Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Art Of Calculation
Positional play is good. It might give one an enormous advantage, and the only thing left is whether one can break through. However, it's in moments like those, when one is poised to make the most committing move of the game that one has to calculate. As deep and as wide as allowed under ones ability. To see all the angles so to speak. To prove if that move is really advantageous or not.

To give a relatively simple example, take this position from one of my games

White to move: Can I take the pawn?

I give this only as an example, but the basic idea remains. Where I to take that pawn the sharpness of the game will increase dramatically for the next few moves. The next move can literally decide the game. The "winning" or "losing" move so to speak.

However, it's in positions like this where I find my chess downfall. You see, If I see material, I win material, immediately and without calculating all the possible consequences.

(This position took me about 20min of calculation. I stopped only when the notebook kicked the power save on. I was at the third variation and I still see other lines.. My opponent thought I had hanged up and asked "U there?")

To rectify this apparent flaw, I've been trying to train this. I mean, I've studied tactics, and I've studied positional play. But I never did study calculation deliberately before. It just kinda grew when I was doing the circles (So do the circles already. Your muscles will grow too I tell you). Alas, I went on a long layoff and it shrunk again. Not wanting to redo the circles just to train my calculating powers, I am instead training via playing long games and striving to see as far as I could each game. Then reviewing the critical positions and spending as much time as needed to see all the variations.

Some of the more important findings I gathered is:

1. At this stage, 2moves deep is the furthest I can see the clearest. Then it grows ever fuzzier. I start forgetting the placement of a pieces. The residual memories gets stronger. Goal: Advance this 1move deeper.

Before you name me weakling for seeing only two pathetic moves deep, note the operative word here is "Clear". I can move, say a knight 10moves ahead easily. I see the knight sure, but the positions of the other pieces are another matter.

"Its not the pieces I'm moving I'm having trouble with. Its the other pieces that bothers me"

If this seems just semantics, I think it's better understood by asking these questions. If I move the knight 10moves ahead, and see that it finally lands on a square that forks the king and the queen, will I do it? Yes, of course. But what if I forgot a pawn was there to capture the knight? Would I still do it? If I forgot, to my regret - yes of course. Big difference = Big Mistake.

As they say - There is seeing and there is seeing.

2. I move the pieces in my head too fast. When I was calculating, I was going through the variations lightning fast. Like in 5seconds I will go through something like Nxe4 Re8, f4 Ne8, Bg4 Qc2, Bxd8 Rxe8. But of course, somewhere along the way my opponent will make a totally different move that throws a monkey wrench on that pretty line. Going so fast, one is susceptible to miss something.

So now, remembering my name is not Fritz, I am trying to take it one move at a time. That is, Move a piece, Stop, Look around. Move a piece, Stop, Look around. This is really slow, almost like playing the actual game in my head. But I am willing to trade speed for greater accuracy.

"It is better to see all the possible immediate 2-3moves, than to see one variation 10moves deep and miss something."

Actually, I find this one of the beautiful parts of chess. Like a Jedi-master that sees the future and acts accordingly. And all those movies containing chess players, what do they have in common? They portray the chess master as this invincible person because he has predicted "all" the moves beforehand.

If I am truly a chess player, then I want to be able to say "I have predicted all your moves, prepare to die".

Otherwise, I'll just be another Tom, Dick, And Harry. And as any Russian school boy knows - that's to be avoided like the plague (Apologies to anyone named Tom, Dick, or Harry).

3. Stepping Stones - I've established that calculation is slow. But since the tree of variations can really grow to massive levels. If I were to start from the top for each line, I'd lose on time. So I started trying to use the stepping stone technique. That is, I fix an intermediate position in my head, and start from that instead of from move 1. This saves some time somewhat.

"Fix an intermediate position in my head, and use that as a starting point"

However at this point, 2moves deep is the clearest line so the effectiveness of this is hampered badly. I'm hoping that if I improve on point 1, this will improve also.

Well, these are the things I've been doing lately to better my chess. I've not been sleeping lately because of all those long games I've been playing, so I hope this losing streak ends soon. Otherwise my eyes are gonna pop out from their sockets, and I'll have a nervous breakdown from drinking too much coffee.

Time will tell if this path I've chosen is the correct one. Calculating my way to victory seems like making it harder than it has to be. But to someone who has completed the circles "its a piece of cake" :)

Besides I always did like doing difficult things.

