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These are five Idea Lists that I've been developing to use with Tactics Trainer chess problems (also called TT). Any or all of these 5 short lists (in the first section) could be used to tackle a problem but their main intended use is simply to list key solving ideas. Including for anybody to use any of the ideas in exactly any way they want to. You might like one list more than another. The second section is disorganized and I mainly use it to draw ideas from to help with the first 5 lists. But its there too nonetheless. Why? Because it would be inappropriate to post all this in a TT comments forum so its here instead. This all gets modified/updated from time to time. First version Feb 4, 2015, views 7121.
(1) Observation list:
1) Verify there's a previous move (often the biggest hint) then after also noting where the piece came from take a quick glance at the 2 Kings before reviewing the entire material balance throughout the board. Multiple reasons for doing this long before commencing calculations.
2) Review what protects what from what. For example early noting of underprotected pieces greatly saves on extra and cumbersome calculations even when those pieces are not attacked yet. Protections/non-protections of the target king are often much more subtle though and much of that might have to await at least some calculations. June 2015: What protects what pieces and squares from what. The squares part is harder and that's one reason to do the pieces first. All pieces for both sides. Squares might have to wait until after other steps.
3) The clues stage. There's a great list within this stage like looking for 1) tempo-getting (tactical) moves to start, 2) forced options for TT purposes, 3) eliminating various pieces or strategies or moves as irrelevant to the action, 4) identifying red herrings (the problems require efficiency but are designed to cause inefficiency. In other words they are designed to train). This list within a list to be extended further. And this step often has to be revisited before moving. After doing some calculating.
4) Now one is also in a much better position for a first assess of what the opponent's previous move (if available) really did. Often its key.
5) After solvers make their move 1 and a reply move comes back they already know what the material balance was/is but move 2 quality often suffers here (and the quality of other moves after move 1). One reason being solvers are not reviewing the entire board as they were before move 1. So where step 1 is not going to be repeated for move 2 failure to review the board after each move causes mucho blunders of various types. Even when the problem appears to be solved in advance or when the solver has a confident plan. Revisiting step 2 (at least but more is better) (before more calculations) pays off after each move.
(2) Tactics comparison list: (the beginning of each calculation stage)
1) Available options to check, capture anything, threaten mate, or pawn-promote/underpromote, for both sides. (I have missed that a check was a mate especially during lookahead)
2) Available options to attack or threaten any piece or pawn, whether directly, or by forking, other double attacks, pinning or skewering or by other means.
3) For both sides on everything. In other words pay attention to defense too. You'll get clobbered if you don't and get into bad game habits also.
4) On all moves. Decisions on this one as in how much lookahead to do on it. But if you've moved (including within just looking ahead) then 1 through 4 repeat and observations should repeat also. On each move and before calculations.
So often I've gotten minus points for incorrects or time penalties where it would've taken about 2 seconds to look at/for whatever on the above lists and maybe 5 more seconds to spot the solution idea or move.
(3) Move Common Sense list: Applies very heavily throughout all competitive TT problems and chess games.
1) What did my opponent's last move really do? As opposed to why I think he made it. And...
2) What will the move I want to make really do? Not just why I like it or want to make it. And...
3) What about my other options and moves that are available? Have I got a better move or moves? Better look it over and try to make sure either way. (there's a Lasker quote reminding players of that) And...
4) Regarding all of the above: both ends of a move have to be considered. But there's a tendency to ignore the fact that a piece did/will leave a square. And that's regarded as ancient history because its no longer there. But its not history. Its new and ignoring it causes beaucoup blunders.
5) Am I Protecting my Pieces? This is even more basic and fundamental for chess games.
Now most players won't look at it that way consciously but fact is: failure/neglect on any/all of those five basic points causes zillions of blunders. Especially at under 1000 Blitz (point number 5) and also up to under 1400 Blitz (points one through 4).
(4) the "About" list:
Early enough in the problem one has an option to decide (or not bother) as to whether the problem is mainly about:
(1) Checkmate, or
(2) Winning material, or
(3) Pawn promotion/underpromotion, or
(4) Defense, or
(5) Drawing to prevent losing, or
(6) A mixture of any of the above, ... But!
(7) One could also decide instead that what the problem is about depends! On the line and the reply moves! Or that this just can't or shouldn't be determined or attempted until at least one reply move comes back. If attempted at all! Like in list 4 below this decision is or can be ongoing throughout the problem and moving. This is where some of the skill is concentrated.
