Thursday, February 19, 2015


For those not in the know, here’s a neat Kitchen science trick.  Take one Lemon, squeeze to juice and then carefully write something neat and snarky using a small bristle brush.  Allow dry and Voila!   Your masterpiece is prepared!  In true elementary school fashion you can pass it along the girl next door, then to your decoder Friend next to her; he then takes said paper that appears to be blank and mildly heats the paper revealing the big “Girls R dumb” message….

Ok, perhaps its been a long, long time since you played such childhood hijinks.  Nevertheless this very effect had a big Impression on one , McArthur Wheeler.  Whom is not a pimply faced teenager, but was a dude with a nefarious scheme in his head.  

Since clearly Lemon juice allows something that is written, to be unobservable by another,  would not Lemon juice, smeared over ones face allow one to be invisible to cameras?!   Not one to jump to quick conclusions, he quickly set up his Polaroid camera… We’re not exactly sure WHAT happened, but somehow the poor shaky image- confirmed McArthur’s brilliant revelation.  {eureka!}  It was time to turn his brilliant insight into cold hard cash!

The next days Mr Wheeler went on major stealing spree hitting up two local banks in broad daylight.  Now stealing money from banks unmasked is NOT a recommended procedure for successful bank robbery--  But don’t miss the fact that said crook had carefully smeared lemon juice over his entire face.

As reality as wont to do, the bank cameras did their job, despite the lemon, and local policemen had no difficulty identifying their suspect- To put it in chess lingo, it was Checkmate for our novice bank robber…

So you wandering now what does this do with my obsession, chess?   This story was highlighted by two researchers who were describing a most interesting psychological Effect.   It turns out, that knowing only a little about a subject, can lead to overconfidence in our own abilities.  They dubbed the effect the Dunning-Kruger effect and it has been seen in many contexts anywhere people seek to master and learn new subjects.

Chess was directly cited in the article, as the two researchers noted that collectively despite earning a number that describes our chess strength, chess players tend to overestimate their Rating…

On the other hand, I found a description of the effect thought provoking and interesting and I think the effect is a important factor in a lot of ways, as we play and seek to improve chess.

Perhaps the most clear and telling indications of this effect occurs Early in the game of chess… the opening! 

Consider the evolution of the typical chess ‘club’ player.   First he is a rank Newby- and as such- generally will have a lot of snarky ideas about how to begin a chess game.   All uneducated, you tend to be pretty creative and just as you get brilliant ideas, like- lets get the rooks away from the sides.  Better opponents tend to obliterate you on f2/f7 and seemingly always seem to be ready to blow you away in the center, long before you pawn “storm” on the flank does anything.

This starts the hunger and you readily consume chess advice particularly about openings. 
At first its quite useful, and openings like the sodium attack (Na3); devolve into the solid (and stale) four knights.   After all, openings are about developing the pieces and isn’t it- Knights before bishops??  At this point the DK effect has begun- having learnt a little about opening principles, you feel that just a few tweaks in the list of general principles you begin your game with is sufficient to play against any opponent and to approach any developing situation in the opening.   If at the same time, you’ve taken the time to consume tactics- you can pretty good! (in some games).  In others, simplistic and aimless moves make it possible that a well matched opponent just stumbles into a better situation and pummels you because he got to tactics quicker when you were just blindly getting pieces towards the center.

After that, (and bare in mind, I’m just entering this phase), you start to treat the game more seriously.  It no longer good enough to randomly be generating great positions for your opponent in the opening.   You seek more information!  And can easily find off the internet the mother-lode of the gods.  Opening “Theory”!  the accumulation of countless grandmasters expressed in terms of well trodden main-paths and the occasional promising side variation.   As the player reaches he, he quickly becomes (depending on his memory and ego), engrossed in an endless amount of grandmaster moves.  No doubt the DK effect is deepest in this phase of chess; as I see it, the danger of spending nearly all of time accumulating not-so-useful-information of a dizzying amount of ‘theory’ is one of the biggest snipe-hunts in the whole of chess improvement!

IT’S A DILEMMA. (sort of )
Of course in describing this; I’ve practically described a dilemma.   If it is Clearly wrong to think we can play the opening with no preparation at all ( though in some cases We clearly MUST play the opening that way- people don’t always stick to predictable paths),  I am also saying that just knowing a lot of theory is not good either.

