Monday, March 05, 2007

Chess and psycho-epistemology

I played chess actively for a couple of years some years ago, and now I’m doing some playing again.

I’m think I’m going to make a systematic attempt at getting better, while at the same time not spend too much time on it (the last part is important -- it’s easy to start to obsess about chess and just play "one more game" etc.)

The question is how. How do you get better at chess? (Specifically faster games - blitz - played on the net.) Well, what I’m thinking at the moment, and which usually isn’t being taught, is a systematic way of thinking. I often found myself loosing after allowing something to happen which I *should* have seen, and *would* if I just had taken 1-2 seconds to specifically look for it. So why didn’t I? It didn’t occur to me, because I lack a systematic way of thinking (of course, a really good chess player would have seen it without even trying, but...). My thinking is rather random and chaotic. Not completely random of course, but directed by intuition and what happens to get my attention on the board. Those are not unimportant of course, and any systematic way of thinking must leave room for letting intuition be the guide.

That’s one important challenge: to not make the system to rigid or too extensive. For example, you can’t make a list of 25 things to go through in every position (e.g. "are there any open lines I can use?", "what’s the weakest point in the enemy camp?" etc), that would be very inefficient and very boring. And the fact that it is 25 things indicates that it is a system that is too specific (and too disorganized). By contrast, one simple three-step rule I saw the other day is a pretty good one: check all checks, captures and threats, in that order. That’s a simple (and just a small part of what I'm looking for) but efficient rule. In some positions you’re done in a few seconds, in others you may find interesting lines to think about for a long time. It sounds basic, but many, including some very good players, don’t follow that advice. They can miss a nice queen sacrifice because they didn’t actually look at every check. (Using the queen to take a pawn protected by another pawn is a kind of move that’s easy to discard mentally as a bad move, thusly it’s easy to not even consider that check... even though you would have seen the value of it immediately if you just had examined it.)

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