Sunday, January 04, 2009

3rd Coaching Session

I began our session by walking my coach through a game where I thought I played perfectly but for one move. My coach was silent for a minute, and I began to wonder what was up. Then his answer appeared--it was a top ten list of my mistakes in that game!

Weekly slow games and a coach are helping to keep me honest about my progress.

Since I seem to have the forcing thought process more or less down, he wants me to begin to focus on visualization. With my eyes closed, I should know what colors squares are, what diagonals they're on, and visualize more moves into the future.

  • What color is e6?

  • Are g6 and c2 on the same diagonal?

  • 1.c3 e6 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nd4 Ne5 4.e4 c6 5.Ne2; what is Black's best move?

Rise and Shine Knight took this path a year ago with good results. I've followed in his footsteps by completing Chess Eye #1-#3 and making a blindfolded knight tour.

I also registered for a G/45 USCF swiss next weekend, Open section. Wish me luck!   :)


tanc (happyhippo) said...

Without looking at the board, my answers:

1. What color is e6?

Black. To calculate this easily, I'd remember the Black king is always on the dark square e8 so e6 is also black.

2. Are g6 and c2 on the same diagonal?

Yes. a1-h8 is one diagonal so one square adjacent to this diagonal means that g6 and c2 is on the same diagonal line too.

1.c3 e6 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nd4 Ne5 4.e4 c6 5.Ne2; what is Black's best move?

Black Knight is under attack. Err... move the Knight? :)

I mistakenly thot that it might be possible for a Queen move but then I had forgotten the d and f-pawn didn't move so no intermediate checks are possible.

Funny, why did White play 5.Ne2? I'm trying to understand why but I can't see any traps in my head that stops White from playing 5.exd5.

*scratch head*

tanc (happyhippo) said...

Oh, Best of luck for your tournament!

Rolling Pawns said...

"visualization" is a good idea, I think. In the last games several times I didn't see clearly the position after a few plies. For example, in one position I saw my queen, but didn't see my bishop on the same diagonal (Qc4, Be2), so was afraid of b7-b5 fork (Na4, Qc4) with b5 square defended by black only once.
Good luck with the tournament!

tanc (happyhippo) said...

oh duh.... I misread 3... Ne5 for Nd5 (which I thot didn't seem right in the first place). Didn't have my morning coffee and sprouting nonsense. ;)

tanc (happyhippo) said...

oh... forgot to give you the answer too.

Nd3#. :)

chesstiger said...

e6 is a white square since e8 is also white.

c2 and g6 are on the same diagnal

Nd3 checkmate

likesforests said...

Tanc, thanks. The Black queen is the one always on a dark square. I also missed the "best move" question even yesterday after some study. I think the reason they chose the odd moves is to avoid memorized patterns and to make the next move unquestionable. Eg, I can see 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.Qc2 Bxc3 5.Qxc3 b6 without any trouble because it's familiar.

Rolling Pawns - Yes, now that I'm past 'blundering pieces' to checks & captures, I'm seeing exactly the problem you mention. This should also make it easier to follow the games I see in New In Chess.

chesstiger - Wow, you rock at this!

chesstiger said...

likesforests, i actualy suck at this. But this was easy since i had plenty of time to solve those three questions.

The e6 question was easy since i know d8 is black, queen on her color. so e8 must be white and therefor e6 aswell.

The diagnal i had to say all squares. C2, d3, e4, f5, g6, and only then i came to the solution.

The position was easy since i noticed that king was boxed in with all his own pieces and square d3 had no defenders. But dont ask me to see longer lines with no look at a board since i will make mistakes at where the pieces are. I suck at blindfold chess.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Humble pie is always tasty. That's Belichick's specialty.

I've never been convinced that such visualization exercises are helpful. In a real game you have the board in front of you so why practice visualizing sans board? Isn't it better to practice visualizing in more game-like conditions than a less game-like condition? That's why I prefer something like Rowsonalysis. Both are focused on visualization training, but one I feel like I'm actually doing something that I'll directly use in games.

