Chess improvement: the social dimension

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Chess improvement: the social dimension

Post by Blue Devil Knight on January 28th 2010, 1:23 pm

Interesting comment at my blog, and reminded me of an old argument I had with Bilbo:
http://chessconfessions.blogspot.com/2010/01/katar-is-probably-right.html

Quote:
I'm suggesting that the picture of the lone chess improver studying tactics on his computer, emerging like a butterfly from the cocoon of CT-Art problem sets to demolish the competition at the World Open, is pretty much bullshit.

I am not suggesting that it is a mistake to work on chess by oneself, such as solitary opening study or whatever. I'm suggesting a counterbalance to the picture of solitary chess improvement, but not eliminating the quiet enjoyment of chess by oneself. I am, however, suggesting that improvement solely by solitary means is not the norm, but an aberration that most of us should not strive for as a realistic improvement technique. I'm basically putting my thumb on the scales, which are usually biased toward the solitary picture of improvement.

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Re: Chess improvement: the social dimension

Post by Bilbo on January 30th 2010, 12:18 pm

I actually agree with everything you said. Our disagreement doesn't really relate to this. I am totally in favour of sharing ideas and analysing with other players, but that doesn't have anything to do with my game analysis really.

Where we disagree is how we use computers for analysis.

You like to struggle through on your own for and play through the game unaided for however long and only then use an engine for analysis, whereas I prefer to put the game into Rybka as soon as I get home from my club or tournament and then the next day go over it with Rybka, spending the bulk of my time trying to understand why it chose the moves it did.

I have to say, in my experience, the times when a computer's suggested moves make no sense or cannot be understood are extremely rare.

Usually (I'd say 99% of the time) you can clearly see with a little thought why the engine considers your move poor and its alternative a good one.

Play on a couple moves and you realise that moving that piece lost control of a certain square which your opponent was able to exploit, or that you had put a piece on a square which was not well protected.

I still do all the over board work and thinking, I just choose to work out why the right ideas are right, rather than why my wrong ideas are wrong, and then make more wrong ideas about how to improve the position.

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Re: Chess improvement: the social dimension

Post by Blue Devil Knight on January 31st 2010, 12:53 pm

The idea of not talking to opponents for a postmortem shows we disagree in fundamental ways.

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Re: Chess improvement: the social dimension

Post by Bilbo on January 31st 2010, 1:31 pm

I'm not sure where you got that idea from, I always postmortem with opponents when possible.

The practicalities of club play however mean that this rarely happens. Most club nights end when the game is over, there is not time for analysis.

Occasionally at weekend tournaments your opponent might be willing to go over with you for a few minutes over a coffee but that's it.

Maybe you have a more thriving chess scene than we have down here in Devon, England but sadly there are few opportunites to study with someone.

Chess is not popular here at all and those who do play are predominantly either elderly (60's +) or very young (15 and under).

I guess that's common for a lot of people on here.

You seem a bit self righteous in your rants to be honest.

So we study in different ways, what does it matter? Just do what works for you and don't worry about those who do things a bit differently.

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Re: Chess improvement: the social dimension

Post by HangingKing on January 31st 2010, 1:40 pm

Well in a sense, doing post-mortem with a chess engine, is similar than having advice from a better experienced player.

A chess engine is not a pure "machinistic invention", it is based on long gathered human knowledge, given the example of Rybka it's L. Kaufmann's knowledge transposed into an effective operative database by the programmer. And L. Kaufmann's knowledge itself comes from interaction with other sources of chess knowledge (people, books, games, etc...).

Thus performing an analysis with a chess engine, is like being given insights from a collection of better experienced people, and you might hope to progress out of it.

The only drawback about this, and we have many times discussed it here, is that the computer gives numbers, which is a rather raw description of the issues in your game, and you have to figure out (like Bilbo is trying to) why the computer choose this move instead of yours, while a human would probably come up with the explanation first, and propose the good move as the only logical course of action.

So with a human you get a move as a consequence of a tactical or strategical reflexion, while with a computer you get the best but have to figure by yourself the reason why this move was played.

