Pattern Recognition — Fact or Fiction?

by Rune Vik-Hansen
7/20/2018 – Chess players, chess authors and chess psychologists attempt to teach and explain chess playing and development of chess skills with the concept of pattern and pattern recognition. However, the lack of a precise definition of pattern raises the question of what we are supposed to recognise and if chess may not be too diverse and too complex to be reduced to simplified didactic devices like 'patterns.' This is comprehensively considered in a paper by RUNE VIK-HANSEN.

ChessBase 14 Download ChessBase 14 Download

Everyone uses ChessBase, from the World Champion to the amateur next door. Start your personal success story with ChessBase 14 and enjoy your chess even more!


Along with the ChessBase 14 program you can access the Live Database of 8 million games, and receive three months of free ChesssBase Account Premium membership and all of our online apps! Have a look today!

More...

Questioning conventional wisdom

Chess players, chess authors and chess psychologists attempt to teach and explain chess playing by the concept of ‘pattern recognition’:

Pattern recognition is one of the most important mechanisms of chess improvement. Realizing that the position on the board has similarities with something you have seen before [you are recognizing a pattern] helps you to quickly grasp the essence of that position and find the most promising continuation” (van de Oudeweetering, 2014).

This may sound familiar:

The acquisition of chess patterns is the main ingredient for chess mastery (Silman, 2010, p. 638).

After working with this book, an increasing number of positions, pawn structures and piece placements will automatically activate [italics, ours] your chess knowledge. As a result you will find the right move more often and more quickly (van Oudeweetering, 2014).

Or

Once the reader has started applying the patterns in IYCPR (Improving Your Chess Pattern Recognition) in their own games, they will find that the post-opening phase of the game becomes easier and they will more often build up a strong position (GM I. Rogers, quoted by van de Oudeweetering, 2014, p. 7).

However, closer examination reveals causal, conceptual, epistemological and practical problems needing to be dealt with.

Practical Problems

Nature (Amidzic, Elbert, Fehr, Riehle & Wienbruch, 2001, p. 603) informs us that GMs need to learn 100,000 patterns and that pattern familiarity is what distinguishes GMs from more ordinary players.

However, the number appears to be rather random. How are numbers of patterns delimited and measured? Are lower rated GMs from 2500-2600 familiar with fewer patterns than GMs from 2600-2850?

If ‘pattern’ is understood as ‘piece configuration’, acquisition of chess skills appears even more cumbersome, depending on how fast one can set up different positions either on a board or on a computer screen. On average, with 10 learned a day, it takes 27 years to acquire 100,000 patterns which, in turn, makes it hard to explain how young super-GMs, like Magnus Carlsen (GM at 13, learning chess at age 8, means 20,000 patterns a year and 55 patterns a day), at such a tender age can be much stronger than older GMs having had much more time to acquire far more patterns. Or, are we talking about different GMs being familiar with different sets of patterns reflected in the rating differences? Since nobody knows every possible pattern, there is no way to know if players acquire useful patterns or are wasting time and the way to beat a GM would be to get non-pattern positions on the board, since this will shut down much of what the GM has on his personal ‘hard drive.’

If pattern recognition is how chess is played at GM level, we are hard pressed how to explain why GMs’ performances decrease with age as one would think that patterns acquired still are in their brains and that a GM by some effort could bring back relevant patterns and thus still keep their performance at peak. Do older GMs’ performances decrease because other cerebral factors, unaccounted for, interfere with the GM’s ability to reproduce relevant patterns during a game? This illustrates that chess playing is more than mechanical reproduction of patterns and it is impossible to determine how much is pattern recognition and what is an ability to produce high-quality moves of one’s own accord. Does chess that easily lend itself to mechanical recipes? Is acquisition of chess skills no more difficult than to say: learn these n gazillion patterns and you’ll become a 2800+ player? In the same vein, are GMs able to reproduce all the patterns they recognise and are familiar with?

Another fundamental problem is that as long as thinking and learning are subconscious, there is no way to tell if the brain perceives different positions as patterns but psychologists and chess writers seem to try to make pattern acquisition look like a mechanical, conscious process, making pattern a straightforward way to explain human behaviour but it does not explain the real course of events.