The short answer (and I’ll address it all in a summary later on….)- of course its good to KNOW stuff, including theory. But in reasonable amounts, balanced against other information, particularly with humility and preferably with some painful loses to a stronger player.  
You may learn a little theory on the Spanish.  You may even have an idea of some typical Middle-game play in a Spanish game….   But you really Don’t KNOW the Spanish opening, and if you played a berlin (and bumped into Magnus Carlson); you find don’t know squat about the Berlin and would quickly lose!

In short, develop the repertoire without gaining an attitude and you’ll have an easier time moving forward.  Consider Also  that knowing and appreciating the DK effect as being a little like knowing “magic” isn’t real.  Even if the trick looks VERY real, we can still know it isn’t real.  And perhaps we are then spared from painful collisions with reality.  (unless the lemon smearing bandit)

This is Multipart blog.  Because I’d struggle to get this all out in just a couple days and I don’t want to try.  Besides if its too big, It might deter people that might want to talk about it, and deter other people from reading it carefully…

Lets just say, that the ‘great patzer’ feels like he has spent a lot of time looking for, reading and seeking to improve in chess.  And while I’ve seen a lot of good advice- I think the psychological warning not to overestimate myself is absolutely essential.

As any regular blog reader is starting to find out, the Great patzer has made a point of being verbose, and rarely delving into analysis and specifics about actual games and positions.

I spend a good amount of time these days playing turn-based chess, looking at chess tactics and examining my own and other peoples games and this is all carefully documented in my notebook.  But the purpose of the blog was to provide a once in a week opportunity to examine my training program.

Above all else, I think it is wise, to understand my own limitations.  Reading a few novice nook articles does not make Dan Heisman, even if adamantly agree and can parrot many of his very good suggestions. 

This week I have deliberately Binged upon some blitz.  Yes, I know NOT recommended.  But bear in mind
·        its not my favorite chessic activity and I don’t find it addicting (its actually very frustrating IMHO)  
·        the purpose of blitzing would be just to raise a at-one-point 900 rating closer to 1200.  (
·        I haven’t abandoned slow chess, and I’m playing my turn based games as slowly and carefully as I can 

And D) it does illuminate a lot of chess weakness; including stuff in the opening.  After a lot of effort the French game is looking better.  The QG is pretty good, with relatively better in most major black reactions.   I am more aimless and weaker defending against the closed game.  ( I find it is odd, to do an opening much better as one color and not another, but that clearly is the case).

The key point is to carefully go over my own games. And it’s this activity, actually, that I think will be relatively constructive. 
 I’m also pondering when to give up on the blitz.  The original plan was to get to 1200, but as in all rating goals, that number might be too artificial.  If I struggle, I’ve gone far enough and I can give up looking for good moves without enough time to deeply think about the chess.


  1. I intuitively agree with the DK effect you describe, but still, I feel you can play reasonably well in the opening simply by sticking to general principles.

    I guess the only logical conclusion, is that I'm a victim of DK effect myself ;-)

  2. ...and why would you want to give up blitz if you have fun playing it ? Fun is important. Strong players DO play blitz too, though they also play a lot of long games with strong focus :-)

  3. No I really wouldn't say I have great fun playing blitz..

    the fact is the funnest experience in chess is to sit face to face, OTB and play 'coffeehouse' style to play someone in a casual untimed game. to watch them think and get some zen in the art of threatening to kill his king with losing your own...

    ... nonetheless I wanted a lot of recent blitz games because I find that when I am rushed my errors are easier to understand and get to the point of major weaknesses.

    Blitz games are almost entirely thinking process kinds of errors; where I fail to see an obvious threat or create an enormous opportuntiy for the opponent because I did not consistantly and carefully consider what my opponent could do to me AFTER my move.

    In short, I play awful "hope chess" during blitz.

    I need to see those errors and try to be more careful, even when I am rushed. That was the point of blitz.

  4. I'm not sure I would call blitz errors 'thought process' errors, but I guess it depends on your definition. In a long game, you can go through a full process to select your moves - ie. recognize opponent's idea > intuitive candidates > calculation > evaluation > alternative logical candidates (if required) and loop

    In blitz chess, you can't do much more than seeing your opponent's threats and finding the intuitive candidates, and do some speedy calculations (and even then, not on every move). So your pattern recognition skills are thoroughly tested, but this is usually not the way you're supposed to think during a long game.

    If you're not very good at blitz, it probably means your pattern recognition skills are not great but it doesn't mean you're playing 'hope chess' per se.