maandag 24 maart 2008

A framework of chess improvement.

For a chess player self knowledge is the key to improvement and getting your rating up. The illustration below is an attempt to distinguish the elements that determine your strength, results and rating.

I would like to hear form readers of this blog what they think of this framework. Do you miss something? Are the elements clear? Any other comment? any questions? To the adjusted framework that results form your comments, I want to related the methods of learning and training that I will suggest in the future.

So please, be ruthless and blunt. But above all, be honest and clear. Make sure that I think of everything, when I adjust and complete my framework of chess improvement. For the benefit of all!

34 opmerkingen:

Sciurus zei

The thing I really like with your diagram is that you include "psychological factors" such as concentration. I think this is far too often overlooked.

Sir Piño zei

Indeed, the psychological factors are very important! I sometimes lose games because I'm 'lazy' (i.e. I play a move that looks good but I don't calculate the whole sequence because I thing 'It will be OK') or because I'm running out of time.

There nothing in your diagram that's referring to knowledge (opening knowlegdge, endgame knowledge, ...) or are these things included in the "pattern" block ?

I'm also interested in the mysterious "Transfer" block. I know a lot of tactical patterns, but I'm not always able to transfer them to my games

Phaedrus zei

Concentration can win you a lot of points. For me concentration is probably the weakest link.

I never knew, untill a teammate gave me a picture he took during one of my games. He said: "youre looking away form the board, that is very typical for you"!

There are ways to improve concentration however, and in the future I hope to discuss them with fellow bloggers and readers of this blog

Sir Pino
Transfer is mysterious indeed, but EXTREMELY important. So many times I have noticed that students of mine would miss stuff in a game that they would easily see when doing exercises. And when you think of it this is very strange. They know! So why don't they do what they could do? I have seen this happpen with student who were very concentrated, so lack of concentration does not explain it in a lot of cases.

Since I started reading the blogs of the knights and their fellows, I have seen many examples of problems with transfer. So I hope to address this issue rather extensively.

transformation zei

necessarily quickly here by me, if i may:

planning, openings, pawn structure, openings, endings both feed and are fed by patterns. that is to say, they inform and are informed by both. perhaps the arrors flow in both directions in that segment, were this shown, but indeed:

calling patterns the name of all these things (if it is that?) is a cogent or concise way of not getting distracted, in writing about chess improvement, with endless detail already writen of extensively in other places.

its like the distinction in business or economics between operations and finance. so here we have psychological factors versus the particulars of evaluation and planning in detail.

tanc(happyhippo) zei

Hello Phaedrus,

Looking away from the board does not necessarily imply losing concentration. Some Russian players have been known to look away from the board eg. Shirov.

I would include Temperament/Psychological State at the time of competition as one of the most important factors that decides between winning, drawing or losing.

For example, if you're in a game where you needed a win, your brain is likely to be searching for more alternatives. You are also predisposed/more likely to take bigger risks and enter complications where the results are unclear.

With regards to "Transfer" problems, this could mean that the patterns are still not being "cast in stone" (as they say it) in the brain. As a result, when the brain is under duress, the ability to recall/translate (as you mentioned) the pattern effectively in the mind is not successful. This could mean that either:

a) the pattern has only been employed in short-term memory and the player has forgotten it. A player IMHO is more likely to lose short-term memorisation skills under pressure than long-term memories.

b) the player has problems translating 2D into 3D (OTB) play, partcularly if the player has been working out the tests on the computer screen or on the book. The brain sometimes has problems "seeing" both 2D and 3D and correlating them together. This can be solved by setting up the positions on the board, rather than working them from the computer.

just my 2 cents.


FurrBrain zei

I think Concentration stamina and time management is important to, if not replacing "transfer" as all those things are required to acquire the skills as well as when playing.

Phaedrus zei

Indeed you got it, patterns is all that can be described as chess knowledge. Tactical, positional, openings, endgames, middle games. They are e central foundation of chess skills but in itself not enough. Later on, when we have completed this framework we will dissect the patterns into separate parts.

