zaterdag 25 oktober 2008

Calculation and patterns

How much deeper do you have to calculate, and visualize to improve 100 rating points? What patterns do you have to master to do the same? Can you gain a significant number of ratingpoints without improving in both at the same time?

These were and are crucial questions in my own search for improvement and in my teaching. In my quest for an answer to there questions, I have used the stepsmethod. From my own experience I can make some estimations about the relationship between rating and mastering the steps. And I have come to the following conclusions:

Step 1:
Calculation level: 1 to 3 ply
Patterns: mate, capture, defend, promotion

At this level the immediate capture of a undefended piece, an immediate mate, and defending an attaked piece or square are mastered. Most exercises are 1 or two ply deep, sometimes three. I cannot give an rating assessment because I have never had a student at this level who played competitive chess in rated tournaments.

Step 2:
Calculation level: 2 to 4 ply
Patterns: Mate in two moves, fork, double attack, pin, mating with king and rook, discovered
attack, eliminating defense, defending against mate.

When he has mastered step 2, the student is able to use standard techniques to attack or defend. He is capable to coordinate piece action (mating with king and rook, double attack). If he has mastered these skills he should be able to reach a 1000/1100 rating.

Step 3:
Caculation level: 3 to 6 ply
Patterns: stalemate, mobility, eliminating defense, luring, discovered attacks.

Step three builds on the foundations of step 2. It is not as much that new techniques are added. The basics are expanded by the game setting. The position have more pieces, and more distractions. Also the solutions require more calculation because exchanges or other forcing moves are part of the solution. After mastering step 3 the student should be able to reach a level of 1200/1300.

Step 4:
Calculation level: 5 to 8 ply
Patterns: attacking kingside, 7th rank; pawnendgame (key squares), rook endgames (passed pawn).

Now that the student has reached a level that he is able to avoid 3 ply deep blunders, he can expect to reach the endgame in some of his games. So the basic endgame's are introduced in this step.. The 8 ply deep calculations are only necessary in very forced positions with no sidelines. The student should be able to reach a 1400/1500 level after mastering step 4.

Step 5:
calculation level: 7 to 10 ply
Patterns: Pawn race, seventh rank, rook endgames (Philidor and Lucena position) open files, drawing techniques (fortress), strong squares, Zugzwang, uncastled king, king side attack, small plan, Pin, discovered attack.

In step 5 the average solution is about 5/7 ply deep, but especially in the forced sequences the student has to be able to calculate up to 10 ply deep. These occur mainly in endgames (pawnrace). Mastering step 5 should get the average student to a 1700/1800 rating.

Step 6:
Calculation level: 9 to 13 ply deep
Patterns: mobility, drawing techniques, zugzwang, imbalances (bishop vs night), strategy (small plan), kingside attack (intermediate moves, adding pieces after sacrifice)

I am doing this step now. I score about 80% on average. So this step is fairly challenging for me (current dutch rating over 2050). The main difference with step 5 is that it is harder to recognize the patterns, and in many of the exercises there is more emphasis on preparatory and intermediate moves. About 60% of the exercises are endgame positions and themes. Mastering this step should lift you over 2000.The main conclusion I draw from this excursion is that the ability to calculate and visualize 13 ply deep is enough to reach a 2000 level. But only if you have mastered the required patterns. Mastered them so well that you can implement them in all of your (slow time control) games.

This survey confirms my suspicion that I calculate not as easy and as well than most of the players that have a comparable rating to me. More than I would like to admit, I notice in a post mortem that a player I just beat, out calculates me. The main reason that I can compete and level with those players, is that I have mastered more patterns than they have.

donderdag 9 oktober 2008

Too deep!

A question every chess player faces once in a while is: how deep should prepare my openings. If you grab your opening books you will find many variations that go all the way up to move 20 or 30. This has always made me believe that to be well prepared, I should learn my openings up to move 20 on average. But now I think I have to question this assumption. Memorizing openings up to move 14 on average, should be enough!

How I can tell? Hans Ree has written a column in the NRC, (a dutch newspaper, so the article is alas in dutch) in which he gives the results of some research he did. He checked how many moves it took in every game of the current Russian championship, to reach a unique position. After the first two rounds the maximum number of moves to reach a unique position was 17, the minimum 9 and the average number of moves after which a unique position was reached was 14.

Of course the 12 games of the first two rounds are only a small number, and it would be better to take lets say 10 recent tournaments to get more reliable statistics. But I did a small test with my own games of the last year (OTB, slow time control). My average was 13! Try it out with your own games. Just to see if you can really expect to see some benefits of memorizing openings up to move 25 or more.

zondag 5 oktober 2008

Exercise wtih Phaedrus, chapter three

Lessons learned from a missed move

first of all a heartily thank you to both Likesforests and Chessaholic. You have done me a great service, enabling me to use you as a benchmark. You also convinced me that solving this position ought to be well within my capabilities.

