Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Commiserating with BDK

Ah, sweet, sweet internet access. I'm typing this from a hotel room; tomorrow I fly back home (about 10 pounds heavier from all the Christmas goodies). Before I left on my trip, I had read BDK's recent post on chess suckage. I'm sure we can all identify with his lament:

"It makes me wonder, sometimes, why I bother with this game if I'm going to suck so badly at it after more than three years playing. It's one of those games that I felt so bad about that I don't even want to analyze the game it makes me feel like s*** to even think about it."

Heck, yeah.

I strongly identified with his observation:

"I've also noticed that in real over the board games my chess vision is just not as good. I miss tactics I spot immediately when playing over the computer. I learned on the computer, trained on the computer, and almost always play on the computer.

"That has to stop. I've begun playing games on ICC using my actual board, using the computer only to relay my moves. We'll see if it helps. It feels hopeless sometimes, like my brain is permanently locked into a 2-D way of thinking, where all the pieces are always equally distinct and visible."

The last chess club before Christmas was a blitz tournament, and I truly sucked. I'm terrible at blitz, especially 5-minute games with no time increment (I typically play with a 12-second increment for internet games). I was struck by a couple things:
  • lack of awareness of the whole board. In one game that I luckily won, my checkmating queen on d5 could have been captured by a bishop on a1 had my opponent not conceded. I would tend to focus on one region of the board and miss long moves or tactics in another region. On a computer 2-D board, it's easier to take in the whole board.
  • absolute inability to play anything remotely resembling "real chess" a la Heisman at those time controls. My king was captured twice by missing checks while pressing my attack in time trouble.
With regards to the first point: even though I don't seem to have any trouble switching between 2-D and 3-D positions, I know that I retain material better when using a real board...whether it's practicing tactics problems, learning basic endgames, or deciding on opening lines for my repertoire.

As for the second point: I've only skimmed Kotov's Think Like a Grandmaster, but I recall one of his infamous pronouncements is that the thinking method ("think like a tree") doesn't change in time pressure situations...you just do it faster. This seems like a pretty stupid piece of advice on the surface ("gee, thanks!"), but it actually cuts to the heart of the matter. You have to train yourself to consistently play "real chess" so that it's second nature, even in time pressure. It's not enough to know how you're supposed to think: it takes practice to play "real chess" consistently.

I am currently playing a pair of games by email, and I'm trying to play "real chess" in these games. Even with days available per move, I'm not consistent. In one game, I analyzed a promising rook sacrifice but missed a killer response from my opponent. With the luxury of having as much time as I want per move, I still have to force myself to consistently consider my opponent's move, identify candidate moves, select one, and consider all of my opponent's responses.

Training myself to play "real chess" reliably will be like breaking a bone and resetting it. Playing "hope chess", particularly in ICC Blitz, just reinforces the same old bad thinking habits. I'll probably post more on this with a set of New Year's Resolutions.


likesforests said...

"I recall one of his infamous pronouncements is that the thinking method doesn't change in time pressure situations...you just do it faster."

I disagree. I think ideally we make fundamental changes in how we think as our clock time winds down.

For example, once the clock passes a certain point I stop considering strategy on my own dime.

For example, once the clock passes a certain point I stop looking for tactical wins and simply focus on avoiding tactical losses.

likesforests said...

"Training myself to play 'real chess' reliably will be like breaking a bone and resetting it."

Totally! I recently changed my definition of REAL CHESS and took two steps backwards. I hope for both of us this is simply a precursor to three steps forward. :)

chesstiger said...

Instead of using the thinking methode of Kotov i should take the proposed methode of Silman in reasses your chess or the CCT of Dan Heisman, whichever suits you best.

The more practise you get with a thinkingmethode the quicker you will get in calculation. But it can be years before you dont have to fully remind you what each step in your thinking methode is.

Grandpatzer said...

Kotov's quote:

"There is only one piece of advice I can give. Either don't get into time trouble at all, or if you do train yourself to play in time trouble as if you were in fact not short....If you are short...keep up the same neat writing of the moves, the same methodical examination of variations, but at a quicker rate."

My point was not to endorse Kotov's method over others, or that changes can't be made in time pressure. Rather, that gross thinking errors in blitz (missing discovered checks, moving a piece to an unsafe square, etc) are a symptom of an inability to consistently play "real chess" at normal time controls.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I feel your pain bro.

I love this: "Training myself to play "real chess" reliably will be like breaking a bone and resetting it. Playing "hope chess", particularly in ICC Blitz, just reinforces the same old bad thinking habits."

The past week I've drastically curtailed my blitz play, and forced myself to play one "slow"
(30 15) game a night and analyze it. This is helped by the fact that I have a lesson with someone on Saturday night so I don't want to have crappy games to show him so I'm really thinking hard during the games.

Dragan Glas said...


I found your comment - about retaining more through playing with a real board and pieces instead of a two-dimensional board on a computer - interesting.

One major difference between titled players and the rest of us(!), as pointed out be English IM John Cox, is that - whilst training - we try to visualize positions resulting from a sequence of moves in our heads, whereas titled players physically move the pieces around the board.

Remember how Fischer taught mating combinations in his book "Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess"?

He started off showing it a as mate in one problem. Then he'd show the same combination as a mate in two problem. And so on, until the reader faced the original mating combination as a mate in N moves - and could solve it; because they'd already seen the resulting positions.

On a real board, this is why it may well work better for yourself - and others.

To do this on a computer one has to use the "Add Variation" option whilst exploring the possibilities of a given position - going back and forth using this option to add each new possible line.

Obviously, one should not do this whilst playing a training/real game with the computer - that's called cheating by taking back moves, and will result in lazy thinking in a real game.

Kindest regards,


Grandpatzer said...

Dragan: actually, my strategy isn't to shuffle pieces, either on the board or on the computer. It's still to try and visualize ahead without moving pieces.

What seems to have worked in the past is to visualize as best you can without moving pieces, whether it's a tactics problem, game notation or whatever. Then, if you've pushed yourself to your limit and can't visualize or calculate the whole thing, make one move, visualize/calculate, and repeat until you can make it to the end.

What I was finding with the board vision thing is that I would have more "tunnel vision" over a real board. When your able to essentially play blindfold chess and calculate without visual assistance, then computer vs. board would cease to be an issue. For now, I find on a real board some of my oversights come from not taking in the board as a whole but concentrating on a sector or missing say a bishop on a1.