Saturday, April 29, 2017

Building the tree of scenario's

On December 3rd, 2016, I abandoned the salt mines and all other unproductive idea's for chess improvement, and started to build a logical framework where I can put my knowledge on. I finally found the tree of scenario's as a potential framework. I even heard myself say in the previous post something like "there is a limited amount of scenario's and a limited amount of questions that need to be asked to interrogate the position".

Since December 3rd, I have analyzed about 40 positions extensively. A lot of little gems were unearthed. Now it is time to go back to these 40 positions, in order to derive a decent tree of scenario's from it. Only with such coherent framework of chess knowledge, I can hope to begin some serious tactical training.

The first step will be to erect a complete tree with all crude observations hanged in it provisionally. The second step will be to optimize all observations, so that the tree will act as a handy summary of adequate and relevant knowledge. The third step will be to distill a training method from it.

I'm working on the first step right now.


Friday, April 28, 2017

Simplify this!

What do the three types of immobilization have in common?

Lack of space
When a piece is under attack and has lack of space, it has a lack of time too. Imagine that your opponent was allowed to do a few moves in a row, while you had to pass and wait, then he could free himself.

When a piece is immobile due to its duties it can't abandon, it is comparable to a lack of space. Imagine that your opponent was allowed to do a few moves in a row, while you had to pass and wait, then he could free himself.

Lack of time time
When two target pieces are placed in an unfortunate way, they can be both attacked at the same time with a duplo attack. Imagine that your opponent was allowed to do a few moves in a row, while you had to pass and wait, then he could free himself.

What these three times of immobilization have in common, is that they are temporary. They all lack the time to do all necessary actions. That is why special moves, aka duple function moves, are paramount. Both for the defense and the offense.

Sitting duck
I have been inaccurate about the sitting duck. A sitting duck doesn't equal the target in al situations. In situations of lack of space and duplo attacks, it does. But when a piece has two functions which are mutual exclusive, the target is often not the sitting duck, but the pieces it is protecting.
So the question is: how to exploit the sitting duck.

Diagram 1. Black to move
r3k3/p4p1p/4p1r1/2p1n3/4nN1Q/P1PqP2P/3B2P1/2R2R1K b q - 1 1

points of pressure d2; f1; g3
lines of attack g-file; d-file; d3-f1-diagonal
function c1 defends f1; black Q defends e4
sitting duck d2

How to exploit the sitting duck?
I will update later. Comments are already welcome.

The white bishop is hanging. It is the sitting duck. The thinking starts with the question "how to exploit the sitting duck". There is no reason to think about an other idea. Unless you can prove that the bishop can't be taken.

A hanging piece is a common situation on CT. Is usually the result of an incorrect sacrifice. It is a typical example of a piece that is immobilized by lack of time

The normal reaction to a hanging piece is to take it. Cash it in. But there can be situations where the the capture should be postponed, since you first have to deal with a counter attack. As is the case in diagram 1. Notice how backward thinking diminishes the amount of things to think about.

We can't avoid to think from the point of view of white here. What are the points of pressure from whites perspective?
points of pressure e4; g6; e7; e5
lines of attack h4/d8; h-file
function Q - e4; Ne5 defends g6; h7 defends h8

1. ... Qxd2 2.Nxg6 is a triple function move. It attacks e4; e5 and threatens Qe7#

That indicates the three things black has to prevent before he can take the bishop. He can use as much moves as he needs, as long as he keeps the initiative. Since whites threat comprises mate on e7, keeping the initiative can't mean anything else than giving a check.

1. ... Ng3+ solves the first problem: it saves Ne4 for the moment with tempo. What is more, it chases the white king to the line of attack e3/g1. Which gives black a chance to gain a tempo while defending his knight on g3. Notice how important this is.

1. ... Ng3+ 2.Kg1 Qxd2 3.Nxg6 Qxe3+ the knight on g3 is save and the king has to move to h2. The rest can be easily calculated.

