Thursday, October 05, 2006

Saying What is NOT being said: simple, middle, or complex

[what follows was written in late July of 06 and was published on 07oct2006, and redated here temporarily to 05oct2007; as i said then: "I needed time to think about it, before editing. here it is...]

I have been reflecting and thinking for weeks. Although I tend to post a lot or impromptu, this post is one that I have chewed on for weeks, figuring out what to say and how to say it—even in things as different as during my short drive to work, after writing my blog, while working at my job stacking tile or moving carpet, after chess tactical server exercises, the works… so pretty darn intentionally.

This is an open post to temposchlucker.

Tempo, you are the king here, no pun intended. Nor need anyone try to supplant your position as top dog here, as you are obviously not only really smart, work hard concretely at your chess (anyone doubt this, all they need do is just go to CTS, go to “Tacticians”, and rank the “Tries” or RD--while this coefficient there indicates how much your rating is modified for any correct or incorrect answer. The lower it is, the less volatile your rating will be either way. But what it really indicates is effort in the last week, since it dissipates each day if a user remains inactive), post really great stuff, and help connect lots of us here. You are also kind and generous in being available offline in offering help when help is asked for. Thank you.

But having said all that, and this is in no way to disrespect you or your excellent work, I keep asking myself what is missing or what is not being said? The one time my brother (he has worked at a Director level for big systems integrators along the lines of IBM, EDS, etc. for 18 years, often speaking at big Comdex type conferences along side Microsoft, Oracle, Peoplesoft, SAP, etc.) was quoted in the Wall Street Journal, they asked him what he thought about xyz event? “Everyone wants to notice who is here; I want to know who is NOT here”. He is a level headed guy. I always remembered that.

So fast forward, to our Blogger and blogspot. We cannot really say a lot about who is not here, so instead get to ask what is not here, or, if not here, her to a lesser extent:

We all want to get better--better at chess. For many of us westerners, it goes back to the Faustian myth of effort. This deep effort goes through the core of our culture, all well chronicled by philosophers of history, such as Oswald Spengler (and also Arnold Toynbee and Ferdinand Braudel), who’s Decline of the West was much trumped up by mythographer Joseph Campbell in his Masks of God series. China and Japan also has this same obsession with effort, unpinned by Buddhism, Zen, Bushido, and Confucianism. But this is an effort in a different way. I can suggest ways this other stream differs, but not the place here—best left to others.

We have this idea that if we do more, somehow we will always be more. Even I have this bias. It is how we are wired. But there are parts of chess, and of course parts of life, where activity or lots of movement is exactly the wrong way. If not wrong way, let’s put it as “less than ideal".

Jacob Aagaard in his wonderful Excelling at Chess talks about how teacher and great trainer Mark Dvoretsky who recommends not only learning some 40 key endings, but rather than learn specific endings by rote or by heart as we say, he instead recommended the deep understanding of how a few but thematic positions or types of endings operated. The idea is not to flood the mind with hundreds of exceptions, but to SIT with only a few positions YET really embrace their concepts.

In network theory, or systems theory, three items have three relationships; four points have six relationships; five, ten relationships:

(3) 1+2=3
(4) 1+2+3=6
(5) 1+2+3+4=10
(6) 1+2+3+4+5=15
(7) 1 ... +6=21
(8) 1 ... +7=28 ... and so on. the idea is that as we add one more thing, we do not have a linear accumulation, but a system increase of complexity--i.e. more stuff to communicate with other stuff, just to do what was accomplished more simply at another level of preceding order, only exponentially increasing. This is exactly why large 'all play all' GM tournements are so hard to host, and in the modern era why long tournements like St. Petersburg 1914 etc, are so rare if not unheard. Hence the FIDE lotery and accelerated knockout or giant swisses.

But now the brain. The mind. All those exercises at a certain point might have deminishing returns. But only AFTER doing lots of them first. Now there is the catch!

Picasso could shift over to the abstract genre precisely because he had learned as a boy to drawn like classic photo-realistic master Ingres. Wittgenstein could throw out Hume and Kant because he had Russell who had ultra cogent J.S. Mill. Tal could throw out correctness because he had his highness, mighty Botvinnik to stand on.

This is why large mega-civilizations ultimatley collapse: grid-lock. This is why large fast growing companies like Microsoft and Cisco must become in the long run, slow stable growers with massive overhead, facilities, staff, in the pursuit of reduced risk--i.e. earnings stability and dependability. And this is maybe even why Kraminik began to do more to preserve his title than play best, creative chess (similarly Fischer who per the Kasparov MGP book viewed his supremacy as at risk after seeing the burgeoning if not more prepared Karpov).

