Monday, February 02, 2009

A Humble Retreat

The weather was so lovely, I spent the weekend with my family at a humble cliffside retreat. At some places, a little money still goes a long way.

The trip wasn't so bad, either.


Welcome Farbror! He's a fellow chessplayer I've known for awhile who, like us, is seriously trying to improve. He's new to MySpace. Whether or not he officially joins the Knights Errant, his blog will be worth visiting. So take a moment to say hello. :)

Fifth Coaching Session
Coach IM looked at my games and it turns out my tiny repertoire was enough to get an opening advantage in every game. Calculation errors by me and/or my opponents decided three of the games, and strategy decided the fourth.

According to him, calculation and vision are still where I should be spending the majority of my time. Before our next meeting he gave me a couple positions to solve and wants me to be able to visualize the path of bishops in my mind.


Anonymous said...


A couple weeks ago I wrote to you about starting blindfold training. I've revised my approach a bit.

I've been doing two types of exercises. (1) I play a blindfold game against Ludo Chess Jester, a java applet that allows you to hide all the pieces. (The engine is pretty strong, for a freebie.) If I start to lose my grasp of a position, I do a scan, in which I visualize the pawn locations, and mentally attach to the piece locations their "lines of force." (I don't try to visualize figurines or diagram icons.) With practice each scan has become a bit quicker and easier. I can usually go 20 to 25 moves before I wear out or have to do something else. It's hard work, but surprisingly easier than I had anticipated. (2) I am working through a collection of endgame problems. I memorize each problem position, then try to solve it by staring only at an empty board, and writing out the analysis. When I am finished, I check the answer with the help of pieces.

Note that in both of these cases I am actually playing chess, rather than just doing some kind of abstract visualization exercise (mental knight tours, for example) that might not transfer so readily into chess skill.

I'm prepared to admit that this might already be improving my chess: while driving home this afternoon, I caught myself mentally analyzing a game by one of my students, and still made it home in one piece. I don't have aspirations toward blindfold driving, however.

Ray Cheng

Farbror the Guru said...

I need to give blindfold training a try! The idea to work on endgame problems in that way is simple and brilliant!

chesstiger said...

As long as we aren't world champions i guess we have to continue working on our game and especially the calculation which is close connected with boardvision.

Seems you have fun with your coach. Keep up the good work!

Will said...

I've read Rays comment three times and I am struck by a few things which I would like to ask.
In no particular order;
1) Do you think this is a substitute for memorising full games (as advocated in GM ram)?

2) Is this IM Ray Cheng?

3) How often do you try to fit this in?



Rolling Pawns said...

I think your coach is absolutely right. For me, at least, for sure "calculation and vision" decides the result of the most of my games. I will definitely try to play with this Jester, though not sure how long I will be able to make moves.

Anonymous said...


(1a) It's difficult for me to evaluate how effective the blindfold training is, since I have only done it for a couple weeks now. I'm still not sure whether the same amount of time and effort would be better spent on other methods of study. It seems that really strong players acquire blindfold ability without specifically training for it - which suggests that I might have the cart before the horse. But we'll see...

(1b) I'm acquainted with the notion that memorizing classic games somehow leads to improvement. I have never tried it myself. Accordingly I have no basis for comparing it to blindfold practice. Why don't you give it a whirl, and we'll compare notes?

(2) I'm not an IM, just another patzer trying to improve.

(3) One game a day, usually during my lunch break.


likesforests said...

"I can usually go 20 to 25 moves before I wear out or have to do something else."

Wow, it does seem like you've expanded your blindfold abilities really fast!

We're taking different approaches--you are starting out by visualizing games. I'm visualizing the colors of the board, and how can a knight or bishop move from square a to square b. You're right that your approach makes transference more likely--but I wonder if my approach will ultimately give me a deeper feel for the pieces. Or both will work out similarly? It should be interesting to compare notes after some time!

"I don't have aspirations toward blindfold driving, however."

Very fortunate. For everyone. :)

likesforests said...

chesstiger - He's definitely helping with my motivation... and keeping me from going too far off-track!

rolling pawns - I am calculating so much broader and deeper in my games. I am finally able to play G/10 without any major blunders. I feel like I'm really getting somewhere, even though I still have quite a ways to go.

chesstiger said...

What do you understand about calculating broader? Can you explain with an example?

Will said...

Your post really made me think quite deeply about the idea of blindfold chess and training. I have read quite a few psycology papers about learning and chess which seem to point to the fact that a large number of retained "chunks" allow chess masters to play blindfold. I have been trying to memorise full games, I have managed 14 so far from GM ram and have found that rather than getting harder it is getting easier to retain the games. However since I don't actually read and re-read the games deals (e.g. players date etc) this seems more difficult to keep in check.
I wonder whether you are correct that it is putting the cart before the horse. The important caveat that this must help your ability to visualise.
This is why I was so struck by your post.

Please accept my apologies for asking if you were an IM, I had heard of IM Ray Cheng (Practical chess exercises).

Anonymous said...


Seems we have similar interests.

I admit I am the author of Practical Chess Exercises, but I don't resemble an IM in any way.


Liquid Egg Product said...

Maybe someone in your family could adopt me so I have an excuse the humble cliffside retreat, too. ;)

John aka Endgame Clothing said...

Did you pay for this humble cliffside retreat with prize money from various chess tournaments?

likesforests said...

LEP, John - Hehe. Believe it or not, those photos are really where I visited, and it only ran $63/night for two beds; the cost for my wife, daughter, and I was $31. Less than my prize winnings! I think the cheap rates are because it's technically 'winter' here, although in California terms that's 70 degrees with sun and no clouds. Gotta love it.

likesforests said...

chesstiger - I simply mean each move I calculate more forcing moves than I used to, which have translated to fewer blunders and fewer surprises. It also has meant more time/move, but that's finally starting to decrease. That's what I mean when I say I can now play a reasonable G/10. I'm also making fewer calculation errors: I usually know how deep to go, can keep track of the material count, and can avoid phantom pieces.

In this interesting French Tarrasch game, Seirawan writes, "A quick calculation of:
25...Kxh6? 26.Ne5! fxe5 27.Rh3+ Kg7 28.Rxh7+ Kf8 29.Rxf7+ Kxf7
30.Qh7+ Kf8 31.Rxe5, convinced me that White would have a winning

It's something you probably take for granted, but now I can visualize this! A couple months ago I would've had to have set this up on a board.

Anonymous said...

"I'm coaching a 700 USCF who loves chess and has been studying and playing for over a decade without the rating points to show for it."

Sounds like one of the knights errant. Actually it sounds like all of them.

likesforests said...

Silly troll. My rating's more than twice that, and the knights errant includes at least one player over 2000. A strong tactical foundation is one of the most important areas for a chess player to work on, upto Class B at least.

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