Tanc(Happy Hippo):
Who would possibly mind to be compared to Shirov. Indeed the man is known to look away from the board. But he does this for different reasons than I.

Shirov has enormous visualisation and calculation skills. He is so good at it that, where as I have to use the current position on the board as a point of reference, he looks away because his image is blurred by the current position. I look away because I see other things that attract my attention.

Thank you for suggesting temperament/psychological state. I think it ads something important, but want to think it over to see if there is an even better word to describe it.

Your remarks on transfer also got me thinking, and this process is not nearly finished. My initial reaction is that the long term/short term memory suggestion does not explain completely why they would easily solve an exercise. And as we have exams that have to be done under a strict time limit, sometimes there is stress in solving as well.

The 3D/2D hypothesis is something I never thought about. I will return to it when we focus the discussion on transfer.

Though I don't think that concentration, time management and stamina replace transfer, I thank you for opening my eyes for the fact that these factors do no only apply on playing but also on learning and training, as indeed they do.

tcoem zei

Mighty interesting post you've put up, with the diagram and all. It will be even more interesting to see how it develops.

And about you looking away from the board... I know i read somewhere that it is good sometimes to get up and walk away from the board and that it can make you have a whole new fresh look at the position you have to play (or something like that). Those super GM's get up off the board too all the time while waiting for their opponents move.

Temposchlucker zei

What would happen if you would give every factor a percentage of the total influence?

Phaedrus zei

Thank you for your kind words. despite the walking of some super gm's I still believe that in most games my concetration could have been better, and that my looking away reflects this.

Your question is as relevant as it is difficult to answer. If a percentage to the relative importance can be given, this should be reflected in the time allocated to improve each of these elements.

At first sight I don't think it is possible for me to make an estimation. but who knows, maybe other readers have an idea. Food for thought.

Wahrheit zei

This is an excellent visual presentation of the factors in chess results (as opposed to "skill").

A possibility; the green boxes (concentration, stamina and time management) almost act as a filter or "bottleneck" to showing the level of patterns, calculation and visualization (after transfer). So the green boxes might be placed in line with and after transfer; if they are all 100 percent "open" then the player's full strength is available (and this would be rare or impossible); the more any one of these physical/psychological factors is "constricted" the smaller percentage of strength is showing in the play on the board.

A great and useful discussion. It is lione with some ideas I've been working on and I will post something and link to this to further the discussion.

likesforests zei

Phaedrus, you asked for brutality, so I'll strive for civil brutality.

"Patterns" - Of course, most opening, middlegame, and endgame study would fall under this aegis, with a touch of calculation. For a framework this level of generality is fine, but to generate a meaningful model you will really need to flesh this out.

What of Techniques? For example, identifying and using Zugzwang to your advantage. You might consider the Opposition a pattern, but Corresponding Squares is certainly not. Someone trained in that technique can solve positions that they've never seen before whereas someone looking for patterns or trying to calculate variations would likely become lost.

What of Creativity? Chess is an art as much as a science. The masters who played the most exciting games of chess didn't just know patterns and calculation, but also ingenuity & imagination! Sometimes their bold inventions were enough to defeat players more competent than them.

And last, what of Style? When there are several nearly-equal moves to choose from, we often do best to choose the one that fits our style. Some people prefer positional games while others prefer wild tactics. Tal and Petrosian were both great but very different sorts of player.

Good luck with your model. :)

Phaedrus zei



Thank you for the compliment. As results are the one thing that can be measured objectively, this is for me the the ultimate scorecard for improvement.

Placing the green boxes "in line", is worth considering, as they can be a filters that hinder you to play with full strength (applying your skill for 100%).

There is however also reason to see these boxes as a category of a different order. I recall how I first heard of the Polgar sisters. A delegation of Dutch players (all around IM level)had met the family (then almost not known outside Hungary) and had played (blitz) games with all three of them. It was not only the fact that they had a minus score against all three of them that amazed the dutch delegation, but even more that the children were playing tag and chatting with each other while playing.

