Saturday, August 26, 2006

Guard Swapping And More Basic Patterns

There is a pattern at Chess Tactics Server that I get right about 100% in an average time of about four seconds. Whenever it appears on the screen, I hear my inner voice say, hello again, here we are, and ... gotcha! yeah!

I have always asked myself why I get this one faster than most other patterns at CTS. I am not sure if I am right, but I have an idea: It is because I can describe this pattern in words that make flash up multiple pictures in my inner eye.

And this is the guard swapping pattern: The problem attacks my unguarded queen with its guarded queen. I capture the problem's queen guard with my own piece that becomes a guard of my own queen. Now mine is guarded and the problem's is no longer guarded. I have won a piece.

Of course there are hundreds of possible variations of guard swapping. The target piece may be a queen, a rook or any other piece. But mostly it is a queen, because CTS loves queens. The problem's guard may be any piece, and my attacking and guarding piece may be a knight, a bishop, a rook or even a queen.

I recognize guard swapping quite fast, whatever the position looks like. I think this is so because I have stored the basic pattern in my mind, and it is stored in a way that allows me to recognize it fast in multiple variations.

Could this be a concept of making progress at CTS? I do not know. But I suspect that it might be. There are tens of thousands of problems at CTS. There are thousands of pattern variations. But I believe that there is only a limited number of basic patterns.

Just take mates. All possible mating patterns can be reduced to just thirteen basic mating patterns, as King of the Spill has shown in his brilliant post more than a year ago. Maybe I am wrong, but it is possible that it is sufficient to have stored all these basic patterns plus the ability to recognize blocked squares of any kind, be they occupied by pieces of the defender or under control of attacking pieces or beyond the edge of the board (for example in back rank mates).

Just take the overworked piece. If you have stored this basic pattern, then you see it on the spot. You do not have to learn all possible variations and permutations of the guarding piece (K, Q, R, B, N, pawn), first target (K, Q, R, B, N, pawn), second target (K, Q, R, B, N, pawn), first attacker (K, Q, R, B, N, pawn), and second attacker (K, Q, R, B, N, pawn). I am no mathematician, but I guess that we speak of roughly 6x6x6x6x6 = 7776 possible variations of the overworked piece, but all these are just one basic pattern.

The example of guard swapping may show me a way to improve: First recognize a basic pattern, then describe it in words, then give it a name that serves as a memory handle, then imagine this pattern on occasions such as waiting for the bus, before falling to sleep, while shaving in the morning, and so on. I have no idea of how many basic patterns exist. But I am quite sure that a hundred of the most important ones will cover the majority of CTS problems or tactical occasions in OTB games.

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