Friday, July 27, 2007

Chess and the "80/20 Principle"

Blue Devil Knight's excellent post Lessons from blitz (do read the whole thing) really struck a chord because I happen to be reading a book right now called The 80/20 Principle (I've only read the Introduction thus far, but I already had some knowledge of where the author is going).

The gist of the 80/20 Principle is that 20 percent of your efforts produce 80 percent of your results, 20 percent of your customers produce 80 percent of your profits, etc. An Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, originally formulated the principle when he observed that across many countries it always seemed that 20 percent of the people had 80 percent of the wealth.

What has this to do with chess (you may be asking by now)?


From BDK's post:

Ninety percent of the games were decided by tactical blunders. The following plots the proportion of tactical errors, sorted by type, culled from looking over about 60 of the games:

(BDK is a scientist and we're lucky enough to get handy visual pointers like this).


Going through the errors also revealed a very interesting property of tactical opportunities. There were hardly any complex combinations available in any of the games. Perhaps in 3% of the games, I missed four-or-more move combinations. Most realistic combinations are two or three move, typically one move. This is an extremely useful fact, and should be impressed into the minds of all beginners. When I first started playing chess, I looked at the board as a structure with infinite tactical possibilities that were well out of my reach, I would sit and search for complicated N-move combinations, wrongly believing that they must be there, but that I was just too stupid to see them. My post-mortem showed me how naive my thinking was, and this is liberating.

The law of short combinations also makes sense from an analytical point of view (and could probably be proven mathematically): the longer the imagined combination, the more likely it is that the opponent will have defensive resources, will have in-between moves that are hard to see, the more likely it is that you are simply missing an obvious weakness in your attack or somehow miscalculating the combination.

There are a lot more interesting and useful conclusions he makes from the study of these blitz games, and I would say they apply to slow chess as well, particularly games that are not master v. master (I think that covers almost all the readers of this blog). Again, read his whole post.

Now let us relate all this to the 80/20 Principle, which has been found so applicable in so many different fields. Synthesizing the experiences and writings of Michael de la Maza, Dan Heisman, GM Ziatdinov and others (see Temposchlucker, dk/transformation), it looks to me like there is conclusive evidence that 80 percent of one's study time (until one has reached a rating of perhaps 2000) ought to be used on studying, absorbing and putting basic tactics into Long Term Memory, where these patterns are "at your fingertips" so to speak. The majority using your own games as examples, going over the decisive position numerous times until you see the position and BAM! the right move jumps out at you. The rest of the 80 percent, tactics books, CTS, CT-Art, etc. About 20 percent of study time to be used on openings, endings and master games.

Hey, I realize that some of you already were thinking and doing this, or close to it, but some of us take awhile to learn what's good for us. This will be my study breakdown from here forward.


transformation said...

and, when you play blitz or bullet, this means playing a LOT of it, then look at it afterwards, so that you compress large amounts of experience in play in a shorter space.

you dont have to do heavy training all the time, in this case, heavy PLAY as training. but, when you do, fifteen games a week is not enough.

most of all, bullet cum blitz is a way to get over the fear or aborance of lossing. you learn to take loses, come back, and fight it back for a win. we rarely play once, but often three times, sometimes five, six, or four, etc.

bullet or blitz is the final exam to lots of tactics. but after lots of tactics, we must just play. not a game here, or a game there, but every day, in quantity. bang, bang, bang. you bang it out.

bullet and blitz tests true chess knowledge, since in the prior especially at 0/4, there is little time to calculate, then, when we do, as we must at odd or key junctures, we must do it fast, with little or no time to doublecheck it.

which leads to: seeing if your board feeling is correct, and ability to see large patterns, key squares, key weaknesses very quickly.

yes Pareto. i talk about him all the time.

but this does not mean playing less, it means WHEN we do play, playing full on, to be 80% into our play.

i play chess 20% of the year, but i get 80% from it when i do!

warmest, dk

Blue Devil Knight said...

Many thanks for the positive mention.
This 80-20 principle is fascinating.

But doesn't it mean I can work 20% as hard and still improve pretty much the same? ;)

Loomis said...

Even better, put in just 4% of the time and effort you're putting in now and still get nearly 2/3rds the same benefit.

Eric Shoemaker said...

Hi Robert, this is an interesting idea, all the more so since most of us have demands on our time, which do not always allow for more chess study.


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transformation said...

spam. monetize eyeballs.