for those." If I didn't know the name for double attacks or the word for 'check' it wouldn't be so easy to formulate and then work on my weakness.

8/04/2007 01:45:00 PM  
Blogger takchess said...

What a great thread! Nice imput from Shakmat and others. Of course thanks to Rise and Shine for stirring the pot 8)

It reminds me of chess club. I end up playing an old timer who has been at the chess club every Friday night for the last twenty years. He pounds me into the ground playing the Ruy Lopez as white. Here is how the post game conversation goes:

That's a nice Ruy you played there!

Oh, is that what you call that opening ? I never bothered to learn the names. I don't study I just play.

hmmm. (insert your own conclusion here__________________ )

That being said: I believe that there is a benefit to classification and looking to study the ideas behind the tactics. If no one ever named the Grob, I would not be able to google it or talk to others as easily about it. I might be less prone to remember it if I hadn't learned its name.

This is one of the reasons that I like " Understanding Chess Tactics". A major theme of the book is that it is important to do tactical problems but it is also important to understand the reason why a tactic works. There is a catalyst effect.

To quote Horowitz :

Chess is a game of Understanding not a game of memory.

however I might amend that to

Chess is a game of Understanding and Pattern Recognition not a game of memory

8/04/2007 03:39:00 PM  
Blogger Korsmonaut said...

Happy Opposite Day!

8/04/2007 11:42:00 PM  
Blogger Grandpatzer said...

Late to the party as usual.

It would be interesting to see a linguist's take on this. Words are the building blocks of ideas. If you lack a word to describe something, it may go unnoticed, like the concept of "zero" or "umami". Or, as another example, how we've had to adopt "schadenfreude" in English.

If you pick up, say, the Encyclopedia of Chess Middlegames and flip to a chapter with a certain theme such as "pin" or "deflection", the theme motif may actually be well concealed. There may be several tactical motifs working together. We use words like "pin" and "fork" to try and dissect the problem, but ultimately it's just a problem with a calculable solution, and we're trying to put into words why the solution is what it is.

8/14/2007 09:48:00 PM  

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