Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Chessplanner 2: any suggestions?

I just finished writing up version 2.0 of my chess thought process. The PDF of the document can be viewed or downloaded here. It is radically different from the original version which I posted ages ago.

I consider this the penultimate draft, the final draft to be completed based on any feedback I receive here. I will be eternally grateful to anyone who provides feedback. I spent a ton of time on this, as I have fine-tuned it to make it something that can actually be used in real games. Any errors, problems, things that aren't clear, important topics left out, typos, etc pointed out would be greatly appreciated.

The thought process integrates information from Heisman, Soltis, Buckley, and many others (especially commenters here at the blog) into something that I have found quite useful in practice. I don't think there is much original in the document, but rather the originality lies in the collection, collation, integration of information from all these sources into something with a consistent vocabulary and an outlook biased toward playing attacking chess. If there is anything original (and it probably has been done), it is the view of the heirarchy of plans in chess and their relation to candidate moves (illustrated in Figure 1 in the document, a page that may be hard to see on your computer screen which may justify wasting a precious page of murdered tree pressings).

As for the name, I hate naming it, but it just makes it easier to write a 12-page document typing 'Chessplanner' rather than 'this thought process' every two paragraphs.

Here is the Introduction, pulled straight from the document:
Chessplanner is a five-step procedure for selecting moves in the middle game of chess. Like all chess thought processes, it aims to increase the likelihood that the knowledge you already have will be put to use in games. Every beginner, for instance, knows that they shouldn't leave their queen en prise, but we have all left her hanging, appalled at our sloppiness. Diligent application of a thought process will drastically reduce, if not eliminate, such blunders.

I should stress at the outset that consciously following an algorithm for move selection is not the end goal. The great players do not walk themselves through a step-by step procedure for picking moves. Consciously thinking "OK, now I need to look at checks, captures and threats" is inefficient: it is much more economical to simply consider all checks, captures, and threats. Hence, the objective is to implicitly carry out all the steps without consciously thinking about them. Unfortunately, chess novices tend to impulsively make the first move that pops into their heads. An explicit thought process is meant to counter such impulsivity. During this learning period it is necessary to think about thinking, but any thought process should be looked at as a ladder that we will ultimately discard once its application is second-nature.
Now I just need to work on applying it more consistently, every move!!! And finally, here is a clip from the end, meant to appeal to the nay-sayers (J'adoube, Funky Fantom, etc) who say that thought processes are useless:
Decision-making in chess is as idiosyncratic as decision-making in real life: people muck about, doing the best they can, using what has worked for them in the past to help them decide what to do in the future. While Chessplanner seeks to make explicit what the masters say they do in real games, if it sucks the fun out of the game, if someone already uses a different decision procedure that works for them, or if they are past the stage of needing a thought process, then they shouldn't use Chessplanner.


Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

I just realized I forgot to stress that it is crucial to think well on every move. I'll add that in the final version, and include the following quote from Heisman:
In order to be a good player, you have to at least try to play correctly on every move, not just most of them. Consistency is important: remember that your chain of moves, in many cases, is only as strong as the weakest link.

10/09/2007 02:47:00 AM  
Blogger transformation said...

resounding applause. :) congratulatons. a most noble effort. warmest, dk

10/09/2007 02:49:00 AM  
Blogger wormwood said...

latex geek. :)

I suspect the usefulness of the particular instance of structured thought process is entirely your call. what works for you doesn't work for someone else, and vice versa.

I never could find a configuration that suited me, so I eventually gave up. it always felt like I was trying force an organic, mutating problem into a clean, tidy controlled structure. and it just never did quite fit.

10/09/2007 10:58:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Wormwood: see last para of my post.

10/09/2007 11:10:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Thanks DK.

10/09/2007 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger Liquid Egg Product said...

Getting to stand on the shoulders of a literature giant. (You're exhibiting the non-laziness that I can never emulate.)

Some real handy information--eg, I was never aware of tactical fatigue. Kudos on Chessplaner!

10/09/2007 01:30:00 PM  
Blogger Grandpatzer said...

This is nitpicky, but in your 5-step thought process, step 5 is "move". Seems to me 1-4 are a thought process, and 5 is an action.

5-step move-making process, maybe?

I understand the point, though, which is to avoid "Ready! Fire! Aim!".

10/09/2007 01:40:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

GP: hmmm. If that's the biggest objection I see, I'll be very happy! :)

10/09/2007 02:44:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

LEP: thanks for the kudos, and the blog award!

10/09/2007 02:45:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Wormwood (2): one thing I just thought about. The document not only outlines a thought process, but has a lot of information from various authors about how to do certain things that everyone does anyway (whether they use a thought process or not). E.g., everyone analyzes candidate moves, evaluates positions, scans for threats, etc.. People who like reading my analyses of things like piece activity, choosing how much to analyze in a position, etc., will find lots of similar things in this document, things that I have found extremely helpful independently of their placement in this particular procedure for selecting moves.