Now excuse me while I go stock up on lattes.

posted by Nezha at 9:41 PM | Permalink |


  • At 6:23 AM, Blogger Temposchlucker

    I have gone the same road. Every tournament I came home with bad results I said to myself, if I only could calculate better then I would have crushed them. I have tried the ultimate to improve my calculation skills. And I dare to say I'm not too bad at it. But without the expected results. So my conclusion is that the human mind isn't shaped for error free deep tactical calculation in chess.

    That's why I think it is reasonable to make an effort to get a better starting point. With more active pieces it is easier to start a tactic than with passive pieces.

    That's why this position is so difficult to calculate. Your bishops do nothing, the f-rook does nothing, the knight is active but not from a good home. If you grab the pawn, you unleash his bishops, queen and rook. Is it worth it? Difficult to calculate.

    But if you build a better starting point first, with more active pieces, things become simpler and the tactics become stronger.

    Which could mean you had to avoid this position in the first place.
    Of course, the computer says you can take the pawn. But then again, you are no computer.

  • At 11:02 AM, Blogger Blue Devil Knight

    This is a great post. You've really been on a roll lately!

    I've been struggling with the same thing after my awful tournament performance. Please let us know what works best for you once you find it.

    Have you tried any of the visualization training programs I mentioned previously (at this post)?

  • At 6:08 PM, Blogger Nezha

    > Have you tried any of the visualization training programs I mentioned previousl

    Not really. I barely have time to play games. So the only thing I did was to train while playing. That might not be conducive to winning, but at least i'm playing.

  • At 6:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

    id be pretty happy taking the pawn with just the variation nxd6 rd8 nf5 and an intuitive feel for the position.
    Nxe7 is a very powerful move it takes a piece with check. The bishop on e7 is undefended and has no destructive desperado moves.

    Many regards mark (aka pollock on fics

  • At 6:50 AM, Blogger Nezha

    To mark:
    you are right. I didnt see that variation. hmm..

    btw:I'll add you to my notify list

  • At 8:47 AM, Blogger Blue Devil Knight

    Practicing during games is a very good idea. Perhaps I should work on that on the key moves that require a deep think (which for me is pretty much every move after move 8).

    Have you read Tisdall's book? He uses some of the language you are using, and discusses visualization. At least, this is what I understand at amazon's blurb, as I ordered it from those wankers three months ago and it still hasn't arrived.

  • At 7:36 AM, Blogger Nezha

    > Practicing during games is a very good idea

    If you are concerned about time trouble, then you can do it too after the game. That is immediately after the game, go back to the position requiring the think, then calculate all the lines. Very effective training tool.

    Yeah I took it from tisdall's book, but havent read it though. I just got the idea from the book reviews.

  • At 1:52 AM, Blogger King of the Spill

    Great post! Debugging those fuzzy spots is where it's at.

    Calculation does seem to be one of those things that another "Nezhmetdinov" is famous for.

  • At 7:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    I'm several months late posting this comment It is April 11 2007 so I suppose no one is going to see it. Dissappointing that Nezha never stated what move he made.

    Nxd6 A(or F)Rd8,
    e5 Ne8,
    Bb5 Qc7,
    Nxe8 seems playable.

    Starting over
    Nxd6 A(or F)Rd8,
    e5 Nd7,
    Bb5 Qc7
    Qc3 or Bxd7

    Starting over
    Nxd6 A(or F)Rd8,
    e5 Bxd6
    exd6 Ne8
    (exf6 Bxh7+ loses the queen)
    Bf4 looks playable

    Starting over
    Nxd6 A(or F)Rd8,
    Nf5 Rxd2
    Nxe7+ Kmoves
    Nxc6 Rxe2
    Ne5 Rxc2 maybe a bit better for white but other variations maintain the pawn while this one gives it back

    White appear to have the advantage in the diagrammed position and the worst that comes from the capture is the pawn will have to be returned

    "If you grab the pawn, you unleash his bishops, queen and rook. Is it worth it? Difficult to calculate."

    Yes the the pawn is worth it. It weaken the defense of c5 and removes a peice from defending the center. The d6 occupation clogs up black game whether it is the knight on it or white e pawn if it gets captured and the d file is opened and is currently controlled by white.

    Marcellus Wallace.