Yet I failed. So how to explain this? Why could I not solve this position, when it was within my ability to project positions, not overly complicated and rather easy to solve by fellow bloggers. I do not know their current rating, but I suspect it does not exceed mine.

IMHO there are two possible explanations. The first one is that I did not visualize and calculate well enough, and may have given up too soon. There certainly is some truth in this explanation. I had visualized up to 4 Kg2, and just did not see the win in this position. Had I however seen this position, not in my minds eye but right in front of me on the board, I probably would have found the winning split. So my ability to calculate from a position 7 ply deep from the board position diminishes too much, to construct a solution I would have found with the same position already on the board.

position after 4 Kg2 allowing the split: 4 ... gxf2!

But there is also another explanation that is even more valid. The split was not a pattern that I had burned into my memory. I may have seen it, but apparently it did not stick. And I suspect strongly that the split is a (well) known pattern for Chessaholic and Likesforests. They spotted this pattern very soon, and Likesforests in his comment confirmed that indeed he was very familiar with it. So for me the big lesson to be learned from this position is: I have to store "the split" into my memory. I do not fear it will not. Just writing this post has left a big impression, and if that were not enough, there is also the excellent marker in Likesforests name "the split".

The reason that I think the second explanation is more valid than the first one is based on research. contrary to average chess players a grandmasters brain activates mainly (or at least much more) his memory. And what else would a gm use his memory for than the search for patterns.

And now
Like every position that I cannot solve, this position is stored by me an a database. After I have finished the book, I will use this database for a second round in which I will again try to solve them. The positions I cannot solve then, will again be stored. I repeat this until I have solved all of them. This is a method which is IMHO much more efficient than the 7 circles. And it has the advantage that it forces you to focus on your weaknesses. Missing a move is never 100% accidental, or just a result of tiredness. It always is a pointer. It either signals that the position is too complicated for you and beyond your ability to visualize and calculate, or it tells that the move is part of a pattern that has not established itself in your brain as well as other patterns.

Black to move:4... gxf1B or 4 ... g1Q mate

And though it appears to be just another oversight, I do think that Likesforests missed mate in 1, signals something. It might either be that this mate was not familiar enough for him, and/or that he is inclined to stop thinking as soon he sees that a piece can be taken.

Sloppiness, fatigue, distraction, all increase the chance that you miss the best move, but this occurs the first with those patterns that you have not mastered 100%.

zaterdag 4 oktober 2008

exercise with Phaedrus, chapter 2


Congratulations to Chessaholic and Likesforests, who demonstrated that they were able to "outsolve" me in yesterdays exercise. Although there is not much I can add to Likesforests comprehensive solution (with the exception of a mate in 1 he missed), I will give the solution here again, and add a few diagrams. In this way I make it more comfortable for you (other) readers to see what chesscaholic and Likesforests came up with.

This was the position I asked you to solve yesterday. It is black to play and win.

The solution is 1 ... g3 2 Nf3+ (2. Nf1 Bxf2+ 3. Kh1 g2+(see next diagram)

And in this sideline after 4.Kh2 best is 4 ... g1Q and mate. 4 ... gxf1B was given by Likesforests. It is less effective than mating immediately. But his variation has the attraction of the very rare occurrence of a minor promotion to a Bishop. So an A+ for creativity for you Likesforests!) 2... Kg4 3. Nxd4 h2+

Analysing this position in my minds eye, I failed see how black can win after 4 Kg2. But in fact it is very simple now. 4... gxf2

This is what I missed and what Likesforests so appropriately calls a "split"! 5. Nf3 h1Q+ 6. Kxh1 f1Q+ 0-1

Tomorrow I will return to this exercise and share some of my reflections on the fact that I failed to find a solution (and why Chessaholic and Likesforest did).

vrijdag 3 oktober 2008

Exercise with Phaedrus, Chapter one

Dear readers of my blog.

Like I told in my post "Zen and the art of chess training", I am working my way through step 6 of the steps method. The following position is taken from this book. I would like to invite each of you to try to solve this position. If you come up with solutions or some variations, your please sending your efforts in a comment is much appreciated. I very greatly hope that you can resist the temptation to try solving them with a chess engine. And if you cannot resist, I request you not to take from the effort of others by kindly withholding comments. For me it is very important to see what my readers can do with this position. Thank you.

What I am trying to do with this post as well as with the next two planned is to make clear how I use these kind of exercises to improve. This is the first post, with the solution planned for the the next, which will be occur tomorrow. Finally, this Sunday I will discuss the results with you in my third and final post on this position. Then I will tell you why I think that improving takes just a bit more than just solving.

Good luck! And one more thing: I failed to solve this problem, so this is your golden opportunity to not only accompany me on my road to chess improvement, but also to embarrass me.

It is black to play and win.