Better Chess Vision. A Manifesto

May 7, 2015
  chesskontakt
1000

It is becoming necessary for the attention of chess teachers, instructors and educators to be drawn to one circumstance which seems to be so slight that they do not even consider it their duty to notice it. That thing is the following: they are responsible for the unchecked spread of a virus infecting an entire population. Where? In the mind of the chess beginner, causing a severe condition, called poor chess vision.

And chess educators, do they see it? No, they do not. Is this intentional? No, it is professional.

This what the human race in the 21-st century knows, cognitive neuroscience, brain-behavior relationships, educational psychology, learning theory, pedagogy, chess educators ignore.

How is the infection caught? We are being infected during the very first hour of learning. Our teachers unwittingly infect us when using the traditional way which is slow-pace, ineffective and “fundamentally false” (Nimzovich's How I Became a Grandmaster article in Shakhmatny Listok, 1929). If then, one day, we ourselves teach someone chess, we are spreading the virus to them the same way.

This virus infects our mind, it takes over parts of our brain, programming us with habits and directions that point us away from where we should go. The virus direct us from what would otherwise give us a good chess vision and ultimately a life-time enjoyment in the game.

The infection and the resulting disease slow down our early progress in chess. Since this happens unconsciously, all we’re aware of is that as we go, chess becomes less fun, more of a drag, and less meaningful. We all love success with our hard wired impulse to triumph. Without it, we may feel our motivation slipping away. We may get less excited about things than we used to. Finally, we may totally lose our confidence and interest in the game and consequently give up altogether.

The moment has come for us to raise our voices. There are moments when even the human conscience can take the stand and order chess educators to listen.

We can certainly begin to disinfect ourselves. What we need is a paradigm shift. This happens when one of the basic, underlying assumptions we’ve been living changes. Every paradigm shift takes some time and a bit of effort to penetrate the community to teach itself the new paradigm and even longer to become accepted by the general public.

The time has come for this old way of teaching to be replaced by a new one. No matter how dark the night may be, the horizon at the end must bathe in daylight.

Better chess starts with better chess vision. Better chess vision starts with contacts. I have made out my case here, here, here and here.

It is there that the entire future lies.

And the future will, what is being done, come to pass.

This is the aim, this is the harbor. Until yesterday, it was only the truth, today it is a reality.

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13 Comments

Janton 22:15 - 7 May 2015
Board vision is indeed very important. Did you try Chessity's route planner game? That game will train your board vision directly!

You will find it at the training tab, below.
chesskontakt 01:33 - 8 May 2015
Hi Janton, thanks for suggesting the route planner game. Actually, I don't see the link I'm afraid (maybe that is so because I don't have full access:( I trust it is a good game for developing board vision as Chessity is famous for smart use of technology, having created many mini games that are best suited for fast improvement.

But it might not work for me though as my board vision formed some fifty years ago. Board vision is the first and most important link of the chess thought process (1. clarity, or problem finding, 2. conclusions, 3. solutions, 4. verification and implementation) that starts setting in the moment we get into the game. Actually, this mental procedure is the basics, not only in chess but also in other domains (math, etc. -- see my blog post at: http://www.iplayoochess.com/2015/04/07/why-is-good-chess-tactical-vision-so-uncommon/ for more details).

Success in chess and elsewhere is not so much about knowledge, it is much more about how effectively we think and how well we develop some non-cognitive skills (problem-solving skills, persistence, self-control, etc. early in the learning process). Once our chess board vision is hard wired, it is very, very hard, almost impossible to change things much.

As they say, bad habits die hard...




Janton 08:41 - 8 May 2015
You can try the game now. Anyway, if I understand your right you definition of board vision is broader that we train in the route planner game. Interesting, I will give it a deeper thought.

And about your point "Once our chess board vision is hard wired, it is very, very hard, almost impossible to change things much.". I love to challenge that one with smart technology. With fast, direct and clear feedback, the human mind is flexible enough to change, I think.
chesskontakt 15:51 - 9 May 2015
Have checked the route planner game out. I loved it. You're right "Can't teach an old dog new tricks" phrase is losing its punch in the digital era with smart use of technology, something Chessity is doing really great. True, the brain plasticity remains throughout life, yet we should get board vision start developing right from Square One if we want best results.