The only way is to reverse the process; what is called ‘pattern’ is something established after the so-called patterns are learnt and we rationalise and justify what happens to make it possible to make recipes and write instructional texts etc. to learn quicker. When learning it, we do not know if what we have before us is a pattern so a question is; how and when does chaos transform into pattern in the chess mind? Learning chess resembles Wittgenstein's idea on how to learn to follow a rule; there must be something going on underlying our ability to understand rule-bound instructions before we know the rule, and it is the same with chess. Moving on to conceptual issues, we conclude that there seem to be too many problems linked to the practical use of the concept of pattern recognition to give it the explanatory force ascribed to it.

Conceptual Problems

At first glance, ‘pattern’ seems to indicate something like a whole or some sort of totality, repeating itself infinitely in its entirety (otherwise, how else are we to know we’re dealing with a pattern?), like patterns on bed sheets or tablecloths, but what constitutes a chess pattern? What makes for a chess pattern?

Without defining a chess pattern, van de Oudeweetering presents us with the following samples positions he refers to as ‘positional patterns’ (Oudeweetering, 2014, p. 9):

'The Octopus', (van de Oudeweetering, 2014, p. 15)
 

Are all positions with possible knight jumps into a hole pattern positions or just this one, if so, why?


'The Killer Knight', (van de Oudeweetering, 2014, p. 22)
 

15.Nf5! White won (However, the game score is given as 0-1.)


A Dynamic Pawn Sac', (van de Oudeweetering, 2014, p. 162)
 

10...b6!


The Nievergelt Manoeuvre', (van de Oudeweetering, 2014: 215)
 

14...Kh8!? 15...Rg8 and 16...g5 (This manoeuvre occurred in Nievergelt-Keres, Zürich, 1959 where Fischer participated (van de Oudeweetering, 2014, pp. 219-220)

What makes these positions patterns and not just examples of where a good move is at our disposal because we know how the pieces move? We know we can plant a knight on d6, f5 or any other holes because we know how the knight moves. Where does these positions’ ‘patternness’, or ‘patternicity’, come from? What are we supposed to perceive as the pattern?

Circular similarity

Realizing that the position on the board has similarities with something you have seen before helps you to quickly grasp the essence of that position and find the most promising continuation, van de Oudeweetering (2014) tells us and presents us with this position:

‘Here's a similar position’, (van de Oudeweetering, 2014, p. 257)
 

Similar to what? The position on the preceding page?


'A Double-Edged Exchange' (van de Oudeweetering, 2014, p. 256)
 

14.Bxc6

Or an even earlier Petrosian game:

 

8.Bxc6

Or what about these three thematic IQP positions:

 

19…b4! (Lipnitsky, 2010, p. 102)

 

22...b4? 'We are already familiar with this positional device. Yet even the best positional ideas must be implemented with due regard to the concrete circumstances. Here this move is premature because White has a striking combination available' (23.Nh6+) (Lipnitsky, 2010, p. 105).

 

26...b4!


Our sample positions bring us to the core question:

When and how does a position become paradigmatic, i.e. a position we, later on, compare other ‘similar’ positions to?

When the old masters played their games that later on became our patterns, what did they model their play after? What, if anything, served as a previously established model or pattern for their play? The reference to the classics, might lead us to believe that all patterns are already discovered, or are there games being played by today’s contemporary master that will become paradigmatic for future reference?

Due to the diversity of chess and the characteristic of identical repetition inherent in the concept of pattern as a means for explaining the acquisition of chess skills, the concept seems problematic and what strikes us when using the word ‘pattern’ in connection with chess is the apparent abyss of discrepancy between the two and how are the two to be reconciled?

As long as repetition is an inherent component of the concept and each and every position appears different, single or individual positions can never constitute a pattern. Unlike patterns on bed sheets or tablecloths, where we don’t have to check out the whole bed sheet or tablecloth to see if the pattern repeats itself, we have to examine and take in the whole position before making our move.

A problem is how to generalise different positions into the same definition of pattern, which appears impossible since the positions are different and no player lives long enough to see if a position repeats itself and thus be able to establish a pattern. Due to the diversity of chess, there will always be a principal problem of formalising a pattern definition comprising the ever occurring unique positions while not violating the notion of identical repetition.

To many, a fianchetto castling may appear to be a pattern since this specific configuration is known to repeat itself numerous times in different kinds of positions.

To show that this is anything but philosophical nit-picking, we might mention that Kant (1724-1804) brought to our attention the fact that concepts are never defined by their use. The colour ‘red’ might illustrate the point in question: if we ask someone what ‘red’ is, most will point at cars, pictures or books, which are mere instances of red but do not define what ‘red’ is, i.e. delineate red in contrast to for instance blue or green. Back to topic: different kinds of castlings or mating images as patterns are problematic for three reasons:

  1. The positions as instances do not yield any definition of a pattern (analogous to “red”)
  2. The positions are at once different, where the question of how to incorporate these into a single definition of a pattern comprising both (as pointed out) and
  3. Castlings differ from mating images in that the former appear more static (fixed configurations) than the latter (ever-changing configurations of pieces) where more precisely than (static) patterns would seem to be to speak of tactical operations or combinations, which differ from patterns.

