vrijdag 26 september 2008

First note on transfer

In an earlier post I had presented a framework for chess improvement (see below). The part of the framework that raised the most questions was the “transfer” block. And in many ways this was indeed a “black box”. The whole subject is more or less ignored in all major books or methods of chess improvement but the manuals for chesstrainers step 1 to 5 being a notable exception.

First of all, let me explain to you what transfer is to me. Transfer is using the patterns one has acquired by learning and/or training in a game. Working with beginning players in combination with the chess trainers course has opened my eyes to the gap that exists between solving exercises and playing a game. Very often I would see young players who could solve 3 to 4 ply deep tactics, yet who more often than not, put their pieces en prise several times in a game or miss 1 ply deep opportunities to capture a piece or execute a simple mate.

The way we were taught to handle this was to make a connection between the things our students had learned and playing a game. So every time I see a beginning player putting a piece en prise, I wait for his opponents move. If he misses the capture I will stop the game and ask both players: ‘Do you see undefended pieces or other targets (king, mating square)?’ And after they have pointed out all the targets I ask them, so what is the best move? This almost never fails to direct them to the best move.

The other method I use to improve transfer is to encourage beginning players to name the theme when they use a tactic. It is amazing what it does to them if they start saying out loud: “double attack: wood and square” or “Pinned piece is a poor defender”, etc.

All of this does wonders when players are climbing up from a rating of 1000 to 1600. But after reaching 1600 level the results are found to diminish. I believe that the reason for these diminishing returns is that the games above a certain level are no longer decided by basic tactics and themes that occur in almost every game. When I tell a player: "look for targets", and he sees almost every game decided because he or his opponent fail to do so, I have established a very direct connection between training and playing.

But when you improve and face stronger opposition, games are no longer decided anymore by these basic tactics. And this is where most of us get out of “the zone” of fast improvement. Improving gets harder and the connection between training and playing is lost again. So the big question is: can this connection be re-established? This will be addressed in my next post on transfer.

4 opmerkingen:

Blue Devil Knight zei

Cool stuff. It reminds me a lot of Rowson's discussion of gaining chess skills as opposed to "knowledge." Everyone knows to not leave a piece en prise, but everyone also has done it. What are the best methods to decrease the gap between skill and knowledge?

Phaedrus zei

Good call BDK,

The post is indeed about the difference between learning and knowledge vs training and skills.

Rowson's book gives a very good description of this difference.

chesstiger zei

What you described i found one of the minuspoints of the stepsmethod. They solve the exercises, after a lesson easy, even the exams since what they have to look for is written under it. So they pass the exams and go over to the next step.

But if we examine their play it's a different story. Like you said they miss easy concepts of 1 ply deep.

This year i give step 3. The first lessons (i have given two so far) i concentrate mostly on playing, stopping the clock at certain points and asking 'why did you play that move?' and 'isn't their a better move?' Mostly they find the correct move after that and even, if not i give them the theme like 'double attack' or 'removing the defender', ... . After that they find the move but on their own it's sometimes as if they have forgotten everything they have learned.

Phaedrus zei


One of the traps of the stepsmethod is that the material is so good to keep the children busy, that trainers use it too much.

Ideally the stepsmethod is in sync with the performance in games. but in many situations trainers just go too fast, and the connection between learning/training and playing gets lost.

So I applaud your emphasis on playing and the thought process during the game. You can also spice this up by giving extra credits to every player that notices his opponent missing a chance. Or for not only executing a tactic, but also naming the theme.