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  1. #1
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    Improving calculation

    Forgive me if this has been raised before, but I'd dearly like to know if anyone knows of any good books/techniques/training programs for improving one's ability to calculate/visualise. I'm also interested to know of anyone who has used such techniques and whether they have noticed any improvement.

    In particular, what does one do about the following: after calculating more or less accurately for a certain number of moves, one gets to a point where the resulting position is vague in one's head, and one loses the confidence or ability to proceed. How do you clarify the mental picture (assuming, contra Wittgenstein, that it is ultimately a matter of visual imagination) and extend the range of calculation?

    Thanks in advance for any help

    Cheers - PaulB
    cheers - paulb

  2. #2
    CC Grandmaster Adamski's Avatar
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    Silman Technique + Kotov

    See Jermey Silman - How To Reassess Your Chess.

    More detailed level (and need to be strong player to visualise as much as he does ) A Kotov - Think like a Grand master.

    Both mentioned in other threads - see the search function.
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  3. #3
    Reader in Slood Dynamics Rincewind's Avatar
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    Hi Paul,

    I think doing tactical puzzles, lots of tactical puzzles is a good way to improve. The more used your mind gets to such calculations, the better it is a coping with longer combinations and more complicated positions with less mistakes. Books with lots of such positions like 1001 brilliant checkmates and the like by Rhinefeld are useful for this purpose. Perhaps I found a database version of this book and used that with chessbase/scid using their training mode and random position selection.

    The Polgar book on chess I believe also has a lot of material for such a program though I haven't got this one. (I think Theo Rippas suggested this book to me a few years ago). Obviously I haven't tried this particular book first hand.

    Another thing which may help is to try to play blindfold. This might be daunting at first but I think can only help with a little practice. I've never tried this one myself but I believe Alex MDC has. Well he has a blind account on FICS anyway. If you're interested I noticed someone was starting a blindfold club in another thread on the board.

    If you run into Alex or Theo you might like to ask them about their ideas as I might not be relaying them accurately.
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  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by paulb
    Forgive me if this has been raised before, but I'd dearly like to know if anyone knows of any good books/techniques/training programs for improving one's ability to calculate/visualise. I'm also interested to know of anyone who has used such techniques and whether they have noticed any improvement.

    In particular, what does one do about the following: after calculating more or less accurately for a certain number of moves, one gets to a point where the resulting position is vague in one's head, and one loses the confidence or ability to proceed. How do you clarify the mental picture (assuming, contra Wittgenstein, that it is ultimately a matter of visual imagination) and extend the range of calculation?

    Thanks in advance for any help

    Cheers - PaulB
    I'm currently working through silmans book, and it really helps a lot and changes the way you organize chess. He recommends creating a plan based on weaknesses before calculating a single move, you calculate a dream position and try to calculate it.

  5. #5
    CC Grandmaster Basil's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by paulb
    I'd dearly like to know if anyone knows of any good books/techniques/training programs for improving one's ability to calculate/visualise.
    Hi Paul

    Andrew Soltis' book 'The Inner Game of Chess' (McKay Chess Library), subtitled 'How To Calculate & Win' is just what you're after. Weighty enough at 350 odd pages. Discusses in detail analysis trees, how to analyse, visualise, what to do in over-load etc..

    As with all books, there will no doubt be detractors, but I for one heartily recommend this as an excellent place to start! You'll probably get more out of it than me

    Cheers
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  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by paulb
    Forgive me if this has been raised before, but I'd dearly like to know if anyone knows of any good books/techniques/training programs for improving one's ability to calculate/visualise. I'm also interested to know of anyone who has used such techniques and whether they have noticed any improvement.
    This may seem rather banal, but I don't think there are any special techniques/training programs for improving calculating ability. I think Rincewind is spot on: Get a book on tactical puzzles and work through it. Have you tried Fritz's "Sparring" mode?
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  7. #7
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    Kotov's think like a grandmaster for calculation.

