Month One Theory Section Synopsis

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Month One Theory Section Synopsis

Post by Blue Devil Knight on May 5th 2009, 11:24 pm

I have now worked through all of the theory material from the first month. It is an interesting mish-mash of topics, seemingly from different authors that have slightly different perspectives and with different skills as communicators. Here's my take on how to chunk together the different theory papers by topic. There are three main topics, obviously with lots of overlap among topics: thought process, position evaluation, and tactics.

Thought Process
This topic is addressed mainly in Think Like a Strong Player, but also in Making Decisions in Chess.

How should you decide what move to play during a game? In month one ICS focuses on the following:
1. Look at threats first. Don't worry about a backwards pawn if you are about to gain or lose a major piece.
2. Always consider the consequences of the opponent's move, and remember the consequences. E.g., is a piece left unprotected? Has he weakened his dark squares with a pawn move?
3. Construct a To Do list every few moves. That is, a list of goals you would like to meet. Most authors call such goals 'plans.' Your ultimate goal is to increase your advantages, decrease disadvantages, and do the opposite for the opponent. As they say, 'By every move we are trying to accumulate a certain advantage or to reduce a certain advantage already accumulated by your opponent.'

Frankly, while they make a big deal out of To Do lists, and consequences, they don't say much in these articles about how to actually pull this off. Upon what factors should we base our To Do lists (i.e., what should our aims be)? What types of consequences should we take note of? These are really different ways of asking how to evaluate a position, which is the next topic.

Also, they don't say much about calculation in their bits on thought process. How far should we look into the future of the game tree for each candidate move? What is the best way to improve at this skill? This is something they discuss a very little bit in the article on tactics, which I discuss a little below.

Positional Evaluation
What are the strenghts and weaknesses in the position for each player? That is, how should we evaluate the position? There is a ton of material on this topic in month one.

Of course the most important factor is material, and in the article The Piece Value they discuss this topic. There is some useful material in that article on how the pieces change their value as the game progresses. The long-range pieces become more valuable in the endgame and in attacks, while the Knights go down in value in the endgame, except as local defenders. They also give a complicated table on how to determine the quantitative value of material (e.g., in the endgame, a queen and pawn is equal to two rooks).

More generally, they discuss how to evaluate chess positions in three different articles that give complementary and overlapping sets of criteria . In what follows, I give a list followed in parentheses by the article(s) that include the factor.

Abbreviations I'll use for the three articles:
PME: Criteria of Evaluation of Positions with Material Equivalence
PE: Postional Evaluation
MDC: Making Decisions in Chess

The elements of positional evaluation include:
1. Material (MDC, PE)
2. Local superiority of forces (MDC)
3. Threats, initiative, tactical resources (PE, MDC)
4. King safety (PME, PE, MDC)
5. Quality/value of pieces (PME, PE, MDC) [very interesting contrasts to be made in this aspect of the three articles]
6. Pawn structure (PME, PE, MDC)
7. Space (MDC, PE)
8. Control over the center (PE)
9. Type of center (PE) [could be a special case of 6]
10. The existence and quality of the "play coordinating" piece (PME) [this could be a special case of 5]

Note my favorite bit in the first month is the article MDC. At the end they list a very useful series of questions you can ask yourself about a position to determine the assets and liabilities in terms of these factors. The answers to such questions will help to build a To Do list.

As I tried to indicate above, the ten factors are not necessarily independent. I included a factor in the list if one of the three articles included it in a list, so if you'd rather shorten the list and include coordinating pieces as a special case of piece quality, that's certainly reasonable. Every chess author seems compelled to build such lists of evaluation factors, and they are all different, and none is right (or wrong). What is important is whether it is useful.

Tactics
There is one article on tactics. I found it interesting, as I mentioned in the thread discussing the article. This course assumes you are good with basic tactics, and it isn't mainly a tactics-focused course. Tactics is the sort of thing it isn't easy for a course to teach you. I have some ideas on the best way to learn tactics (it isn't the Circles), but I'll save those thoughts for my chess blog.

What use is theory?
First, if I've left anything important out of this summary of the conceptual contours of Month One, please let us know.

Second, theory can't take you very far in chess until it is turned into habit, skill, ability. I am living proof of this, with my knowledge so far past my actual skill it is pathetic and embarassing. This is the 'chess scholar' syndrome.

