How to Speed Up Learning Curve in Chess?
– Why there is apparently a slow board vision acquisition in chess?
– How can we modernize 21st-century teaching to build up chess vision faster?
Board vision. Here’s the beginning of a game played in an after-school chess program in April 2008 between two second graders: 1.e4 d5 2.Bd3 Bg4 3.exd5 Bxd1…
After both having been in chess for more than a year it seems a good chess eye is lacking here. They simply didn’t see the contact established between the Bishop and the Queen at move 2. In my view, there are no bad learners, there’s only a faulty system of teaching (evidently, the two boys were victims of such a “system”). The one which is not aligned with what cognitive science tells us about the brain and how learning happens.
Teaching the moves first is especially detrimental to acquiring a strong board vision. Brain science speaks against the “moves first” approach, Nimzovich (in his article in the Russian “Little Chess Paper” in 1929) speaks strongly against it too, but we just continue on doing it. As Einstein said, it’s harder to crack prejudice than an atom.
On the other hand, Averbakh pointed out that the main principle of pedagogics – the necessity of proceeding from the simple to the complex – is constantly being violated. As a rule, one begins with moves, then loads of tactical drills follow. As even the most elementary combinations are complex, it is important, Averbakh argues, to first familiarize oneself with their basic constituent elements and how they function before studying the complex mechanics of combinations.
So what are the basic elements, or building blocks of chess?
The answer: elementary board contacts.
Here is the edifice of chess consisting of the following parts, top down:
2. ELEMENTARY BOARD CONTACTS
1. BASIC EFFECTS
The COORDINATION OF PIECES goes across layers 3-4.
We have already covered level 1, the two basic effects in chess: the control effect and the body effect. They may be considered as the BIOS of chess, its firmware that is hard wired in and cannot be changed. That’s the lowest level in chess. It makes chess pieces run.
Then comes, figuratively speaking, chess software: the operating system and applications. The chess applications are the highest level. They deal with strategy, tactics and cooperation between pieces (levels 3-4 above) to do some useful work, basically to achieve some set strategic and tactical objectives (for instance, it could be gaining material or some positional advantage).
To get the job done the applications use the operating system consisting of just few basic connections (level 2) that define how pieces interact with each other during the game. They are:
- Attacking contact, or simply attack (including threat of attack)
- Protecting contact (protection),
- Restricting contact (restriction),
- Interposition (or pin in plain English)
a) the contact that pawns establish with the promotion square can also be considered as elementary one;
b) I’ll show you in a future post how this list of contacts after Averbakh can be reduced to just one single attacking contact!)
And that’s it. We can break down any chess position into these elementary contacts. Together with level 1, this is the foundation which supports levels 3-4.
This multiplicity of relatively simple interactions can generate surprising complexity in higher levels. A whole new integrative level of organization, a new set of phenomena is emerging out of simple interactions of parts. At the upper level entirely new properties appear. Out of chess, typical examples of complex systems include life emerging on inorganic elements, and consciousness emerging on nervous systems with a network of billions of neurons interacting with each other.
The same applies to the game of chess. It is constrained and shaped by elementary contacts, but chess involves much more than these basic laws. The elementary interactions go a whole new level which becomes not merely more, but very different from the sum of the parts that collectively make up the system.
The new emerging level is where the coordination of pieces combined with strategic and tactical issues brings a completely new dimension to chess.
* * *
Yet, it is critical that we begin teaching chess first and foremost with the basic contacts (levels 1-2) if we want to start developing a strong board vision early. Not with how pieces make moves, for goodness’ sake. We need to give the primitive brain a chance to pick up these basics. It’s the first critical period of one’s chess education that actually may take just few weeks (GM Gregory Levenfish indicated two months – compare with the game shown above).
Once the primitive brain has acquired this “core vocabulary” as its second nature to speak it effortlessly, it’s freed up for higher, more sophisticated modes of thinking dealing with tactics and combinations and the big picture: the piece cooperation, and strategy.
As Prof. Csikszentmihalyi said in his book on creativity (see here), by mastering the basic laws and developing a good chess eye, you step beyond the boundaries of the elementary into the realm of beautiful and creative in chess.