For instance, this:
Be sure to avoid focusing exclusively on your own plans. It is easy to get so caught up in putting a Knight on an outpost that you don't realize that your opponent is about to trap your queen! It is crucial to try to figure out what plans your opponent is trying to implement, as your best plan may be to generate counterplans or defensive maneuvers. It is especially important to figure out your opponent's plan if he plays a move that looks illogical or downright silly. Often such moves are setting up tricky tactics or attacks.

That seems to be common sense, something everyone could use, and it is almost accidental that it is part of this kooky (oops, I meant amazing) thought process. The document is packed with such bits.

10/09/2007 05:51:00 PM  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

When does the light version see the light?

10/09/2007 06:32:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Tempo: you already saw it. The post before my 'abdridged version' was the lite version. This is the full version.

10/09/2007 07:51:00 PM  
Blogger wormwood said...

bdk, just to make sure: I'm not criticizing your thought process, I'm just rambling about my own experience. :)

10/09/2007 08:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suggest you don''''t keep stop doing?

ROCKAIB!!? ON!?!?!

10/09/2007 08:54:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Wormwood: no worries, that's how I took it. I want criticisms, indeed, but it seems every time I post about thought process issues, the comments often end up being about whether a thought process can ever really be useful. Which is why I tried to forestall this sidetracking with the last paragraph. :o

10/09/2007 09:14:00 PM  
Blogger B. Stevenson said...

Looks great BDK. I seriously couldn't find anything about it that didn't seem on track to me. I need to do a post about the learning process based on your last paragraph of the blog post. You got me thinking on it.


10/09/2007 11:13:00 PM  
Blogger Glenn Wilson said...

I have read CP2. I like it!

Some practical considerations:
"Planning" is a step I mostly do before my move selection process and is a step I generally do when it is my opponents turn to move.

I do other things on my opponents time as well when I can (select candidate moves based on what I think he will do, etc) but I rarely deep plan on my time. I don't know if that is a good model or not but it is what I think I do.

Another time management tip (not quite on subject but related...). When you have exactly one legal or non-losing move: play it. Don't waste time analyzing what will happen later --- do that on your opponents time.

Some philosophical considerations:

but it is important that strategic moves be tactically justifiable: if having a bishop on a certain square would increase its activity, you won’t put it there if it will be lost to a tactic.
Sigh. Where do I start? "strategic move" is an oxy-moron. There are positional moves but every move in a game of chess is by definition tactical.

Increasing a piece's activity is a positional and tactical consideration.

"Positional" != "strategy".

Delivering checkmate may be the pinnacle of your strategy but that move (and every move ever played in a game of chess) is 100% pure tactics. Some moves are good tactically, some moves are bad tactically, some moves are neutral tactically but every move is tactical. Not every position has combinations, but every position has tactics (moves). Except maybe stalemate.

think in terms of general strategic principles (e.g., rooks belong on open files).
This is a positional and tactical consideration.

Just trying to be true to my nickname and reputation. :-)

10/10/2007 07:02:00 AM  
Blogger Loomis said...

Overall I think it's a good distillation of "how to make a chess move" with a lot of the stuff that beginners don't realize has to go on before making a move. Anybody who has recently learned to play and gotten their feet wet with a few losses would be well served to read something like this (as opposed to having to track down all the original source material as you have).

As a thought process it seems lengthy. I envision you getting flagged a lot 3 moves after your opening prep :-). Ok, I think you already said that you're not exactly following it in detail as you select a move.

There is one caveat that is probably worth pointing out. Chessplanner is a process that is working for you, right now. While it includes advice that is likely reasonable for most players, any thought process will be personal and also level dependent. Whatever conscious thought process you chose will be designed to eliminate the weaknesses of your auto-process. So it will likely be different from person to person, and of course, it will change in time as you improve.

Even if it is nuanced to you, I think the document is interesting on a broader scale in that it reveals something about what a player rated XXXX is thinking about when he plays chess. That ought to be immediately interesting to anyone rated 100-300 points lower -- and probably to many players at a similar or even higher rating. I sure would love to have something this detailed written by players 300 points higher rated than I am!

10/10/2007 09:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heisman also suggests in an article that you should use your opponents time, mainly to look at the position from a strategic perspective. If Soltis is right about the tactical fatigue, I'v started to wonder if not Heismans suggestion might be a bad idea.

10/10/2007 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Glenn: I should include a bit on time management, and include your excellent point about making a forced move quickly.

As for the other stuff, I appreciate your consistency :) Strategy is what I do when there is no tactic. You might say that everything is tactics, but then the word becomes meaningless essentially. So I'll make up a new word, "pocateldamec", to describe situations where I can find no threats as I've defined them in the document. In situations where I am in pocadeldamec, by definition I call that strategy. As does 99.9985% of the chess world.

Loomis: I used to have a really long section on time management stuff but I cut it. As mentioned above with Tacticus Maximus, perhaps I will put a little section on the topic.

I also used to have a long section on the concern that CP would chew too much time off the clock. I cut it because the document was too long already. I know you were partly joking, but it is a good topic.

