Monday, March 10, 2008

Using "Computer Eyes" for Human Progress

A few fine posts by others have caused me to think more deeply about chess and computers lately--mostly from the point of view of my personal goal of improving my results against humans in tournament play. This goal was an important clarification when I wrote that post last July--it may be entirely coincidental, but since then my standard rating has climbed (if sometimes only slightly) in each tournament I've played. This doesn't necessarily have anything to do with computers, but my point then was that cutting down or eliminating internet blitz, less opening study and more tactical training, and in general more mental focus and application of practical success psychology were the tickets to results, even if I did enjoy the blitz and delving into my favorite openings.

Anyway, the other chess bloggers referred to above have got me thinking about how best to apply computer models to my own stated goal of improving results against humans (and its equivalent, continuing my USCF rating's upward trend [and for that matter my standard FICS rating's]).

It started when Soapstone referred to a Dana Mackenzie post on Bronstein on Computers and Humans, which was followed by More on Computers and Humans. Then Wang advised "Step away from your computer!" and Drunknknite responded by Speaking up for Those Who Can't.

Somewhere along the line (ah yes, thanks Edwin Meyer!) I heard about FM Charles Hertan's Forcing Chess Moves: Using "Computer Eyes" to Improve Your Tactical Vision and read the sample generously provided, and I had a modest flash of insight about what my next steps need to be. (The excellent Phaderus commented on this post where I first mentioned the book, and had a lucid critique of the idea of trying to think like a computer, but wait a moment and we'll connect these dots to something hopefully useful)

I haven't seen the whole of Hertan's book, but the sample has some very thought-provoking ideas that bear directly on the current weaknesses in my game. It triggered a memory of Andy Soltis' book The Inner Game of Chess, and sure enough there is a chapter there entitled "Force"; it even includes one of the same examples (Fischer-Sherwin) given in the Hertan extract. But this is the part that really got me thinking:

"The first goal of any player aspiring to find more winning forcing moves in his/her games should be to CALCULATE TWO MOVES AHEAD WITH ABSOLUTE PRECISION."

Now that hit me pretty hard; do I currently calculate two moves ahead with absolute precision? Hmm...usually, but let's just look at the last game I posted; at least three times (moves 10, 30 and 35) I did not accurately calculate 2 moves (4 "ply") ahead, and this in a game I won! Hell's damn bells, two of them were advantageous captures that led directly to material gain and I didn't play them. I, you, we've all been told over and over, "Checks and captures, checks and captures..." meaning that we need to try and look at all checks and captures as a starting point for our calculations--if one of them wins, there's no need to search any further! I'm still not doing this with the consistency that will allow me to take on and defeat stronger players with any regularity.

In the Soltis book mentioned above he quotes World Champion M. Botvinnik saying after a loss to that he needed to perfect his calculation of three-move variations. Trying to think like a computer isn't exactly the answer, but modeling the computer's perfection in the calculation of two-move variations is already a step in the right direction. Instead of just "studying tactics" or doing exercises, I'm going to think about and research the best ways to do this and put them into practice. Maybe going over my own and other's game with only this in mind, all other considerations being ignored; maybe some of the mate-in-two problems that Hertan says he enjoys (and that can be surprisingly difficult to calculate with absolute precision).

Thinking and writing about this has in itself been good exercise, and I invite your ideas and comments on the subject.


transformation said...

truly outstanding. thank you.

Eric Shoemaker said...

Hi Robert, do you remember the Star Trek episode (the original series) where there is an eccentric defense lawyer who has all these books and not the future materials?

In Chess, that's me. It does a great deal of time, but I seldom use a computer for chess. I much prefer Classical games, comparing them with the newer games and good writers.

You may not believe this, but as a Liberal Arts Major, I'm in a good position to know. Today's Chess Writers may be good players, but they're writing is pathetic! I have never seen such terrible examples at getting your point across! 20 years ago, the "Rejection Slips" would have been overflowing in their Mail Boxes!

Being a good player doesn't mean you can write and teach the public.

