Saturday, January 10, 2009

Gears of war

An update on my recent chess efforts.

Coach B
A generous reader of my blog offered to help me with my chess, and gave me a great lesson on the phone tonight while going over some of my games at ICC. He's a 2000+ USCF player with a well-developed positional perspective. It was instructive to just hear him think about positions and the types of factors he considers when generating candidate moves. He made it all seem very simple, almost like even I could think like that.

On the side of tactics, he mentioned the site, which I have seen but never really read. He said he likes it because it isn't just problem after problem, but has particularly good explanations of how you might find or bring about the tactic in a real game. I just read a little bit of it and it seems excellent (thanks to those that have pointed out the site in comments here).

A few of the helpful points he made as we went over games:
1. Dream squares and dream lines
Especially when the pawn structure has stabilized, consider the 'dream squares' for your pieces (see Tempo's post on this theme). Where is the best square for your poorly placed Knight, for instance? Also, what lines are likely to be good for your long-range pieces? What is the dream file for your h rook? If you are lucky, you'll be able to get to the dream squares or open the dream lines. If there aren't any particularly good squares, what can you do? Perhaps your position is cramped, so you need to make some exchanges. Or maybe you should change the pawn structure to one that better suits your pieces.

2. Open for attack, close for defense
When attacking, or when it is time to attack, use pawn breaks to open up the position. When defending, consider pushing pawns that will close the position.

3. How will I win, and how will I lose?
To aid in long-term planning, think about how you can win the game, and how you can lose the game. What weakness would you go after if you were your opponent? You don't want to be surprised by the answer to such questions.

4. Don't exchange before it's due
If you plan to take his Knight on f3 with your Bishop on g4, don't rush it. Don't be scared to leave the tension in the position. Let him play h3 to weaken his Kingside pawn structure before capturing.

Safety is still first
I've been making good progress in my back to safety basics binge. I've been doing the Fritz attack training, and actually getting better at it (I scored 32 yesterday!), and have seen a slight heightening of my spidey-sense for what is safe and what isn't on the board.

I've also drastically increased my ratio of slow to fast games. I played five slow games in the last week. Playing too much blitz, as we all know, leads to sloppy thinking and vision. Slow games are just more fun for me. They also allow some time for cranking through variations, long-term planning, and such. That is, they allow you to think.

One thing I notice about good players is the immediacy of their recognition that something isn't safe. When showing them a move that overlooks basic safety they immediately scowl and ask "Why didn't you just take?" or "Doesn't that just leave this hanging?" The better the player, the faster and more visceral this reaction is, and the more complex the tactics that they immediately see. When I went over games with an IM, he was like that with complicated tactics involving multiple captures. He just saw the answer immediately. The Circles have helped me with this some, of course, but playing slow games and doing postmortems is also helpful.

When I started chess I began by working on tactics using software, none of which included problems where you just take a piece for free (they usually start with mate in one). This led to a habit where I would often would look for tactics such as forks and completely overlook simple captures! The past two weeks I've focused on repairing this hole in my safety net seems to be paying off (though I still miss pawn captures for some reason, especially when a pawn capture opens up that wasn't there before).

Rules are good
Reading Rowson's book has been very enlightening, and I am now an official member of the Rowson fan club. But as I said in some comments, I'm just not ready to play rule independently. If there is an open file, my rook is going to it unless I find a clear tactical refutation. I won't sit there chewing up time thinking of subtle ways it could go wrong. I am almost always wrong when I think I've found them.

I've been playing as a rule-slave for the past week or so, and have been happy with the results. I don't think as much before quiet moves, and typically end up with a better position anyway.

I was reminded of this during my lesson tonight, when Coach B said he thinks one reason children get better faster is that they are better at following directions than adults. When a good chess player tells them they should do X, they do X. When someone tells me to do X I try to find the eight million exceptions (example here).

No more. Unless I can find a clear tactical refutation, I'm gonna play by the rules for a while. If only that were the only reason adults are slower learners than kids!

Chess Drum
The Chess Drum is a nifty blog. It tends to be news rather than improvement oriented, but the discussion in Men's Superiority in Chess Explained? is interesting.


Blogger wang said...

Rules, rules, rules...

Yep I think that you should be a fairly accomplished player before you start really looking at the excptions to rules. I think your idea of just looking for tactical refutations is best, as that's what folks at our level are going to be able to spot anyway. Long, deep thinks have more often than not landed me in hot water.

1/11/2009 02:56:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Wang: it is quite bad when I end up in a long think, going through all sorts of variations looking for exceptions to things like getting rooks onto open files or getting my Knight to a juicy outpost. I then talk myself out of following the rule, and then my opponent takes the open file and wins! :)

1/11/2009 03:54:00 PM  
Blogger X said...