Backwards thinking minimizes the calculation by pruning the tree of analysis drastically. You don't have to consider a lot of options. The prize for this is that you must be very accurate about what a move actually accomplishes. Especially what effects it has on the initiative

The questions you have to ask your self are not rocket science. You have to know the standard scenario's how an attack or defense develops. We need these questions to pop up automatically. There are not that many scenario's or questions. We need to cultivate our sense for the initiative. And we have to cultivate accuracy. Two skills that aren't acquired overnight.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Building the system

We made a quantum leap in understanding Tals adage in the previous post. His adage is based on hanging pieces, and I didn't realize how important that is. Despite I have postulated that in earlier posts, where I made a distinction between action moves and postponement moves (although I didn't call them action moves back then). Only now I start to appreciate how this distinction prunes the tree of analysis drastically. Postponement moves don't alter the outcome of the combination. They just postpone it. Postponement moves are normal moves on a tit for tat basis. A CCT-move followed by an answer in order to neutralize. The normal moves don't need calculation. We must be aware of the special moves. The moves with a duple function. Since they do change the outcome of the combination.

The tour the force I am trying to accomplish, is to merge the plf system with Tals adage. To that end I am going to investigate a few positions of which I think it should be possible to unearth their simplicity, although they now lead to failure or enormous time consumption. The goal is not to solve the position, but to bring the necessary logical reasoning in accordance with Tals adage.

Tals adage is limited to hanging pieces. Can it be extended to mate positions?

Diagram 1 black to move
2r3k1/5ppp/p7/1prRq3/4n3/P1N1P2P/1P3PP1/2RQ2K1 b - - 0 1

points of pressure c1; c3; d5
The most juicy point of pressure is c1. Is does not only contain a fat rook, it is the entry point to the line of attack  c1 - g1, where a duplo attack (pinning the queen to the king is waiting to be exploited.

lines of attack c-file

Knight defends c1 and d5
Queen defends c1 and d5
Both pieces are overloaded, since they can only perform one of their function while neglecting the other.

Counter attack chances
Black must prevent the entry of white to the line of attack 8th rank

Sofar for the initial scan of the position
The sitting duck is the white knight. It cannot move due to Rxc1.
This means that Rd5 is outnumbered. But how to take? Normally you would take the lowest rated piece, and normally that would work, but here it gives white a counter attack by entering the line of attack to the black king.

1. ... Rxd5 2.Nxd5 Rxc1 3.Qxc1 gives white access to the 8th rank

So 1. ... Qxd5 is the move. Normally you wouldn't use the highest valued piece for the capture. But since c1 is the entry point to the line of attack against the white queen and king, the black queen can be regained under all circumstances.

To link this to the adage of Tal would lead to a rather far stretched and artificial sounding explanation. Yet my gut feeling tells me that there is a connection. Just give me some time to gather my faint thoughts.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

They can only take them one at a time

There is a special breed of positions that gives me the feeling that I have a special talent to make the wrong choice. That is probably not true, but it certainly feels like it.

The past investigations made me hypothesize that the prodigy in chess has learned some tricks how to prune the tree of analysis. My remedy based on this hypothesis, making a good habit of looking for the convergence squares of the second order when you are stuck, does certainly work. But not in every position! I will give an example of a position that needs another way of pruning.

Diagram 1 black to move
r1r5/4qppk/p1R1pn1p/1p6/2N1PB2/bN3Q1P/P4PP1/2R3K1 b - - 0 1

The title of this post is the adage of Tal concerning the pieces he left hanging. This adage tells me that he had a way to prune the tree of analysis in a drastic way. That must have made his calculations a lot easier for him. If you don't worry about things that don't need worrying, then the mind will be fried for more constructive work. I'm going to try to find out what his pruning method comprises. What does his adage mean in practice?

Feel free to comment already, I will update the post later.

Mutual captures are difficult to assess. For long, I'm looking for methods to simplify the thought processes involved. The capture is the standard move here. I'm looking for moves with a duple function. Captures that capture an attacker. Captures that capture a defender. Captures that attack a new piece. That kind of stuff. So I made a provisional list with extra functions that can be performed besides the actual capture. It are the moves with duple functions which play the decisive role.

