Friday, September 22, 2006

About Consciousness In Chess

My position regarding the issue of unconscious vs conscious decisions in chess, raised by Temposchlucker. (Tempo, feel free to continue this discussion in your blog.)

Tempo gives a number of facts that support the view that GMs or even IMs can play and win games without thinking: Susan Polgar in a simul, a master while talking to his wife, and I can add a story some years ago in our club. I blitzed against our strongest player, and he talked to a friend, hardly ever glancing at the board, and he won, of course.

But every case has its counter case. The same IM has lost a blitz against one of my teammates recently, he was lost in position and also by time, which tells us that the IM had been forced to think. Hey, and I have won blitz games against this teammate.

Another counter case: The famous 2.6 seconds of Susan Polgar in a simul of hers (mentioned by Tempo time and again). I was not at that simul, but I had the opportunity to watch her sister Judit in her Zurich simul. That is: walk, move, walk, move, walk and on and on and on and ... stop and think (or look at the position, if you don't want to call it thinking). Sometimes ten seconds. Sometimes even half a minute. Even Kasparov did so.

Now let's have a look at the idea of unconscious move decisions. BTW I prefer the term subconscious, because any of these decisions may surge up to consciousness if necessary. And when is it necessary, even for grandmasters? Whenever the position becomes critical, this is my guess. Fast moving occurs in two kinds of positions: firstly in quiet positions where general strategic considerations prevail, and secondly in easy tactics.

Anyway, I mentioned grandmasters only because Tempo did so. More important for me is the question of how I should use the subconscious and the conscious decisionmaking myself. After tons of problems done at Chess Tactics Server I can put them into two categories: easy and hard. In easy problems the pattern pops out in a more or less subconscious way. In the hard problems I have to use a conscious search until I find it.

Okay, we are still in the phase of pattern spotting. Now comes the real problem, deciding a move. This involves not a positive pattern scan, but a negative one. The absence of bad patterns such as hanging pieces, counter patterns or simple defense moves.

Again, there are two categories of problems. In the easy problems, I have spotted all relevant elements in the six seconds before the problem makes its move. I just have to check if the move changes something. If not, I can play my own move grandmasterlike out of my guts. The zen of playing chess, yeah.

But there are enough other problems, the vast majority of them. They force me to check and check again for blunder. I would call this conscious thinking. And because I am a patzer and never will be a grandmaster, I must do much more of this sort than he has to do.

All is relative, by the way. Look at grandmasters playing grandmasters: they think and think and think again. Subconscious moving can only be seen in grandmasters against amateurs, and only if the latter play like patzers.


At 5:06 PM, Blogger Temposchlucker said...

What I try to pinpoint is where does exactly the advantage from the grandmaster come from?

Is it his memory?
No, because research showed no significant difference in memory in comparison to amateurs.

Is it his opening knowledge?
No, because I have studied more opening books than Magnus Carlson can carry.

Is it his ability for superior conscious decision making? Etcetera, etcetera.

To what would you attribute his advantage?

At 7:23 PM, Blogger Mousetrapper said...

Let me have a try, Tempo.

Memory? Hm, I am not so sure about that. Memory does not play any role for an amateur because without superior chess strength the best memory is useless. But because grandmasters have superior strength, memory should make a difference.

Opening knowledge? Sorry Tempo, I disagree. I have also studied opening books, and they did not help me to improve either. For me and for you it is useless. But, again, if two do the same thing, it is not the same. Grandmasters have the strength to make use of opening knowledge. I am sure Magnus Carlsen knows many of the variants all the other GMs use to play nowadays.

Decisionmaking? Clearly, and of course, before being superior in subconscious you must be superior in conscious decisionmaking. But for me this is not a basic skill but rather depends from others such as visualization and so on.

And now come all the others you did not mention, such as square vision, pattern vision and all this stuff we constantly discuss in our posts.

But this is not all: Endgames! I know that you appreciate their importance.

But this is still not all.

Positional strength. Tactics is basics, this is what we all should master. But it is not sufficient to become a GM. As a GM you must be superior in looking at a position and spot the minute advantages that can be amplified. You must be able to sacrifice the Exchange just for a superior position without any tactic that can be calculated until mate or material win.

Just some personal ideas of mine so far. Not more.

At 12:43 PM, Blogger transformation said...

from 1500.0 to 1535.4 today. it all just clicked... see post... dk


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