Awesome post!

I particularly like "Rules." I do the same thing...I know what the rule is but I always think that I've found the exception. Next thing you know, bam! I'm getting that rule shoved right down my throat.

1/11/2009 11:23:00 PM  
Blogger From the patzer said...

Adults learn slower then kids because our brain is already filled with so much junk that it conflicts with something new we learn while a young (youth) player doesn't have such a huge pile of (life) wisdom stored so he isn't bothered by other knowlegde to accept what he learns is true.

It's indeed hard to know when not to follow the rule or just do the opposite of what the rule says. I am rated 1907 elo (belgian nation rating) and even i hesitate (or dont even consider) to abuse the rules.

I guess one has to make it a habit to also look for moves that go against the rules. Otherwise that spectaculair Q-sacriface against a knight will be always missed. :-)

1/12/2009 08:21:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

CT: well it's good to know you can reach 1900 following the rules!

1/12/2009 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger Chessaholic said...

Good stuff!

Don't be scared to leave the tension in the position This was one of the first pieces of advice I received after joining my chess club. A strong player I analyzed one of my games with said, "Beginners release tension. Strong players build up tension". That may be oversimplified, but it's true at its core - by keeping up the tension, you generally leave your options open and don't commit yourself too quickly. I have found that following this principle has really helped me.

1/12/2009 03:34:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

BDK: I think a "master" these days roughly corresponds to someone who has "mastered" the rules. So you could even get to 2200!

1/12/2009 07:57:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Chessaholic: I like that slogan about weak vs strong players and their willingness to maintain tension.

Azir: Well that's sure good to know. I guess I should give myself permission to marinate in the rules for a while, letting counterexamples emerge for the cases when following them crashes and burns (and of course sometimes they conflict and you have to think about that--e.g., when behind in material, exchange pawns not pieces, but if he is attacking exchange pieces--what if you are down material and he is attacking? Well I guess in that case the attack takes precedence, so do what you have to to stop the attack...but you get the idea).

1/12/2009 09:45:00 PM  
Blogger Michael L said...

I also enjoyed your discussion over tension and when to release or keep it in the center. I find that a good rule of thumb to tell whether or not to keep or release tension is to ask yourself whether or not you can release it whenever you want and whether your opponent can release it whenever he wants as well. If you can realease it whenever, but your opponent can't, that means he is in a much more uncomfortable position and you probably shouldn't release it. Love your blog and thoughts Keep up the work BDK!

1/13/2009 12:27:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

And the person Chessaholic quoted is spot on. Tension induces errors, so the stronger side always turns up the heat. Usually it's the fish that gets fried, but not always...

1/13/2009 01:35:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Michael L: That's a good way to look at it. There is often an asymmetry in who can move. Keep the heat on high (to dovetail with Aziridine)!

1/13/2009 09:16:00 AM  
Blogger BlunderProne said...


I ran across this article at thought immediately of you:

The headline that caught my eye was “Why Your Brain Can’t always Make good decisions”

This interesting study looks at two aspects of human decision making; intuitive and reasoning. To quote en excerpt:

"The intuitive system is emotional, fast, automatic but slow-learning, while the reasoning system is emotionally-neutral, slow, controlled, and rule-governed. Neither, of course, is always right, but there are certain simple problems that reveal flaws in intuition."

It goes on to describe expert chess players’ ability to make fast decisions based on the visual queues of the position. It was the fact that the more intuitive decisions are better made with visual processing. The issue is when we attempt to reason verbally ( over think our initial intuitive decision) that we run into problems.

Of course, the problem for chess players is how does one develop the intuitive skills? Mass pattern memorization fused into long term is a start. But also repetitive processing of similar decision trees like reviewing openings, games, and positional ideas.

Anyway, I thought you might be interested.

1/13/2009 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger Loomis said...

"what if you are down material and he is attacking? ... do what you have to to stop the attack"


On a more serious note, I think you touch on an important point -- conflicting rules. Fischer had a saying "You have to give squares to get squares." More generally, you may have to break one rule to follow another, e.g. having doubled pawns can open a file for a rook.

1/13/2009 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

BP: that is cool I'll check it out. Thanks for bringing it up. There's a bunch of stuff I want to post about revolving around various articles that have been published lately I'll have to include that (or at least the studies the article cites).

Looms: :) Resign, good idea. I like the Fischer quote.

1/13/2009 11:53:00 AM  
Blogger Chessaholic said...

BDK: I've been playing as a rule-slave for the past week Thought you might be interested in a post I put up the other day where I quote an example from a book talking about a "concrete approach" vs. strict rule adherence. I will get back to this topic with more examples soon.

1/18/2009 12:22:00 AM  

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