What is it that matters most when one starts learning chess?

Yet nobody is teaching it and the last place you’ll see it is a chess book!

Strong Chess Board Vision is the Key. Tablero de ajedrez, Juan Gris, 1917

We live in a world of systems of various complexity. Organisms, families, countries, sport teams, chess, they are all complex systems. A system is characterized by its:

  1. Parts
  2. Interconnections between parts
  3. Purpose

For example, beehive. Bees are the parts of the system. The interconnections are the interactions of the bees in their daily pursuit of survival, like the waggle dances that show other bees where food sources are. The function of the beehive is the function of all organisms: to survive and continue. If we isolate a single bee, we will miss the hive behavior that emerges when bees are together. A single bee has no one to dance for. Complex systems emerge from the interactions of their parts and a beehive is no different (from Understanding complex systems).

In chess, the chessmen are the parts of the system. They interact and establish multitude of interconnections during the game. The purpose of the game is to play and win.

Chess only emerges from these interactions. This happens at different levels of complexity. The pattern of interaction at each level produces new properties and higher levels appear. For instance, from the basic piece relationships (levels A and B, the link above) emerge the piece harmony and coordination, the most important aspect of the game (levels C, D, and E).

The emergent systems are thus bottom-up and top-down at the same time. They have to be studied differently as wholes and as nested networks of relationships.

Complexity simplified

An important component of understanding complex systems is the ability to take systems apart into their component parts and levels to see how the parts behave, and how to connect the parts and levels to understand the overall system dynamics and structure.

To better understand inner-workings of the “chess system” we need to break things down to the basic relationships between pieces (levels A and B). Of course, the team members must be able to focus on the system as a whole and how they will integrate and work together in a desired direction using strategy (levels C, D and E).

Yet, without being aware of what is going on at the lowest level, and without studying the basic relationships between pieces first and foremost (there are just few: attack, protection, restriction, blocking) we are not able to fully grasp how chess as a complex system works (by the same token, without knowledge of chemical elements and how they connect we don’t have full understanding of how life is emerging on inorganic molecules).

The basic contacts are the bread-and-butter of chess. And there’s no one single thing in chess that matters more in the first stages of learning. The contacts actually give piece interaction the meaning revealing the roles of pieces and their functional relations.

Only after these core relationships are mastered and used consistently, they can provide a framework for accelerated progress in chess. They should rapidly lock into the primitive brain before moving on.

The brain is a pattern recognition machine and when focused properly it can quickly grasp any concept. Perceptual knowledge builds automatically and subconsciously and there is no reason one cannot develop an intuition for board contacts, given a little interest or motivation.

Traditional house of teaching chess is upside down - it doesn't start from foundations

It’s quite clear now how we should get started in chess – with elementary contacts (levels A and B). And yes, it’s in the face they have been teaching chess now with the “showing the moves first” approach. The approach which is, as per Nimtzovich, “fundamentally flawed”. But it seems there’s no one to care (stay tuned for Nimtzovich’s first chess lesson using contacts in an upcoming post —  as far as I know it’s never translated in the West in full).

Contacts first is the key to modernizing chess teaching and speeding up learning curve, so the first period of chess education becomes more effective and successful.

How to build a strong board vision in chess?

Expert chess players develop a strong board vision the old-fashioned way through years of study and practice. But proper kind of perceptual training – as cognitive science teaches us is possible – visual, fast-paced and focused on the elementary relationships between parts can build intuition quickly.

Once the brain has a goal in mind, it tunes the perceptual system to search the environment for relevant clues. In time your chess vision engine learns to isolate those signs and ignore irrelevant information, in turn sharpening thinking.

With practice, neurons specialize to identify these signature visual patterns. Recognizing patterns effortlessly frees up mental resources to move on to solving harder problems of the situation, such as piece cooperation, tactics and strategy.

If millions of children can develop a trained eye for video combat games, they can surely do the same for mastering basic relationships in chess. And that’s how they can get their chess on the fast track.

Get started with “contact chess” – the martial art of mind!

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Part I is here:  What is The First Thing to Teach an Absolute Beginner in Chess? Part I

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