Monday, December 29, 2014

How I take chess notes using a modified Cornell Notes method

It does feel like I got the band back together after a long dormant period in the chess world. I’ve previously posted about waking up, rallying an online community for support,  establishing a baseline and improving study techniques. Consider this my online psyching up to play in my first OTB tournament in a little under a couple weeks after taking a bit of a long hiatus.
I thought I’d share where I’ve taken my approach to an  active studying regimen.  I want to maximize the “generation effect”  and apply the Cornell Notes to chess notes.  Since chess diagrams are necessary in a lot of note taking to  help create patterns for the long term memory recall,  I needed to create a note pad for this that allowed the left hand stimulus , right hand response and bottom summary.  So I created a model sheet, went to staples and had them printed and cut for cheap to put in a mini binder.

Here is a sample of the page:

For the freehand drawings of the diagrams, I am getting into using Rolf Wetzell’s method for his “flashcards”.  I taped a “key” on the inside cover of my notebook.

I am currently reviewing openings and whole games associated with them and recording key positions using a stimulus like “Whites plan?”  and the response below the diagram.   I am not only including opening positions but middle game plans as well from the games I am studying. I plan to add key tactics that I have a hard time seeing ( those I miss during drills become fodder for the chess notebook in a section for tactics).  I plan on a similar technique for endgame patterns that I am weak on.

This is an experiment.  I will see how this works in short order come the Boston Chess Congress on January 10-11th


AoxomoxoA wondering said...

Why not printing ?
You can create a diagram via chessprogram very quick ( i think at least as quick as you paint your diagrams ) copy it ( whith computer analysis ) via snipping tool or "export" into something like open office, edit, print, store,...

Anonymous said...

The process of manually creating diagrams ensures "active" engagement, as opposed to a "passive" approach. In fact, the manual assemblage is probably more valuable than the content itself. In chess training, it's now what you're studying/improving, it's HOW you train.

35 years ago, R. Wetzell were both regular players at the Sudbury (MA) Chess Club. After the games were finished we (and a couple others) would go out for coffee/snack and he'd have at least a couple of his hand-drawn diagrams from that night's games to go over.


BlunderProne said...

I agree with Jack. I thought the same for a while thinking that as long as I am still making diagrams ( although using chess base or some other PGN utility) and creating drills with them.

But there is something more about doing the freehand drawing for diagram. Instead of plunking a prefab'd image from the database, I am forced to think about the piece I am drawing and its placement on the board. I think it helps with chess vision as well as each time I am drawing diagrams I am more conscious of dark and light squares.

I am getting addicted to doing this. Jack, Have we ever met at MCC? I've met R. Wetzell there back in 2010-2011 when I was attending regularly.

Munich said...

I am a bit sceptical about it.
What is the actual aim, what are you trying to achieve with this method?

I guess you want to memorize the content and make it "active".

But what is active?
With a foreign language, there is passive knowledge of lots of vocabulary, and active knowledge which contain far less words.
For someone who knows a lot of foreign words passively, but does not actively speak the language, the trouble is: He needs to long to think about what he wants to say. By the time he has his sentence ready, the conversation is already long time ago gone.
That is why I think that speed of recalling words is important.
The method of acitvely speaking a language is to have ready made short and simple sentences. Statistically relevant sentences. If you go shoping, you prepare things like "how much is it?", "where can I find bananas?"

There is the possibility to do lots of handwriting homework, however, I doubt it is going to make a language more actively than using simple sentences, prepared for special situations. You want to learn useful verbs, and you often take a learned sentence with its grammar, and then substitute/exchange the substantives and verbs. Actually, from experience you usually only substitute the substantive. For the verbs you rather have often have learned ready made sentences.

What has that got to do with chess?
I believe a lot:
a) learn statistically relevant pattern by heart.
b) train to recall them fast
c) writing down wont acitvate anything. Setting up a board wont activate anything, too.
d) tag puzzles: "this is a fork", "this is a discovery", "this is 'take with check'" (--> aox found this pattern). Pick a quarrel about tagging in the chesstempo comments. I believe this helps activating knowledge, and after a while you know inside out the nature of many tags.
Create your own tags. Mark puzzles whith cool patterns which you can hope to use in one of your games, too. Or at least where you think your students (if you have any) should know this pattern.
Get a favorite pattern collection.
e) I went even so far to create a thread in chesstempo: "useful patterns to know".
f) use during your games litte motto/mantra sentences. My favorites are "to take is a mistake", "keep your options until you really threaten anything" (short version: "keep your options")

In short: speed matterns, and relevance matters. Getting it inside your memory is difficult as a matured adult. But making it active is the part which I believe most imps fail to achieve. Probably they are not aware that retrival from memory must be trained, too. Lots of patterns are learned, and with enough time the solution is found. That is not good enough! Speed matters. Relevance matters.