    For visualization, sitting at a board with difficult puzzles (ones that you may or may not solve in 30 minutes) set up, and not giving up on them until it really is useless. Specifically something like the puzzles at the back of informator, or in the informator puzzle book. This suggestion requires that you are reasonably competent in simpler puzzles, however.
    Last edited by Aaron Guthrie; 22-01-2008 at 11:25 AM.

  8. #8
    CC Grandmaster Capablanca-Fan's Avatar
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    Not sure that many people on ChessChat are in a position to advise someone of PaulB's level.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rincewind
    I think doing tactical puzzles, lots of tactical puzzles is a good way to improve. The more used your mind gets to such calculations, the better it is a coping with longer combinations and more complicated positions with less mistakes. Books with lots of such positions like 1001 brilliant checkmates and the like by Rhinefeld are useful for this purpose. Perhaps I found a database version of this book and used that with chessbase/scid using their training mode and random position selection.
    I agree with lots of tactical studies. Reinfeld is often laughed at but Purdy called his books "sound and reliable".

    Quote Originally Posted by Rincewind
    I think doing tactical puzzles, lots of tactical puzzles is a Another thing which may help is to try to play blindfold.
    Not sure. I play blindfold simuls much better than, for example, Larry Christiansen, who lost track of a lot of his positions, but he can calculate much better than I can. Blindfold is not only about visualization but recall.

    Not sure about Kotov's tree of analysis. Nunn's book Secrets of Practical Chess shows up some of the problems with "candidate moves'' if one doesn't retrace branches already analyses. E.g. a line in one candidate move may not work, but another line shows up a possible clue to make the first one work. some of his helpful hints are:

    • DAUT — don't analyse unnecessary tactics. Especially cogent from an author who's won fierce tactical slugfests with some of the world's best.
    • Learn about safety nets, i.e. a way to bail out with say perpetual check if a line turns out not to be as good as you thought. Even in the famous Kasparov's Immortal against Topalov, K knew that he was safe to enter the line because he had a perpetual a few moves down. Once he reached that point, he could look further and realise he had a win.
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  9. #9
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    For someone as strong as Paul, there are not many tactical books.

    One book that comes to mind (and its quite advanced as i remember working on it after reaching candidate master level)

    is "Together with Grandmasters" by Hort and Jansa. I may have the book title wrong as i read it in Russian and it may havea different title in English but the author's name should be enough for finding it.

    Also, solving puzzles at the back of the "Chess Informators" is good..they are also quite advanced.

    Another good way to practice is playing sharp tactical lines against Fritz, Rybka etc.
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  10. #10
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    Thanks for all the advice - I'll certainly follow it (some of it I've already been following!).

    But a few more questions:

    1. Presumably, everyone eventually will have trouble visualising a position after a long analysis. (For me it might after 5 moves, for Kasparov it might be 20 moves, but *eventually* it's an issue for everyone). So what do you do then?

    A chess player I know said he read somewhere that masters playing blindfold will divide the board in four in their imagination. They are able to visualise 16 squares quite OK, but not 64 (that's certainly my situation!). They later put the four quarter-boards together in their minds, presumably by noting which pieces are about to take each other and so on - the relationships between the pieces.

    First of all - does anyone know whether this is true of masters playing blindfold. And is it effective?

    Either way, it's an example of a mental "technique" to improve calculating abilities.

    Does anyone know of any other mental "techniques" that might extend the range of calculation (perhaps including mental techniques from non-chess fields). For example: hypnosis/meditation etc?

    Similarly, some people use mnemonics to remember things (eg All Cows Eat Grass - ACEG - for the musical notes on the bass stave) - are there any comparable techniques for remembering the position of pieces in a chess game? Just a thought.


    One other related observation: some very strong players are known to stare at the roof, or into the middle distance, rather than at the board when they're playing. I saw Greg Hjorth doing this in my youth, shortly before he uncorked some fantastic move. I've also heard that Ivanchuk does it, and some suggestion that autistic players do it. I'd be interested to know why they do this (is it perhaps because, once one's calculations go a few moves past the board position, the positions are so different that the board is no longer a useful reference point? Is it something that mere mortals like myself should try - is there a point at which seeing the physical board is no longer useful for calculation?
    cheers - paulb

  11. #11
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    Hi Paul.