I especially think it's strange to memorize square color, which is an inessential part of chess (this reminds me of Rowson who talks about how abstract his images of the board are, involving no colors or anything--which is not to say he didn't need to memorize square colors and such though I assume if he thought it was important he would have mentioned it).

Initially in chess the squares weren't even colored, and technically they could all be the same color and it wouldn't affect the game at all.

But I also know there are some people that think it's really important to memorize square color and such, especially for blindfold chess. Often it is mentioned as the 'first' step to improving at visualization.

There isn't much research on this topic, strangely, and I wonder if it is partly a historical thing, that's what they were trained to do.

Of course the research would most likely show it is complicated and depends on the individual, their rating, that sort of thing, and most importantly it probably can't hurt.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Addendum: I could imagine it hurting because it is clogging your mind with inessential facts about the board rather than the bare minimum. Chess is hard enough without worrying about stuff that doesn't really matter like square color.

So I guess it could hurt, or hurt in the short term until it is somehow transformative to know what color e6 is, then you incorporate that into your thinking.

But that said, it probably can't hurt.

Blue Devil Knight said...

As a Caro player I know the color of e6, but more importantly that it is good to have a pawn there :)

OK sorry time for work.

USCF and such really should fund some good psychological studies of different chess techniques. They are such easy studies they just need funding.

Rolling Pawns said...

I think if you don't distinguish the colors, moving the bishops will get messy.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Rolling: good point. They didn't leave them undifferentiated because it was just harder to play and got confusing (and probably easier to cheat :)).

Blue Devil Knight said...

PPS Good luck in your tournament. The key for improvement as in chess is, I think, to have a plan and stick with it. It is hard to get worse doing that. Especially with a coach that is rated highly.

likesforests said...

BDK, regarding learning the colors of squares, good point. Colors help spot bishops' paths, knight forks, and weak color complexes. Eg, Alekhine writes "White's dark square control isn't compensation for Black's lead in development." But, perhaps without them we would form better ways to look at the board. I follow the well-trodden path, but I'm open to new ideas. :)

Why visualize sans board? Once you go more than a few ply into the future, the physical board hinders more than it helps--it produces "ghosts". Watch Shirov, Ivanchuk, and Anand stare at the ceiling in tough positions. Yesterday I beat a 1400 in 13 moves by following a few lines 11-ply into the future. That was fun! Also, magazines like NIC show diagrams every 6-12 ply. Being able to see deeper would make it easier to study more games.

likesforests said...

Oh, yeah. And my coach told me to!

Temposchlucker said...

I sometimes look at the the ceiling to give my opponent the impression that I'm terribly good at visualisation. I wonder if it makes any difference for him.

Temposchlucker said...

Especially as the resulting move sucks:)

Blue Devil Knight said...

Tempo: I've done that. I thought I would never tell anyone.

LF: that's a good reason. I think it's important to place oneself in the hands of a good coach and go where he is leading you.

likesforests said...

lol @ tempo. I'll have to try that!

Kaan KARA said...

Good luck in your open i had recently played a 30+30 university league selection tournament and qualified by finishing second. (Not losing any points before the last match and losing to the winner.) Although i have 1600 official rating i won against some 1400, 1700, and 1800. And the game lost was against the favourite (near 2000) but the game was full of strategical mistakes i have became dominayed in first 7 moves but he couldn't finish me until 90th.

