Saturday, November 05, 2011

Chess and Intuition

In my blog of 28 September 2011 (“Why I Finally Decided to Blog about Chess”) I have enumerated several benefits that may be gained from playing chess:
1.    It improves concentration;
2.    It improves the ability to focus;
3.    It improves analytical and creative thinking;
4.    It improves the power of intuition;
5.    It builds confidence and instills humility;
6.    It teaches how to be calm amid chaos;
7.    It is a good deterrent to vices such as smoking, drinking alcohol and drugs;
8.    It encourages physical fitness; and
9.    It helps to foster a healthy social life.
In this blog, I would like to expound on chess and intuition. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines intuition as “the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought  and inference.” Perhaps, it is intuition that separates computers from human beings. The former operates only on “evident rational thought” while the human mind can find chess moves based on mere inference and intuition. With intuition, the chess player seems to make moves that at first glance appears to be illogical and unsound. It may even be considered as a bad move by some commentators. Yet, there are oftentimes that a chess player would have that “gut feel” that the move is correct and in accordance with the requirements of the position.   The player would depend on this unexplainable feeling that a particular move would result to victory. There is really no hard and fast rule when a player uses the power of intuition  in choosing a particular move.
Kasparov v. Nikolic (after 17. Nxg7)
I have watched the game between Kasparov and Nikolic  in Manila (1992). It was really the first time that I have seen Kasparov and other famous chess grandmasters. I remember that during this time, Kramnik was not that popular then. However, the spectators noticed his talent after  demolishing several of his opponents.
Briefly, let us analyze the position and decipher the soundness of the move 17. Nxg7. In this position,  I can say that Nikolic has no better option but to take the knight. After the knight is taken by the king, the black’s knight on f6 is pinned by the white’s bishop on c3. The white’s queen has the control of the b1 to h7 diagonal with easy landing pad at  f5. White’s rook has control of the d4 file and its knight on f3 has  an easy gallop to h4 and to f5  for purposes of reinforcing an attack if necessary. White can easily control the f file with a rook. In other words, white has control of the majority of the squares on the board. Overall, white’s position has the potential to conduct an attack  with the g7 square as its focal point. The pawns on h2 and g2 are ready to roll and complete the annihilation as what happens in this game. But, whether or not the attack would be successful is of course dependent on the procedure within which the attack is conducted and the method that is employed. Since white is a piece down, endgame is not an option. White should not allow black to simplify the position by exchanging pieces.The only weakness white has is the hanging pawn on e3 which is very difficult for black to exploit.
On the other hand, black’s position appears to be at the mercy of the bishop at c3 and the pin created after Kxg7 is definitely annoying but not necessarily winning.  There are several possibilities that can arise from the position. The game can still go either way. It cannot be denied however that white has gained the initiative and black is now tasked to defend his exposed king. The black’s pieces however are well coordinated with the knights controlling the center with the help of the pawn on c6 and the queen on c7. But the pin of the bishop on c3 is very intimidating and neutralizes whatever control black has in the center. Black has to eliminate the bishop on c3 to lessen the impact and effect of that piece sacrifice at g7. The primary anchor of Kasparov’s attack  is that bishop on c3. It rendered the knight on f6 motionless. This is of course easier said than done.
But, while Kasparov may have correctly assessed and predicted the resulting position after 17. Nxg7 he cannot accurately  calculate the complexity of the series of moves all the way to mate. He is definitely relying on intuition that the move 17. Nxg7  is very good for white. When the privilege of making a deep analysis is impossible given the very limited time, a chess player has to make decisions based on mere intuition which at first is thought not to have an evident logical explanation. The player has to take the risk and trust that his gut feel is correct. If that gut feel or intuition turns out to be wrong, the player is immediately punished and put to shame and the move  marked as a “blunder” or a “dubious” move.  If Kasparov lost in this game, his move 17. Nxg7 would definitely be considered as a blunder and his fame greatly diminished. I can remember that everyone in the crowd were anxious  and anticipating to see the result of the game.
As I watch the move 17. Nxg7, I remember rule one of Steinitz’s four rules of chess strategy which is “the right to attack belongs to the side that has a positional advantage, and that side not only has the right to attack but also the obligation to do so, or else his advantage may evaporate. The attack should be concentrated on the weakest square in the opponent’s position”. Perhaps, Kasparov felt that after achieving a positional advantage it  has become an obligation on his part to attack  and focus on the weak g7 square. If Kasparov reneges on this obligation, his positional advantage would disappear. I think it is clear that if Nxg7 is not played, Nikolic would have the opportunity  to recapitulate and equalize. It is in situations such as this  that the player has to rely on intuition on whether or not (1) the the prevailing situation on the board is ripe for an attack and that (2) it has to be immediately conducted in order to avoid the dissipation of any gained advantage.
Without the use of intuition, the chess player cannot find the appropriate continuation and  any advantage is easily lost.  He has to rely on intuition  as the mind is not a computer that can make accurate calculations and analysis in an instant. The mind also has its limitations.  I think, at most, a chess player can only calculate at the maximum of ten (10) moves ahead. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to precisely calculate ahead after more than ten (10) moves.  Thus, a player has to depend on intuition to determine the best move  on a particular position with the hope that the attack would be successful. 
I just watched a DVD where it is said that we are only using a very few percentage of the power of  our minds. This DVD entitled "Limitless" starring Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish and Robert De Niro is about a pill that can unlock limits of one's mind.  It synopsis provides