About relevance: There is a chesstempo chart which shows that most puzzles are (if I remember correctly) in the (Blitz rating) range between 1250-1550.

However, it helps if your foundation is at its best, and thus try boardvisions. Every tactic consists of simple mini-moves/chunks.
So even though the statistical relevance says that puzzles that are too easy are not relevant, are worth to be trained anyway. They are building blocks of more advanced puzzles.

All that is my opinion of course, my interpretation how all that works.
Dont know for sure.
However, it worked for me.
I wanted to explain why I believe "drawing diagrams" wont help activating patterns. It reminds me of writing tasks, written homework.
But - Wetzel did it that way. Maybe "the trick" that worked for him wasnt writing it down, but memorizing and fast retrival from memory.

Munich said...

P.S. Wetzel talks about "flash" cards, right? I mean "flash" like for instance:

- a brief sudden outburst
- "I'll be back in a flash!"
- superficial, meretricious, or vulgar showiness; ostentatious display
- the word "flash" is also used in "news flash". Journalism. A brief dispatch sent by a wire service, usually transmitting preliminary news of an important story or development.

That Wetzel talked about "flash" cards could be co-incidence.
I cant take it as a proof, but couldnt I take as a smoking gun, pointing in a certain direction?

Anonymous said...

Blunderprone asked: "I am getting addicted to doing this. Jack, Have we ever met at MCC? I've met R. Wetzell there back in 2010-2011 when I was attending regularly."

I don't think we've ever been active OTB at the same time. I played at MCC from 2000-2004, but then stopped playing altogether for almost 10 years. After not playing for most of the 1990's I'd succeeded in getting my rating back to the 1900's, but then career/family/life got in the way, and when I tried to keep playing with all the life-turmoil, I think I felt guilty spending the time, and lost close to 250 rating points in 30 games -- hanging pieces (one movers) in at least every other games.

But I played a lot in the late 70s then again in the mid-80s. During one 6-month stretch in early 1986, I my rating went from 1700 to over 2000 on 3 very brief occasions -- I couldn't even hold it above 2000 until a rating list came out (back then, they came out every 2 months.) What is pertinent to this discussion is that all did well at the board was tactics, tactics, tactics. Almost everyone of my games was essentially decided at the 20 move mark, so there was no need to know anything about endgames. My openings were primitive, cavemen type of variations. My understanding of pawn structures was next to nil, except that I liked open files, and if the pawns got in the way of my pieces, I'd just sac the pawn in return for a check. This approach worked very well vs opponents rated up to 1900 or so, but when I played players that were real experts or better, it's effectiveness fell off the cliff.

It was very frustrating, at the time, to know that if I ever wanted to be a REAL chess player, I'd have to drastically overhaul my game. It was much the same response as de la Maza's realization after he won the World Open -- although at least he had 10 grand to console himself!! MDLM realized that he would have to learn so much to improve or even sustain his expert rating playing in >2000 sections.

btw, I knew MDLM when he played at the club in 2000-01. And had discussions about his approach before the 2001 World Open. What is important to remember is that MDLM was very smart, very disciplined, AND, most importantly was on some type of workman's comp furlough, at the time. ( I think it might have been related to a carpal tunnel injury during his PhD or post-doctorate work.) And my 300 point leap in the first half of 1986 saw me living off a very generous business buyout before I went to grad school in the fall. AND, I think Wetzell's attainmant of the Master Level was after he took early retirement around 1991, or so.

So results of any program vary based on available time.


BlunderProne said...

Well Munich,

Yes, I'm sure you read my previous and recent posts. The intent is to use these notes as a study aid like "flash cards". The idea with the Cornell Note taking is to create notes from your studies that you can use to drill yourself to increase recall, filter out those that you have learned and use a repetition rate that fosters good recall.

Your argument is a good one in that just taking good notes is NOT enough. I think we are in violent agreement! It must be coupled with drills!

