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.



Anonymous said...

I'm planning on getting that book and going through it soon as well. The author seems very hard on one's tactical ability with his ratings (I have his other book). Still, it's very instructive and enlightening.

I responded to this post with a post of my own, here:

Geoff Fergusson said...

For that book to have any real statistical basis, the author would have needed the test results of hundreds if not thousands of players. I do not expect that he had that. I fear that the book sells because people want to believe that they would be a much better chess player, if only they plugged few gaps. The reality is that they need to improve at all aspects of the game.

It is a good bet that you could materially improve your rating by improving your tactics. You can certainly remember tactics if you do enough repetitions at sufficiently spaced intervals. Remembering simple tactics certainly helps with finding other simple tactics, and helps to a lesser extent with finding harder tactics. Nonetheless, learning 10,000 three and four movers barely scratches the surface. Remembering harder tactics is futile. You need to get better and finding new tactics, but this has a memory component too.

Knowing your weaknesses relative to your peers (beyond what you can learn by playing a few quick games) does not help very much. There are basically only three ways of improving:

(1). Playing games and learning form your mistakes.
(2). Studying the games of stronger players.
(3). Solving problems.

Playing strength correlates poorly with (1) and (3), but well with (2).

AoxomoxoA wondering said...

emotions do help to memorise but spaced repetiton ( see ) is (imo) better:

Empirical Rabbits blog is full of examples for learning with spaced repetition. I use Anki for my strategical/positional training and Chesstempo has spaced repetition in its Custom Sets ( ). Rolf Wetzell did become master with 50+ using flashcards ( )

But as soon as you stop repeating you start forgetting. So: "Anki, for ever"

Anonymous said...

Blunderprone and I have followed up on this conversation here:

After some point, I don't think that tactics is about memorization, anymore. I believe spaced-repetition would be more fundamental to openings, or at least more fundamental to the more fundamental aspects of tactics and openings, but not so much thereater. Thereafter it becomes more about energy, fitness, desire, increased overall skill, etc.

Anonymous said...

I would say that

1.Playing well.

This is what increases one's rating. Success begets success. Someone like Magnus is who he is because he lost maybe 10 games out of 1,000 on his way to the top, or however many it was. So what we see is a slice in time where he is 2800, but really we should see it as a progression of ratings increases through a whole set of games.

He simply is able to find a way to do what it takes, during a game, to get the job done. I don't think anybody would accuse Magnus of studying chess too much - just look at some of the openings he plays!

AoxomoxoA wondering said...

GM's can "see" tactics where i have to calculate. GM'S can play better bullet than i can play OTB
See this video about Susan Polgar:
The pattern of chess are even burned into the brains section of face detection.
Thats even worse than memorise.

Anonymous said...

I am starting on this book just now. I feel that my biggest challenge while going through this book will be "Evaluation". My biggest weakness tends to be in evaluating positions - i.e., should I defend, attack or whatnot. This is one of those things which throws my game/results off-kilter, and it's also a big time-killer at the board.

Sancho Pawnza said...

Dust off your saddle... :)