Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Chess Inputs, Filters and Results (Part I)

In my post on my last round game in the Reno Chess Club Ch. Qualifier I promised an exploration of "other factors in the final result of a chess game" and today we'll take a shot at this; in the meantime the excellent Phaedrus of Chess Vision has provided a post and chart that will be helpful, so perhaps you'll hit the link and review that before continuing...

Back already? Okay, first, I hope he doesn't mind my linking his very useful chart so that you can refer to it without jumping back and forth:

In the comments I suggested that it might be instructive to have the green boxes placed in between the "transfer" and "playing" boxes; as I said there:

[T]he green boxes (concentration, stamina and time management) almost act as a filter or "bottleneck" to showing the level of patterns, calculation and visualization (after transfer). So the green boxes might be placed in line with and after transfer; if they are all 100 percent "open" then the player's full strength is available (and this would be rare or impossible); the more any one of these physical/psychological factors is "constricted" the smaller percentage of strength is showing in the play on the board.


I've read a lot of chess books over the years (probably too many), played over master games and done tactical exercises (probably not enough) and yet I've seen very little specific, useful material in the chess literature on the important topics, the filters that attenuate your results, of concentration, stamina and time management.

Now these things are not totally neglected, but some of the advice is obvious and trite, ("Eat well, exercise and get enough sleep"), some is conflicting ("Don't get up from the board often, it takes time to refocus, but do get up and stretch, keep blood flowing to the brain"), and some is confusing ("don't study openings, but if by studying openings you get into a playable middlegame having saved time and energy for later, why, DO study openings!").

I'm going to use my game with Chris Harrington, mentioned above, as an illustration of how all of these factors affect the results of the game, because for our purposes here it's going to be only the results that count; "playing well" for most of the game, getting "good positions" and so on are for all practical purposes useless. The concentration, stamina and time management "boxes" are where playing well becomes playing poorly and good positions are turned into losses. I'll be focusing on these things from that perspective.

For reference, here's my game with Chris:

On the surface, here's a one-paragraph description of the game (from my perspective): We both played the opening by the book for 13 moves which left me 83 minutes for only 17 more moves; on move 21 he overlooked my tactical idea and I won a piece for two pawns with a "winning" (heh) position; on move 26 and 29 I don't play the good move Ne4 despite the fact that I looked at it, and lose most of my advantage; and after the time control at move 30 my play is pretty weak, my moves 33, 34 and especially 36 are all (?), meanwhile he plays well, knowing he's down material he activates his pieces against my draughty king position and takes advantage of the openings I give him to play a winning combination.

Under the surface: During the four days before the game my wife was working out of town and I had the entire responsibility for taking care of the home and our son, and though I got a decent amount of sleep the night before the game I had had less than adequate rest the two previous nights. As noted, I played the first 13 moves quickly but having plenty of time available I spent 7-12 minutes on several of the moves between 14 and 25, some of which could have been played more quickly, but I was sometimes looking at the same lines over and over, checking and rechecking since I was starting to feel tired and "vacant" and this led to even more fatigue. I felt pretty decent during the first part of the game, but even though my opponent was playing quite quickly (less than 50 minutes for the whole game) right around the critical point of move 26-30 I was already feeling dopey, though less than 2.5 hours had passed since the beginning of the game.

When we reached this position with White to make his 36th move:

I was sincerely trying my best, but I felt rather like there was a fog before my eyes; my focus was no longer on the whole board and my opponent's possibilities. As best I can remember I was looking at a small area of the board, roughly just his checking pawn, my king, his rook and his queen, and my confused thinking went something like "There are only two moves, after king takes I don't see anything immediately devastating but my king looks exposed there, his queen checks on h8 and he controls the file, whereas if I take with the queen my queen controls the file." Something shallow like that, not even considering his very next move, Rg2+ and wins.

So to sum up, the concrete results of declining stamina and concentration were scattered, completely inadequate calculation and the overlooking of the opponent's possibilities in a position where the result of game was in the balance.

Here's the post I wrote right after I got home from the game, (something I've never done before) a heartfelt expression of fatigue and frustration, not with the intention of excusing or alibiing my loss, but a genuine account of the way I felt at the time. I'm glad I gave credit to my opponent, where credit was due, because he played better and deservedly won; but I was just a little angry that this important game had been lost not because of any defects in my chess armory but because I hadn't been able to play up to the ability I knew I had. After all the work and planning and study, I hadn't been able to show what I was capable of.

Now that in my own long-winded fashion I've given some background and an example of the problem, in Part II we'll have a go at identifying what can be done about it.


ChargingKing said...

Hey Robert,

I actually printed out a copy of that chart that you posted I like the strcuture and feel it's very straightforward.

