Saturday, December 10, 2016

Genesis of knowledge

Due to my previous actions, I have a database of 110 problems which I failed to solve correctly. I already have been putting a vast amount of effort in the analysis of these problems, so it seems logical to use them for the future genesis of knowledge. If I use problems I showed you before, please bear with me. The position might already be familiar, but the yet to derive knowledge is not.

The sheer amount of different "techniques" in the dataset is simply baffling. There are so much different things to know, that it seems almost impossible to distill some knowledge that is commonly usable.

I decided to start with the pin, since that is what the book of Weteschnik does. Let's describe a few things we know about pins. I reckon the pin to the family of the duplo attacks. With one move, you attack two targets at the same time. The head and the tail of the pin. The opponent needs two tempi to get both the head and the tail out of harms way. Unless he has a dual function move to his disposal, he is in trouble.

Already some vagueness starts to cloud my head, am I not skewering the tail piece? What is actually the difference between a pin and a skewer? Or between a skewer and a röntgen attack, for that matter? It seems to have to do with the relative value of the head and the tail piece. If the head piece is more expensive than the tail piece, then we have a skewer, otherwise we have a pin. So what if both head and tail are of equal value?

What emerges is the first clothes hook of our coat rack:
  • Value
The relative values of the two targets, the value of the attacker and the way the targets are protected lead to different interpretations of what you have here on the board, and how the logic way to proceed should be. Maybe "protection" or "defenders" should be the second hook.
  • Value
  • Defenders
What immediately jumps into the eye, is the fact that these two hooks of the coat rack aren't limited to a pin. They play a role in every tactical combination. I think it is good to elaborate on those hooks nevertheless. Later we will find out what is pin specific.

An important factor of a pin is that the two targets are standing on the same line as the attacker. The same is true for a skewer. Some times, the opponent can turn the tables, and change the head and tail of a pin into a discovered attack against your attacker. That can happen if the head piece of your opponent can attack a piece of higher value than his tail piece. So two other hooks emerge:
  • Value
  • Defenders
  • Geometry
  • Initiative
The geometric motif so far has been rather theoretical and of little practical value to me. Yet for a pin it is of paramount importance. For three out of four types of duplo attacks are based on having target(s) and attacker(s) on the same line. And even a subset of double attacks has the same property. We must find out where to look for, concretely.

We already talked a lot about the initiative. Yet describing some practical knowledge has proven to be illusive, so far.

Another subject that comes to mind is the placement of the head and the tail piece. How to put them into the line of attack by preliminary moves like exchanges and such.
  • Value
  • Defenders
  • Geometry
  • Initiative
  • Target placement
An important issue with pins is the temporary immobility of the head piece. How to exploit that?
A piece placement with both targets and attackers on the same line can look harmless at first sight, but a forceful opening of the line of attack can all of a sudden uncork the attack. So:
  • Value
  • Defenders
  • Geometry
  • Initiative
  • Target placement
  • Exploiting immobility
  • Opening of the line of attack
The interesting thing is, that the elements that the different pins have in common, don't differ from other tactical combinations. This means that if we find here some practical knowledge, it will be useful of all types of tactical positions. I didn't see that coming.

We have an impressive coat rack already.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

What dit not work?

What didn't work out:
  • The board vision exercises as presented in my sidebar, AKA "the salt mines"
  • Decompose the solution for an hour and visualize the results for a few minutes
  • Imagine the future position with the aid of a verbal narrative
  • Identify the function of the pieces and visualize this
  • Identify the tactical themes of a combination and visualize this
  • Verbal formulation of the purpose of a move
  • Solving problems extreme fast
  • Solving problems extreme slow
  • Solving extreme many problems
  • Doing extreme many repetitions
  • Solving without repetition
  • Playing blindfold chess
  • Playing correspondence chess
  • Playing a lot of blitz
  • Playing a lot of rapid
  • Playing a lot of slow OTB
  • Stoyko exercises
  • Extreme difficult problems
  • Extreme easy problems
  • All kind of scanning techniques
  • All kinds of thought processes
  • All kinds of board vision exercises
  • Exercises for specific pieces
  • Themed exercises
  • Random exercises
  • With clock
  • Without clock
  • Visualization of covered squares
  • Imagining the aura of the pieces
  • Targeting my weaknesses in isolation
  • Targeting my weaknesses with an all out approach
  • Refusing  draw offers
And I exaggerated each exercise into absurdum in order to be able to draw a definite conclusion.
There are a few more thing I tried, but I don't feel like recherching that now. Let's focus on what works instead.