* * *

I agree with you. Lots of effort is needed. But not all part of chess are solved that way--so much talk by everyone—you, me, all of us—about more problems, more time, more intensity. But quietly sitting with a board, looking at simple positions and asking, “how is this won?” I guess this is a lot more like GM-Ram than CTS, TASC, CT Art 3.0, Renko, Polgar’ brick, or even 1001 Sacrifices and Combinations or 3000 blitz games on the web.

Further along side the obvious mention of Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual (or Mueller’s Fundamental Chess Endings), we could just as easily mention his School of Chess Excellence 2: Tactics, or School of Chess Excellence 3: Strategy. There he gives exercise that you can spend hours on or days. Not 10,000 problems, or 50 problems, maybe not even ten--but one chess problem. You know all this already, but I believe that this bears mentioning here. Or take Agur’s 'Bobby Fischer’s Approach to Chess' (recommended by Jonathan Tisdall in Improve Your Chess Now. How many months might a person tracing the connectivity through all those related positions?--real chess.

And lastly, Shereshevsky in his Endgame Strategy book covers these deep, but overtly simple positions, but more like middle game to endgame transitions. In your wonderful post of Wednesday June 28th, 2006, titled “What Do you do with Your Analysis”, you touch on this. I say, may god have me do more work like this!

In business, marginal analysis is key to understanding how companies improve and distinguishing where they split. Not to upset any liberals, but the beauty of business is that, like chess you always get a report card. And the same can be said of major sports. Or even politics…

In business you get to see how much money you make. This is the good part (the bad part of course is that often times companies and/or business owners who own and control capital sacrifices the quality of lives of others in the single minded pursuit of maximal profits. Again, others elsewhere write of this).

Along with this line about effort, there is a person, there is a life. If we work at least eight hours, as we mainly do in the west if not much more in other countries (most notably east Asia where going home early is de rigor, or verboten. Where are you going, as they cast their glance), and travel on average 1.25 hours, then a lunch, then getting out the door and in the door or making lunch or other such “prep”, we easily use 11 hours. The 6 or 8 of sleep. We read our email, call a friend or take out the recycled waste… Then our loved ones… so there is 18 hours work and sleep, travel or mobilization, then 2 to 4 for relational stuff, eating or replenishment, entertainment, exercise. It is not my purpose here to argue 'time savers' such as living close to work, or cycling, or organic food. Just the raw number. So now we add the 11, then the 7, then the 3 and that’s 21 hours.

In business, if you are an airline and your gross margins are 3.5%, and jet fuel goes up, causing this go to up, say for example 20%, then now your overhead or SG&A (sales, general, and administrative or overhead) is now 4.2%. If on the gross margin, you only make 5.0%, your net is now 0.8, not 1.5% or a decrease of 46.6%. So a 0.7% net increase of costs in a key area (20% of 3.5%) is a huge impact. If fuel falls 20%, now 4.2% gross less 0.7% is a lot of “leverage”: You planned for 4.2, and now get a 16.67% decrease in a key cost, and go from 0.8 margin to 1.5% margin, or an 87.5% increase in profit. All this from 0.7% of something you can or cannot control.

If we study chess two to three hours a day, or play for 1.5 hours and blog for 30 minutes, this is a lifestyle choice. This is a lot more than tactical training or chess improvement, it is a way of being. “Show me what a man eats and who he associates with, and I will tell you who they are”, or however the saying goes.

We occupy ourselves, while on earth, and, it seems to me there is a lot more going on here than tactical calculation, cognition, learning, or long term memory, competition, or communities of knowledge. Chess, it seems to me is much more than that, and is a tool to activate or affect parts of the brain, and while living in life with chess, surely not doing many other things!

Old Turkey, F in School to A in Life!

In chess, we get to practice the doing of what we do somewhere else, and, it seems to me, only if these other things are sound is this chess viable. This is the tragedy of the great genius of Bobby Fischer. He won all of chess and lost nearly all of everything else: his freedom, his peace of mind, his money, his renown in a way, his proximity to others, lost good sportsmanship, lost his comfort and lost his way.

[I re-read this, and this is most of it; I will add more in the days ahead as I clarify what is missing in discussing what is missing! :)]



Blogger Temposchlucker said...

Beatiful spoken. You have a vivid way of writing. But you have to realize that English is not my native language. So I'm afraid I'm missing a lot of subtleties in your post. Feel free to say things straight to me, I appreciate that.