"A struggling writer unlocks the full potential of his brain by taking a cutting-edge pharmaceutical, only to find out that his new found abilities have made him a target for some of the most greedy and dangerous men on the planet. Eddi Morra (Bradley Cooper) is an author without a novel. No matter how hard he tries, he just can't summon the inspiration to write a single word. That all changes when an old friend wanders back into Eddie' life, and opens his eyes to a powerful new drug called NZT. The moment Eddie takes NZT, his brains begin functioning at 100 percent, giving him the ability to quickly recall every event in his life down to the smallest detail, learn new languages in a flash, and harness the untapped power of complex mathematical equations. But when Eddie's supply of NZT runs out, the party is over. Of course, it doesn't take Eddie long to make a mint on Wall Street, and when he does, it draws the attention of Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), one of the world's most powerful and prominent businessmen..."

I can say that chess is like NZT. But unlike NZT where the effect to the brain is almost instant, chess gradually increases the functioning of the mind until it reaches that point where thinking becomes a lucid activity.  Chess helps the mind to summon the creative parts of the brain to make moves that are sometimes considered to be "insanely magical".  Chess is like a pill to the brain where it learns to navigate  among complex situations on the board. 

If we can unlock the full power of our minds, chess players can calculate up to thirty (30 ) moves ahead and more. If this happens, the game of chess may lose its enigmatic appeal and would be reduced to a boring wood pushing activity. The use of  intuition in the game of chess adds  excitement to the game.  It gives its followers that feeling of competition between two individuals who would like win. With intuition chess games are played with that “human like” feel and not simply a mechanical pushing of the pieces.
But how does the game of chess improves the power of intuition?  By playing the game of chess, the player learns to make moves that are  without rational basis except that initial assessment that the move  is sound. As I have said, chess players cannot really calculate the exact moves that would be played by opponent except those moves that are practically forced. In chess, the mind is trained to make decisions and rely on what the brain thinks is best on what is there on the board. The chess player learns to take calculated risk.
In real life, this is important because we are often faced with situations where we have to make decisions based on an incomplete set of facts. We often do not have that luxury of having a full set of  facts to make intelligent decisions. We are oftentimes constrained to do what we simply think is right under the circumstances. Here we use intuition to guide us in opting for a particular move without a solid basis. For example, in deciding whether to migrate or not  we have to use intuition. There is nothing that would assure us that migrating would  result to a better future. The migrants have to depend on an incomplete and sometimes unreliable data that migrating would result to a much better life.  It is like taking a calculated risk.
The game of chess unlocks the deeper part of the brain in assessing and taking calculated risks. It exercises our minds to discover those parts that we are not using and use our brains to the fullest.  Thus, if we take risks the possibility of failure is minimized. For every move that is taken in the game of chess, the mind is being trained to look for moves that are based on rational analysis or intuition.  By continually playing chess, the mind learns to "intuitively" decide  what is best without going to to complicated rational calculation. We begin to go ahead and to "just  do it"  trusting that the consequence would be what we intended. Here are the complete moves of the said game:
Garry Kasparov vs.Predrag Nikolic (Manila, 1992)
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 e5 4.dxe5 d4 5.Ne4 Qa5+ 6.Bd2 Qxe5 7.Ng3Qd6 8.Nf3 Nf6 9.Qc2 Be7 10.O-O-O O-O 11.e3 dxe3 12.fxe3 Qc713.Bc3 Bg4 14.Bd3 Nbd7 15.Bf5 Bxf5 16.Nxf5 Rfe8 17.Nxg7 Kxg718.Qf5 Nf8 19.h4 h6 20.g4 Qc8 21.Qxc8 Raxc8 22.g5 N8h7 23.e4 Rcd8 24.Rdf1 Kf8 25.gxf6 Bxf6 26.e5 Bg7 27.Rhg1 c5 28.Kc2 Re6 29.Rg4 Bh8 30.b4 b6 31.bxc5 bxc5 32.Rb1 Ra6 33.Rb2 Bg7 34.Rb7 Rxa2+ 35.Kb3 Ra6 36.e6 Rxe6 37.Rxg7 1-0

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