For intance, I can know how to classify tactics and combinations, but that doesn't mean I'll be a good tactitian in practice. To help build an eye for the practial application of their theories, they have six annotated games in the first month, and also a set of exercises (five for building To Do lists, 18 for consequence listing, and one game to analyze and grade). It is key to apply these ideas in games, and see them applied, and to play with them in puzzle positions to get anything out of the theory. In theory anyway. Razz


Last edited by Blue Devil Knight on October 27th 2009, 9:22 am; edited 7 times in total

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Re: Month One Theory Section Synopsis

Post by chesstiger on May 6th 2009, 4:44 am

First of all i want to note that calculation and analyse is more explained in the months 10-13, atleast if we may believe the general program they gave.

Secondly, noting the consequences is a lot more important then you give it credit. For example, some tactical tricks need pieces on certain squares, diagnals, ... . By noting the consequences of a move one will be quicker to see that you are able to such positioning of your pieces or not. With other words that a tactical shot can be created or not. Or that one can gain space or that one can create a local superiority of forces at a certain part of the board. ...

At first it might be alot of work to list all these consequences since one isn't used to it but as with many things practice, practice and more practice makes things easier and all time invested now will pay of later.

Thirdly the TO DO list reminds me of the thoughtproces Silman suggest namely first list the imbalances, then dream your dreamposition and then try to see if you can reach such position (only moving your pieces, in your mind) and last but not least calculate concrete variations. On the TO DO list comes then what you have to do to reach your dreamposition.

Hope all my jiberish makes some sense. jocolor
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Re: Month One Theory Section Synopsis

Post by Blue Devil Knight on May 6th 2009, 8:13 am

chesstiger wrote:noting the consequences is a lot more important then you give it credit.

Perhaps, but in the theory course for month one they talk about it only in one article, in a couple of pages (the very short article Think Like a Strong Player). On the other hand, they spend more than 10 pages on how to evaluate a position, spread out over four articles. The synopsis simply reflects the level of detail provided for each topic. I wish they had given more time to consequences and such, given how important they think it is!

But you are right they clearly think in month one it is key to absorb the ideas of planning (and/or the To Do list) and move consequences. This is reflected more in the annotated games and problem sets than in the theory papers. This should help in practice. I haven't done any of the problem sets yet, other than the initial course preliminary exam.

Clearly, as I tried to stress in my summary, the topics of thought process and positional evaluation are closely linked. You can't implement their suggestions for how to think during a game without doing some positional evaluation!

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Re: Month One Theory Section Synopsis

Post by Bilbo on October 26th 2009, 9:15 am

I thought the first month's layout was brilliant really. These Romanians maybe don't have the English language control to properly present their course but the design and way it's structured is first class imo.

I'm not really sure what you mean about them not going into more details about the thought processes, such as TO DO LISTS, and Consequences of Moves etc, I think they do a grand job.

Thr two articles, Think Like A Strong Grandmaster and Positional Evaluation are the key to understanding the whole course.

ICS maintain that the key to successful chess is through a proper and correct thought structure, the basis of which is an effective and accurate evaluation of the position.

So Month 1 is just an overview of the entire course. The Positional Evaluation theory is a brief glimpse at the first 9 months of the course, where every month we look in depth at one part of the evaluation process.

The Think Like a Grandmaster theory then prevents a brief overview of how we should assimilate that information in our analysis, and will be the focus of the final 4 months of the course.

Also the entire first month, was a detailed look at how the two processes, positional evaluation and analysis go together. After the theory they showed us six games, highlighting the positional evaluation features and then showing how the players used those features for analysis to build their TO DO LISTS, evaluate consequences of moves and come up with a plan etc.

Then following the games (which were practical examples of the theory) we were invited to have a go at working on each process ourselves, firstly with 18 positions where we were to evaluate the consequences of the moves, then 5 positions where were to create our own TO DO LISTS, and finally an annotated game for us to work through.

I thought it was a superb introduction to the course, and it got my mind racing at the possibilites. We wern't expected to understand everything yet, we havn't yet had the positional evaluation training (begins in Month 2-9) or the analysis training (Months 10-13) but it was just an effective introductuction to the process for us.

I'm onto Month 2 now, which begins the positional evaluation training with the first two elements King Safety and the Centre.

It's a great course I think, I'm really developing an appreciation for it the more I absorb myself into it.

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Re: Month One Theory Section Synopsis

Post by Blue Devil Knight on October 26th 2009, 7:43 pm

Bilbo, I hope I never gave the impression I didn't think it was good. I wouldn't have taken the hours to summarize all their theory articles if I didn't like it.