Look for the good writers! There are players who can write, but Fischer himself said, "There's a lot junk on the shelves" and he was absolutely right.

There's even more junk on the computer.

Our information hungry age means we have become "sifters" of information. Others before probably suffered from having too little information whereas we suffer from having too much!

Each one of us has to do our best at sifting through the quagmire. Fortunately, I am hopeful that we all have our own methods and they prove to be useful.

Anonymous said...


You're on an interesting track. I've been thinking similar thoughts myself, and I've got Hertan's book pre-ordered at Amazon. What I'm trying to do is combine my tactical study with calculation study; they work together. I'll be back to see how this works out for you.

@Eric: It's "their writing" not they're writing." (And you're a liberal arts major?)

Howard Goldowsky

Anonymous said...

I had a chat with the king of CTS blitzmaniac.

Please go here : king-of-cts

Blue Devil Knight said...

One of my favorite posts on this topic was by Wormwood, here. I heartily agree: breadth, not depth is key. I found that over and over in my games. It goes against what all the nonplayers think who ask us "How many moves can you think ahed", when they should be asking "How many different lines can you accurately think ahead a couple of moves?"

Eric Shoemaker said...

Anonymous, when I get to typing on the computer, I move fast enough that I make mistakes just like everyone else. It has nothing to do with a degree. It's the thought that counts. I'm actually surprised you would call me out on so little an error.

If you feel better about yourself, I promise you that I seldom make that mistake in my writing, so don't worry little brain over it! Also, dumbshit, my typing speed has increased over the years and with that increase comes some errors. Got it! I'll probably have to slow down to accomodate the uneducated like yourself.

You're obviously one of many pathetic people on the internet who have nothing better to do with their time than to attack others with little provocation at all. In fact, one can hardly say anything anymore because of degenerates like yourself.

Eric Shoemaker said...

Hi Robert, sorry about that outburst, but "I" do not think I will be taking any crap from lowly "B" players like Howard Goldowsky today, especially since I've had a pretty rough week of classes this week! The idiot thinks I do not know the difference between "they are" and "their", the latter indicating possession. Well I do and always have.

A typo on my part as I was breezing through the blogs lately. I bet if I read his e-mails and blogs, I see all kinds of errors! Not an unreasonable assumption since I can tell by his puny little rating that he already makes more mistakes than I do on the chessboard and I doubt it's any different in life either!

ChargingKing said...

Howard: "And you're a liberal arts major?" This isn't the optimal way to ask a question. I'm not sure that people write blogs the same way they would a "paper".

If you read enough of these then you will see many "mistakes" but as a person that studies language I can tell you that many of the rules in so-called "proper writing" have no basis in English.

For example, the use of double/triple negatives. This is perfectly acceptable in "English", yet the early American grammartisians(sp?) wanting to make our language more like the beloved Latin, began to make rules that were not based on English.

For further perspective, rules like "don't split infinitives" were invented by these people in the 18th century because they wanted English more like Latin.

I guess what I want to say is that language is valid in so far as it expresses what the person is trying to convey. To nitpick at a so-called "error" when the context has already provided the meaning is a bit childish.

Eric Shoemaker said...

Hi Robert, back to chess now. The method I'm using on my blog is working, but it is a little sporadic.

When I defeated George Fischer the other night, I couldn't figure out which "category" to put it under. It just seemed like Fischer suddenly lost after the dark-squared Bishops were removed. Certainly, he had a slight edge in the game, maybe even a larger edge, but nothing clear to decisive.

Whatever systems, ideas or methods you use to improve, make sure you give them enough time, so that you can compare over time the results that you have in front of you.

I can see my system working, but do not as of yet know how to eradicate the sporadic nature of it.

The system may improve as I move through the other material. By the way, I have made updates to that material in the original post.

The main thing is to be "objective" in life.

Good luck in your game against Harrington, although I have to tell you this: With Vernon Young likely to qualify for one of the two spots, you will have to defeat Harrington and by the same token, Harrington would have to defeat you. A draw would likely mean a playoff between yourselves and one other third party.

