Monday, October 20, 2014

Tips for Calculating Individual Lines (variations)

As noted in other blog posts, last year I reconsidered my approach to calculation and took down my more extensive series on "brute force" calculation.  However, there were many gems in there I am taking out as separate posts as I rethink other elements.  This post on line calculation is one of those gems! [Note: I have updated this now that I have almost finished my more extensive series on the "logic of forced variations"]

After you have identified the candidate moves -- using whatever process you use -- next comes the hard part of actually calculating each individual candidate one at a time.  These are some tips I found in several books on calculation:

  • Calculation is like a debate between two people over which move is best, and the variations you find during line calculation are the specific arguments used.  The only way to win a debate is with good arguments, and the only way to select (or eliminate) a candidate move is by evaluating specific variations.
  • Within each line you calculate the flow of force can change at any moment, and the attacker can suddenly become the defender, only to then become the attacker.  
  • Finish calculating the line completely to quiescence (no more checks, captures, threats).  Do not prejudge the line!  You need to give an actual evaluation of each position at the end of each variation.
  • Stay disciplined, and focus only on the current line.  Do not jump to other candidate moves until you finish the one you are calculating.
  • Slow down!  Your speed will increase over time.  Go slow to go fast.
  • Take time to visualize every move clearly.  If you a reach a complicated position or start to lose confidence, stop and create a stepping stone image.
  • When defending, you don't need to calculate all checks, captures, and threats. Only calculate the defensive replies related to the biggest threat on the board using the Five Ideas (see later blog series).
  • In fact it is a mistake to calculate moves that do not respond to the threat.  If your opponent created a threat you would respond the best you can, and don't fall into the trap of assuming your opponent won't make the best moves to defend himself against your threats.   
  • Which move should you calculate first?  There are two choices.  Sometimes you can eliminate candidates as simply bad -- but you must prove it to yourself with an actual variation and an actual evaluation.  Most of the time you should always start with the MOST FORCING move first.  You find this by quickly counting how many replies your opponent has to each of your candidate moves.  This only adds a few extra seconds, which you often gain back by calculating the most forcing move first.
  • Search for your opponent’s refutations FIRST. If you find one, discard your candidate and move on to the next in your list.  To do this, you follow the advice from the bullet above and start by calculating your opponent's MOST FORCING REPLY first.
  • Be mindful of how you are tracking material exchanges during calculations.  Are you keeping track of material as captures are made, or are you re-evaluating material only at the end of a sequence?  If you're doing one, try the other and see how it works for you.
  • If you're just starting out, keep your evaluations simple and just look at the balance of material and activity.  Over time you will learn how to do more elaborate evaluations based on pawn structure, endgame transitions, etc, but you need to make sure this step of the process is clearly in place first.
  • Always have your initial evaluation of the position in mind when you start your line calculations, and compare your evaluations of each line against your initial evaluation, and against each other.
  • If your first two candidates give you two good evaluations, pick the better of the two (based on material/activity) and make that your "King of The Hill" (KOTH).  As you calculate the rest of your candidates, compare those evaluations against your KOTH.
  • Sometimes you have nothing but bad moves to choose from.  Keep your head, and find the "least bad" evaluation (based on material/activity).  Ironically, this is often an easier choice to make than when you have several good options assuming you can overcome your emotions!
  • Try reversing the move order. It works sometimes.
  • Whether you saw a specific pattern when you were developing your candidate list or not, your stored patterns will be a huge benefit during this step.  But remember you still have to calculate patterns you see.  And keep track of patterns you frequently miss, and train those until you don't miss them anymore!

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