As I said, the space in my summary is representative of the depth of coverage of topics in their theory articles (that's why I put in the title summary of month one theory). It is representative of the depth of explicit coverage. Otherwise it would have taken too much time. Sure, they talk more about move consequences in some of the games and a problem set, but in the theory articles compared to positional evaluation it doesn't get much attention at all.

My synopsis accurately reflects the emphasis and amount of space in the theory articles. If there is other material in other bits, such as games and the test (which obviously there is), it would be helpful and productive if someone were to write up something about those. Evil or Very Mad

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Re: Month One Theory Section Synopsis

Post by Bilbo on October 26th 2009, 8:45 pm

Hey BDK,

I'm not sure really what you mean relating to theory and consequences. Are you saying you wish they discussed the concept of analysing move consequences more in the theory section, rather than through test positions and example games?

If that's the case I don't really see how that is possible. I mean they tell you that you need to check move consequences after ever opponent move beyond that what more can they say without actual game examples and tests?

I don't think I've ever read any chess book that contains as much theory (i.e general discussion without recourse to actual moves and positions) than is contained within the first month of this course.

Chess is a practical game and ultimately the only way to teach something is by way of showing us these ideas in practice.

The 18 positions they gave us on Consequences took me over a week to work through and assimilate and that was several hours spent so I think they ingrained the idea into me at least.

I have also noticed in analysing my own games that during the first half of a chess game I am far more alert to evaluating move consequences than I am later on when fatigue and concentration loss creep in.

I'm playing exclusively much stronger players now and am losing relatively late on in the games where I make an oversight, and looking back over them later I see that in every single case, if I had asked myself what the consequences of the move before made by my opponent, I would have noticed the tactical or positional threats and avoided them. I think accurately and consistently applying this rule is fundamental to good chess.

In contrast to consequences (which I think they covered very well) the TO DO LISTS coverage was a little more scanty, just 5 questions and not a whole lot said.

I believe this is deliberate. In order to really make a TO DO LIST we need first to understand the position properly and that means studying months 2-9, so I don't think they needed to go into any more depth than they did.

Remember Month 1 is really akin to Chapter 1 in a standard book and so isn't meant to be exhaustive and overwhelming.

Regarding calculation I know they have an entire article on the subject in Month 3 although I have not got that far yet, and so don't know its contents.

Currently I'm taking my first run through the 8 game intro to the King Safety Module, just one game to play through now, Driving Out The King, which I will do tonight before bed.

I'll then play through all 8 again and make notes on the computer, (already entered the moves and variations) and play them once more on a real board, then I'll start the theory section there, which I'm really looking forward to.

In general I love the theoretical sections in ICS, as they are far more verbose than any chess book I have seen which teach almost exclusively via games or game fragments.

I think ICS combines the two well.

Of course the language sometimes can be a little obscure and when annotating notes for my online chessbase database of this course I invariably have to translate it to make it more immediately understandable.

In a strange way though I think this necessary commitment actually helps me to absorb the information further as I first have to think and digest what they actually saying rather than just surface reading through it all in quick style like I am prone to do with Silman.

Like puddles and potholes on the road the translation forces you to slow down and as a result you see more of the scenery along the way Very Happy

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Re: Month One Theory Section Synopsis

Post by Blue Devil Knight on October 27th 2009, 9:14 am

For those confused by this thread.

In Month 1 there are four sections:
1-Theory
2-Annotated Games
3-Learn from Capablanca
4-Tests, Problems, Individual Analysis

My original post in this thread summarizes the Theory section.

Some people have pointed out that the ideas of 'To Do' lists and 'Consequences', which I mentioned in the summary, are very important concepts in the course as a whole. Quite so. If you look at the theory articles, there is one rather short article out of five that discusses these topics, and to reflect this I included a short discussion in my summary. Also, that one article didn't provide many specifics or examples of how to build a To Do list or examine move Consequences. This is in contrast to the stuff in the articles on positional evaluation, which have many specific examples and lots of useful lists and instructions. This is also reflected in my summary, which devotes more space to the topics.

That said, the annotated games and such in the remaining three sections in Month One help clarify the idea of move consequences/to do lists with lots of examples, so you can find quite a bit of material there. The course isn't skimping or leaving us in the cold, it just doesn't cover the topics much in the Theory articles in month 1.

I hope that is clear. Sometimes people here like to keep arguing when the horse is dead. Sleep

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