In the meantime, I am still struggling with consistency at the moment. I seemed to have had it in last year's Club Championship and then afterwards, out the window! I'm hoping my win against Fischer begins it.

Here's another method you could choose: Look over the games of a Master or Grandmaster of choice, and then try to "categorize" how it is they won. I did this with the games of Henrique Mecking a couple of years ago and go some good results afterwards. I should do it again, but I haven't had much time lately.

Eric Shoemaker said...

Hi Chris, thanks for setting Howard straight. I thought I did a good job myself, but yours was much smoother! Now he'll probably cry over the fact that I forgot my "t" in the next to last sentence. What? They got nothing better to do in Rhode Island?

wang said...

Excellent post Robert! I am looking forward to thin book, and hoping that it can help me out, although I really don't NEED another chess book.

transformation said...

funny, ivan getting to 2000 left the same comment at my blog, too.

somehow interviewing a 2035 elo player is big news, but a week from Friday, if we must compare, i am having lunch with a 2628 player ranked in the world top 98 as a now retired player.

transformation said...

eric, i couldnt agree more. it wasnt very nice. lets just forgive and forget.

i enjoy your writing, and please just keep being you without hindrance. anyone who can post a Wahrheits blog is a friend of ours.

i cannot spell and dont enjoy editing or capitalization, but i have 2628 elo players who love my thought process who--having writen fourteen books on chess--have been known to well neigh insist on getting my opinion on various matters sometimes. :)

banish grammar nazis.

Eric Shoemaker said...

Hi Trans! You're right. What Howard doesn't understand, and this is where you can write or not, is that, no one in their right mind is going to "proof-read" a blog.

We might proof-read to some extent our own blogs, but even then, we are not likely pour gobs of time into it.

I know when I read blogs and others' make mistakes I wouldn't, I think nothing of it, because I know what they're trying to say, even if they leave out a word. I can often figure out what word they left out.

And you know what, from what I have seen so far, they figure out my mistakes too, with or without the education!

I know that yourself, Robert or Chris can figure out anything I say, even I leave things out.

It was "ONLY" Howard by himself in the fog!

Howard could use a lesson in "FAITH."

And some of these bloggers are pretty talented and more creative than me, for instance, "Grammar Nazis."

I don't know if I would have thought of that one! It might have taken a couple of days! With the Education!

See you Trans, thanks for the laugh!

transformation said...

one or two decent things to say, to be unconditionally constructive:

i dont know howard, but only that he wrote a very good book that he must have worked very hard on it, and won some critical acclaim. let us respect that. he also knows those we know, and is also kind enough to drop in time to time, such as here, or at blunderprones blog, etc. this is all good.

i also know that this is a free place, and sometimes we criticize others to compensate for what is-really--our own sense of self insufficiency, and even i do that sometimes.

we are all on earth, in bodies, are born and die and no one has i made. this is one big learning lab, and lets all collaborate to maximize tolerance here. and, if howard comes back, be nice to him. he probably, i venture to say, has learned something by this, even if at times a bit acerbic, but he is just being himself and for us to be real and not fake also has great value. authenticity.

BTW, this 'guy' now frequently writes JSilman, as well as the guy who wrote the recent opus on Rubinstein, and me, all copied to the same email, and no one among them has banished me for bad spelling or poor capitals. :)

show class by forgiveness then acceptance. and not to forget or get lost in ranchor, your point is very good, which again is lost, which is that tehre are so many bad chess books, and BDK seems to hit the nail right on the head.

take care, dk

Blue Devil Knight said...

OK jeez guys this is silly. I came for some chess and see pedantism that doesn't warrant a response, with multiple responses.

Howard pedantic.

Eric lame for then going after his rating.

DK lame for having to mention his GM friend.

Me lame for callling everyone out on this crap.

Could we slap our sausages around any more? Egads.

Breadth not (typically) depth baby!

Anonymous said...