    I can play pretty reasonable blindfold chess, without forgetting the position at least.

    I don't use any artificial technique like dividing the board into 4. Neither do I visualise the whole board perfectly like a picture in my mind. What I see is a whole bunch of relationships between the pieces, as you alluded to. So in any given blindfold game I will concentrate on a particular area of the board and then swing my attention back and forth, perhaps a bit like looking through a funnel. (Is that tunnel vision? )

    I suspect that is also what we do when looking at a board in a normal game, but because our eyes are 'seeing' everything it appears different to a blindfold game. In actual fact though, we are not really thinking about everything our eyes are seeing, our brains are only thinking about a certain relevant part of it.

    I doubt that when players stare into space they are doing much serious calculation. It's probably either resting their minds and relaxing for a moment, or just double checking that visual stimulus isn't interfering with what they are visualising. They usually only do it for a short time.

    As to how to extend ones depth of accurate calculation, that is a tough one. Practice is certainly important. It's hard work calculating, so a lot of players are lazy and decide to mainly use their intuition, or concentrate on positional play.

    If you simply decide to start calculating as far as you can for as long as it takes in your games, you'll certainly improve your ability in that area. It may not pay off straight away though, both because of clock time used and because human calculation is never going to be good enough on its own. Intuition about the positions you are 'seeing' and good assessments when you reach the end of your analysis are still very important.

    For example, the key moment in a line might be 8 moves down the variation. It may not matter whether you can see 6 moves ahead or 7 moves in such a case... what is more important is whether you assess the probability of it being good correctly. Of course if you could calculate an extra move ahead then suddenly it would have made a big difference in such a case, but I'm just making the point that sometimes extra calculating depth won't immediately convert to extra points. If however, you add a whole few extra ply to your calculations, and more importantly become more accurate, that should obviously make a huge difference to results.

    How to do it? I'm skeptical about any bizarre methods like hypnotism or zen. (I tried the latter unsuccessfully once) Practice and discipline at the board, definitely. Doing studies and problems without moving the pieces around, yes. Books like "Think like a Grandmaster", maybe. Playing blindfold a lot, probably. They're my initial thoughts on the matter for what it's worth.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by paulb
    1. Presumably, everyone eventually will have trouble visualising a position after a long analysis. (For me it might after 5 moves, for Kasparov it might be 20 moves, but *eventually* it's an issue for everyone). So what do you do then?
    Then you give up and use the information you did get out if it to help you choose your move. Is there any other thing one can do?
    Quote Originally Posted by paulb
    One other related observation: some very strong players are known to stare at the roof, or into the middle distance, rather than at the board when they're playing.
    I do this to an extent (so some not very strong players do it too). I guess I can say two things about it 1)sometimes one just wants to think about the position in this manner (and my natural reaction is why does one need to look at the board?) 2)sometimes the pieces on the board just get in the way (especially if one has calculated a few moves ahead already).

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mangafranga
    Then you give up and use the information you did get out if it to help you choose your move..
    That's fine, unless you've reached a really sharp position where further analysis is really needed.

    Also, in general there's a desire to extend the range of one's calculation, because one tends to get beaten by players who can calculate further ahead.
    cheers - paulb

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by paulb
    That's fine, unless you've reached a really sharp position where further analysis is really needed.

    Also, in general there's a desire to extend the range of one's calculation, because one tends to get beaten by players who can calculate further ahead.
    I thought you meant what do you do at the time.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mangafranga
    I thought you meant what do you do at the time.
    I do, in this sense: is there anything I can do to clear the fog out of my brain. I'm interested in any techniques and tricks that can be applied at the board during a game, as well as any practice techniques for between games. Obviously I agree that at some point you have to make a move
    cheers - paulb

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