Saturday, November 03, 2012

Evaluation of chess skills post hiatus: Learning to recognize emotional based memory markers..

Because of time constraints, I opted to take only half of the test ( first 50 problems) in IM Khmelnitsky’s Chess Exam and training guide. I used a spread sheet to tally the score and adjust for the 50% portion. After making these adjustments and checking the percentiles, I highlighted the 4 weakest areas in order of priority:

-Recognizing threats
- Middle Game
- Openings

I scored rather well ( relative to my current rating) in  Counter Attacks, Standard Positions and endgames.  Falling in the middle ground were, Calculations, Sacrifice, Attack and strategy.  

I wasn’t all that surprised to see the low score with tactics but it was very discouraging to see such a low score given I’m a disciple of the MDLM ( Michael De La Maza)  circles training having done the 7 circles of hell method ( aka Knight’s Errant) 4 times since 2007.   For those not familiar with the “circles” method, you start with a set of problems, either with a book, website or program and work through all of them 7 times each. The idea is to cram as many patterns into memory as possible so you become better at pattern recognition and less reliant on calculation.

The problem I have is memory. Some problems stand out more than others. When it comes to doing tactical problems, it’s as if I have chess Alzheimer’s and each time I see the problem, it’s like I am solving it for the first time, OVER and OVER again. For me, part of this issue has to do with a short term memory incapable of handling “chunking” patterns into my active playing region.

Scoring better in the counter attack seems counter intuitive if you group counter attacking in a more general category like tactics. Counter attacking  is a defense mechanism. The position is already under an attack, and I have much practice in playing the underdog.  The reason I can recall these “patterns” is because I’ve already mapped this to my long term memory  through practical experience. Memory markers made from a fight for survival scenario in a game has a longer lasting effect than static tactical problems.  The emotional struggle fighting with the logic of the moves creates a lasting narrative that I can then retrieve when that SAME EMOTION is triggered.

Engames and Strategy being in the upper middle is an indication of the pawn structure analysis I labored through to understand. These are reinforced more in practical play in my games as I struggle with the strategy of positional games. The memory markers for these are also emotional based. This is not as much of a fear trigger as it is more of an annoyance or discomfort trigger. With pawn structures and endgames, usually there is  goal I’m trying to make, but my opponent will either annoy me, or make me very happy. The struggle of working through the annoyance creates another one of those illogical memory markers for me that resonates a “ I’ve ran into this petulance before, what did I do then?”

Recognizing key chess patterns through  emotional responses  is a way I can unlock my memory mapping of the concepts in this game that seems to be just out of grasp. Its an internal narrative that acts like a director on a movie set shouting “ CUT! Bring in the action double.”  Finding the key narrative is similar to unlocking learning a new language. Once it’s practiced out, it eventually moves from the long term memory to more of a motor memory and thus becomes a bonafide skill.  Until then, I can only expect to be a novice/ amateur.

The question now becomes, how can I train my tactics in a way that creates an  emotional struggle to resolve ?  I’ve tried to approach this in the past from looking at  practical applications of typical tactics in my games. Setting up my own problem set from my games was only marginally successful. Though, to be honest, it was a pain in the ass to set up and I lost motivation building the data base. I looked for short cuts to build up a problem set based my openings and related traps. 

Some of those things seemed to work for me as long I practiced them before the an event, but then again, I always seem to over prepare for the rare chances and under prepare for the curve balls always thrown. This always came back to “annoyance” and the need to resolve that struggle.

I am searching, and open to new techniques for tactical training that may improve my chances of actually recognizing these in practice.