Only three methods showed any progress:
My efforts in the salt mines were inspired by the the result I had by playing Troyis. The problem with this method is, that it is too specific. I improved, but the improvements are irrelevant to the game. I analyzed extensively where I spilled points when solving problems at CT, and in only about 2% of the cases it had to do with the motor skills you learn while salt mining.

Mate in one
Working through Papa Polgars brick changed my vision. In stead of looking at the pieces, I started looking for the squares they cover, the "aura" of the pieces. I have done a whole host of vision exercises, and got improvement there. But again, those improvements are rather irrelevant to solving the kind of problems as presented by CT. It helps to visualize future positions, but that simply is not the main reason I spill points. Maybe in 3% of the cases a lack of visualization skills are the cause of spilling points at CT.

Steps method
The steps method just worked. But I couldn't find a follow up, and failed sofar to write my own. Everything I learned from it was relevant to the kind of problems CT presents to me.

The diagnosis
I know the tactical themes thoroughly. The problem is that they often are not popping up while scanning the board. The triggers do not fire. I have a lack of cues that activate the retrieval. If I guide my focus consciously, I'm able to retrieve the relevant tactical themes, but conscious thinking is extremely slow. In stead of spilling points by making errors, I spill then points by using time.

The remedy
The Steps method shows us the way. I have felt a long time that tactical prowess should be acquired in the same way I learned how to drive a car. The instructor provides the knowledge, and in just 50 hours or so, the unconsciousness works its magic, and internalizes it. That's how the Steps method worked.

What I'm going to do, is to write my own follow up. I have long neglected the knowledge I thought I already knew. But when you dive deep into a tactical motif, there is a whole lot to be discovered. I let me be guided by Martin Weteschnik's Chess tactics from scratch. When I studied his chapter about the reloader, I immediately recognized a few reloaders in the problems afterwards. That is how it should work. I will start with the study of the pin. Deep study of the pin should acquire me a cue or two, don't you think? That's the theory.

It must work. It is logical that it should work. It is the only thing I haven't tried yet.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Slowly picking up chess again

I'm making slowly progress at my new job. I guess I have to study a lot in the evening hours, but at the moment there will be some time and energy left for a little chess. First I will read my old posts since my comeback, just to make sure that I go in spirals and not in circles. Furthermore, I will reread Martin Weteschniks book "Chess tactics from scratch", but now way more thoroughly.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

At the zoo

Yesterday I skimmed through my chess library, looking for an interesting book. When I have used a chess book extensively, it is worn out. I found a book that was looking almost new. Chess tactics from scratch, by FM Weteschnik. It covers pretty much what I'm busy with, so I decided to give it a try again. Since he learned chess at later age than most people, he had to work hard to improve his tactics, and he has experienced his improvement more conscious.

 "During that time, I also solved a lot of combinations to sharpen my tactical skill. I had developed my own little routine. Whenever I thought I had discovered some mechanism or characteristic of a position, I started taking notes. The work on thousands of positions grew first into a collection of unsorted tactical insights, but finally resulted in a structured overview of tactics. Over time, seemingly unconnected information, turned into a coherent concept."

Since I left the salt mines at march 26th, I have done exactly the same. I analyzed 174 positions in 124 days.