If you aren't doing the steps in CP (regardless of the order or the names you give them), you are probably not thinking long enough. Consider what CP essentially involves:
1. Look for threats.
2. If no major threats, then pick a move based on more general principles.
3. Analyze to figure out which candidate you want to play.

That, really, is it! If someone isn't doing those minimal things, they are just being sloppy (or playing blitz or rapid chess). CP is really a kind of minimal kernel that simply organizes the things people should be doing on every move anyway. As I said in the document and here again, the order isn't all that important (though looking for threats first is just more efficient).

As for your caveat, the last paragraph of my original post is meant to address such things. But I think you may have an interesting point.

My first response to that caveat was that this stuff is pulled from IM, GM, NM analyses of "best" thinking in chess. It isn't a description of how I think (I am still working on applying it, and if it was it would be a Salvidor Dali painting), but a prescription based on what the thoughtful masters say is most important.

At one level, I don't think this is skill-level specific. A GM still thinks about 'threats', even though his thinking about threats will be much more subtle and sophisticated than mine (I will make more errors not looking at checks, captures, one-move tactics so need to include that, and he will see those immediately and think about combinations more). The categories are the same, but the examples and specific worries do indeed tell a tale about my relative newness to the game.

I hope that the categories, the general framework (1-3 above) would be able to help even as the specific applications become more refined. I'd be curious to hear what the higher-rated (for me, that means above 1500!) players think about this.

Samurai (and Tacticus): Good eye: I definitely should discuss what to do during the opponent's move. I purposely didn't include it as I didn't want to be dogmatic: that is something that is so personal and idiosyncratic that people should be free to "do their thing", it will depend a great deal on the type of position, etc.. But if that's the case, I should mention it, and at least mention what others have said about this topic. Hell, it's already 12 pages. A little more won't hurt. Good eye for a rather obvious oversight!

I think I will make a separate post soon on the 'what to do on the opponent's clock' topic, asking for references and the like. At present, I just sit and think about what the opponent might be thinking about, and potential moves I might make in response.

10/10/2007 12:29:00 PM  
Blogger Samurai Pawn said...

Here is one reference if you would like some thoughts on what to do on your opponents time:


10/10/2007 04:11:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Thanks SP that's a good start!

10/10/2007 04:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's been said that the first thing you should do when your opponent moves is ask yourself what that does, how it changes the position, is it safe, etc.

Perhaps a little bit on this subject in the first step would be good.



10/10/2007 06:48:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Warped: I prefer to look for threats first, including mine and his. If I find I can mate in one, it doesn't matter what he is doing. It isn't until the second step that I mention figuring out opponent plans, but perhaps I could put a little more stress on that there.

10/10/2007 06:52:00 PM  
Blogger BlunderProne said...

Great work... Huge effort... I am in awe.

You missed one crucial step.... 6) Hit the clock.

10/10/2007 07:37:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Thanks BP! Ah, you're one of THOSE people who actually play chess with a person sitting across from you.

10/10/2007 07:45:00 PM  
Blogger Glenn Wilson said...

I don't know if it fits for this work or not, but how about some things NOT to think about.

At different times in my chess career I have worried about what others might think about my next move. I'm playing in a tournament against Mr. X and pondering my next move which is a simple pawn capture. I can take towards the center or away from the center. The club champ is watching my game. I know that the rule is to take towards the center but the "wrong" way looks promising. But if I do that and it is bad people will laugh at me because everyone knows you should capture towards the center.

Or, maybe I am thinking about moving a piece twice early in the opening.

So I capture towards the center or don't move the piece twice. Not because it is the right move but because it fits into the rules I have learned about what is good chess.

Or, how about you find yourself winning against a much higher rated player? How do you keep your brain from exploding with excitement (and one can not play well with an exploded brain). Wow! I'm going to beat Mr. Big!! That's so cool.! I'm the man! Etc.

I don't know if others have similar issues but ridding my thought processes of these distractions was an important step in getting to Expert. I now just make the move that I think is best. Obvious, I know. But is it worth mentioning?

10/10/2007 07:53:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Glenn: good points, and we are all subject to internal psychological pressures that make us do stupid things. I'll have to think more about how it would fit it, but regardless, it is an excellent point. I hate playing with people watching.

10/10/2007 08:13:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Anonymous Bill: I find it very practical, and I'd be curious to see what you think if you ever read it.

I've struggled with whether I should add positions to the document. Instead, for now, I provide very simple verbal examples in almost every paragraph. I did this to keep the length down (chess position images make documents very long!).

10/11/2007 11:22:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Maybe I'll post an example or two over the next few months. And then once they are worked up well, I'll add them to CP. This could actually be a very good exercise!

10/11/2007 11:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciatewhat you didi very much, indeed.

I only would like to do letyou modify a statemant:
you say you wrote Chessplanner
about middlegame planning.
IMHO the plan is somwthing
wich starts from the very
beginning , do you know
R Reti words about Capblanca?
Do you?

Therefore it makes compelling the
plan starting from the opening

10/14/2007 03:36:00 PM  

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