Establishing a baseline on retention of skills Post hiatus

Dec 22, 2014, 8:23 AM |
Update on the New Imps:

Before I get into the main topic, I want to mention how the New Imps is meant to be a support community for those adult chess players seeking improvement where we can share encouragement, ideas and stories as we journey together on chess improvement. Paladin64 ( and others on messaged me about limited time to attend OTB tournaments. I believe  there are a lot of us are in the same boat. So maximizing that time is what this is all about. Linuxguy mentions that despite having a decent memory he struggles with other OTB experiences around clock and focus.  He also believes increasing visualization is valuable in chess improvement.  The message I am getting from the rest of the blog like AoxomoxoA and The GrandPatzer is something I concluded a while back: a practice diet consisting purely of  Tactics may lead to some gain but in my experience, nothing long lasting.  Continue on with the discussion.

Creating a baseline skills

I ran across this article  written by Dr. David H. Small:
He talks about using neuroscience techniques for training and developing patterns in six specific categories:
  1.      Opening patterns
  2.         Early middlegame patterns ( specific pawn structures)
  3.       Positional Patterns ( Learning to place pieces and pawns on optimal sqaures)
  4.      Tactical patterns
  5.        Strategic Endgames
  6.     Technical Endgames


I was curious about the distinction between 5 and 6 so I managed to contact him and this is how he differentiated the two:

“A technical endgame would be one that is a position that is well known or is similar to a position that is well known.  These endgames are theoretical and it would be clear that it was won, lost or drawn.  These are normally most of the endgames found in elementary endgame books.  Examples are K+P vs K.  K + 2P vs K+P.  Strategic endgames are more complex and the outcome is often unclear.  By definition, they are endgames because the K is safe to come out and be used as an attacking piece.  But they are not middlegames because some of the key strategic elements different from middlegames.  Understanding how to play strategic endgames is one of the key steps to move from the level of strong club player to titled player.” --Dr. D.H. Small

I wanted to get a baseline of what I retained in terms of these six buckets ( sort of).  I also didn't want to spend an enormous amount of time getting OCD about classifications so what I did was a “rough estimate”.  Nothing worthy of big data probability or regression curves.  I used excel, I made a workbook for each “bucket”. 

Under opening patters, I found a comprehensive list of openings on line that I cut and pasted into the spreadsheet.  Across the top, I listed Move 1, Move 2 and so forth up to move 10. For each of the openings I counted a “1” where I knew it and how deep I could recall with out a book. So as not to duplicate, variations I omitted “1”s on earlier moves.  Then I tallied up the 1’s.

For pawn structures, I did a similar thing where I found a list of pawn structures. I included the major pawn structures  like Caro-slav formations, d5 pawn chain etc. I included minor pawn formations  like pawn islands,  3 versus 2, backward pawns. I added my own “early middle game transition” ideas on openings I was able to go more than 5 ply deep.  Across the top, I made columns for  “skeletal” (meaning I know the pattern but that’s it), knowing White and back piece placement, White and Black strengths and weakness, and plans for both sides.  Emphasis is on the “knowing these visually” .

I went on to do things for Positional play with similar columns like the pawn structures. For  Tactics, I listed the common mating patterns and various labels I could find with a quick google search.  The columns were associated with level of difficulty and I only went 4 deep ( thinking CT-ART).  Then came the endgames. I’ll be honest, I was overwhelmed and decided to not complete the spreadsheet. MY ADD overcame my OCD J as I wanted to start spending time practicing.

How much have I retained after a hiatus:

The unofficial results of by 6 buckets of patterns:
  •         Opening Patterns: 489
  •         Pawn Structures : 813
  •         Positional Patterns: 1026
  •         Tactics : 460
  •         Strategical Endgames :?
  •         Technical Endgames : ?


I think I am really weak in Strategic Endgames and could use work on the technical ones as well.  Looking back on my last evaluation in 2013 using Chess Exam with the caveat that this is not an entirely accurate assessment due to the fact that this book was written by an experienced coach’s bias and not based on empirical data collected for a large enough sample size to limit the margin of error to under 5%.  
Chess Exams results back in 2013:
  •         Endame:  1726
  •         Middle : 1200
  •         Opening: 1226
  •         Calculation: 1550
  •         Standard Position: 1828
  •         Strategy: 1375
  •         Tactics: 1169
  •         Threats : 1210
  •         Attack: 1450
  •         Counter attack: 1858
  •         Defense: 1281
  •         Sacrifice: 1500



These results I took about a year ago seem to correlate with the “quick evaluation of pattern retention” I did. Positional patterns , because I tend to play positional games, is a strong plus and retention for me! My next post, I will  attempt to formulate a plan that is focused for biggest retention on the largest gaps.