Two implications seem to follow from this: if a single definition, incorporating different positions, cannot be given, diverse positions cannot serve as examples of pattern or we are applying one definition of pattern to each and every position, but this does not solve the problem and leads to a circle; again we might ask what is it about castlings that make these constitute or make up a pattern and thus we are right back to the problems of definitions. For the question of development of chess skills to be solved, of utmost importance is that concepts are defined before being used or applied.

The perceptive reader may have noted the difficulty to pinpoint when a pattern occurs since a single move results in a new position and the whole position must be considered when evaluating what move to make. Chess has to be played according to specific circumstances, not some generalized idealizations. The difference in the placing of a single pawn may mean the difference between three results. Will a change in a position of a pawn imply a change in an existing pattern within a position or are we talking about a different pattern due to a new position?

Pattern vs. Structure

Without distinguishing between them or elaborating on their interrelatedness, van de Oudeweetering (2014. pp. 10-11) introduces other related/similar but not identical concepts like ideas and themes and, we might add, motifs (ITM), configurations, constellations and set-ups (CCS), in short: structures, though granted that CCS sound more physical than ITM and even if the latter suggests a more mental or abstract aspect detached from their physical manifestation, they must somehow still be connected to the pieces, either physical or mentalised (Hearst & Knott, 2013; Mechner, 2010).

Contrary to ‘patterns’, ‘structures’ might be defined as a certain smaller configuration or distribution of forces occurring at certain delimited sectors of the board within positions as a whole and which might be repeated without the whole context within which they occur having to identically and infinitely repeat itself. Smaller parts or fragments within a greater totality will repeat themselves more often than whole positions, if at all. Even if only having remnants or fragments of broken or shattered structures, at a glance we recognise the contours of an intact structure within positions as a whole regardless of what the rest of the board looks like.

In other words, when seeing a broken castled position with pawns on f7, f6 and h7/h6, in an instant we spot the possibility of a knight on f5, this having more to do with recognising a structure on a restricted part of the board rather than an all-comprising pattern.

Familiarity with structures might facilitate the speed of calculation but still more important appears the ability to produce concrete, correct moves as otherwise we would be hard pressed to explain how super strong young GMs like Carlsen or Karjakin so well handle and play positions never seen before, having had less time than more experienced (by age) players to be acquainted with all these new structures.

Also, chess discourse seems to suggest that ‘pattern recognition’ is not the most accurate of terms when explaining the acquisition of chess proficiency. On DVDs or books we never encounter the term ‘pattern’, only ‘structure’; we ‘weaken/change/ruin/expand/improve the structure of the position’, not ‘the pattern of the position.’

‘Pattern recognition’ therefore more appears to be an idealized simplicity rather than a concept apt to explain acquisition of chess skills, paving the way for the question; how to define what a pattern is and if ‘structure recognition’ is acquired by playing and studying chess, how does ‘pattern recognition’ relate to this? (If there were a clear or formal definition of a chess pattern, we could look at any position and tell whether it is a pattern or not.)

The problems related to the concept of pattern seem to apply to other aspects of the acquisition of chess skills as well: How to improve our position without any preconceived idea of what the improvement consists of? How many examples of exchanges do we have to work through before mastering the art of exchanging pieces? Not to mention when not to exchange? And what about the exchange sacrifice? How many examples before mastering the art of relinquishing our bishop pair, grabbing space, playing ‘the right rook’, mastering opposite- coloured bishop endings, exploiting weak colour complexes etc.?

As long as chess is played with the same number of pieces moving the same way on the same number of squares, players will always encounter positions ‘similar’ to something they have seen before, so what relevant sense of “similar” are we talking about?

Regarding the question of learning and what to look for, studying the games of the masters appears akin to the paradox we face in one of Plato’s dialogues: How to search when not knowing at all what you are looking for? How to search for something you do not know at all? If finding it, how will you know that this is what you did not know?

We conclude that due to conceptual and practical problems, it is in principle impossible to communicate ‘pattern recognition’ as a means for producing chess moves nor is it a workable concept to explain the development of chess skills.

