Monday, March 19, 2007

Chess IV - The Tactical Inventory

So I’ve mentioned *the tactical inventory* a few times. Time to dig a little deeper.

Firstly, I want to place it in the wider context of chess theory. I place it between pure tactics and position. Pure tactics is calculation and maneuvers (these often have a name -- forks, skewers etc), and position is open lines and pawn formation and stuff. The tactical inventory positional aspects with a close connection to tactics. A major (*the* major?) example of this is undefended pieces. They are often suitable targets to attack. Another is a king on eigth/first row with no escape-route (which invites placing a rook or a queen at that row), and yet another is the enemy queen and king on the same diagonal. Notice the difference between these aspects and tactical maneuvers -- they are ’static’ qualities on the board while the maneuvers are... well, something you do. And often the maneuvers take advantage of precisely these aspects in the position that are identified in the tactical inventory.

I saw one page on the net using the names "theme" (for tactical maneuvers) and "motif" (for that positional aspect the maneuver is taking advantage of). However, this terminology seems both pretentious and arbitrary to me. But I do need a name for "that positional aspect the maneuver is taking advantage of". Well, maybe I can use the "motif" part? No, no. The word I’m looking for could be *constellation*. Which is more accurate and descriptive than "motif". So, you use tactical maneuvers to take advantage of a certain constellation. (It also occurred to me that "taking a tactical inventory" is to a large extent - or maybe completely - to identify weaknesses in the position.)

It is interesting to observe the tight connection between certain tactical constellations and what to *do* in the position, in contrast to what I’ve written about how it is not obvious how the identification of certain positional aspects leads toward finding a move. If the enemy has two undefended pieces, it is natural to look for ways to attack both at the same time. If the queen stands on the same line or row as the king, you wonder whether a rook do a skewer (or pin), and so on. Now, these are obvious examples of course, but bear in mind that these tactical constellations arise on and off through out the game, and the idea is to always be aware of them. Sometimes you can gain in more subtle ways than actually manage to pull of a double attack, for example moving somewhere where you *threaten* to make a double attack, forcing the opponent to defend.

Anyway, one of the things to automatize during a game is (during the opponents turn) to take a tactical inventory. To establish this habit one has to direct oneself explicitly again and again which the command "okay, let’s do a tactical inventory." And one needs to have automatized a (short) list of things to look for.

(It seems that "what’s the weaknesses of my enemy" is a better question than the imperative "let’s do a tactical inventory." Maybe that’s just a habit thing, but it’s also important to personalize the questions asked, so that they are psycho-epistemologically optimal)

The list:

1. Undefended pieces (and pawns?) (How about trapping a piece? A rook may not be undefended, but if you can take it with a knight or bishop that’s usually a gain even if it’s defended.)
2. Interesting lines, rows and diagonals (kings and queens on the same line/diagonal etc) (Or is this too close to purely positional analysis? It’s tricky to draw a line.)
3. Weak first/eight row (makes mating maneuvers possible). Or does this fall under "interesting rows"?
4. Pieces and pawns attacked once and defended once (they are basically undefended should they be attacked with one more piece).
5. Pieces performing more than one task (overworked pieces)
6. Pins.
7. Possible forks? (I don't know, I just feel that the above about lines and diagonals covers rooks and bishops, but I have nothing to cover knights.)

This list could (and should?) be longer. Or should it be shorter? Too long is bad. Am I supposed to go through every item repeatedly during a game? When? I don’t know, this is a damn tricky area. But I think I’m on the right track, and that what I’m doing here is the right way to improve.



briankaren said...

I had thoughts similar to your own on this topic. The most concise tactical inventory I found was to categorize them as 1. Geometric (constellations based on how the pieces are placedforks, pins, skewers), 2. Function (constellations based on stopping a piece from performing an important function i.e. removal of the guard, overworked piece, etc.) 3. Trapped piece - pieces that lack maneuverability.

You could add some extra constellations for endgames such as zugzwang and stalemate.

These ideas borrow heavily from Cecil Purdy and his excellent book 'The Search for Chess Perfection'. A book I think you would like.

XY said...

That sounds reasonable and interesting, though it was some time ago I thought about it and it's somewhat difficult to get in the right mind set at the moment.

You may be right about the book. Never heard of it, but if the library has it I might check it out (as I don't like owning books unless I really, really want them, which usually isn't the case with chess books.)

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