Thursday, April 24, 2008

Goblet O' Training

In "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire", budding wizards put their names into a gigantic fiery receptacle that is more like a tall cauldron than a goblet. The goblet serves as a pseudo-lottery selecting the contestants for a wizardry competition, the winner of which will get fame, fortune, and the undying admiration of (insert name of love interest here).

Generally I feel the discussions of a theory of chess learning to be a distraction from actual learning, but there has been so much time and verbiage invested by the likes of Temposchlucker, Phaedrus, and Blue Devil Knight, that I wanted to put my two cents in, borrowing heavily from Rolf Wetzell’s Chess Master at Any Age. I’m a little ashamed of the crappy drawing, especially compared Phaedrus’ lovely work. The artist of this studio sucks at art.

At the center of this scheme is the Goblet O’ Training, described by Wetzell as a receptacle of fluid representing all your chess ability and knowledge. Wetzell’s scheme had two types of fluid, with high and low volatility. Evaporation represents that knowledge we lose to forgetfulness. The flared, martini-like lip is supposed to represent the diminishing returns we get from learning near our capacity, with increased surface area exposed to evaporation.

I have added a stick figure with a bailer to represent a chess player striving to fill the Goblet and get better at chess. Under the player’s armpit is a list of fuels that power our training engine: discipline, time, energy, fun, motivation, and desire. I always remember Edward James Olmos' soliloquy in “Stand and Deliver” motivating his students by saying “You’ve got to have the ganas”, the desire to learn. Ever the mentor in his roles, Olmos reminds me that a coach can also help. Except for coaching, the list could also be summed up by the word “attitude” which also makes an appearance inside the Goblet. Training attitude and game-time attitude are both very important.

The Goblet O’ Training sits on scale which measures the weight of the chess player’s training in Elo points. However, integrated into the weighing are factors that conspire to weaken our overall strength demonstrated at the board. On a seesaw opposite to the Goblet O’ Learning is the Bucket O’ Distractions which negatively impact our ability to transfer what we know to the chess game in front of us. I couldn't fit it all in, but I wanted to put ratings fixation in the "Other priorities" category. There are a couple pharmacologic agents out there that might limit the damage of some of these distractions, namely caffeine and Ritalin, but I want to avoid advocacy of chemical performance enhancement, no matter how legal it may be.

I have tried to organize the terminology in front of me, but words are clumsy, fuzzy containers. Apologies if my superficial analysis has misclassified others’ concepts. Here is my chart of terminology with my own interpretation of the concept in the first column:

A few explanations:

I think Temposchlucker incorporates scanning and pattern recognition into simple motorskills while deeper calculations are complex motorskills.

Temposchlucker seems to be on to something when he emphasizes target scanning. By the title of his blog, Phaedrus also seems fixated on chess vision. I’m a little unclear whether the term visualization refers to the initial sight of the features of the position or whether it is part of the later calculation/evaluation complex. Scanning probably overlaps a bit with pattern recognition, but I’ve seen a lot of patterns and I recognize the idea when I see the pattern, but my experience during games and working with Chess Tempo is that I miss all kinds of things even when I have a lot of time to look and overcome the bucket of distractions. Scanning, targeting, and visualization all refer to a sight-related ability that allows us to grasp the possibilities in the position. Like the so-called “mind’s eye”, it is also most likely the ability to bring about the creative aspect of chess. In “Searching for Bobby Fischer”, Bruce Pandolfini extolled two of Josh Waitzkin’s virtues in the quote, “Your son creates like Fischer. He sees like him, inside.”

I believe knowledge is something a little different from pattern recognition. A long time ago, I took Spanish and learned that there are two verbs for “to know”. Conocer is more like “to recognize or be acquainted with” while saber is a more intimate or intense kind of knowing. An example of pattern recognition is seeing the conditions and the two-move sequence leading to Anastasia's mate. An example of knowledge is “bishops of opposite colors are quite drawish unless there are widely separated pawns” or “opening lines in front of your king during opposite side attacks is generally a bad idea”.

Since I thought of it first, I would like to incorporate “evaluation“ into the balance sheet of chess strength. “Evaluation” has probably been subsumed as part of “calculation” since in order to get very far in calculation, you have to know how to reject scads of moves that lose material or weaken your position, so moves are being evaluated in-line. However, only a minority of calculations lead to overwhelming material or clearly winning positions (tactical calculations). Most of the time, especially in games at master level, the lines and their resulting positions, even after significant ply depth, differ in subtle ways that can only be compared by evaluation and judgment (positional calculations). At the terminals of Kotov's tree, the leaves often look very similar.

Like I said earlier about theory being a distraction, I don’t post this with intent to get in a protracted debate about what terms and components should be used, or to say whose scheme is justified best on the empirical evidence. I post it to get a handle on what it means to:

1) Have a good attitude during training and during games.
2) Train various and sundry aspects that add to the strengths of my chess game.
3) Minimize the distractions that hurt my game.

How does one go about training? Well, here is my own example of a well-neglected training program in Excel format along with the Wetzell Component of Chess Capability (CCC) that I’m trying to strengthen.

With that, I now return to my regularly scheduled bailing.


Blue Devil Knight said...

It drove me crazy when Wetzell would give a detailed psychological model, but this metaphor is pretty good.

I wonder if he will put out a revised edition for the computer generation.

BlunderProne said...

I got my book signed by THE MAN Tuesday night at the club. I was the only one who seemed to care he had a book published in the 90's. I shook his hand and told him how much of an inspiration he was to me and gave him a link to my blog. I plan on diverging from my Classic games studies for a post related to that and the second pawn mate I delviered in a month!

Temposchlucker said...

I will not add to your bucket o'distractions by an elaborate comment:)

ChargingKing said...

Hey Ernie,

Where is Garingo-Hong??

Anonymous said...

BDK - I'm not really a Wetzell zealot (Wetzealot?). I really only skimmed his book and took to heart the method of stamping out your blind spots with an abundance of flashcards which represent golden nuggets of lessons past at your fingertips.

blunderprone - I'm not quite eating my heart out, perhaps just nibbling. What did he mean by "I hope there's at least one thought worth keeping."? Was he just being modest about his work?

chargingking - Rest assured, I'm not hiding my loss. I was hoping to get a lesson on the Bayonet and then incorporate what I learn in my post.