Epistemological internalism

After working with this book, an increasing number of positions, pawn structures and piece placements will automatically activate [italics, ours] your chess knowledge. […] (van Oudeweetering, 2014).

or

Once the reader has started applying [italics, ours] the patterns in IYCPR (Improving Your Chess Pattern Recognition) in their own games, they will find that the post-opening phase of the game becomes easier and they will more often build up a strong position (GM I. Rogers, quoted by van de Oudeweetering, 2014, p. 7).

The idea that right knowledge or insight leads to (morally) right action, and thought inextricably related, has long and rich traditions with perhaps Socrates as its foremost proponent and might be called moral internalism but applies to morally neutral questions, issues and matters as well, denoted epistemological internalism.

If knowledge is to initiate actions or behaviour (fingers picking up and letting go of pieces), which are physical effects and therefore need a physical cause (a non-physical consciousness cannot trigger actions, i.e. cause arms and legs to move.) knowledge, assumed chess patterns in our case, need thence be physically represented in the brain with the discussion revolving around how knowledge is represented.

However, a concept of chess pattern still to be defined renders well-nigh impossible to say what this knowledge looks like and/or how it is to be physically represented in our brain (not to mention estimating their number) and leaves us hard pressed to explain how the concept is causally related to our playing and other chess knowledge, say the afore-mentioned art of exchanging pieces, exchange sacrifices, relinquishing of the bishop pair, playing the right rook, mastering opposite coloured bishop endings, exploiting weak colour complexes etc. (Note in passing that the causal problems associated with the presumed knowledge of patterns apply to this knowledge as well) Tarrasch’ aphorism, ‘It is not enough to be a good player…you must also play well’, nicely catches the gap between knowledge and action. The same applies to math: ‘It is not enough to be good at math…you also have to do the math.’

Conclusion

Lack of a precise definition of the concept of pattern raises the question of what we are supposed to recognise and how the concept causally is to automatically activate our other chess knowledge. ‘Automatic activation’ of chess knowledge remains problematic as every position has to be assessed and played according to its own accord where blunders reduce the value of pattern recognition to zero, suggesting that the triggering of moves works unaided of the ability to remember patterns or any other chess knowledge. We cannot ‘start to apply’ the presumed patterns both because these patterns are undefined and chess playing is subconscious (or more precisely, a fine-tuned interplay between brain and consciousness.)

Finally, if there were a necessary connection between knowledge and action (behaviour), there seems to be reasons to believe the world would be a different place.


Bibliography

Amidzic, O., Elbert, T., Fehr, T., Riehle, H.J., & Wienbruch, C. (2001). Pattern of focal ɤ-bursts in chess players. Nature, 412 (6847), 603. DOI: 10.1038/35088119

Hearst, E. & Knott, J. (2013). Blindfold chess: history, psychology, techniques, champions, world records, and important games. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. doi: 10.1901/jeab.2010.94-373

Lipnitsky, I. (2010). Questions of modern chess theory. Glasgow, Scotland: Quality Chess.

Mechner, F. (2010). Chess as a Behavioral Model for Cognitive Skill Research [Review of the book Blindfold Chess by Eliot Hearst and John Knott]. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 94 (3), 373–386. doi: 10.1901/jeab.2010.94-373

Silman, J. (2010). How to reassess your chess 4th edition. Los Angeles, CA: Siles Press.           

Van de Oudeweetering, A. (2014). Improve your pattern recognition: key moves and motifs in the middlegame. Alkmar, The Netherlands: New in Chess.

Acknowledgements

Again a heartfelt thank you to our dear friend and colleague, Victoria W. Guadagno, for taking time to proofread both the 2008 version and this reworked edition. Dr. philos Ståle Gundersen for clarifying the status of knowledge.

Links




Born in 1968, Rune Vik-Hansen graduated from the University of Tromsø in 1999 with a thesis on Heidegger's concept of Dasein. Other fields of interests are metaphysics, ontology, theory of science and political ethics. Besides having worked as a teacher on different levels, Vik-Hansen also writes philosophical texts, chronicles, papers and essays as well as children’s literature.
Discussion and Feedback Join the public discussion or submit your feedback to the editors


Discuss

Rules for reader comments

 
 