Sat Oct 07, 05:03:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Loomis said...


A lot of interesting thoughts here, I'd like to comment on just a couple of them.

Firstly, you give the example of how many connections between 3, 4, 5 and more nodes. In general, if there are n nodes, there are n*(n-1)/2 connections. So, the growth here is as n^2 which is polynomial, not exponential. Though this technical point does not really impact your message.

You talked somewhat about how perhaps doing many many problems at many many repititions isn't always superior to deep analysis of important positions. How right you are! Of course, both are important. Dan Heisman recommends what he calls "Stoyko exercises" (I believe suggested or invented by a fellow named Stoyko).

Try googling, Heisman Stoyko exercise. I think you will find this quite interesting in terms of an in-depth study of a single position.

Sun Oct 08, 10:44:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous Samurai Pawn said...

On a completely different note: David, I don't know if I might have misunderstood some of our earlier communication, but do you believe I'm german?


Sun Oct 08, 10:45:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Bungerting Baloner said...

Here is my Steve Stoyko story, as, many, many years ago, Steve sometimes played at a chess club in New Jersey which, as a teen, I went to on I believe Wednesday nights. Steve had just polished off one of the club's top players when I arrived one evening. The fellow looked at me as I arrived and said to Steve, "Why don't you play a game with him?" Steve sized me up and said, "I think he should play someone else." I think Steve has become more gracious with time and maturity (he was I think barely in his 20s then), but I can't deny that playing Steve would have not been good use of Steve's time.

Sun Oct 08, 03:24:00 PM PDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations, dk, on your highest personal rating on CTS! Perhaps I'll give your percentage approach a try using a new handle. However, I doubt that I will have this much stamina. Nice to see that it seems to pays off! - collini

Mon Oct 09, 06:58:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Footnotes, please.


Mon Oct 09, 03:22:00 PM PDT  
Blogger takchess said...

When you talked about the endgame I immediately thought of gm ram.
The building blocks of knowledge. Are you advocating long reflection on fewer positionssuch as stoyko diagrams. Good choice of pictures . More stones and happy smiling people 8)

Mon Oct 09, 08:57:00 PM PDT  
Blogger transformation said...

collini, while at CTS your elo is very high at 1722--or the 6.8% of all users--at 4,412 tries, and while you also aptly indicate that your percentage is only 65.3%, may i suggest you keep going on this id or user name anyway? for the following reasons:

when you do the next 7,588 @ 89%, you will have 6,753 success to add to your already 2,881, or 9,634 successes for 12,000 tries, or 80.3% or more.

while it is indeed appealing to start over, as you call it, and 'retool' for 85 or 90% and get that satisfaction hopefully, and thus practice far closer to Heisenmanian 'real chess' (cf., or phillytudor icc), when you do the next 8,000 after that at 90%, then your average for 20,000 will be more like 84.2%, and you will have big tries with accompanying high percentile.

if you start over now, after 4,000 tries, you will not be back to where you are now in tries. when you do the next 4,000, you will be inches or centimeters from 10k.

imagine how good you will feel to have 10,000. we all eventually come to the day when we wish we did it different. but we see that if we shift our averages from our current place, what a good fight we will have to get there, or what russian armeian philosopher George Gurdjieff called 'inner struggle'.


ps, my check indicates that there is a new user from Germany called coreolarus, 1602 elo 37 tries, at 100%. if you know him, would you mind suggesting he use this as a lesser test id for after he warms up as collini?

Tue Oct 10, 05:09:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your kind advice, dk - you really seem to be quite a nice person!

But I think that, other than you, I might feel a little ambivalent to see my number of tries on CTS growing. After all, we don't know if all this is not almost entirely a waste of time. We REALLY don't have a clue what can or cannot be achieved as an adult in chess. So, speaking of ways of self-stimulation, I guess it might have a good effect not to see such a great number of problems accumulated on your account. This high number might come back to haunt you bitterly one day, if you don't live up to your expectations. On the other hand, if you use more than one ID you still invest a lot of time (deliberately, I suppose), but the burden, subjectively, will not be so great in hindsight.

Also, I find the idea of using different handles (although CTS officially doesn't seem to approve of this) quite a nice opportunity to combine different approaches to using this fine server. You can try to maximize percentage with one handle, maximize rating with another, and even if you just want to fool around a bit it might still be more fun doing that with a seperate identity than by simply using the guest account. And, come on, even you would like to track your pure rating development as well, wouldn't you?