At the moment I'm looking at the different types of tempos I encounter. It turns out to be a whole zoo of different types. I look at the moves from the winning side from three perspectives:

  • What does the piece leave behind
  • What happens when the piece lands on a square
  • What threat is the piece exerting when landing
What does the piece leave behind?
In short: an empty space. Clearance that is called when there are pieces around who can make use of the emptied line or square.

What happens when the attacker lands on a square?
It might block a few pieces if the square was empty (the opposite of clearance).
If the landing square is not empty, it is a capture. We measure the effect of the landing by the piece that is captured.

  • What is its value?
  • Is it a defender?
  • Is it protected?
  • Is it protected by an overworked defender?
  • Is it a recapture?
  • Is the capture designed to be recaptured by another piece that will be a target?
  • Is the landing square an attacking square of a duplo attack?
  • Does it avoid a check?
  • Does it avoid a capture?
  • Does it avoid a threat?

What threat is the landed piece exerting?
  • This is about what the next move of the landed piece might be.
  • Does it threaten to capture?
  • Does it threaten to capture a defender?
  • Does it threaten to capture a piece that is defended by an overworked defender?
  • Does it threaten to move to an attacking square of a duplo attack? 
  • Does it give a check?
  • Does it give a double check?
  • Does it threaten mate?
  • Does it attack a pinned piece?
  • Does it attack a target that is defended by a pinned piece?
  • What is the value of the threatened piece?

As you see, it is by no means simple to tell the story of the tempos that make the combination work. Yet I belief we have to learn a few standard patterns concerning the story of tempos.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The total amount of captures

A main flaw of my chess thinking is the "wrinkled" view I have about the initiative. "White captures the black piece with tempo. " It turns out that there are many types of tempo. The story of the tempos of a combination is often hard to tell. I think the ability to tell such story is very important though. Since it are the tempos by which we assess the value of a combination. The same geometrics of a position can have a totally different outcome when they differ only one tempo. Imagine a position where he who is to move, wins, for instance. It is by no means easy to iron out the wrinkles in my tempo view.

Gain of wood
If we would allow a chess game to have one more move, we would take the king in the last move. That simplifies the game of chess as the art of gaining wood. A mating attack is then equal to a trap. With the only difference that the wood that is gained is of infinite value.
It is possible to see promotion as a way to gain wood too. If a pawn queens, about 8 points are added to the material balance.  Which is almost a similar advantage as capturing your opponents queen. The reason for simplifying mate and promotion to a mere gain of wood, is that it helps to find rules that are more broadly applicable. That way, we might find that rules that govern duplo attacks can have a broader application. The complicated rules around the king which isn't allowed to move into a check becomes simpler the moment that you realize that it could be taken the next move. That's why the kings cannot approach each other and why they must escape checks. A lot of rules would become immediately clear when you would allow to capture the king. The set of rules about king and check can be replaced by one simple rule: prevent that your king is taken at any cost.

The hierarchy of checks, captures and threats is based on their degree of forcefulness. Although that line of thought can be quite useful, I like to look at it from a functional point of view. Since that might help me to see "the bigger picture". Functionally, a check and a threat are the same. It is the value of the king versus the value of the threatened piece that makes that we treat them differently. But exactly the same is true for any piece of higher value in comparison to a piece of lower value.
A threat against your queen is handled before a threat against your knight.
A capture is definite, while a threat is temporary. That makes it dangerous to answer a capture with a threat in stead of a recapture. If the threatening piece is taken, both your piece and your threat are gone. The hierarchy of CCT invites you to start at the begin of the tree of analysis. Functionality helps you to start at the end. To enlighten the load of my STM, I like to have a functional chain of events before I start to worry about the administration of the value of the mutual gain of wood. Practicality before the correctness that only a computer can deliver fast.

The length of the mutual chain of attack
In a previous post and its comments, we found the importance of the length of the line of attack. The length is determined by the amount of captures. This reveals something about the chain of tempos that I have totally missed so far. I wrote about it in the past, btw.

