28 November 2017

Training quote of the day #12

From GM Walter Browne's The Stress of Chess...and its Infinite Finesse (end of Chapter 4):
Almost fifty years of success can't be an accident. Many of the same skills needed for chess are equally necessary at poker, like patience, pattern recognition, control, vision, intuition and timely aggression. In poker it is absolutely vital to outguess your adversaries and put yourself in their minds...
But chess is in a different category. There is in the struggle a subtle, sublimated aggression, revealed in the game by the players in a one-to-one confrontation. There is a uniquely complex beauty within the intricate moves that cannot be compared with poker.

26 November 2017

Learning from a Prodigy - the science behind Magnus Carlsen's success

"Learning from a Prodigy: The Science Behind the Feats of the Greatest Chess Player of All Time" may be slightly hyped (is Magnus Carlsen really the greatest of all time?); occasionally breathless in tone; and not fully cognizant of standard chess training procedures (e.g. lots of people of all skill levels use computer analysis).  But the other 95% of the article, which was composed for a UCSD-hosted course on learning, offers a number of good observations.

The primary methods covered are:
  • Chunking: Building Actionable Knowledge
  • Diffuse Mode: Learning Through Reveries
  • Deliberate Practice: Kick-Starting Our Brain
  • Interleaving: Switching It Up
  • Transfer: Solving Parallel Problems
  • Health: Building on Solid Foundations
My comments:

I would say that chunking is probably the most relevant to gaining chess knowledge and skill, since it's the fundamental process in building pattern recognition and the intuitive base for position assessment and decisionmaking.  We learn things like openings, typical middlegame strategies, and endgames in this manner.

On this blog I've emphasized deliberate practice (or effortful study) as the best way of making progress in training, which basically means taking on difficult tasks (or opponents) that push your boundaries and therefore make you learn, rather than repeating the same tasks over and over.

Physical training (health) is also fundamental to maximizing our chess performance, especially in tournaments where your personal energy management and focus is so important to maintain at the highest level possible.

The subjects of Diffuse Mode and Interleaving are useful in highlighting why you should switch up study topics and take periodic breaks to let your brain make the necessary connections (literally) to achieve the next level of understanding.

I'm not completely sold on the "Transfer" idea of directly improving chess as a skill via other activities, although it can't hurt to have some broader interests and practices that also stimulate your brain.

All in all, worth checking out in detail.

24 November 2017

"Analyze This" at chess^summit

Analyzing my own games has long been the centerpiece of my training program and it still is paying dividends, in terms of improving my play both conceptually and practically.  On a related note, I recently ran across the "Analyze This" post at the chess^summit site, which discusses the benefits of analyzing games, starting with a more basic view of the process.  They also highlight two things that are worth knowing about for all levels of improving players:
  • The simple way you can now use online resources for game analysis, with an illustrated example of copying and pasting a PGN game file into the Chess.com analysis board.  I think it's important to have your own database set up to store analysis and training references, which you can obtain for free with the Scid vs. PC software and (champion) Stockfish engine. That said, the ease of use of online tools is a welcome evolution. 
  • An offer by the site to do free game analysis, if you would like to solicit a more expert human take on your game.

19 November 2017

How far can you get in one month of training?


By now, the story of the "Month to Master" guy, Max Deutsch, playing Magnus Carlsen has drawn a lot of commentary, as can be seen at the above-linked ChessBase article (which also has the original Wall Street Journal video article link; it's an entertaining watch).

The mastery challenge is an interesting outgrowth and example of the "Personal Growth" movement, which like the older "Self-Help" category contains a lot of good ideas under its umbrella, but also a lot of puffery.  The idea of trying to challenge yourself exponentially rather than only incrementally is in fact one way to achieve personal breakthroughs; Max in fact did quite well at the other challenges, which were all realistically achievable skills (if not easy at all).  His success with them reflected the mechanism of effortful study, while the emphasis on constant learning is, in any case, a great brain health practice.

Naturally Max didn't even come close to beating Magnus, because chess is far too complex an activity/sport/art.  One parallel would be someone who took French in a classroom environment for a few years being asked to win a debate with a native-speaking Sorbonne philosophy professor; it's just not going to happen.  Similarly, an amateur tennis player is not going to suddenly raise their skill level in a month to beat Andy Murray.  This is one of the attractions of chess for me, as a matter of fact - it is infinitely deep and you will never stop learning on the path to mastery.