@Eric: There was no malicious intent in my comment. I'm sorry. I'm not quite sure, however, that my faux pas warranted you calling me names or getting my low rating involved. Would a smiley face have gone over better? There were other errors in your post too, and I didn't mention those. Usually I don't go around criticizing other posters' punctuation (the others can vouch); usually my "correction" is the equivalent of a tap on the shoulder and a whisper in the ear. My ego got the best of me when I read how you unfairly, in my opinion, attacked contemporary chess writers (see below). In my opinion, chess writers write poorly because they punctuate poorly, and I thought to myself, "What right do you have going around criticizing poor writing, when your post was poorly punctuated itself?" This was my thought process.

I'm a grammar Nazi. Grammar and punctuation are two areas I've worked hard on to become a better writer (I used to be a C-student in English), and I still make mistakes. (If I read a blog post during a 3-minute break at work, I sometimes write a quick comment; there is no body language, no facial expression, or, sometimes unintentionally, no smiley, etc.)

As a student (not expert) of punctuation, I do my best to be fastidious in this area, and suffer when I need to read prose of others who are not. I tend to be self-effacing, and sometimes don't understand people who can not appreciate this in me or in themselves. The book I wrote was the culmination of ten years of reading, studying punctuation, studying writing technique, and practicing my writing. Given my long-term goal to reach 2000 in chess (and perhaps beyond), I've, in effect, sacrificed my chess time to become a better writer. Now that I've achieved some writing goals it's time to give chess it's due before it's too late (I'm 36).

Your original post was quite critical of contemporary chess writers. This is something I mostly agree with you on, BTW. I agree with you not because they fail to get their ideas across (what do you make of Silman, Soltis, Watson, et al.?); I agree with you because they botch their punctuation, and, even though I can figure out in the end what they want to say, I often (not always) have a difficult time doing so. Take Hertan's excerpt, for example. I think that I'm going to love this book. It's directly related to what I'm currently practicing (tactics and thought process); but he's got way too many exclamation marks, and their frequency dilutes their effect.

I'm also a huge fan of all these "knight errant" types, from blunderprone, to BDK, to TK, to Chess Loser, to whomever, and I frequent their blogs. I've see-sawed back and forth about starting my own blog. With my unique interest in clear writing, and my interest in chess improvement, I feel like I'm in a unique position to author a chess blog; however, although I'm currently in the thick of training, I'm doing it privately. One of the reasons I don't start my own blog is because I'm afraid of posts (like your comment) that divert my attention from my main goal, which is to improve. I already know that I suck at chess. If I had guys like you reminding me of this every day, I would be distracted to no end. In the end, it's ultimately one's own ego that's the most distracting to genuine self-improvement, but other posters' comments don't help, either. So, the best I can do to contribute to this "community" of improving players is post in other blogs' comments. Sometimes I have a lot of time to do this, sometimes I don't. If a comment sometimes comes across as a personal attack, I usually catch myself before I post it, but not always.

And one more thing: If I was going to genuinely attack you, then why would I be so open with my real name? Every single post I've ever made to the Internet, since the nineties, has had my real name on it. I have nothing to hide.

If you would like to discuss this further, in private, fee free to send me an email. (I don't check back here all the time.) howard dot goldowsky at yahoo

Howard Goldowsky

Eric Shoemaker said...

Hi Blue, you're a little late. It's pretty much over now. Chris hit the nail on the head--Howard was being childish. According to him, we need to proof-read our blogs and the mistakes we make couldn't possibly be a typo.

What world is he living in? What I was sick of is the attitude. You go to almost any site these days, throw down a comment, no matter how innocent, and then you get attacked by some dumbshit for little or no reason! What is that all about?

If you don't believe it, try it. Go to some site, make an innocent comment that won't offend anyone and then see what happens. I guarantee you that within a reasonable about of time, some Bozo will respond with something negative and won't know what the hell he's talking about.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Eric: I've posted more than a few comments, and typically people are pretty cool.

Based on Howard's comment, we see better where he was coming from, pointing out the irony of your mistake in a post about writing style. Which, in retrospect, is sort of funny, but also really isn't a big deal. Though I do try to take care: when I'm trash talking about mistake X, I try really hard to avoid making mistake X because it will be pounced upon by somebody.