Aoxo MoxoA said...

I dont remember exactly Wetzels book but his flash cards where more about insights which did hit you like a flash ( to stay in the picture ) Its not about one example of a more or less known pattern, its about the discovery or deeper insight of a new or not really understood pattern.
He was thinking of a few hundred of such cards with personally important and condensed information

never the less.. that it would be necessary to make them by hand.. he had no alternatives back in these years. I'm sure he would have used Anki or an other flashcard software if he could.

Anonymous said...

addressing comments by Munch and Aoxo concerning Wetzell's flash cards:

GM Jonathan Rowson has written about the difference between chess knowledge and chess skill. You can increase your chess knowledge much more efficiently by using Chessbase, for example, or by reading a book, but that doesn't translate to chess skill over the board in the heat of competition. Chess knowledge may help in with knowing "what to do," but it can often interfere with the process of "how to do it."

One of the problems with the lack of improvement in adult players is that there is such a wide gap between their chess knowledge and their chess skill. Young players don't have much of a gap between the two, and that is why they are able to improve without the paralysis of preconception.

Rowson maintains that any program of adding chess knowledge must require a maximum of active engagement to add an equivalent amount of chess skill as well as knowledge. (Rowson, btw, earned his PhD from Harvard in "Wisdom." He's a member of the Royal Society of the Arts and gives lectures on such things as "How preconceptions prevent us from adding wisdom." The guy is brilliant as well as 3-time British Chess Champion.)

I used Wetzell's flash cards long before the book was published. I was prone to repeating silly tactical errors, such as forgetting that knights can move backwards, or that when pawn-storming a castling position a player can actually move one of his defending pawns forward to block lines and blunt the attack (which was oounter-intuitive to the idea of pawn shelter in the wake of a pawn-storm attack.) Just by making flash cards from the instances where I screwed up, stopped the blunders. In fact I didn't even have to review the actual flash cards -- because I'd spent the time making them, they were etched in my brain -- all of them. Almost 30 years later, I can still remember making those amateurish flash cards, as well as the captions: "KNIGHTS MOVE BACKWARDS!" "SAC A PIECE, HE CAN SAC IT BACK" "HIS PAWNS AREN'T FIXED, SO HIS POSITION ISN'T BROKEN!"


Munich said...

Well, Jack, back 30 years ago, you had a much better memory than today.

My memory fails me badly and often.
If I had a better memory, I had to undertake much less effort to improve.
Difficult to estimate how much more effort it takes compared with a memory of a youth?
Maybe 3 times as much?
I will never know.

On the other hand I have Puzzles and databases and books available in a way I didnt have when I was a youth.
I have scientific studies, and I the internet to exchange thoughts, meet people with the same goal (=to improve in chess).
I hope it compensates my lack of memory.

@Blunderprone: Doing it like Wetzel did it - isnt it giving away that only one advantage we have? More efficient tools? Like Aox said: Wetzel would maybe not use flash card nowadays.

Then again: Fun is an important part of learning, so if this method is what you prefer - then do it that way. Maybe writing positions down is faster done than creating diagrams?

I am still a bit sceptical, but than again - what the heck do I know?!
The more I try to find out about chess improvement, the less I am sure about it!

george duval said...

Don't underestimate me Aoxo, I still use my sw tools and databases. A few years ago when I first approached Wetzell'a method, I had the same notion about modernizing it with these tools.
Bottom line, not much stayed with me after a few years. So I am more selective of the patterns I hand draw and like jack says, I seem to be learning these at a deeper level.
several studies are out there showing that hand written noted is more effective than typing on a tablet or laptop because of the extra motor skills required.

So.. I'll give "old school" a try for now.

Jason Oliphant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jason Oliphant said...

I LOVE idea of distilling a lesson to an catchy slogan. and I think you could even go verbal, striving to capture the point to verbose, poorly written english. LOL.

at any rate, there one reason why I bulk a little at the time spent to create flashcards; is because the product, handmade diagrams look little like either a board or a book diagram. it would take time to create the post, but does the extra effort to create the diagram in an unfamiliar form really etch the insight that deep in memory?

In time, perhaps you'd get more out of them. but for awhile; you are learning inefficiently adding and extra visualization step.

