“I didn’t see it!”

by admin on April 28, 2008

Just a heads up to all of you who follow the comments on this blog: Andres Hortillosa’s second column is now up on Chessville.com. You can click here to go straight to it.

Andres writes in detail about the Purdy system for avoiding blunders, which he has mentioned in his comments here but not in quite so much detail. You should read his column to get the full discussion and see some examples, but to me the salient point is that the Kotov method of looking at candidate moves (see Think Like a Grandmaster) is the wrong place to start. In fact, it’s step 5 in his eight-step program.

Step 1 is what Jonathan Rowson would call “talking to one’s pieces,” or what Andres calls “general reconnaissance.” (He is a member of the military, after all!) Steps 2-4 involve consciously identifying all the threats in the position, ranking them in severity, and then focusing on the most dangerous one. These are the steps that will help you avoid gross blunders, the kind that immediately lose the game or significant amounts of material. If you start at step 5, as in Kotov’s system, without first consciously identifying the threats, you will keep making blunders.

It’s hard for me to give an objective appraisal of this system without trying it first. I will bring up one question, which perhaps Andres can address in a later article. I have concerns about any system that involves going through multiple steps on every single move. If I do that, I’m afraid that I will get into time trouble. And if I’m already in time trouble, then I’m not going to have time to execute all eight steps. How then do I control the damage?

Incidentally, this criticism applies equally to Kotov’s method. I find that a full evaluation of a tree of candidate moves is possible at most a few times a game. Most of the time I need to do an abbreviated search, and part of the trick is identifying the positions where it is really worth taking the time for a deep search.

However, Andres’ basic point makes a lot of sense and bears repeating: If you verbalize the principal threats against you, the chances are much better that you will not fall into an egregious error. So many blunders, both in my own games and in those of other people, have the same root: “I didn’t see it!”

Andres promises to write later about identifying your own threats as well. This will help you avoid the errors of omission, when you have a chance to inflict serious damage on your opponent and overlook it. One thing I have noticed is that masters are terrific opportunists. When their opponent hands them a gift, they seize it with both hands.

It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of simply avoiding blunders. We all study the latest wrinkles in the openings, and spend lots of time trying to come up with deep plans or brilliant sacrifices, but the sad truth is that in amateur chess, a high percentage of games are decided by blunders. I felt that the main thing that got me to class A (1800-2000) was simply not blundering away material any more. The principal step that got me to expert (2000-2200) was taking advantage of my opponent’s blunders.

The next step, from expert to master, is one that I have not fully negotiated yet, because although I’ve gotten above 2200 I haven’t been able to stay there. According to Jesse Kraai, the next step is to recognize and appreciate dynamic imbalances. However, a second problem that dogs me is backsliding into old thought patterns. Last year I had a huge rash of games where I made outright tactical blunders, which was very frustrating; it felt as if I was playing like a B-player again. So a quick refresher course in the Purdy method should be very helpful to me.

Thanks, Andy! I’m looking forward to more installments!

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Andres D. Hortillosa April 29, 2008 at 10:13 am

Thank you for your comments. I personally value your opinion on this particular installment. Your entry today can be a rejoinder to what I said in this issue. In fact, I will ask Chessville.com folks to add a link to this entry.

I repeat my bold assertion that the two things you alluded in today’s entry would surely make anyone reach Expert. There was a time in my playing as well that I would not blunder if there was enough clock time to employ the Purdy system.

There was also a point where my chess eyes would be quick to spot tactical opportunities. Your experience corroborates my assertion that those two would get almost any one to Expert level.

By the way, my system is an enhanced version of the Purdy system. But he is credited for largely influencing my own view on tactics theory. I believe it is okay to plagiarize ideas in chess. Grandmasters copy each other’s opening innovations all the time.

Whether players like it or not, they use some thinking algorithm in their move selection. Some use an ad hoc process but most use the knee jerk process. I simply formalized it.

In the next installment, I will write about using the system in spotting and exploiting tactical opportunities. Most players are good at solving puzzles especially when cued that a tactical opportunity exists.

The process as explained in the last column was its application in a static position. The process is abbreviated during the actual game because the general reconnaissance is done from move one. And your awareness of the latent threats are keen. You simply have to update the reconnaissance data.

The other aspect of this is to identify those critical points during the game where one must employ the process in its purest form. No shortcuts. Knowing these critical points are the marks of chess mastery. I will expound on this as well in the future issues. The system works well during these critical points. I should say that a strict application of the system should be undertaken only at these critical points in the interest of time.

One must be reminded that I am not diminishing the role of strategy within the system and its direct influence in the creation of tactical opportunities.

Silman’s theory on imbalances permeates my strategy and planning thinking.

There is no one blanket answer to your question about time management. That is why my system ranks the severity of the threats so you can focus on the severest one to avoid being bogged down by the process. Do you remember my loss to McEntee at the US Qualifier? I avoided the blunders and won material but lost the game on time.



Kelly Atkins April 29, 2008 at 10:39 am

I agree that a potential problem with Andy’s system is getting into time trouble… at least in the early stages of applying it to your own play. I think though, that Andy’s system, and similar ones, eventually become second nature and require significantly less time after gaining experience using them. Also, as you pointed out, experience teaches us when we need to fully apply all the steps and when we can do an abbreviated version. The main thing is that this system is a method of training ourselves to look at all the important features, especially tactical ones, in each position and eliminate those stupid blunders that throw away material.


Kelly Atkins April 29, 2008 at 10:55 am

I agree that applying this system or similar ones can lead to time trouble in the beginning, but once mastered, the process becomes second nature and automatic, taking MUCH less time. Also, as you mention, experience will allow us to know when all the steps need to be applied fully, or when we can do an abbreviated form.

I think the important thing is that this system trains you to focus your attention and look at all the important tactical features of each position. This will lead to a huge decrease in oversights & material-losing blunders.


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