The move 1. ... Bxc1 performs a double function. It captures the rook, and it saves the attacking function of the bishop, which otherwise wouldn't be preserved due to 2.Nxa3, which is a duple functional move too: it saves the white knight and captures a black attacker thus saving Rc1.

There is another move that has a double function which does roughly the same:
1. ... bxc4 captures the knight, and it saves the attacking function of the bishop, which otherwise wouldn't be preserved due to 2.Nxa3
 The problem with 1. ... bxc4 is that is allows 2.Rxc4 which is a duple function move:
It saves Rc1 and Nb3 with one move. This duple function is not yet found in the scheme though.

So I haven't found anything substantial yet, but at least you now know in what direction I'm looking. To be continued.

It took quite a few days of struggling, but finally I have seen the light. Let's see how we can apply the adage of Tal here. "Both you and your opponent can take only one hanging piece at the time."

Black has 3 pieces under attack. i.e. 3 white pieces are hanging.What is the most likely outcome of that situation: Black can round up 2 pieces, while 1 white piece will escape.
  • First ply: black takes a hanging piece
  • Second ply: white saves a hanging piece
  • Third ply: black takes another hanging piece
This totals to +2 pieces for black. Since black started with 1 piece down, the net result for black will be +1 piece.

That is, when normal moves are played.
What are normal moves? I call single function moves normal moves. When a move accomplishes exactly 1 thing. In opposition to special moves, which are duple function moves. A duple function move accomplishes 2 things.

In fact it doesn't matter which piece is taken first by black, since after 3 ply, he will have taken 2 pieces, while white has saved 1. But only when normal moves are played.

In this position, white has a few special moves up his sleeves. That makes the choice of the first piece to take not indifferent. In two of the three lines, white can save two pieces with one duple function move:

1. ... Rxc6 2.Nxa3 the last white move accomplishes two things with one move:
  • it saves the white knight
  • it captures the attacker of Rc1
1. ... bxc4 2.Rxc4 the last white move accomplishes two things with one move:
  • it saves the hanging Rc1
  • it captures the attacker of Nb3
1. ... Bxc1! 2.Rxc8 It saves Rc6, but at the cost of NOT taking the bishop on c1. It's a single purpose move.
2. ... Rxc8 and now white cannot both take the black bishop on c1 AND save his knight with one move.

I'm pretty sure that Tal has used this kind of simplification in his thinking.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Convergence squares

If I look at the diagram of the previous post, I find it difficult to express what is needed. After studying this position for quite some time, the moves are so evident that I simply cannot understand why I didn't see the simplicity of the position before. At the mean time, I fully acknowledge that there is no guarantee at all, that I will able to see the simplicity of similar positions in the future. I can impossible tell what I need to learn from this position that will be transferable to other positions. It seems that words are a too lousy vehicle to do that.

Maybe that is a positive sign. When something descends from the conscious to the unconscious, we don't know how that happens, and words cannot express how it works. You learn how to push the breaks and to shift gears when you turn right, but you can't possibly tell how you calculate the right speed, how you judge the right noise of the engine and how you calculate the correct power to apply to push the steering wheel. But then again, maybe I'm just deceiving myself here.

One point springs out, when I considered 1. ... Ne6, I didn't realize the importance of f7. The alternative point of pressure f7 gives white a counter attack (1. ... Ne6 2.Rd7). This means that it must be good to cultivate the habit to look at the points of pressure

And maybe that is how we should formulate it. We have to develop a few good habits. These habits are mainly visual, it seems. Aox said:

"This "splitting of the whole problem in a sequence of sub-problems and then to solve them" costs---->time!!"

He  certainly has a point here. We must not look for an algorithm that guides our logical thinking. I have tried that a few times in the past, and the trade-off between better thinking and time usage has always been negative. Not to mention the drain of mental energy.

This means that it is not quite clear how to proceed. As said, it is probably best to cultivate a few good habits. The algorithm I'm busy to develop isn't a goal in itself. It is meant to identify the habits we need to cultivate.