I also see some irony in your talking about how good chess players are often not great writers or even teachers (I strongly agree), and then you turn around and attack Howard based on rating Ya gotta admit the whole thing is funny.

The internet is great. Flame wars escalate and everybody feels like they were the ones wronged. And when we meet in person, we typically realize the other person is a good chap, that their on-line persona doesn't quite match their face-onality. God what a stupid neologism.

Anyway, I just wish there were more discussion of the great topic of the original post! Despite the types you might see in chess halls, I find bloggers to be quite articulate as a whole.

Wahrheit said...


Anyway, I just wish there were more discussion of the great topic of the original post!

Thanks BDK! I enjoy the reading the give-and-take as much as anyone, but Eric, methinks you make much too much of the punctuation correction thing.

To give Howard credit, he has published a book, which the rest of us, as far as I know, have not done (though dk has written some posts that are candidates for books in themselves.)


At any rate, no one used profanity or abusive language, which I appreciate considering some of the things that get into the comments on other sites. I'm leaving all of this up, but please Eric, no more "rating-baiting." (I just thought that up, pretty nifty, eh?)

Peace out.

Eric Shoemaker said...

I give up. I don't know how you guys can get it wrong. Howard is clearly in the wrong here.

This is exactly what is wrong with our society. The making of excuses and or apologies for those who think that for the smallest reason, they can just attack whomever, even though the person on the receiving end did not in any way encourage such behavior.

He also got my intent wrong: I wasn't criticizing the writer's punctuation. I was criticizing them for not being able to get their ideas across. That is two way different things.

And because I was misunderstood, he attacks me or carelessly uses a choice of words like "And you're a liberal arts major?"

That's stupid and irresponsible behavior. I work my ass off in College and I worked full-time through the whole process and juggled married life and chess. I don't think I will tolerate that kind of nonsense, not without a rebuttal.

As far as him writing a book and many others have not--you should keep in mind Robert that I know many who have not yet set out to do so.

And I'm misunderstood about the chess remark also. I was trying to point out that just because my rating is higher doesn't mean that someone lower than me doesn't have game or couldn't bring game to the board. Chess is full of upsets.

The equally valid comparison is that just because someone makes a mistake in punctuation doesn't mean that they "do not know" or cannot use correct punctuation. It's often a matter of time and how much of it is available.

If you understand that some people want too much "House" but are still working at McDonald's, therefore they have to wait to get a better job...then it should be easy to understand the concept of time and whether or not we have enough of it to go around proof-reading everything we write and in a blog, it's almost a ridiculous idea.

The Forum is wrong. You don't take a hockey stick to a Baseball Diamond!

liquideggproduct said...

Wahrheit, you might want to repost this so we poor commenters get a do-over.

I really like your idea about trying to perfect seeing 2 moves ahead. It seems so simple, but even if you have only 5 choices per ply, it's 5x5x5x5 = 625. This is more than we can stomach, so we need to learn how to evaluate, and as you've mentioned, look for forcing moves.

Computers can be used to perfect ourselves or can be used as a crutch. They have their role, but if, for example, we look over their analysis, but don't know why they say "line X is good", it's just so much waste.

As a minor correction, the Botvinnik quote was about perfecting two-movers.

tanc(happyhippo) said...

Wahrheit: first of all, congrats on your rating improvement, every little step forwad counts. :)

you've also mentioned "application of practical success psychology" as part of your training success. i don't quite follow what you mean by that phrase and would really appreciate it if you could explain that part a bit more or redirect me to an earlier post if you've already mentioned it (apologies if i've missed it). thx in advance.

you have definitely got a good training programme going. my hats off to u for sticking to it.


Blue Devil Knight said...

I think just looking three half-moves ahead is enough for my tiny mind, in any half way reasonable looking line, and of course in every single sharp line (I try to rank the lines I think through in terms of sharpness--start with the sharpest lines, as if one of them ends up with me an extra piece, I don't have to waste time worrying about a doubled pawn in one of the quiet lines).