I've often thought that if you take the tone that teaching the reader in your notes, of your insights. even if the notes are rough; Your doing all the active stuff to remember it. keep in mind, no one HAS to actually be able to read it, for it to work.

if the problem is described, and the lesson is distilled to a chess truth-- you have made the first etchings of that lesson in your head.

in the end, that is my only concern with a more complicated system of notes; does the method of the notes overshadow the lesson learnt?

I've often thought that if you had a bunch of tactics on flash cards AND added a bunch of positions, that weren't tactical. and then perhaps varied the set. that would be very GOOD at tactics. but all the time spent to put copy tactics and positions to notecards. or print notecards.,etc.

all this I fear would be an inefficient use of limited time.

I'm brewing on a few endgame puzzles; which I think might be a more modest achievement.

in short my notes are a wreck. but I am generating them and I think there a good scratchpad for continuos chess improvement.

Munich said...

I tried to sort and collect "useful patterns to know", and tried to sort puzzles according to patterns.
(for a typical pattern I collected puzzles which had contained this pattern).

What did I try to achieve? Well, if you have a collection and see a puzzle, then you think "oh, that puzzle could fit as an example for my pattern collection."
When I solved puzzles at chesstempo, I always was searching for puzzles that fit to the pattern I claimed to be "useful to know".
My aim with this collection was: activating (recalling) known patterns.

Go through this collection (if you like) and maybe you find typical patterns you were not aware of, but which have a chance to regularly hapen in your real games.

You want to fill your book of flash cards, dont you? This thread of mine might give you some ideas what patterns you would like to write down and copy for your book.

linuxguyonfics said...

The Rolf Wetzell book, I read it cover to cover, made up about 34 flash cards, and incidentally I still have or had a stack of these (perhaps I've thrown them away).

I even had a whole Notebook of Thinker's Press opening lines, where you can write down your lines. I only tried doing that on one or two pages, then I threw one of those giant notebooks away (still have another unopened set of them, though. Maybe I simply purged them, much like I got upset at some of my chessbooks once and threw a stack of them into the fireplace. lol. Would not do that nowadays, but it's surprising how passionate a subject that chess can be. BTW, I gave away many chessbooks at that time too, and don't get me wrong as I've purchased maybe 60 books since then.

The flashcards were of 34 losing moments during my games, so as not to repeat them. This was the gist of his method, like "anchoring" (if you've ever read Tony Robbins), although this is almost like negative rather than positive association.

Couldn't remember if this helped or not, I would think the flashcards would have, but perhaps they were too elaborate. Rolf's cards would say like "remember to capture in the center with a pawn not a piece" or something like that. Well, I made that mistake in my game last night, and I was going to recapture with the pawn. I suppose if I had drilled it into me with a flashcard my reflexes would have caught my mistake before I played it, but anyway....

The developing my opening repertoire back then with the notebook, even for those two pages, did help reinforce greatly, however there was a big drawback (one was from a Nunn game, another from a W.Browne game, and another from a Karpov game from a Soltis book - two Pirc openings and a Chigorin Ruy Lopez game).

I _overlearned_ the material in a way. First, I never got these positions in games or when I did the feature discussed did not become relevant. Back of my mind it was like "OMG, what if I forget the Sanhedra position??!!" or something like that (don't even know what that means. hehe). IOW, I became intimidated by what I "knew", which of course I didn't know or I wouldn't have been so concerned by. Of course, I also wasn't good enough to use opening knowledge appropriately because I didn't have their style or understanding of the game.

I thought about it and my blog is a continuation of the Wetzell method, truly. My last game I just posted about I lost because I played the clock instead of the board, hence the title of the post, hence what not to do, mistake not to make next time!

Let me cut to the chase. It's interesting to hear about all of this unemployed working on chess stuff, and certainly kids don't have jobs and do benefit by this the most, but even that is not enough to explain. Although, yes, even though Tim Brennan of "Tactics Time" fame told me he had made Expert (and then dropped way off after that) only because he was unemployed at that time. He told me like it was just a matter of fact that this should be the case.

However, I feel this is not enough. Rating points are a very performance oriented activity. It's not so much what you study, it would be more about not only reaching a peak performance level during a certain period of study, but you would have to start your clock, punch your clock a bunch during studies, set up pieces on a real board as fast as you can. Get all as super-aggressive as possible, as if the last "money round" of the World Open depended on it and you only had a couple minutes on your clock, and "Oh! you blew it", but keep resetting those pieces and trying again and again until you are like amazing OTB and wowing people demonstrating, reproduced what you've done from your chess man-cave. Like the scene from Zorro where A. Hopkins takes this guy to his hideout cave to tell him everything he knows about sword-fighting, like Yoda with Luke!

linuxguyonfics said...