One more thing I'd like to mention, the most detrimental contribution to poor board vision is, believe it or not, the traditional way of teaching with "the moves first."

Aron Nimtzowitsch made a case for change in his 1929 "How I Became a Grandmaster" article, but evidently the chess community has never got his idea (I translated the article few years ago from Russian as there was no English translation - the British GM Ray Keene dropped the most important part on how we should start teaching, in his "Nimtzowitsch - The Reappraisal" book, as trivial - evidently, he didn't get the point either).

And idea is this: the beginner should get started with piece relationships and purpose, not the moves!

Chess, math, football, is all about building up structure and relationships around the set goals. It is not how individual players kick the ball, it is about the formation you set them on the pitch around a formulated strategy. Field vision, or board vision in chess, is all about seeing and understanding the structure and roles/functions individual pieces have in it (in chess there are only four jobs pieces do: they attack, restrict, protect, and cover, that's all, any chess board positions consists of these four board contacts). These four are basic building blocks in chess. You make moves to improve your structure (typically, by positional play), and to make the opponent's structure weaker (normally by combinative means).

This is why Nimtzo told us to start with piece contacts, (A) attack, B (block/cover), P (protection), R (restriction), as they are the basic building blocks of chess life, in the same way as the four bases found in DNA, adenine ( A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T) constitute the building blocks of life.

You want a great chess board vision? Teach structure and relationships from the Moment One, NOT moves! This requires a mind shift in how we teach, but, Janton, as you say, with smart use of technology, everything's easy!



Janton 18:58 - 9 May 2015
Thanks, food for thought. My next answer should be a new mini game. Give me some time :-)

The best teaching games for beginner are with use of scaffolding, and without the need of language. If we can work out a game with this in mind and without the moves,and with teaching purpose and relationship..... That's the game changer!
chesskontakt 20:19 - 9 May 2015
Janton, GM Keene didn't get it, but you certainly did. What you say is all true, I'm with you. Absolutely true, a simple mini game is the clear-cut answer.

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” -- Steve Jobs

The method I'm now using for the absolute beginner to start off with has taken me years to create. After introducing how pieces use power (not moves, of course) and how get into contact (now you know why my Chessity name is chessKontakt:) comes a simple mini game with only four pieces involved, a real piece of beauty, efficient and powerful. It teaches:

- three out of four elementary piece functions/relationships,
- the core tactical weapons, such as double attack, geometrical motif, and a pin/skewer hybrid,
- two ways of defending,
- basic strategic mind-set (“pay attention to what the opponent is up to”, the embryo of Sun Tzu's "The best strategy is to fight the opponent's strategy").

What else can you expect from a method/mini game that enables the beginner to start playing after 10 minutes deep in chess?

I'm so glad you jumped on the bandwagon of sea change the chess world has been waiting for since the dawn of chess back in India. It's about time!

I have no doubts you can come up with another great mini-game (as can be expected to come from a country of Dr. Machgielis and de Groot:). As long as we think structure, relationships and purpose from which meaningful moves simply naturally come out, we are on the right track to help many, many more people get into and stay with the game for life-long joy and pleasures out of it...
AoxomoxoA 02:30 - 30 May 2015
I dont think it is necessary to teach contact's "first" and/or "only". Contacts are the elementary chunks of piece interaction. But quite often you need moves to create a piece interaction. It is easy to create Endgamepositions without any "direct contact".
Contacts are just chunks, read about chunks here : http://www.amazon.com/gp/richpub/syltguides/fullview/R18UDQRMTTE82J
Of course the "contacts" are extreme! important chunks! But i have doubts that you can think or teach chess only in "contacts".
For a good board vision there is more needed than just the contact-chunks.