So here we have an example were the green boxes were completely neglected, but where it did not hinder the girls to play very strong (though admittedly) probably less strong then they would have if fully concentrated.

I am very anxious to see your post and look forward to the discussion with you and others


Thank you for you civil comment.

A dissection of patterns is necessary indeed, but first i want to map the general framework.

I tend to disagree with your statement that zugzwang and corresponding squares are not patterns. I think they are. Maybe not as much patterns in the "spatial dimension", but probably more in the "time dimension".

I will have to think this through however, and invite you to give me samples in which you would think that corresponding squares or zugzwang cannot be called patterns.

I must admit that I have not thought about adding creativity to this framework for a minute. That probably tells something about the person that I am.

But what is creativity in chess? Is it (at least below IM level) anything else than using patterns in situations where they are not completely obvious to most players? And would a IM of GM not think of these moves as nothing else but obvious?

Style is not so much a skill. IMHO style is to a large extent an inclination to choose for a certain type of moves. Maybe you could say that it is a skill to be aware of your strengths, in order to choose the moves that best fit your skills.

Temposchlucker zei

I see visualisation as a restriction too. When your visualisation is 100%, it equals to seeing the board with your eyes open and moving the pieces around by hand. Even then there are problems I can't solve. With visualisation below 100% it can only become worse.

Phaedrus zei

Hello Temposchlucker,

I am not sure that I get what yyou are trying to say. The green boxes are skills are the foundations of your strength.

For all three of them the rule applies that the level you have achieved at them, determines your your level of play. If you can only vsiualize three ply deep, then this restricts your strength. But this is IMHO not different from having a limmited knowledge of tactical patterns, or poor calculation skills.

It feels to me however that you do see a fundamental difference between visualisation and the other skills (green boxes).

Temposchlucker zei

I haven't worked it out. But to me there seem to be factors that just limit your rating and factors that make your rating grow.

No matter how well my time management is, even if it is 100% I will not win from a grandmaster.
No matter if my stamina is 100%, I will not win from a grandmaster.
No matter if my concentration is 100%, I will not win from a grandmaster.
No matter if my visualisation is 100%, I will not win from a grandmaster.

If all 4 factors are 100%, I doubt if it will gain 100 ratingpoints for me.

On the other hand, only if enough knowledge and patterns are transformed into complex motorskills I can hope to gain more rating.

About calculation I don't know.

likesforests zei

I tend to agree with tempo that the effect of time management, stamina, and concentration on ones game is small compared to a knowledge of patterns (opening, tactics, strategic, and endgame) & calculation. I would expect it to matter only when both players are closely matched--we can quibble over whether that's <=100 or <=200 elo. However, I think better time management, concentration, and stamina during training could have a profound effect on your game over time since that could help you acquire the most important patterns faster than you otherwise would.

Wahrheit zei

In my latest post I take a somewhat different view than the good tempo and likesforests: Chess Inputs, Filters and Results (Part I)

When seriously fatigued and/or short of time one can't come close to using all the patterns and calculation skills one has so laboriously the cited game I play like a real beginner by the end, and yet all my skills are still there inside the brain.

Temposchlucker zei

for stamina and concentration during training you need the factor joy. When I started with training I wasn't particular fond of chessproblems. But I realized that I had to learn to love it and I managed to do so.

Temposchlucker zei

it's true. The limiting capability of the limiting factors seems to be limitless in a negative sense.

Yet I have found that no matter how drunk an IM is, I never managed to beat him in a blitz game.

likesforests zei

"for stamina and concentration during training you need the factor joy."

Thanks, that was actually insightful.

Temposchlucker zei

with what tool did you make the diagram? Is it free?

Phaedrus zei

I think that your estimation that concentration, stamina and time management are good for less than 100 rating points might well be true for you. For others it may be somewhat more or less. But I think 100 rating points decided by these factors is a plausible estimation.

Patterns are way more important. On that I agree also with you. Visualisation and calculation are IMHO probably more important then you seem to suggest (although you draw a conclusion on calculation.