Take for instance the following position:

Diagram 1. White to move

4r1k1/pqr1pp1p/p1Nn2p1/3P4/5QP1/8/PP1R1P1P/4R1K1 w - - 1 1

What habit do we need to cultivate in order to transfer something from this position to similar positions? Feel free to comment already. I will update this post later.

What do we fancy that our RC-chess module should shout in our ear here?: Rb8!!

I have seen this mechanism working over and over again the past months. The moment my attention is guided to the right place of the board, the missing piece of the puzzle immediately pops up.

Every square of the board is screaming for our attention. Some squares shout harder than others. b8 is not screaming hard enough, so its sound drowns in the overall background noise, and is overpowered my the squares that seems more interesting.

What is so special about b8? What makes it different from c8 or a8? The difference is of course that the white knight and the white rook converge at b8. Chances that you can post a rook on b8 safely are higher than that you can post it on c8 or a8.
We can know beforehand, that converging squares are going to play a crucial role in any combination. So if you are stuck while forward thinking, you can start to look at the converging squares of the second order. If the squares of the first order don't work. There is no reason to look at non convergence squares.

The unconscious mechanism to let pop up the right solution is already well developed and put into place. The only thing that is missing  to ignite it, is the little spark of attention that leads us to b8.

Of course it would have been nice if the black queen was recognized as a sitting duck during the initial scan of the position. But I already identified the points of pressure and the lines of attack as a toolkit to help to find the most immobile pieces. The black queen has five squares where it can stand safely, so it doesn't look immobile until a rook appears on b8.

Robert Coble cited mr. Lasker:

THE METHODS FOLLOWED IN THE ANALYSIS OF A GIVEN POSITION BY COMBINATION AND BY THE CREATION OF PLANS ARE DIFFERENTIATED BY THE DIRECTION OF THE UNDERLYING THOUGHT. THE COMBINATION-PLAYER THINKS FORWARD: he starts from the given position and tries the forceful moves in his mind; THE POSITION-PLAYER THINKS BACKWARD: he conceives a position to be arrived at and works toward that position of which he is more conscious than the one on the board. He "sees" successive stages of the position aimed at and he visualizes the stage in a reverse order. If one position, according to his plan, is to follow another he "sees" the one that is to follow first and he deduces, as it were, the anterior position from it.

 To be honest, I was a little worried by this citation. It seemed as if the adult-chess-tactics-improvement-method I'm developing is different from the young-prodigy-way-of-chess-tactics-improvement-method. It is unlikely that nature is so prodigal that it allows two different ways, one by forward thinking and one by backward thinking, to learn the same skill, and that the end product of both ways will be equally effective.

But Aox put me on the right track again by pointing out the danger of introducing slow thinking into the method.

I'm sure that the young prodigy has picked up a few obvious idea's along the way, and has made looking for convergence squares of the second order a habit long ago, while even not remembering that fact consciously later on. And we should do the same.

Friday, April 07, 2017


On my quest to organize backwards thinking, I already expected a few hiccups while proceeding.

Choice between two ducks
The first hiccup is formulated by Tomasz as "we have to find (work out) a small difference between BIG ducks". From time to time, there is not one single immobile piece, but there are two. My impression is that that doesn't happen very often. But maybe, now my attention is triggered to look at it, there is a chance that I have to change my opinion, but we'll see about that.

The ducks are deemed by their apparent size, which translates to chess as the value of the piece. Well, that shouldn't be too hard. In order of value: K, Q, R, B, N, p

I look from the perspective of minimizing the brain load. When we have a king and a bishop that are both sitting ducks, we start with the king, and forget about the bishop. But that leads to the formulation of the second hiccup:

When to abandon thinking about a sitting duck?
There comes a moment when you should stop thinking about a combination once you see the sitting duck you are craving remains out of reach. I can think ad infinitum about it, so I definite need a breaking mechanism. I hope that working out the scenario's will help me out here. When I have investigated every standard scenario and none of them works, that should be the telltale sign to move on.