(5) The solve-in-advance versus solving move-by-played-move list: the latter often called incremental solving (or clearly best/ only non-losing/ forced moves solving)
(1) Try to solve the whole problem right away before making any move at all? Or....
(2) Just take it one considered move at a time and play the move and then regroup and re-evalutate on each move? Or....
(3) Only try to solve through on the faster and more obvious lines of the problem? Or....
(4) Realize that it depends entirely on the particular problem? Of course! But what's not quite as obvious is:
(5) Realize that these decisions are ongoing throughout the problem and sometimes obvious and sometimes not. And realize that...
(6) How much time to invest in a move or considering a particular option or line is something that stronger solvers are much better at. As with this whole list and list 3 above. They seem to know about search trees. And this point is something that often gets away from weaker solvers completely! They blame the timer or the problem or crash and burn emotionally.
May 23rd 2015: those are the current short idea lists. Section 2 below needs more organization. If you like what you saw above you may want to stop here but the rest is also getting improved.
Regarding number 6 above: does that mean I'm a strong solver? No! lots for me to learn about #6 (among many other chess weaknesses) but I'm improving at it. Working on these lists is showing me how.
Regarding delegation of time Botvinnik had something to say about when you're on your clock time. Tactics get priority first. When your opponent's clock is running this is often a good time to look at positional issues first (impossible with TT of course because the computer relays the stored move instantly) but not impossible when you're doing unrated TT repeats.
Now I don't claim these are the best initial lists. Alot of this is from my own experience with TT and from observations of the comments there from other players doing TT. Each problem has its own comments forum! There's like 60,000 problems! I mean that literally! Now regarding the information below I could have put it in a separate text folder to be improved later but I elected to put it here.
Any polite friendly person is welcome to pursue discussion of any of this with me by so indicating in any problem I've got a comment in (where I haven't said I'm untracking it). I track a lot of problems so I get a Notify on my HOME screen anytime somebody comments. However regarding extended one-on-one dialogues creating many new bottom comments in any forum, I usually circumvent. There are various ways to have such dialogues without creating such extensions. Examples: repeated edits of a previous comment with deletion of most of the dialogue at the end. Or communication by temporary notes on one's activity page.
I think some more comment is in order about the purpose of the above lists. Not strictly intended as procedure although temporarily the way I set them up happens to suggest that and I have experimented. But there's multiple lists which contradicts procedure anyway. They're idea lists. Also they're about options to change how to go at the problems and what's involved and what's necessary to solve efficiently. And about methods of getting out of the bad habits that cause extra incorrects and loss of clock time and extra time penalty minus points. Also how about using these ideas any way you want?
Tactics Trainer is almost like a new form of chess. Its rated and timed and involves players from all over the world like internet chess does. But TT also uses many thousands of games and studies that are both modern and from many decades ago and from games of grandmasters and world chess champions of the past. But it does not require you to go over their games. It uses critical points in those games resulting in great efficiency of study and instruction. To get to Tactics Trainer (TT) a feature of this website: hover on your HOME button and a 15-item menu should appear and TT is the fourth one down on the right. It can also be accessed under the LEARN button.
(5) The Given list.
A) There's something that's always given and that's the average time that people take to solve the problem. If you're willing to access each problem from the TT Home page instead of hitting Next Problem then you'll even see this average time in advance! How about you also get advance warning as to whether you have black or white too? Yes. How about advance warning as to whether there's a previous move too? That can help alot with these problems. (In a game you know in advance how much time you have for all your moves so why not in TT too?)
B) But what's not always given is the previous move before its your move to attempt the problem solution. But I think it will always be given when en passant is possible. (Often missed by many and I'm one). You can see what could happen if you fail to note the previous move. But there are other reasons to note it like for example its often the very biggest hint or clue as to the mistake you're going to tactically refute. Another reason is that for game purposes one needs to keep the habit of thoroughly attending to the last move played.
C) Now another thing that's given is the option to track the problem. You'll see the checkbox for it just above and to the right of your comments input box that comes with every problem. You'll get a nice notify link on your HOME page every time somebody makes a posting in the problem's comments forum. Tracking these problems gives you opportunities at random intervals to attempt the problem again. Timed but not rated. You can wait and prepare as in a game then have your opponent "move" by clicking on the Attempt button. Now you're on the clock. July: You can also go to your TT home page and click the grey performance button. If you scroll down you'll see your last 25 rated problems with stats. An HTML copy of the page can be made by clicking Save As on your browser options menu. It will save with nice blue hyperlinks on the ID numbers for each of the problems you did. Then each of those saved pages can be brought up anytime. There's a log in option on the page so you can get your preferred board and Edit options and so on. I usually just copy the URL and paste it into the address box of the chess.com page I'm on.