Not registered yet? Register

fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 7/24/2018 12:37
I disagree with point 2. of @Hello2018, calculation does not consist of patterns. Top players find new tactical ideas in positions they have never seen before (virtually all top level games achieve positions never before seen).
fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 7/24/2018 12:30
I did not read the entire article nor the entirety of @fons3 comments, but I agree with how strange a question it is that older GMs do not play better than younger ones, because of the memory issue, as fons3 mentioned. Also why does the author seem to think it can only be a single factor that results in chess strength? Obviously there are a large number of variables including ability to concentrate, one's memory ability compared to another, etc. I get the impression that the author is not a chessplayer.
melante melante 7/22/2018 12:49
"Chess players, chess authors and chess psychologists attempt to teach and explain chess playing and development of chess skills with the concept of pattern and pattern recognition". However, philosophers disagree... well, thanks for reminding me why the latter group is the least knowledgeable of the bunch! ;)
Hello2018 Hello2018 7/21/2018 07:50
I agree with fons3 completely. It seemed like the article was just some inner rambling in the shower. I would like to add we make good chess moves based on at least 4 different systems:
1) Patterns
2) Calculation consisting mostly of patterns
3) Concepts like improve your worst piece
4) Memorized concrete moves. Mostly in the opening but also in the endgame.

We can also make bad chess moves based on :
1) Artistic value. Putting the king in the center to make a smiley face
2) Playing near the clock in big time trouble
3) Shuffling pieces back and forth as you hope your opponent will lose on time or make a mistake trying to crush through
4) Hope chess. Moving without calculation just because the move looks pretty
5) Psychological chess. Knowing your opponent will avoid doing something he should do, so you can gain something
RayLopez RayLopez 7/21/2018 07:17
@fons3 - is there a [PART 5]? ;-) Give it up fons3, the author of the article is a trained philosopher and he's using his Socrates skills on you... "what is virtue"? And "can virtue be taught"?
fons3 fons3 7/21/2018 03:22
[PART 4]

>>How to improve our position without any preconceived idea of what the improvement consists of?

Huh? We know which patterns are good. Then we create those patterns. Tada! We also take note of patterns that we did not consciously "create". Or we experiment and see what happens.

>>How many examples of exchanges do we have to work through before mastering the art of exchanging pieces?

Many. Nobody said this was easy.

>>players will always encounter positions ‘similar’ to something they have seen before, so what relevant sense of “similar” are we talking about?

That is the big question. Again nobody said this was easy. But I don't see how this refutes the idea of patterns. And stop being hung up on "whole positions".

>>How to search when not knowing at all what you are looking for? How to search for something you do not know at all?

But we know what to look for: winning the game.

Also: semantics. (To obscure the issue?) We're not "searching", we're noticing. Some patterns prove useful, some not.

>>We conclude that due to conceptual and practical problems, it is in principle impossible to communicate ‘pattern recognition’ as a means for producing chess moves nor is it a workable concept to explain the development of chess skills.

Do you even lift?

>>However, a concept of chess pattern still to be defined renders well-nigh impossible to say what this knowledge looks like

This would almost imply that learning is impossible. People clearly get better when they are thought by somebody who already knows which patterns are useful. Proof by experiment! Isn't that how science works?

>>how it is to be physically represented in our brain

Irrelevant. We are not trying to figure out how exactly the brain works internally. Is going to school pointless because hey: we don't know exactly how the brain works!

>>‘It is not enough to be a good player…you must also play well’, nicely catches the gap between knowledge and action.

There is a gap because we are not computers. Our brains outperform computers in a lot of respects, but they are also inferior in a lot of respects.

>>Lack of a precise definition ...

Everything is a pattern. Some are useful, some are not. We learn this by playing the game and checking who won. It's quite simple really. ;)

>>suggesting that the triggering of moves works unaided of the ability to remember patterns or any other chess knowledge

Seriously? How does it work then? Magic?

>>We cannot ‘start to apply’ the presumed patterns both because these patterns are undefined...

But they are defined.

>>...and chess playing is subconscious (or more precisely, a fine-tuned interplay between brain and consciousness.)

Why would the "fine-tuned interplay between brain and consciousness" be a problem? But this leads us to the question of how to define "consciousness" and that's a rabbit whole the scientific community has not even come close to figuring out.

>>Finally, if there were a necessary connection between knowledge and action (behaviour), there seems to be reasons to believe the world would be a different place.

No we are not machines. So?

---

By the way: if it's not pattern recognition then how does a program like Leela Chess learn and play chess at a very high level? Leela Chess is a neural network in a computer that thought itself how to play from scratch with zero prior knowledge. It's a machine, so no psychological or subconscious or whatever going on. Just pure hard cold machine instructions, ones and zeros. (Yes there is brute force calculation as well, but you can have it play with zero calculations and it still plays chess very well.)