I do know some things for sure:
1. I do not visualize very well.
2. I calculate rather slowly.
3. players with around 200 rating points more then me calculate much faster and visualise way better. So I do think that both these factors are rather important.

The question remains however if these skills can be significantly improved. I am not sure, but I do know that Cor van Wijgerden (my chess guru and author of the stepsmethod) has developed some training methods specifically for visualisation, so he probably thinks these exercises have significant merit.

I know Cor van Wijgerden agrees completely with you. He thinks that the effect of training decreases dramatically if not fully concentrated.

Fatigue can have a dramatic impact on the result of a game. I do think however that on a great number of games fatigue will not cost you more than 100/150 ratingpoints, unless your so tired that you fall asleep each and every game around timecontroll. But still, 100 points is a lot to gain!

Joy is the key motivator. No question! And yes it is true, even a drunk IM will not lose much more than 100 rating points. That is around the number that Aljechin lost when losing his WC match against Euwe. A match where he was reported drunk (or at least intoxicated) in many of the games.

The program I used to make the diagram is the "draw" program of "Open office", a suite of programs that also has word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, database. It is open source and it its free! go to for the dutch version.

wang zei

I think transfer is the most important one for me. Like your students I can solve problems and my test results always have me at 2000+, but I can't transfer "book knowledge" to actual game performance. I mentioned this recently on my blog. Now how do I improve this weakness? I'm not sure, but I'm hoping to find the answer before I'm old and gray.

Phaedrus zei


I will return to transfer in a future post (maybe more than one). I hope this post will reach you and help you before you are old and grey.

takchess zei

I can't comment much now but I am interested where your thinking will bring you!

Soapstone zei

Perhaps it is one component of transfer or the lack thereof, but I hearken back to Rolf Wetzell's model of chess knowledge as a martini-shaped glass that is always evaporating due to our ability to forget learned things. I meant to look up the book, but I failed and now it's just the top of my head that I consult. He had many ideas along this concept, but his model was not quite so elegant. I'm a little unclear on what the central square means: your chess potential or the actual chess you play. I think that's the reason for the debate about where the arrows for stamina should go.

Sartaj zei

Very interesting post. I am a chess amateur and a bridge expert, with a keen interest in growth in both areas. Your formulation is the closest i have seen to a complete model.

Especially relevant is the "transfer" block. Eagerly awaiting more of your thoughts on this.

Blue Devil Knight zei

Thought process should probably be in there somewhere. I don't necessarily mean an explicit step-by-step thing.

I could perfectly visualize ten moves deep, but if I do it for quiet moves, I have a faulty thought process that doesn't know how to prioritize my time, concentration, etc..

Soapstone zei

I was going to add thought process, but BDK beat me to it. Perhaps this is included in "transfer", but I took transfer to mean actually applying the skills to the position. Wetzell talks about a move selection method. Basically, if you have a good method, you can apply good judgment and intuition to weigh the factors in front of you which only God can know completely. e.g. Is a long-term weakness okay for this initiative?

Phaedrus zei

the green squares combined are supposed to represent chess skills. Playing stands for the actual playing, or as one might say, the application of chess skills. I agree with Weltzel that pattern recognition may evaporate. But I think that when there is an adequate transfer it will not evaporate as fast as without it. for me repetition is a very important part of my training.

Phaedrus zei

Blue Devil Knight:
Just as soapstone suggests, thought proces is indeed (for a large part) included in transfer.

Blue Devil Knight zei

I think it needs an extra nugget for thought process, but I guess I am not all that clear on what 'transfer' means. Transfer suggests something passive, that by osmosis you will automatically have a good thought process if you work on visualization, calculation, and build up enough patters, the thought process will take care of itself. If this was true, we wouldn't have so many volumes written about thought process by masters would we? You said to be blunt, just doing my job. :)

I guess more would need to be said about what transfer is for this to be clear to me.

logisschaak zei

I see arrows going from study to playing but none arrows that go back from playing to study.