D) Another given is TT Reset. It will reset your rating to 1200 but you'll then get mucho points for solving accurately. At first. This will get you points for problems you failed but have since "mastered". May 2015: have now experimented with TT reset and found out I like it. Now I'm taking a break from rated problems and just doing previous ones I get notifies on.
E) There's something called Source but unless you know the trick you can't bring it up. You click Analysis Board on the TT problem then you maximize that screen. Unless you do the funny bracket-shaped icon at the bottom probably won't appear. Then you click on that Icon to see if it was from 100 years ago or Kasparov or whatever. Sometimes there's no Source info. There's another icon to the right of the source icon too. A long one. Apparently its for relevant source games.
6) True solving versus hindsight and lugging around preconceptions. To solve effectively and fast enough useful ideas are an obvious plus but what's not so obvious is: which are they? Also obvious is that many problems have their own ideas and their own variety/creativity/novelty but that doesn't mean that there are not ideas/themes to look for. Lately I've had the idea that early observation of what protects what from what before any calculation will save an enormous amount of cumbersome calculations and there's also the other clues stage too. Observation before calculation. Now there's the problem tags (discussed more later) but they often just describe the solution and not how to find it. To solve you've got to break through the mysteries of the problem. An analogy might help with this. Can you imagine a plumber/electrician/carpenter buying special parts to fix something without first assesssing how/what/where there's issues?
(7) Typical Mistakes/Failures: Reasons these are so hard to classify: Like classifying the problems or their solutions, the kinds of mistakes one can make form a kind of complicated tree diagram with overlapping, cascading and go-to effects, a bit like a computer flow diagram. The good news is it doesn't have to be like spaghetti. Sense can be made out of the thing like chess in general (which is designed to be complicated but decipherable). For example: mistakes can be ranked. May 2015: this list still requires the most organizing but I expect to do so eventually.
1) Assigning the wrong idea/ideas to the problem
2) Failing to note significant available options for either side on any move.
3) Getting the idea(s) right but assigning the wrong moves to carry them out.
4) Finding the correct ideas or moves and then rejecting them in favor of something that's wrong.
5) Failing to find an idea or at least a sufficiently considered move quickly enough or to play anything at all in time. Too slow.
6) Complete failure to find an idea or good enough looking move or to play anything at all regardless of the time taken. This also includes just guessing a move (sometimes this actually gets the right move!) In other words you're stumped.
7) And new item (Feb. 5): continuing with a previous plan after a reply move or moves come in, expected or not, without making it a point to reassess. Including not taking care to try to prevent some or all of at least mistakes 1 through 4.
8) (Feb. 11th) Seeing all the ideas and elements of the solution but failing to put them together.
9) (Feb 12th) Failing to use Move Common Sense which is a big theme in chess games regarding blundering. For my description of MCS see section 1.
10) (Feb 16th) Reacting poorly to a reply move. Including psychologically, including because the reply move is unexpected and including because the reply move seems inferior to other replies and/or weird or shocking. This mistake is easier to understand if one considers how likely it is you'd do much better at the particular problem if it had started at that point. (So often much better). This could be called the mid-problem problem.
I intend to separate the types of failures from the mistakes that cause them. That'll be an update eventually. There's also any failure pertinent to other things that are addressed in the initial 5 lists.
I'm sure there's been similiar lists around for many years. But there they are.
The "funny" one on the first list is Protections. What does it matter if a piece has backup or not (backup meaning something can recapture for it at the square its on) if its not being attacked in the first place? You might be surprised at how often its critical to the problem. And just because its not being attacked now doesn't mean it wont be! I was suprised to find out how much it does "matter". Of course, that assumes one is interested in solving. Also this may lead to a kind of reverse solving (happens in many endgames) but this can be applied to many middlegame TT problems as well as endgame problems.