I think there is good in both ways of approaching the post-mortem analysis.

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Re: Chess improvement: the social dimension

Post by HangingKing on January 31st 2010, 1:56 pm

Talking about the social dimension of chess, i can say that playing on a regular basis with the same opponents (but not always with the same, i mean you play regularly an opponent, and else random ones), is really a plus.

I noticed, that i come to know my opponent weaknesses and opening favorites in this case, and try to exploit them more than if it was a random opponent. And i notice also that he eventually corrected it the next time we play together, so i may loose this time, and so on.
If both players are serious study, it happens that both players improve simultaneously playing together.

Of course for this to be universal chess improvement you have to play a pool of such regular opponents with various style, else your play may become a bit biased and narrowed, but assuming this condition, your overall chess abilities will increase.

This is not possible with chess engines, since in practice they overplay you everytime, so you can't figure out minor improvements (since a minor improvement will end-up with the same conclusion, a lost), and you need a strong improvement to make sense for a computer.
With human players, the psychological factor is high, and local improvement can make the difference, because it is unexpected at some point by your opponent, and he will possibly make a mistake, and you can take advantage of it, and validate this in your thinking process and be able to go further.

Anyway, for me this kind of silencious interaction is most of the time enough to go on, and i do not see the need to immediately go for a post-mortem analysis with my direct opponent.

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Re: Chess improvement: the social dimension

Post by Bilbo on January 31st 2010, 2:49 pm

Good posts Hanging King, I hope your own study and play is going well.

I think BDK has an under estimation of how useful computers are and how poor is the 'analysis' of the average club player for post mortem too.

I play at around a 1600 level, as do the majority of my opponents both at my local club and in tournaments, congresses etc. Generally rating grades are kept together.

I only play serious games, with full time controls, to be rated by the ECF, so that means every game I play I have poured over the position during the game for sometimes upwards of four hours.

I have done plenty of my own thinking and analysis during this time. When I come home from a match I usually immediately will get the game analysed by Rybka (and sometimes chessmaster as well if its a hard loss) and then go over the game extensively with the help of the computer.

I see absolutely nothing wrong with this approach at all, and it is clearly better than 70% of chess players who will likely not go over their games with a computer afterwards at all.

During my analysis I will try and focus on why Rybka's moves are better than mine and aim to learn at least a couple useful concepts from each game.

If I had access to an experienced human player to discuss it with believe me I would take advantage of that, but sadly I don't, and I suspect, neither do most others.

Regardless my way is working for me. I continue to improve and most importantly enjoy my chess, both playing and studying and that is all that matters to me.

BDK, if the fact that I don't sit at home with my game sheet pouring over my last loss unaided by computer assistance, or that I don't invite over one of the geriatrics or pre teens at my club to chat about it with me annoys you then I don't really know what to say? Sorry buddy, but that's just not how I do things :-(

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Re: Chess improvement: the social dimension

Post by Blue Devil Knight on January 31st 2010, 5:48 pm

The point of the post I linked to (I only posted an excerpt) was that most online chess improvement stuff tends to focus on the autistic, masturbatory road to chess improvement more than is probably optimal for most people. Focusing on the computer vs human argument misses the point of my post (after all we've already had that argument in another thread). The point is that the social dimension of chess improvement is overlooked and probably underestimated. Computers are only one tool for chess masturbation, and that's an orthogonal issue.

When I talk to GMs and IMs, they typically haven't spent a lot of time alone studying chess to get to their level, and they certainly don't identify such solitary work as the key to their improvement. The majority spent tons of time interacting with real people, moving pieces around, talking, fighting, arguing with people at their level or better, often a coach. In Los Angeles I see groups of people working on tactics problems together, fighting about potential answers, moving pieces around. The pedagogic value of such interactive chess analysis tends to be underestimated in this age of online chess improvement seekers. See my post for another example from Katar.

That said, each person is an individual. Some might improve better in a kind of "autistic" mode where they work by themselves with their books or computer. Others (probably most) will do better in a more social interactive mode, going over moves together and hacking away at ideas in a human way. Most use a mixture of these approaches.

