Thursday, December 07, 2006


Thinking in chess

What is chess thinking anyway? I don't really know. Years ago I would attribute most everything to visual pattern recognition or calculation. That seems terribly simplistic now.

Here is a parallel question. What is thinking in wrestling, like they have in the Olympics? Clearly the sport is a test of physical strength. All wrestlers are fit from training, so what determines the winner seems like a combination of things: strategy, tactics, timing, and space, especially if you consider that a wrestler can lose or gain by getting out of boundaries depending on the situation. The brain must be doing something for wrestlers.

Back to chess. I picked up an old chess book and casually reviewed some problems. I did not do much better on the "Combinations" section than I did before starting the TCT circles. I am busy and my chess is suffering. Anyway, I went back to the section on "Delivering Mate" and I quickly sailed through the easy mates. The tougher mates were a little slower. Surprisingly I didn't really recognize any of them. One just didn't make sense. I must have been too tired to calculate. Either that or lazy!

The Mammoth Book of Chess
Problem 11, page 29

White to Move

This wasn't any pattern I recognized. I put the book down for five minutes, had my mind completely elsewhere, then picked up the book again and had the answer: Qe8. Because f8 was attacked twice by White, it seems logical for Black to take the Queen, but alas that is followed by a double-check. I had to laugh, as the d6 square was attacked no less than four times by Black!

I find it peculiar that the answer quietly popped out of nowhere. It was not visual, either. It sort of seemed mechanical, like pieces moving, as if to indicate, "do this". That is the mysterious chess thinking I have no clue about. And I can't imagine anyone becoming a strong player without it in one form or another.

You said "I find it peculiar that the answer quietly popped out of nowhere.".

I just wrote a post about this on my blog. It is your subconscious mind. It is way stronger than your conscious mind but you have little control over it. I use it all the time. I load it up with info I want it to process and hope thats what it does.
i wrestled in high school. wrestling may be more like chess than it appears. a wrestler reacts to "patterns" with standard "tactics", like Granby, Switch, Iranian (hehe)... there is not very much thinking at this tactical level. it is very fast and completely reactionary. the pattern recognition comes from one's senses of balance and perception. if the guy leans too hard into you then bam, you can do a throw. if he stands up too straight then bam, sweep the leg or (if close) throw a headlock. wrestling has cool tactics. just like chess.

wrestling is very limited strategically though. if my opponent is great at takedowns i may lower my stance or tell the ref i want top or bottom instead of standing. but there arent many decisions made at this deliberate (strategical) level.
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