My only reason was playing against him and thinking about it i could manage points againts higher rated opponents easy enough that reminds me the psycological part of the game. I had a strategy of playing with mobility and better placement aspects of positional game, improving pieces continuously neglecting my pawns health but not letting my opponents to have their pawns healthy neither. (I did it in order to let some combinations possible) I was trying to forcing them to make their position unbalanced gradually and waited for mistakes. I have rejected times and times small gifts which requires me the reorganization process i didn't like. Taking two pawns and attacked is not nice but taking a knight and letting your opponent a rook sacrifice to a pawn is better. After grinding for a while he find himself to sacrifice again or take a bishop to regain some of his loss. If he would take getting back bishop i would be a rook and a pawn up but continued attacking but couldn't find any move out of my calculation. At the right time i sacrificed once and leaving my other minor piece hanged with a silent threat of mate. He might have seen the mate because didnt take but couldn't find the productive move not letting the mate. (or didn't wanted because it requires another sacrifice for him which will leave him behind a rook and two minor pieces behind)
This one against the 1730 one. Other games was a little less exciting i trapped a piece in nearly all the game in middle game sometimes i even didn't accept to let him suffer and give it by sacrificing.

Tournaments are fun. After that tournament i played civ 4: beyond the sword for a week and i found myself much weaker and a little more creative (In order to blitz games) And somewhat blind:p

Anonymous said...

What if you just take a bunch of short games (say 10-20 moves)and play through them untill you are able to go through those games blindfolded!?

likesforests said...

Anonymous, I've memorized a few short games. For example Fischer-Geller, 1961 lasted 22 moves. At least for me, that's more memorization than visualization.

I've done enough tactics to know quite a few stock patterns. But really practicing a disciplined thinking process is new to me, and now I'm trying to calculate deeper using better visualization.

Chess Eye, De La Maza's Concentric Squares, and Fritz's Check & Attack training seem right up the visualization alley.

likesforests said...

Kaan Kara, congrats on qualifying against such a tough crowd! That game sounds very exciting--post it on your blog if you get a chance. :)

One of my opponents will be 2450, so I have no illusions of winning. I do want a "Best under xxxxx" prize, but I'll settle for rating points!

BlunderProne said...

Alexander Ivanov is another who stares at the ceiling, which always makes me look up. When I stare at the ceiling, it usually is because there is an odd noise or something coming.

Speaking of ceilings, do you recall at the 2008 WO when the ceiling tile came down in my section. I was a couple tables away. So, if you see me staring at the ceiling, you'd better look up too incase something really is wrong. :)

Ray Cheng said...

With regard to practicing blindfold chess, this article advises against it, suggesting that it may destructively interfere with other chess skill acquisition. The article makes other interesting points as well.

Hey Blunderprone, I was at the 2008 WO, and I thought I saw a ceiling tile falling toward me - but it turned out to be my face hitting the pavement.

likesforests said...

BlunderProne - lol. Tempo's look-at-the-ceiling tactic will be very effective at the world open!

Ray -

Thanks for stopping by! I've read that paper a few times before. The part you refer to is this:

"(2) We believe that playing blindfold chess is at best useless, and at worst harmful to one’s development. The ability of playing blindfold comes more as a side effect of having acquired a well organized and easily accessible knowledge base (Ericsson & Staszewski, 1989; Saariluoma, 1995). Practicing blindfold as such may be harmful when it interferes with other types of training."

I would point out that the authors give no evidence for their opinion that blindfold chess is useless or harmful for chess development.

The cited study focused on a 2150 who said he was equally good at normal and blindfold chess. They discovered he accessed info about rows and columns faster than info about 4x4 squares, and he accessed info blindfolded almost as fast and accuracy as he did sighted.

1) The cited study didn't conclude blindfold chess is useless.

2) The cited study didn't mention how the player had come to acquire such a knowledge structure, whether by play or training his visualization skills.

3) The cited paper didn't mention whether the player had gained or lost rating points as a result of learning to play blindfolded or working on visualization.

4) It's a study of *one player*. The fact he could play blindfolded and sighted at the same level already points to him as being an exception--most people lose 200 elo or so I have been told.

The authors make an excellent point that the more patterns you know the better you can prune your search tree and the less speed you need to calculate--but even if you do a fantastic job pruning, you do eventually have to calculate. Heck, most kingside sacs require calculating at least 3-4 lines. And middlegames can get complex.

Ray Cheng said...