Getting to the secondary topic of computers, obviously I understand their power. They will demolish any human alive. I use them mainly for tactics, beyond that they are pedagogically fairly sterile even if they happen to play the right moves. I tend to agree with the founder of our course, who expresses a common sentiment when he says, "In general, chess software can identify only the tactical mistakes, but it is unable to discover and to indicate the real causes that have led to those mistakes or to other “position-understanding” mistakes."

Like I said, if one's view of chess improvement includes shying away from talking to humans about games because Fritz is so much better than us, or thinking such kibitzing is a waste of time (as you said in another thread), then we have incommensurate views of chess improvement and will never agree. If you don't feel that way, then we might have some common ground.

Just to finish with my main point from my post, to reinforce that it wasn't a "human versus computer" post at all, but a "social versus solitary" post:

Imagine learning a language without interacting with other humans. We often stress the analogies between chess skill and language acquisition, but seem to forget the important social dimension of language acquisition. My hunch is the social dimension is radically under appreciated in the chess improvement blogosphere and chess improvement literature (for obvious reasons in the blogosphere, but also because books tend to focus on what they can directly provide the reader).

Perhaps it is no coincidence that all the best players in any sport, including chess, have had extensive individualized coaching from real coaches. This is something that is stressed, to greater or lesser degrees, in the books. However, the books don't stand to gain all that much by telling you to get a coach rather than follow their generic chess path. And what can they do besides recommend that you get a coach, briefly explain why, and leave it at that?

It is usually stressed that it is the individual treatment is what is important in the coach relationship, but my hunch is that one-on-one social interactions with real people may be equally important. Our brains are wired to learn in a social way. Imagine an infant that hasn't learned to walk. Or speak. Learning such skills is an almost ineliminably social affair.

That was the main point of my post, it may have gotten lost in the noise about computers here rabbit

As for what people should do who can't find real people, I discuss that at the post briefly.


Last edited by Blue Devil Knight on January 31st 2010, 6:36 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Chess improvement: the social dimension

Post by Bilbo on January 31st 2010, 6:35 pm

As I said in my first reply I completely agree with you regarding the positivity of the social aspects.

All of us I'm sure would love to have a load of GM's and experienced players with which to bounce off ideas.

Unfortunately for the vast majority of us I'd guess that that kind of contact doesn't exist.

Chess is hardly a popular game and personally I have no friends whatsoever who share an interest. By nature, unless you're a youngster lucky enough to be on a sholastic program or an already experienced player who knows and has access to regular social contact with more experienced players how exactly are they to achieve this level of social bond?

I don't think the social side of chess is overlooked, rather I think that the prospects of being lucky enough to live in an area with a thriving chess community in place is just sadly not an often occurring one.

I imagine that as I improve and get good enough to represent my county team at events then the prospects of meeting similarly minded players is a possiblity but right now all I have is my computer, and the brief comments of players on chess nights and at the rare weekend tournaments.

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Re: Chess improvement: the social dimension

Post by Blue Devil Knight on January 31st 2010, 6:37 pm

Yes, it sucks where there aren't many around to play chess. I should take advantage of my local chess clubs more. :O

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Re: Chess improvement: the social dimension

Post by Blue Devil Knight on February 10th 2010, 8:19 am

Good comment from someone at my blog:
I recall from reading Word Freak, that the one glaring difference Stephen Fatsis noted between the novice to average players and the strong players in Scrabble was that the strong players after a game would go back and replay the game, always performing a post mortem. The novice to average players rarely or never replayed and analyzed their games, nor did they intermingle much with the stronger players.
Not a coincidence is my thesis.

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Re: Chess improvement: the social dimension

Post by Tweety on February 10th 2010, 6:32 pm

You are right BDK, the stronger the players the more chance to see them in the post mortem room. This is something every chess player should do after the game, you always learn something, even if the two players are not strong enough to understand the position, when you don't do the post mortem you go back home knowing one way you shouldn't handle that position, on the other hand, if you do the post mortem you go back home knowing two ways. Your knowledge increase twice with the same effort, just a single game. My advice is always do post mortem.
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