A player will probably never reach a true 1400 Blitz or will fail to maintain it if he keeps neglecting on Move Common Sense (List 3) or any of the five points within it. And all the chess theory in the world isn't going to make up for it. The reality is that players who reach 1400 Blitz and maintain it or ascend from there have essentially mastered those 5 points whether they're consciously aware of them or not. They are tremendous shortcuts saving enormous time. One could get to 1000 Blitz and then 1400 Blitz with little or no booking, instruction, or memorization. But does improvement really matter? How "serious" do we want to be? Everyone decides that him/herself if at all. My opinion: its a hybrid. Be unserious on the one hand and happy. Its a game and social activity. On the other hand chess is an intricate and competitive game of skill with levels and improvement/discovery/learning are good things. Idea: Enjoy both/all aspects
Regarding list number 3: the main idea of the problem (there may be more than one) determining this is easier said than done since so many positions are deceptive. With clutter and confusion/convolution and of course there's that issue of the main idea(s) depending on the line or variation. But that's part of what's to be dealt with. Isolating what the real issues are and accurately determining what is relatively extraneous. Are these words too big? Well, this posting of mine can and will change over time. For now I'm selecting these terms for convenience.
List number 7 has to do with the types of mistakes one makes or failures that occur. As in mistakes/failures I make but also that I see mentioned in the TT comment forums. Every single TT problem has a comments forum and there's over 60,000 TT problems. With well over 300 million Attempts on the problems. Which means a lot of people like TT and its rating system as it is.
Want to keep making the same mistakes? Obviously if we were to just keep getting the problems quickly correct or have unlimited time for laborious calculations then TT would be useless as a learning tool. But good news: its a trainer requiring efficiency while designed to cause inefficiency and mistakes for training purposes. So it could be valuable to determine exactly what the repeating patterns of mistakes are and how they occur or get started so such mistakes can then be very much reduced. Valuable to those interested in results.
My opinion is that although memorization/recognition/intuition will all develop doing these TT problems they serve us much better when they are secondary. What are you going to do when the solution doesn't just "come to you"? And you're going to experience exactly that in Tactics Trainer. And a lot if you're making any real attempt at it.
Now there's another matter of the Tags that come with TT problems. There's alot to say about the tags. (To get their definitions per this site, click the ? icon on each TT problem). But I'm having to re-write about the tags. Many don't know that the tags are voted on by the players. Not the TT staff. Or that there's 3 ways to vote. I'm hoping to eventually dissect the usefulness versus non-usefulness of the tags for solving and in chess games versus their use in solution moves descriptions which are a different animal.
None of the 37 available tags appear in any of the lists. In fairness several of them may come in under their headings. For example if you move to increase your attack on a piece that may be an X-Ray attack. Which qualifies under attacks. Many of the tag ideas often figure in the final stages of solution but that's later on in solving. Later is later. To solve you've got to break through.
May 2015: The tags could be grouped in 3 ways according to whether they describe a kind of move or a result or a strategy. That last one is key. The tags that refer to removing, decoying, deflecting, overloading or otherwise compromising a defender or deflecting or decoying a target piece (whether its the target king or not) usually figure in the middle of solving a problem. Following those there's usually what I call a decisive. A move that wins material, checkmates, effectively promotes/underpromotes, consolidates or whatever. But the critical stages of solving occur before the middle stage. Defenders, protectors and targets and target squares need to be correctly identified before one considers how to exploit same.
I'm thoroughly convinced now that material should always be counted up for both sides and very near the beginning of each problem. If that's done early enough then one will also be aware of where all the pieces and pawns are. This would seem to be wise before trying to create a plan or even to evaluate priorities. Just before doing this should one also do a first Kings' glance first? I'm thinking yes because there's only two of them and you need to know if you're in check and for other reasons. Probably even before that one has to look at: 1) the average time posted under the problem 2) whether you're white or black (that actually does get missed especially in the weirder problems) 3) whether its the a-file or the h-file on your left 4) which way the pawns are going (gotten wrong constantly) and 5) what the previous move was (including for en passant) but it matters anyway for multiple reasons and 6) the Kings' positions first glance 7) count up the material (different ways to do that). May 2015: material seems best counted from the top down, both kings, then both queens, both sides' rooks and bishops, then knights, and pawns bringing up the rear. Why? Because the tactical action refers back to the most major targets first. Offensively and defensively. This identifies important/powerful pieces on the same lines, knights in proximity to the action and so on. It also leads very well into the next two steps of noting the protections and the other clues
Now before dismissing this list: Is one very aware of all 7 of these things in a game? Yes! (resoundingly.) So why be unaware and blindsided to these things in a TT problem? Aren't they difficult enough?
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