Yes, it would appear that Gobet and Jansen are speculating. Still, let's pursue this further. Their reasoning seems to be as follows. All strong players (Masters and above) have the ability to play blindfold. The vast majority have acquired this ability without specifically training for it. Therefore, blindfold chess ability must be an incidental benefit of overall (sighted) chess skill. So, less skilled players training for blindfold chess might be wasting their time.

Over the years I've conducted an unscientific and (so far) statistically insignificant poll, with the following results.

(1) Can you play blindfold chess? Unanimously, they answered yes.

(2) Did you specifically train yourself to play blindfold? Unanimously, they answered no.

(3) Did you ever sit around and solve lots and lots of tactical puzzles? A couple of the "mere" masters said yes; nearly all of the GMs and IMs said no.

Maybe you and BDK can help me interpret all this (and gather more data). I would be very interested if there is scholarly work that would shed more light on these issues!


Anonymous said...

Sorry - I didn't state that my poll was directed toward masters.


likesforests said...

Ray - From my limited interactions with IMs and GMs, and what I read from them in books, the backbone of their tactical training was to solve *complex* tactical positions from master games and then discuss their analysis with a coach. Is that also what you've found?

Most research seems to indicate, barring strong emotions, we need to be exposed to a pattern many times to learn it well. I can't explain why some people do not need this without invoking the T or Y words--Talent and Youth.

I would point out that solving tactics repeatedly is advised by many coaches and players including Heisman, Aaagard, Polgar, etc. And the method seemed to work out well for the Polgar sisters.

I'm also playing through Greco's games so I can work on untangling more complex tactical positions.

Anonymous said...


Professional opinion with respect to tactical study seems to span the entire spectrum. Along with the names you've mentioned, GM Kosten and IM Khmelnitsky recommend regular tactical study. But there have also been many titled players who rolled their eyes at the idea. (Instead, they advise playing a lot, or even playing a lot of blitz!, analyzing your games, etc.) I believe this ground was well covered at Lizzy's blog, without a clear consensus emerging. Perhaps the truth of the matter is that you should do it if you find it helpful, for as long as it remains helpful.

Opinion is also divided with respect to blindfold training. I have just ordered the book by Eliot Hearst on this subject, in the hope it might furnish some answers. I'll report back with my findings.


Anonymous said...

Hey LF,

The book by Hearst and Knott arrived today. I read through the sections on the science of chess skill, and found the following line:

"...[E]vidence indicates [that weaker players] will improve their regular chess at the same time [as playing blindfold]." p.192

However, the authors do not elaborate on the nature of the evidence, or the sort of training regimen that it would point to. In the Afterword, they write

"We have no doubt that improving your blindfold play will inevitably improve your regular chess."

But would the same time and effort be better spent on conventional chess study? I have written to Dr. Hearst asking for help. More on this matter as it develops.


likesforests said...

Ray, I would be very interested in the outcome. Finding optimal ways to train is like the holy grail for us amateur chess improvers. ;)

Anonymous said...


Dr. Hearst just replied with a very nice e-mail. He stated that the evidence in favor (of blindfold chess being helpful for OTB chess) lies primarily in the testimony of players who have tried it. They include Reti, the Polgars, Christiansen and many others. The first part of his book comprises individual profiles of blindfold champions and record holders, and sometimes gives details about their methods.

There is still reason for skepticism on whether blindfold helps. Indeed, the players who were profiled were all exceptionally gifted chess players. What helped them might not be suitable for us ordinary folks.

Still, I'm willing to give blindfold chess a try. Over the weekend, I've played several games against the java applet here:

It allows you to hide the pieces from view and play with sight only of an empty board. I find that I can get to move 15 or with surprising ease, but after that my grasp of the board deteriorates quickly. I'll report back on this in a month or two.


likesforests said...

Thanks for the update and the pointer--I'll be curious to know how it goes. I'm using Chess Eye plus some commercial software from La Morsa to help me train. (I make it only about a dozen moves before my vision of the board gets foggy.)