The following rant is more applicable to over-the-board games rather than correspondence.
The process of calculation in chess has always interested me. I thought it might help me clarify my own understanding if I jot down some notes here. The following is just my current opinion.
Years ago, as a combination as being an engineer and reading Kotov, I believed that the calculation process should be very structured. I even sketched a “flow chart” of the steps I should go through…. “do this… then this… repeat for all moves… then do this… etc.”. Fortunately enough, upon discussing this with a GM, he very quickly dismissed my approach. The main factor being that my method may work well for a computer, but not for the human brain.
I’ve since tried to model the calculation process in other ways – so that I can attempt to understand it better – but ultimately I don’t think it’s feasible. The human process of calculating chess positions is just too complex in reality. However, I’d still like to mention an analogy that I considered to have some value. Although, I also stress that it falls down in many respects too.
I think that a human calculating a chess position is in many way like searching for drugs in a large building, where the “searcher” is a sniffer dog and his handler. It’s important to view the dog and handler as working together as a single unit and not as two separate things. Admittedly, this analogy sounds contrived, or even silly, but it helps me to consider the way I calculate (i.e. search a chess position).
- the handler provides structure to the process. He know’s the layout of the building, and he’s ultimately in command of if/when individual rooms get searched. However, he does not possess any “sense of smell” to follow in terms of where drugs may be located.
- alternatively, the dog’s strong point is it’s “sense of smell”. It’s movements don’t appear to be structured, but instead are more spontanteous, impulsive, etc. In my mind, I imagine the dog darting about in an unpredictable manner, constantly lead by its nose.
But before I go mad here and completely lose the plot, consider how the task would be approached if only one half of the pair attempted to do it alone…
(i) the handler would have to tediously search every drawer, closet, etc. in every room. He’d have nothing to direct his search other than just exhaustively covering the whole building. It could be rather painstaking and slow.
(ii) alternatively, the dog may be fortunate if its sense of smell hits upon the right direction, and leads it quickly to a find. However, it could also pick up a false lead, or no lead to follow at all… then it could go to a “clean” part of the building, and remain there due to a lack of prompting to search elsewhere. It could repeatedly keep searching the same rooms, while some unsearched areas elsewhere still exist. In short, it lacks structure to it’s approach.
Obviously the reality is that the pair work together to help overcome each other’s weaknesses. Ok, back to chess…
I believe that the human mind has similar elements working together. i.e. we have a conscious part that is capable of applying structure to our thought processes. But we also have a subconscious part that is highly automatic, spontaneous, impulsive, intuitive (acting like a “sense of smell&rdquo
Consider what happens if I show you a chess position. Without prompting, you’ll automatically start visualising moves, seeing patterns, assessing, etc. etc. Out of many legal moves, you’ll automatically start picking out main candidates, and maybe even lines will pop into your head. Your intuition will be guiding most of the direction. This “auto pilot” is like the dog. It just appears to hit upon certain leads and impulsively follows them. It may quickly hit upon the right areas; or it may wander aimlessly and miss the point.
Alternatively, at a given moment, you may consciously say to yourself, e.g., “there’s many moves to consider here, let’s list them and work through them one at a time”. This is the handler part, trying to give some control and discipline to the process.
- for many players, myself included, sometimes the dog is guilty of leading the handler too much. i.e. the handler doesn’t know when to force the dog to stop and look elsewhere
- however, the opposite happens too, where the handler doesn’t follow the dog enough and imposes too much structure. Since the dog’s freedom is too limited, it may be following a true lead, but the handler forces it to change direction.
- structure is a necessary part of a good calculation process. However, our brains tend to be naturally lazy… we’d rather just let the dog roam on its own accord. This is not ideal. However, if we force ourselves to be too structured, the task may become too tedious and unnatural. At the risk of stretching this too far, it’s a bit like asking a human to search alone… the reality is that boredoom, etc. would probably affect their interest in the task and hence reduce their effectiveness.
In summary, getting a good balance between our structured and automatic “roaming” thought processes is very difficult. But in order to improve our calculation abilities, I believe we have to consider carefully how they currently work together. And of course, even if we’re aware of an unbalance, training ourselves to do better is another story.
Anyway, given that I ain’t to trying write a book here, I’ll leave it at that. If anyone wants to discuss, I’ll add some more. But more likely, I’m expecting someone to comment that I must have found some drugs recently… ;-)