Saturday, December 09, 2006
The Zone

I have been thinking lately of planning. It is a very well known saying that a chess player must plan, and that a bad plan is better than having no plan at all. Various authors across the ages have even recommended a myriad of ways on how to do this. For example, let me give the well known "Sillman Technique":

Jeremy Silman:

1. Take note of the differences in the position (imbalances)
2. Determine which side of the board you wish to play on. You can only play on the side of the board where a favorable imbalance exists or the possibility of creating a favorable imbalance exists.
3. Find Candidate Moves. A Candidate move should always be directed at your positive imbalances unless you're being forced to play a purely defensive move.
4. Calculate Candidate Moves.

I havent read any of sillmans books, nor studied any of his games and yet im familiar with this technique of his, so i assume most chessplayer is too. And if not, im sure a lot of players have their very own unique list. A checklist to go through every move. I myself have created such a list once (I threw it out because i cant remember to go thru the list, and when i do i consumed an inordinate ammount of time)

Now i will not critizise this technique as he is a far better player than i am, and so perhaps i am not qualified to pass judgement on such matters. However, the question im now going to ask is this. During playing, do you really stop, then think about a position? Do you really go - "wait, wait, wait. before i proceed i have to go thru the imbalance" - or some such thing?

Because when i play chess, particularly a good tense game - i tend to go into a kind of "zone". This is the moment where the outside world is forgotten and you can hear your own thoughts.

Most of the time when i enter into this state, i have a good game. And if not, i tend to blunder material away. However, when in this zone concious thought is not done. I mean things tend to become almost a game of action and reaction. Outposts, lines, diagonals, i tend to not consider them "deliberately". I just do it. (Of course sometimes i dont - and this is why i think the circles was very good for me. The patterns was absorbed deeply that even in the zone its presence is felt. And that is why, i think learning ang re-learning the positional concepts are important so it too will exists in the zone.)

Anyway, the point is - in this state, you forget yourself and so you can't do any such thing as go through a list, or even plan. It becomes a "do or do not" proposition. All the knowledge that you gained up to that point is synthesized. The plan present itself to you or it does not so to speak. (Trying to break this and "think" is like your wife telling you she wants to go out and "think" in the middle of "it")

(Sidenote: Like in basketball. Basketball is one of those games where if you think too much your game just suffers. You just have to play. To let the game come to you as they say)

Anyway perhaps trying to get a clear head and trying to stop going into zones will be better for my chess. You know, like try to follow sillmans list or something (However, does somebody really follow this list? - just curious). But that zone is almost like crack its addicting. Taking it out of my games will make chess unpleasant i think.

Or perhaps its just endorphines?
posted by Nezha at 4:44 AM | Permalink |


  • At 6:42 AM, Blogger Temposchlucker

    Thinking is for the study room. During a game there is no time to think. Take for instance the position at my latest post. It will probably take me days to find out a clue. Only these kind of exercises can help me to do things faster during a game in the future. "Aha, I have seen such problem before!" I can say then.

  • At 12:05 PM, Blogger Blue Devil Knight

    Tempo, you always say you don't think, but you end up in time trouble...hmmm. What are you doing in your tournaments, flirting with your wife?

    Nezha: this is a great topic! I have a 'thought process' which I don't have much to say about, except that at first I didn't include a step that would let me get in that zone you talk about. So I added it as an explicit step (Step 1 is 'Allow pattern recognition to suggest candidate moves'). Without this step, the games were a lot less fun, and I didn't see as many tactics. Once I have viewed the board without any conscious thinking about what to do, and allowed moves to pop out at me, I then do some conscious evaluation of the position (e.g., look at checks, captures, tactical threats, pawn structure, mobility, and all that).

    Typically I end up with a couple of plans (e.g., weaken his kingside pawn structure) that suggest candidate moves.

    I find that if I don't then consciously think through consequences of candidate moves from the first two steps (pattern recognition and explicit board evaluation/planning), I end up making stupid blunders. If you do this evaluation of likely responses, then you are implicitly using a thought process. I think better players than me use a thought process that is implicit rather than conscious.

    This isn't always good. If Kramnik had an explicit blundercheck 'step', he would never have blown game 2.

    Silman's technique is best, it seems, for those middlegame positions where things are quiet and positional considerations dominate. It is not well-suited for tactical considerations. A couple of GMs (Soltis for instance) claim that there is a law of diminishing returns for tactical sight: tactics tend to pop out early when looking at a position, and the more you eyeball a position the less likely you are to see a tactic. This again suggests that you should only do a Silman-like positional evaluation after quickly letting your pattern recognition do its thing and letting tactics pop out. Typically, I'd rather have a pawn doubled than be a pawn down. Tactics are key, and subtle positional cues, while really important, almost always need to take a back seat to tactics.

    Rambling, I know. There are all these books on how to evaluate a position, but I wonder how much the GMs actually consciously think in terms of the different evaluation criteria.

    When I finish the circles, I am going to make a charge to really implement my thought process on every move (once I'm out of book). My hope is that it will become automatic and unconscious, which makes things much easier on the old noggin' and makes the game more fun.

  • At 7:11 PM, Blogger Nezha

    > Tempo, you always say you don't think, but you end up in time trouble...hmmm. What are you doing in your tournaments, flirting with your wife?

    hahaha, lol. But of course tempo thinks (i think). Its just that its in a "flow" like manner, and not concious, i.e. folliwing a list. This "flow" is hard to stop, i.e. the time trouble. Thats my analysis anyhow.

    > I have a 'thought process' which I don't have much to say about, except that at first I didn't include a step that would let me get in that zone you talk about. So I added it as an explicit step

    At first i didnt think you were serious with this statement. But re-reading it - you were serious arent you?!

  • At 12:16 AM, Blogger Blue Devil Knight

    I think the statement about not having much to say turned out to be a lie :O

    Adding a step to allow spontaneous unconscious processing to occur was key for me, but I don't consciously apply it: it is what I naturally do. Before applying the remaining steps I have to actually stop myself from only considering the popout pattern recognition moves, especially in more quiet positions where there aren't any obvious tactics.