Monday, April 02, 2007

Chess -- positional play, plans and such

Okay, enough about tactic, and more about strategy and position. Some positions contain no tactics; there's no attack going on, and no one might even have the initiative. No good checks, captures or threats are worth considering, so the CCT-rule isn't of any help at all. What do you do here? You can't just move your king back and forth waiting for tactics to consider. What you need to do is to find moves that make you position better. If you are more successful at this than your opponent, soon enough there will be tactics available. The better a players position is, the better the chances of having decisive tactics at his disposal.

How do you achieve this, getting a better position? How do you find the right moves? You need to know what you want to get done. You need purpose and a plan. The purpose being what you want to achieve and the plan how to get there. (Funnily enough, some, even many, chess players speak only of plan and mean both 'purpose' and 'plan'. However, that's misuse of language, no?)

And when it comes to these, I share the views of Michael de la Maza, quoting from his "400 Points in 400 days" article:

I implement very simple plans (as opposed to Silman, Kotov, and Pachman-like plans) that improve the probability that there will be a tactical shot. These plans include:

1. Improve the mobility of the pieces.
2. Prevent the opponent from castling.
3. Trade of pawns.
4. Keep the queen on the board.

Indeed, I certainly agree with the idea of simple plans. This is especially true for a player below the strength of an expert, since the situation on the board quickly changes -- mistakes (both positional and tactical), often serious ones, are made in every game, and when this happens you often have to abandon whatever plan and take advantage of the mistake. Also, at a non-expert level, you just can't judge the position well enough to come up with a good complex, long plan. (Even if the opponent makes no mistakes, you don't know what he is going to do and how it affects your long plan.) It's just pretentious trying. And you can get very far with simple plans. Read what Kramnik has to say about Karpov:

Probably, he did not have a sufficiently deep stratetic thread of his play. Karpov is a chess player of a great number of short, two to three move combinations: he transferred his knight, seized the space, weakened a pawn. In my view, he was not a strategic player by nature.

(From here)

And btw, Kramnik has many good things to say about Karpov, so it's not that he has anything against him. For example the following (from the same article): "He is a versatile chess player, a good tactician who brilliantly calculates lines and positionally very strong." and "Yes, he is definitely a great player."

If short plans are good enough for Karpov, they're good enough for me.

Anyway, the big question is of course: how do you know what plan to make? It annoys me to no end that I don't have a systematic way to decide that, and that's something I have to come up with. Btw, remember that I only play blitz, so everything I say is in that context... and systematic way of thinking that I come up with has to be really quick and efficient -- I have only seconds, but it is remarkable how much you can 'see' quickly in a position if you just ask yourself the right questions (and how many obvious things you don't see without those questions), and it's finding these questions (and integrate them into my thinking so they occur automatically) and their order that is my task.



Blue Devil Knight said...

MDLM is definitely not a good source of detailed advice on playing with a plan. I think he has come up with a cool tactical training regime, and convinced me that a thought process is really important (mine is very simple, and I am in the process of writing it up into a longish document).

I noticed you are an objectivist. That's interesting: I flitered with the Randians in college but I never could get my head around their seemingly old-school notion of free will, given their naturalistic perspective. Also, what is 'GTD'?

Nice blog, by the way! I'll post about it soon. It is always fun and interesting to see others' perspective on the de la Maza cult.

XY said...

I expect having to make up my own system on how to come up with a plan. :)

Ayn Rand rejects many of the old dichotomies in philosophy, so she's often hard to classify with the usual terminology, and may not always hold the position one might expect.

GTD is short for 'Getting Things Done', which is the name of a book by David Allen, and now also what his system usually is called. It's a personal productivity system, a system for time management and to keep track of your commitments, among other things. It's the by far best one I've seen. Actually I've described it in more detail in earlier blog posts, and there's lots of info on the net.

Thanks. I've found interesting stuff on your blog as well, and I intend to write about some of it.

Blue Devil Knight said...

So does she believe in contracausal free will? That is, if someone did X at time t, could they have done otherwise at time t if the physical world were the same at time t-delta (and let's ignore quantum, as randomness isn't freedom)?

(Err, if you have posted about this feel free to redirect to the relevant entry :)).

XY said...

Well, she would agree that the person in question could have chosen otherwise (although the range of possible choices in any given moment is probably very small), but she wouldn't describe it as contracausal.

According to Objectivism, free will is a type of causality, just as determinism is. Most people (including you, I presume), however, equate determinism and causality, so that anything that isn't determined isn't caused, i.e. it's causeless (which then means that it doesn't exist [or is completely random], because everything [except randomness] has a cause.... hence, we have no free will. Or so the argument goes.)

I guess I could ask you how you justify the premise the determinism is the only form of causality (assuming you hold that position, I'm only guessing), but I think I let this discussion rest for the time being, although I might blog about it in the future (actually, I'm putting it on my GTDish "to-blog-about"-list).

If you want to pursue the question further right away, you might want to pay a visit to "the forum for Ayn Rand fans", especially the subforum "facts->philosophy->metaphysics & epistemology" which has several threads on the topic of volition.

And btw, I've written a post on analysis, inspired by your recent post on the subject (which I mention). That will probably be the next post I publish, later today.

Blue Devil Knight said...

"how you justify the premise the determinism is the only form of causality"

I don't believe this, or even completely understand what it means (quantum mechanics seems to refute it).

My concern is more generally about reconciling naturalism and libertarian notions of freedom, the traditional notion where human freedom is outside of nature, outside of the laws that apply to everything else. If the Objectivists don't believe this, then there is no problem.

Look forward to your post on analysis.

Wahrheit said...

Hello xy,

I came upon your blog thanks to Blue Devil Knight's post and it's been a very enjoyable revelation! Chess, metaphysics and Getting Things Done all together. Excellent work.

I'm a great admirer of Ayn Rand and her works, and also a person who pursues success and excellence resources--yet I'd never run across David Allen and GTD before. Now I'm a subscriber over at his site, and look forward to learning much more.

I'm going to do a post and link to you on both my chess and non-chess blogs. Thanks for providing so much useful and thought-provoking commentary.

XY said...

Wahrheit, I've answered your post with an email. (Which you probably already know.)

BDK, Objectivism doesn't claim that the human mind is outside of any laws, but at the same time it's a unique phenomenon and as far as we know the only thing in the entire universe with a free will (just as earth contains the only known organisms in the universe.)

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