There is one pivotal topic when it comes to winning chess games that is almost never addressed, and mostly because it's just too embarrassing to address it, and that is will to win.

I admit that I have had my will to win broken, and it's the sort of thing that takes place over a longer period of time, much like a boxer who has taken too many punches during his career.

Fischer once talked about Spassky in an interview after the match saying that he had "broken" him now. He talked about crushing a man's ego and how they couldn't go home and kid themselves how hot they were.

For me, it's my passion for chess that keeps me going, far over and above the will to win - the will which takes a lot of energy out of a person to maintain. The reason MDLM quit chess IMHO is very simple. He realized that he had the will to win in spades, probably to the proverbial point where he just wanted to vomit after winning a game. He probably also understood that you need the passion for the game, and I'm guessing that he didn't have the passion for it nearly as much as for the will to win. It's pretty clear, just by studying his technique, anyway.

To play well at chess, you need to maintain a state of peak performance of mental focus, regardless of whether you would have taken a move back or whatnot - Magnus always says he should have played better, for example. I've done this in a number of games, just sat there like the Budha and put in al of the engery I've got. It's amazing, can feel almost transformative, but it's not most games. Very demanding.

This process requires a lot of physical discipline and is the other part of the Rolf book where he talked about exercise, quitting coffee, cigarettes, that sort of stuff. I get what he is saying here, and this is the part of the book that really wins chess games, showing up with full physical and mental discipline!

Tommyg said...

LinuxGuy speaks correctly regarding will to win and passion for the game.

The more I am reading the more I am thinking that thought process during a game is a bit overrated.

Strategy doesn't create the move it explains the move. I have tried various though process (Silman, Heisman, some stupid independent book on Amazon etc.) and they have never amounted to much in my games.

Improvement has come from the following:

Repetitive tactical study
Repetitive Endgame study
Playing over and analyzing games
Reading a few good strategy books or highly annotated game collections.

Watching the commentators in the recent World Chess Championship was enlightening!

Especially Krammnik and Svidler. They just tried stuff and then explained why it worked or didn't work!

Anonymous said...

Munich said...

"Well, Jack, back 30 years ago, you had a much better memory than today..."

Actually, my memory is still very good, with that very fact causing frustration over never being able to play chess at even a low-master level. By experience, I've always had the best memory "in the room," although I was never in the same room with Bobby Fischer.

But the issue is how are chess items best etched in to memory? I can play through a game on a browser multiple times and not remember it nearly as well as actually playing the game on the board and moving the pieces with my own fingers. So there is something to support the idea that you'll remember the lessons if you make your own flash cards manually rather than generating nice-looking diagrams with your "modern tools."

Speaking of Fischer... Frank Brady (in his Fischer-bio, "Endgame") relates an anecdote where he asked Fischer for Chess lessons, and the, then, 19 year old Bobby told him to first go through all of MCO, and then the second lesson would be to do it a second time. Fischer probably had most of MCO memorized, but I doubt his (near) total recall came from just memorizing all those boring columns of variations. His memorization came from playing through every damn line on a board or on his beloved pocket set. This "hands-on" experience, with an increased amount of sensory feedback is what enhanced his recall.


Munich said...

In a real long OTB game I usually look longer on each move than I would do at home. The longer I look at something, the better I will remember it.

But that is not all: When I play OTB, then emotions get mixed in. You keep things better in your memory if you attach an emotion to it.
My emotion during OTB play is: fear, regret, worries, shock, panic, sadness, envy (of the good position of my team college, who is sitting next to me on a different board), anger (cursing my bad luck).
So mostly bad emotions (I wonder why I still play competitive chess?).
Well, mostly bad, but not always bad:
once in a while I catch someone on his "bad day", and he falls for my low level trap, and it works out fine for me.

Emotions are strong markers.

Anonymous said...

"My emotion during OTB play is: fear, regret, worries, shock, panic, sadness, envy..."

My emotional disposition is horrible and almost disabling. Rather than learning from past blunders, I am haunted by them. In spite of my best efforts to avoid making the old types of errors, I come up with new, inventive, self-inflicted atrocities and end up spending the ensuing evening howling at the moon.