When I capture an unprotected piece, my line of attack is 1, while the line of attack of my opponent is 0. Maybe it is better to speak about the chain of captures. This leads to the following rule that is actually still only a hypothesis.
Rule: the longest line of captures gains wood.
We chase the 'tits', saddling the opponent with the 'tats'.

Serial and parallel
If my bishop captures an unprotected knight and my opponent answers this by capturing an unprotected knight of me, the length of both our chain of captures = 1, so nobody gains nett wood.
If my white bishop captures a series of 4 pieces in a row (serial), and my opponent has 4 separate attackers which capture 4 separate targets (parallel), both chain of captures add up to 4, so no one gains nett wood. This implicates that the total amount of possible captures can consist of both serial and parallel attacks, for both sides. If your amount of captures is not at least 1 greater than the amount of captures your opponent can do, than the combination cannot work with equal value of the captured pieces. If both amounts are equal, then you can only gain wood when the captured value of the pieces is higher. This way, we can predict which lines can't possibly gain wood. Thus pruning the tree of analysis.

Captures and threats
Only captures collect wood. Threats don't. Threats postpone captures. Only moves with duplo threats can bring the opponent into trouble, when he isn't able to answer the two threats in one move. All duplo attacks are based on this principle. If the opponent lacks space, it might be possible that he can't find an answer to even a single threat. That is called a trap. Or mate, if the involved wood is the king.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Removal of the guard

I hope you don't get bored by all those positions and analysis. I actually find it very exiting! I feel we are making steady progress, albeit slowly.

My list with positions where I want to learn to see the solution in  stead of just to calculate it, becomes slowly shorter. Meaning that it is indeed possible to replace calculation by seeing. I'm in no hurry, and I take my time to grasp every detail of a position, trying to devise some rules that can be applied in other positions. I'm not interested in the very position itself, because most details are accidental, and hence limited to only that single position. I'm only interested in the details of the combination. What makes that the combination actually works? Why does it gain wood? I make little changes to the combination, trying to keep everything else the same. I add or remove pieces, and see how that influences the outcome of the combination, while ignoring the effects on the position. I change the move order and see what difference that makes. I use Stockfish to check my conclusions.

The following position is about removal of the guard.

Diagram 1 White to move
r1qr2k1/pp2ppbp/1np3p1/4P3/2b1PP2/2N1B3/PPQ1B1PP/3R1RK1 w - - 1 1

The black knight protects the bishop. I realized that removal of the guard by 1.Bxb6 only works because it threatens the black rook on d8. It is a multi purpose move. A capture plus a threat.

Let us see what the effect is of removing the possibility of this threat. Does the combination still work? In order to find out, I removed the black rook on d8. In order to keep the material in balance, I removed the white rook on d1 too. We get the following position:

Diagram 2 White to move
r1q3k1/pp2ppbp/1np3p1/4P3/2b1PP2/2N1B3/PPQ1B1PP/5RK1 w - - 1 1

Now the combination doesn't work any more. Since 1.Bxb6 doesn't threaten the rook, black is no longer obliged to take back on b6 first. Black has time to get rid of his problem bishop by playing 1. ... Bxe2
This leads to the following
Rule: removal of the guard only works when it is a capture which gains a tempo. 
 In this case, by a threat.
This rule probably can be generalized:
Rule: look for captures which are accompanied by a threat.

