woensdag 13 februari 2008

The killing fields of chess training

"The last two circles require special dedication. If you are doing 1000 problems then you will be averaging 500 per day in the 2-day circle. At a rate of 30 seconds per problem, you will spend 4 hours and 10 minutes doing tactics problems on each of these two days. In the 1-day circle you will spend 8 hours and 20 minutes doing tactics problems.

Although these last three days are likely to be painful, do not skimp. They are a critical part of the Seven Circles training. You may feel faint, nauseous, and sick. Blood may start dripping from your forehead. But if you have the courage to push on, you will be rewarded with a greatly enlarged tactical muscle that will leave your opponents in the dust."


If this sounds familiar you probably have read Michael de la Maza's second article in which he explains his program. Although I greatly admire the knights who have followed Michaels example, and have finished the last two circles, I do have my doubts if they have done themselves a favour.

I fail to see how anyone will benefit from solving chess exercises for the seventh time, especially when it involves "solving"puzzles of great complexity within 30 seconds.

There is however no doubt in my mind about the usefulness of following the first cycle, as well as the use of repeating them a few times. For most players the first cycle will be all about learning. They will be confronted with a lot of tactical patterns that they have never seen before.

After this first round the second circle is a bit more more about training and not as much about learning as the first circle. Training is not the same as learning. Learning is getting acquainted with new knowledge. In training the pupil is confronted with tasks which he has not yet accomplished, but is not longer quite incapable of accomplishing. Having seen all the exercises and their solutions in the first cycle, we can expect the pupil to do a lot better than in the first cycle, because he has acquired knowledge (patterns) that enables him to solve problems he couldn't in the first cycle.

In the third cycle an element is added. Besides learning (which still happens because he now has a foundation to grasp the more difficult exercises) and training (the solving of exercises missed in the first cycle) he is also memorising. The repetition of familiar exercises will be stored in his long term memory. Gradually it will be less and less about learning and training and more and more about memorising. But enhanced by the decreasing time the pupil has to solve the puzzles, the memorising of patterns is taken over by the memorising of positions. In this phase the circles do not contribute anything to your skills anymore and may even be harm full. The speed that is required to solve 1.000 puzzles in a day can make you believe that finding and calculating complex combinations in a game, is something that can be done in less than a minute.

This kind of dedication, as Michael calls it, may well take all the fun out of chess training. It may easily convince you that training is completely useless, incredibly boring as well as hopelessly time consuming. Those who have followed Michael all the way may well have walked through the killing fields of chess training.

4 opmerkingen:

darkhorse zei

I fully agree with your assessment. Over-emphasizing memorization is a recipe for disaster. The number one enemy of an amateur is... boredom. Repeating the same problem seven times sounds awfully boring. Making training (and in general playing chess) fun should be the number one concern, or you will just give up the game. It can happen to anybody, believe me.

I also believe that repetition is unnecessary. You are learning patterns, not positions, so as long as so keep encountering the same set of tactical motifs, you are still training your long-term memory for pattern recognition. The brain is a wonderful machine capable of abstracting patterns, so don't misuse it. I'm not saying that repetition is always useless, but that it is the wrong foundation for a training program.

Phaedrus zei

Hello darkhorse,

I am a bit less sceptical about repetition. As long as repetition helps you to remember the patterns it is an affective way to improve.

Blue Devil Knight zei

Few Knights have followed MDLM's exact plan, mostly for the reasons you cite (it is so demanding it sucks the fun out of it, kills marriages, jobs, and cute puppies).

I understand what you are saying, but it isn't quite as simple as "On the first cycle you learn X, then Y, then finally ZZZzzzz". It depends on how you approach the problems. Each time I went through (until the last couple of cycles) I learned something new. First time though, I gained a somewhat superficial understanding of the position. Then each time I would force myself to explain more about the position to myself, what general features of the position made this tactic possible? How many pieces did I have attacking, how many did he have defending? I would build up a fairly detailed narrative about each position.

Then, in the later circles once I had them learned, I wasn't just recognizing superficial piece placement, but recognizing the higher-order structures (ah, I have X,Y, Z attacking his king, and he only has such and such defending, and this looks similar to the Arabian Mate). It was extremely useful and fun.

Though, I should admit, the final cycles of the final circles it began to feel like work.

Also, I'm not convinced simply "memorizing" 1000 positions is all that bad. It all depends on how well our brain integrates that knowledge into its chess procedures, e.g., does the brain unconsciously integrate these different memories into higher-level chunks? If so, the individual problems are like nodes in our brain that are initially implanted, but connections are formed among these nodes so ultimately it becomes a more general and useful integrated tactical skill set.

So, I'm not sure that happens, but it probably does to some degree, in which case while consciously we are merely memorizing 1000 problems, what our brain does with those problems is a much more interesting, and generalizable thing.

Phaedrus zei

Hello Bleu Devil Knight,

I agree that my scheme of learning training and memorising is a bit simplistic. But for the sake of clarity I chose for a very straightforward explanation. Also I am not completely against memorisation as such.

What I am trying to do, is to bring in nuances to the seven circles that save the important and good elements of the program, but filter out the superfluous and even contraproductive aspects.

I repeat execersizes myself. But I do this with a clear and defined goal, and not with the promisse that I will be a tactical genius as soon as the blood will come out of my ears.

At the moment for instance I am repeating the mate in 1 exercises out of Polgars 5234 combinations book. I do this to root all the mating patterns again in my long term memory. I noticed when solving the puzzle that I showed in my "deep level scanning" post, that I somehow had lost Pattern 1 that made me miss Rg7xh7.