Counter attack
The hiccup I dread the most is the counter attack. Where do I place it in my tree of scenario's? The best way to overload my memory is to start thinking about counter attacks too early. How can I make that I start thinking about counter attacks exact just in time but not too early? What is the telltale alarm clock?

The last hiccup I'm confronted with is the defensive move from my opponent. When do I start looking at defensive moves?

As you might notice, I want to be in control of my thinking. I don't want to get sucked into a tunnel that leads to nowhere without me noticing it. Which is the normal state of affairs when thinking about a position.

The following position is going to be the subject to investigate the hiccups above. The diagram contains two sitting ducks and a counter attack. While I'm investigating the position, feel free to comment on the subject already. I will update this post when I have found something relevant to say about it.

Diagram 1. Black to move
3RQbk1/5p1p/6p1/2P3n1/4B1q1/4P1P1/Pr5P/5NK1 b - - 1 1

The first thing my eye fell upon was the duplo attack 1.... Ne6.
  • It defends against the counter attack 2.... Qxf8# (Notice that I was aware of a counter attack!)
  • It interrupts the defense of the bishop
  • I could find no defensive move that saves both the white bishop and rook (Notice that I checked for defensive moves from my opponent)
What I failed to notice though, is that white has another counter attack against the point of pressure f7. With 1. ... Ne6 2.Rd7 white saves both the rook and the bishop, since I must take care for f7 and have no time to take the bishop.

The fact that I had checked for a counter attack and for a defensive move, gave me a false sense of security.

Mister Lasker gave some terrible advice: "if you see a good move look for a better one". This advice is impossible to follow during OTB play, since I will loose due to time trouble time and again. But now I'm in the study room, and I followed his advice. So I started to look at the white king.

This is a typical case of two sitting ducks: the white bishop is immobile due to a duplo attack and the white king is immobile due to lack of space. As I pointed out, it is more logical to start with the biggest duck. If I had done that, I would not have needed to look after the move 1. ... Ne6. Automagical pruning prevents the necessity to look for a better move. There can't be one, since you are already slaughtering the biggest duck.

I was aware that only a check could dismiss me from looking at the counter attack. 1. ... Nf3+ 2. Kh1 Nf2+
What I failed to notice here, is that this is the wrong check. After 3.Kg1 I cannot take the bishop. I did though, since I had forgotten the pending counter attack.

So here you have it. I do most things very well, but time and again, little slips spoil the perfect score. A little lack of precision here, a bit forgetting there, some minor oversight yonder, starting at the wrong end elsewhere. Only a systematic and disciplined approach can help me out.
  • Start with the biggest duck
  • Not every check dismisses you from looking for counter attacks
  • There can be more than one counter attack
  • When you see two moves that seem to accomplish the same, don't be satisfied until you know which one is best and why.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Tree of scenario's

Luckily Robert doesn't get tired to repeat his good ideas. Given enough time and sufficient repetitions, good ideas tend to land sooner or later over here. He repeatedly put forward his idea of the king in a box, and now I see where that idea belongs. I'm building the Tree of Scenario's lately.

I consider the plf-system mainly as a toolkit that helps you to identify the sitting duck. The sitting duck is sitting quietly at the end of the line, waiting for you to get him. When we know the end, we must identify the steppingstones in between. Those steppingstones can help us to find the whole line without any significant calculation. If you work from the end towards the beginning, all irrelevant branches of the tree of analysis are automatically pruned. Since you will only enter an irrelevant branch if you think forward while you don't know where you are heading.

Step 1: identify the sitting duck

A duck can be immobile in three ways:
  • space (box!)
  • time (duplo attack)
  • function (defense)
That means that there are three types of positions, and we must identify the type of position we are dealing with.

Step 2: identify the type of immobility of the sitting duck

Every type has its own possible scenarios. Take for instance the box.
  • chasing the king into the box
  • covering a hole in the box
  • blocking a hole with in the box with an enemy piece
  • getting access to the box
Step 3: identify the scenario

Step 4:identify the best way to play the scenario

I intend to investigate the steps 2 and 3. Step 4 must be determined in the actual position. The plf-system can probably help us at step 4 as well.