I'm not sure this came into play for you but when I realized that I was giving up a knight for two pawns my entire psychology changed. I knew that I had to play flat out for mate. That would be the only way to win or equalize. Given the fact that the king is exposed and my pieces have easy access to the kingside I was playing very aggressively...maybe not completely accurate as the computer shows but I was engaged deeply in the position.

Fatigue plays a factor on me as well. That is why I play the opening quickly when I know the lines. To give some perspective I had had midterms this week and papers to write, I was able to sneak some time into preparing for the Four Pawns Attack, I'm not a King's Indian player but I wanted to have some lines against you.

I got a bit lost when the e-pawn was being pushed and I didn't visualize the combinations. I kept up my plan a bit to stubbornly and lost the material.

But in all honestly when i lost the knight my eyes "opened" and I got more into it....not good to wait that long but better late then never!

I'm excited to play you again in the near future because I feel I'm getting very close to your level of play.

Wahrheit said...

Chris, excellent points! I seem to have gotten a little too cautious after I win some material, and especially 33. Qg5 shows the wrong approach, whereas you had to get aggressive. I've been on the other side many times to, when you know you have to attack of die, and it's often liberating allowing one to cut loose and not worry about things too much.

As far as fatigue, yeah, I really want to explore how to overcome or ameliorate it. In my game against Mauricio earlier in the tournament I know we were both pretty exhausted and finally he made a bad move, that let me win easily, though he had played well up until then.

In too think we will have some really good games in the future, despite the fact I lost out this time I still feel I'm on the way up the ladder, as are you.

Best to you for the championship tournament!

Eric Shoemaker said...

Hi Robert, excellent post! I sometimes have concentration problems and time management problems.

I know the latter is hard to believe since I'm hardly ever in time trouble and rarely lose on time. But there is another kind of problem. I would prefer a lot of time for the middlegame, but I usually save it for the endgame. I would like a better balance.

Logically, the whole reason you build an opening repertoire and make yourself adequate in the endgame is to have more time for the most fun part--the Middlegame!

But I'm sure I speak for others' as well when I say that sometimes you just get caught up in the position or you're just not calculating well, or...

I also lose a lot of points if my weight goes above 180 lbs. My frame doesn't really support any excess above that. So I try to keep it down. Right now, I'm at 177lbs, which is good for 5'10 1/2.

That may not seem important, but in the 4th hour of play, you need to still have energy and the last thing you need is unnecessary weight.

Eric Shoemaker said...

I forgot to mention a famous example. Karpov didn't go below 2700 in the World Ratings until he picked up some unnecessary weight!

It saps your energy and that 4th hour is usually coming against good players--like it or not!

Soapstone said...

Phaedrus seems to be wiggling the strands in our corner of the web lately. I was so impressed by the simple beauty of the diagram that I added Phaedrus to my links.

Polly said...

As Chris pointed out, sometimes falling behind is what works as the proverbial cold water in our face to wake us up. I know I've had games where I'm playing aimlessly, and then as soon as I lose a pawn or start getting attacked I wake up. Unfortunately sometimes it's too late.

I like the way you applied Phaedrus chart. He has done a nice job of breaking down the entire process of the game, not just simply the moves over the board.

drunknknite said...

Chris's comment gets to the heart of the matter. Due to the breadth of this game, there are many positions which we are not familiar with. When we are in unfamiliar waters, we make mistakes. It becomes too hard to distinguish between plans in these circumstances. Once we commit to a plan, it is important to be determined and consistent.

When we are 'lost', like in a forest not in a game, plans do not come easy and pieces do not coordinate. I think this is where time really becomes a factor. If there is a clear plan (put rooks on open files, push this pawn, etc.) then we are using time checking move orders but really we know what we are going to do. It is finding the plan that eats the clock and if we do this move after move it is frustrating and tiring.

Consistency is the key. Consistently pursuing an OK plan is better than switching between several good plans because you cannot decide.

Phaedrus said...

Hello Wahrheit,

Many thanks for linking to my post and chart, as a discussion on this chart was my main objective, and I have been far from disappointed!

I know the feeling of fatigue. I get up at 5.30 am and I am back at home around 7.00 pm. Our regular club evening begins at 20.00. So I know what it is like to be dead tired while playing a game, and I did throw away some points because of this.

But I do think that fatigue or other disturbing factors so sow where you are most vulnerable. I will try to explain this with an analogy. Several years ago I had a very bad car accident. I had stopped my car because of a traffic jam, and one could hardly see more than 20 yards. Suddenly I Heard screaming tires behind me, and in the mirror I saw a Truck riding into me from behind. Suffice to say that the car was completely wrecked, and that the police and medics who arrived on the scene could not believe that I could leave the car walking all by myself.

since that day i have regularly back pains. And always when really tired or stressed, the back pain will be the first signal.

So when I blunder, I always look very carefully to the type of tactic I have missed. And when possible I try to do some training exercises on this theme, because I see it as a signal that the theme I have missed is a weak link in my pattern recognition.