I asked myself whether it is necessary to threaten a piece of higher value. So I decided to replace the black rook by a knight. Adding a white knight on b1 for material balance.  I saw that 1. ... Bxe2 threatens the rook on f1.  For clarity I decided to remove the remaining rooks too:

Diagram 3 White to move

2qn2k1/pp2ppbp/1np3p1/4P3/2b1PP2/2N1B3/PPQ1B1PP/1N4K1 w - - 1 1

The combination still works. This leads to the following
Rule: look for captures with follow up captures

What happens when black has a follow up move too? I replaced the white knight from b2 to f1:

Diagram 4 White to move

2qn2k1/pp2ppbp/1np3p1/4P3/2b1PP2/2N1B3/PPQ1B1PP/5NK1 w - - 1 1

Now the combination no longer works. If both sides have equal follow up moves, removal of the guard doesn't work.
Rule: you need one follow up capture more than your opponent

Giving black more than one follow up possibilities doesn't change the outcome. The one who started with the first capture can decide to break off the series of captures whenever he wants.

Rule: only the one who starts the series of captures has the chance to win a piece. He wins a piece when the opponent runs out of captures.

Does the move order make any difference? In diagram 1 there are 3 possible captures:
  • 1.Bxb6
  • 1.Rxd8+
  • 1.Bxc4
The last capture shouldn't be considered as first, since it is a capture without a follow up threat.
What if  white plays 1.Rxd8+ Qxd8:

Diagram 5 after 1.Rxd8+ Qxd8 white to move

r2q2k1/pp2ppbp/1np3p1/4P3/2b1PP2/2N1B3/PPQ1B1PP/5RK1 w - - 1 1

If white now captures the knight on b6 with 2.Bxb6, then black can take back with 2. ... Qxb6+ and the combination doesn't work due to the check. But that should be considered an accidental feature of the position. If the king had been on h1, the combination would still work!

What does this tell us? We have to look for captures with an additional punch first. The winning tactical theme here is removal of the guard. Worries include the possibility for the now unprotected black bishop to counter attack. It becomes a desperado.

Other captures than 1.Bxb6 that have an additional bite, are in general equally well playable (=1.Rxd8+) without changing the outcome of the main tactical theme (removal of the guard). In essence, such captures with extra bite are postponement moves. They postpone the execution of the tactical theme by one move, since they require immediate action. You can play an infinite amount of postponement moves, but the main problem for black remains.

It is important to grasp the main ideas of the position, to reduce you calculations. But you still need to calculate every line. Since there might be a capture with a counter bite for your opponent as well that you might overlook. But calculations with a mind that is not already overloaded, is usually no problem.

Removal of the guard

Thursday, July 21, 2016


This is the second or the third time I encountered this position. I devoted quite some time to it in the past. I might even have posted about it, I'm not quite sure. If so, I apologize that I post about it again. My excuse is, that I have apparently learned nothing from it, since I got the solution wrong. Again.
I think it is an important position, and I think it should be possible to see the solution at once. Maybe I can devise a rule or two during the process of learning how to see the solution.

White to move
r1bq1rk1/pp2ppbp/2np2p1/8/2PNP1n1/2N1B3/PP2BPPP/R2Q1RK1 w - - 1 1

The last move of black was 1. .. Ng4. The black knight is hanging. The problem is, that if white takes it, the white queen becomes overworked. If white wants to stay ahead, he needs an extra tempo. Where does this extra tempo come from? After 1. ... Ng4 2.Bxg4 Bxg4 the white queen is hanging. If the queen takes on g4, black will get his piece back by capturing the knight on d4. White can gain a tempo by 3.Nxc6 in stead of 3.Qxg4. This power move accomplishes the following:
  • White gets rid of his problem piece
  • It captures a piece
  • The black queen is under attack
Rule: use your problem piece to capture
Rule: choose the capture that poses a new threat

This might give you the impression that you can change the move order. Why doesn't that work?
1. ... Ng4 2. Nxc6 is answered by blacks power move 2. ... Nxe3
Now it is black who abides the two rules above:
  • He gets rid of his problem piece
  • He captures a piece
  • He threatens the white queen
Which leads to a new
Rule: capture the piece of your opponent that can capture a piece of you with tempo first

If black takes the knight first 1. ... Ng4 2.Bxg4 Nxd4 then the rule "use your problem piece to capture" applies. 3.Bxc8 gets rid of your problem piece.