A master "thinks" a bishop with its complete diagonals as chunk,

Say white has a bishop at b2 and black wants to move his bishop to g7
A complete beginner will have to find! the white bishop at b2, and then check if there is the attack contact by looking along the diagonal b2->c3->d4->e5->f6->g7 checking if there is no other piece in between....
A master is AWARE of the Bb2 without even looking at it, and he is AWARE that g7 is invluenced by this bishop without checking along the diagonal and he is AWARE that the diagonal is empty.

Please watch this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5XmaAshsB4 and make the offered awareness test ;)

The route planer seems to be a good board vision exercise but it is not easy. I think the route planer might be to complicated for a beginner You may find some other board vision exercises here : http://aoxomoxoa-wondering.blogspot.de/

Still: until now i have no prove! that such exercises realy improve a player.
chesskontakt 04:02 - 30 May 2015
I think I never said you can teach chess ONLY in "contacts". But they are definitely the main building blocks of spatial and functional piece relationships, and as such should be transferred to the subconscious brain asap in the early learning process -- pretty much as we first learn the letters of an alphabet, its ABCs, and then are totally UNAWARE of individual letters while reading a text, when the brain is actually free to focus on more "sophisticated processing" to generate meaning, ideas and plans.

"But quite often you need moves to create a piece interaction."
The moves are always SUBORDINATE to the context, or structure; the moves should always generate from understanding of the structure of interrelated pieces. Like, I want to go from the current position, or structure A, to the future structure B that will net me some advantage (this is typically a sequence of 3-4 or so moves with a clear goal in mind). The moves are only the means to improve the strength of my structure, and/or make the opponent's structure weaker.

"It is easy to create Endgame positions without any "direct contact'".
Of course! For example, the famous pawn study (W:Kh8, Pc6; B:Ka6, Ph5) by Reti is actually a double attack consisting of two threats of second order (that is two moves from an actual, or direct attack). The first threat is to support the c6-pawn, the second is to get in the h-pawn's Berger.

That's how things develop in chess, that's the inherent dynamics of the game: threat of the (N) order ->->-> threat od second order -> threat of attack -> direct attack -> capture.

Think the starting position. There is threat of attack of second order (two moves away) toward the f7-square. After 1.e4 there is a threat of first order (one move away) attack on f7. Then 2.Bc4 is a direct attack.

Enjoy your chess


chesskontakt 15:37 - 30 May 2015
Just to make it perfectly clear: the piece relationships are not necessarily "direct" ones. As described in the previous comment, there are also threats, or hidden attacks

See B.2. in "Structure of Hierarchy Levels in Chess" at http://wp.me/p2z5ix-nH
joern 18:47 - 30 May 2015
So, tell me how to begin to teach chess and make it fun.
chesskontakt 03:40 - 9 Jun 2015
Will let you know once the Chess Square One has been published on my www.iPlayoochess.com site in a few weeks time.
blacksmith 16:00 - 5 Jul 2015
Averbakh explained chess contacts a long time ago. He is 93 years old now! See his two books on this subject,Chess Middlegames Essential Knowledge and Chess Tactics for Advanced Players.
chesskontakt 21:35 - 21 Feb 2016
Blacksmith, you're right, the chess community in the West has known about contacts since 1996. The point here is that we haven't recognized the importance of Averbakh's insight on contacts (together with Nimzovich's breakthrough teaching idea in "How I Became a GM," Shakhmatny listok, 1929) to make a dramatic paradigm shift and revolutionize the way we start teaching the absolute beginner in a much, much more efficient and effective way.

Interestingly enough, Averbakh wrote the book for ADVANCED players. In my view, the contacts knowledge as the basic building blocks of chess structure, should be used to help the beginner!

Here is the point, English language natives are experts in how they use their mother tongue, but they don't need knowledge of basic principles of speech (like I do:). In the same way, chess masters don't need the contacts, they breath them in, they breath them out. It is already part of their subconscious, intuitive and automatic know-how.

The great American-Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla has had some ideas that contemporary engineers and scientist are still clueless about 100 years after.

Looks like the chess community is still clueless about what Nimzovich and Averbakh has hinted us about the RIGHT method to start teaching in order to be able to develop great chess board vision and understanding of the game...

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