Concerning the percentage approach - I certainly realize that its big point is the close similarity to OTB thinking. As far as I can tell you must be completely right in finding this more effective as well as more intellectually satisfying. But there are drawbacks as well. If you allow the short time to pressure you, there is much more action in it, it will be more entertaining. Also, the responsibility involved in maximizing percentage is much greater since you can restore a fall in rating at any time while you will have to struggle for long to restore a fall in percentage. Thus, if you just look on the rating you're able to take it much more lightly at times. Anyway, that's how I see it.
- collini

Wed Oct 11, 06:04:00 AM PDT  
Blogger takchess said...

I am thinking of starting a GM-ram study group. one position one game a week to be posted in a blog and discussed. Interested?

Wed Oct 11, 11:58:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

takchess: GM-RAM is too advanced for me as I am only 1525 FICS and have yet to master basic openings, tactics, strategy, or endings.

A few 2100+ players said they believed his method could work, if they were willing to invest that much time and energy into their chess. Good luck with you studies!

Wed Oct 11, 01:41:00 PM PDT  
Blogger transformation said...

what follows is a copy of my personal note to samurai. ive not been at blogger for weeks.

but, fyi, if it makes any difference, this is my second post in maybe a month, only tempo a few days ago and now you! such is my regard for you, kind sir!!

[Chris, I broke a rib at work last week, and had to go to a hospital emergency room yesterday. I am 48 and while in very good shape physically, have had injuries since August… And now medication and a week off work, authorized by a doctor.

{i tried playing at ICC heavily sedated last night, unrated, and was amazed how well i played}

In short, I value your friendship and ability to talk with you here, and in no way are forgotten.

{more latter, please}

I got to problem 720 at CTArt, and now am playing at ICC every day after a long time away from live play and a long time doing 25,000 CTS, so now in a whole new angle or cycle of chess {in application, rather than exercise; I love CTA and it IS FOR ME, but totally appreciate what you say at your 100% fabulous blog. Your stuff is fantastic. I will read it all latter.}

How are you sir?


Tue Nov 14, 03:38:00 PM PST  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

Your own genuine posts are always much appreciated. If you copy and paste from yourself also:)

Sat Oct 06, 04:28:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Pawn Shaman said...

Inspiring post, I really enjoyed reading it. It reminds me of a fellow chessplayer who, in the midst of a complicated game, would say "I dont want to move any of my peices." And I would reply "neither do I." We would both stare at the board for a few minutes enjoying the complexities and then I would stare at him until he got uncomfortable and made a move. My point is that even though were all splayed out searching for the philosopher stone of chess learning, sometimes its best to take in what you have, keep the gratitude flowing and perhaps not even move. Atleast not until I force you to. Because we will be forced to move and we can only hope its in the right direction. Thanks for the comment a few days ago. I am currently on the lopsided end of the quality of life/progress balancing act. But things are going well.

Wed Oct 10, 07:59:00 PM PDT  
Blogger halito said...

It's probably a little late to join in this discussion, but I just found your fascinating post and wanted to add a few words.

To me, the quick CTS-style problems and the Stoyko exercise have different end-goals, and both are valuable. In the case of the quick tactics problems, the goal is rapid pattern recognition--similar to how language teachers use drills to develop fluency. Through repetition, certain patterns become ingrained in the mind (smothered mate, epaulette mate, and so on, to put it into chess terms), so that when they appear over the board, a whole sequence of moves can appear as one "chunk" of information--requiring far less processing power in the brain.

The Stoyko exercise, on the other hand, is all about developing thinking habits-specifically, your ability to calculate complex positions. How do you establish your candidate moves, how many layers deep do you examine the tree, what does the position look like when you visualize it several moves in (evaluation is an important component of this exercise)? Practically speaking, it's usually not a good idea to over-analyze during tournament play (time trouble looms, after all), but you do need to have the ABILITY to calculate variations deeply--which is what the Stoyko exercise develops.

So from the perspective of chess training, which is better? BOTH! In physical training, both aerobic and anaerobic exercises are necessary. In chess, both the muscle strength (anaerobic?) that comes from deep calculation, and the rapid pattern recognition (aerobic?) that allows you to break information into smaller chunks, lead to a fit and trim game!

PS: About me: Masters in Education, USCF 1970, Buddhist, former Seattle-ite who used to live in Korea--so we definitely have some common interests!

Thanks for the blog--I'll be bookmarking you.

Tue Oct 23, 09:28:00 AM PDT  

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