Monday, November 16, 2009

TPS Report #16

During the summer, I stopped by a yard sale and to my delight found Office Space on VHS for fifty cents. So I promptly bought it and went home to watch it twice. My general fuzzy feeling that the movie was genius has now been sharpened into specific scenes that I have memorized for mental replay at any time.

Corporate accounts payable, Nina speaking. Just a moment.

It's just that we're putting cover sheets on all TPS reports. Did you get the memo?

The thing is, Bob, it's not that I'm lazy. It's that I just don't care.

I told those fudge packers I liked Michael Bolton's music.

Now we had a chance to meet this young man, and boy, that's just a straight shooter with upper management written all over him.

BOB: Looks like you've been missing a lot of work lately.
PETER: I wouldn't say I've been *missing* it, Bob.

I can't believe what a bunch of nerds we are. We're looking up "money laundering" in a dictionary.

I do want to express myself, okay. And I don't need 37 pieces of flair to do it.

As the beginning of the end of my break from chess, I took up with Chess Tempo again in late August. One of the features I really like is the separate Endgame drill. They're not quite endgame studies, but a lot of the tests are some of my favorite endings: rook and bishop versus rook or queen versus rook. It allows me to test myself and fill in the holes of my understanding on these endings. One disadvantage is that if you don't pay the subscription fee, the endgames tests are limited to 2/day. If somehow this blog creates a mad rush to subscribe to Chess Tempo, perhaps someone can say "Soapstone sent me" and the proprietor there will give an honorary Gold membership to this cheapskate blogger who so far has resisted the urge to pay for tactical training.

On Chess Tempo, regular middlegame tactics have no daily limitation even if you're a nonpaying registrant. I used to have an accuracy of the untimed Standard tactics of nearly 84%, but that's dropped to 81% lately, aided by inexplicable streaks of failure after failure. My tactics rating has climbed back over 2100, but a lot of the time, I have to concentrate more than 30 minutes on each problem.

A month back a friend asked me whether I had a checklist to thoroughly analyze positions. The question is 'How does one see what one cannot see?' I stated that I didn't have a rigorous method. The reasons are myriad, but it still boils down to me stubbornly refusing to take my medicine and do things right. Up to now, I had just looked at positions and chaotically moved wherever my eyes and thoughts took me. The chaotic method had served me well to this point, but I think it has begun to fail me because my mental clock and attached calculator are no longer as nimble.

So after a particularly miserable streak of getting problems wrong on Chess Tempo, I got so frustrated I decided to do a root cause analysis. Why am I failing to get these problems right? I compiled my last 30 misses and tried to verbalize where my thinking went wrong. Then I went back through and tried to categorize the errors or difficult features. I generated this spreadsheet. The main categories in order of highest to lowest frequency were:

Queen complexities
Missed key
Defensive resource
Horizon/premature cutoff
Creeping move
Bishop complexities
Knight complexities
Backward move
Fear/Overestimating defense
Complex new pattern

I gained some ideas about what should go on my checklist. Here is my first approximation:

Checks on his king; follow all crazy sacs to quiescence
Checks on my king; follow all crazy sacs to quiescence
Moves that threaten material
Pieces that have limited mobility to withstand direct attack or assist in defense of the king (e.g. trapping the queen)
Loose pieces to fork
Pinned pieces to pressurize
Pieces on ranks, files, or diagonals - pins and skewers
Pieces on intersecting diagonals and files - forks
Knight forks - pieces on the same color square (from Andres Hortillosa)
Forcing a piece to a vulnerable square
Removing or overloading a defender
*Try to look at least 2 full-width ply to find implausible key moves such as defensive resources and bluffs, creeping and backward moves, wild knight jumps, rampaging pawns/promotion, zugzwang.

I think that I was always looking for the things on the list, just not thoroughly and methodically. The last item is the recent addition from my error analysis. Temposchlucker talked a lot about checklists, but after using some keywords, I couldn't find a tactical checklist that he published for the public benefit.

A week ago, I wandered over to chessloser to see that he blogged twice in October. Then I followed one of his links to Chessgasm who seemed to be interested in proper analytical methods. He reviewed Forcing Chess Moves by Charles Hertan and mentioned it again later as a comparison to Aagard's Excelling at Chess Calculation. I've mentioned Hertan's book before without actually knowing the content of his book, but now I think I've got to go buy it.

Computers play chess by brute force. They look at a position and generate all legal moves and then make those moves in its 'mind' and then generate all subsequent legal moves. This is what's called full width search. Besides the move generator, there is an evaluation function which checks statically who's winning and by how much.

Looking back at my spreadsheet, I surmised that the reason queen complexities were such a problem for me is that they have so many moves, making width quickly unmanageable. It suddenly occurred to me that many of my other weaknesses were problems of insufficient width: missed key, overlooked defensive resource, creeping and backward moves. Premature cutoff/Horizon effect is mostly the perpendicular axis of depth, but often times I'm pruning a variation because I don't see that the next move disturbs the quiescence rather violently, which makes it partially a width problem. The question once again is how does one see moves that one cannot see? Hertan's solution seems to be USE COMPUTER EYES. It's probably impractical for me to emulate the computer, but perhaps it would benefit me to at least calculate the first two ply completely in some settings to try to achieve better width in my searches and see past my blind spots.

So I've got some directions to go in my training. I'm still not conscientiously using my checklist, but like my many unopened chess books, it's there for me to pick up.

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