---

All this is just my opinion and how I see it. I don't pretend to be especially smart or anything. Maybe there is a philosophical point that I don't understand but then (no offense) you will have to explain it better.
fons3 fons3 7/21/2018 03:21
[PART 3]

>>what is it about castlings that make these constitute or make up a pattern

Strange question. One criteria that would define a _useful_ pattern would be if it tends to repeat and castling certainly fits that description. Don't know what else to say to this.

>>Will a change in a position of a pawn imply a change in an existing pattern within a position or are we talking about a different pattern due to a new position?

It's a different but similar pattern. You keep trying to make (or imply) problems that are not there.

>>Contrary to ‘patterns’, ‘structures’ might be defined as a certain smaller configuration or distribution of forces occurring at certain delimited sectors of the board ...

Semantics. A position as a whole is a certain configuration of sub patterns.

>>Smaller parts or fragments within a greater totality will repeat themselves more often than whole positions, if at all.

Stop being hung up on "whole positions", I don't see the relevance. It's a distraction tactic: all positions are different so there cannot be patterns! Answer: no (see above).

>>Familiarity with structures might facilitate the speed of calculation but still more important appears the ability to produce concrete, correct moves as otherwise we would be hard pressed to explain how super strong young GMs like Carlsen or Karjakin so well handle and play positions never seen before, having had less time than more experienced (by age) players to be acquainted with all these new structures.

Nobody is saying (or at least I'm not) that pattern recognition is the only thing you need. You also need calculation skills, and a whole bunch of other things.
But pattern recognition is the major one.
I would argue that pattern recognition is part of how we do anything, (or everything). It's the main tool of the brain. (But I'm no expert and we digress.)

>>On DVDs or books we never encounter the term ‘pattern’, only ‘structure’;

Semantics.

>>‘Pattern recognition’ therefore more appears to be an idealized simplicity

Straw man. I would say it's extremely complex.
fons3 fons3 7/21/2018 03:21
[PART 2]

>>Are all positions with possible knight jumps into a hole pattern positions or just this one, if so, why?

Yes all positions are a pattern.

>>15.Nf5!

Nf5 is a well known pattern, a very atomic pattern but still. It's even referred to sometimes as "Knife on f5".
So there you go.
Keep in mind that we don't judge a position on just one pattern.

>>10...b6!

A move (or sacrifice) is not good just because of one pattern. A position consists of a whole bunch of patterns and it's how they relate to each other that makes certain moves good or bad. (How patterns relate to can also be considered a pattern.)

You might say: but this is getting a bit too complicated. Yes it's complicated. The brain is a wonderful thing that we're not even close to understanding or replicating artificially.

>>14...Kh8!? 15...Rg8 and 16...g5

Opening lines towards the enemy king: elementary. Of course you have to calculate to make sure it actually works.

>>Similar to what? The position on the preceding page?

Uhm... yes. Don't see the problem here.

>>When and how does a position become paradigmatic, i.e. a position we, later on, compare other ‘similar’ positions to?

All positions are used for comparison. But (as mentioned before) we rank patterns on their usefulness and more complex patterns tend to be less useful. A position as a whole would be a complex pattern. But a position as a whole consists of sub patterns that are less complex and more useful, so rather than compare positions as a whole we compare the sub patterns that the positions consist of.

>>When the old masters played their games that later on became our patterns, what did they model their play after?

Does it win the game or not: that's how they learned which patterns are useful. And yes: they "understood" less about the game than we do today. Again don't see the problem here.

>>The reference to the classics, might lead us to believe that all patterns are already discovered,

Nobody thinks that.

>>As long as repetition is an inherent component of the concept and each and every position appears different, single or individual positions can never constitute a pattern.

Wrong. See my comments above for why.

>>A problem is how to generalise different positions into the same definition of pattern, which appears impossible since the positions are different and no player lives long enough to see if a position repeats itself and thus be able to establish a pattern.

Wrong for the same reasons as above.

>>The colour ‘red’ might illustrate the point in question

No. Bad comparison.
Fianchetto castling is well defined.

>>if a single definition, incorporating different positions, cannot be given,

But it can be given. A position as a whole is a pattern (not very useful), consisting of sub patterns (more useful) and how the sub patterns relate (most useful). On top of that we have "tactical operations" which are also (a different kind of) patterns and they in turn relate to all the above.
fons3 fons3 7/21/2018 03:20
[PART 1]

You repeat the same things often in this article. That's fine. I'll only address my objections a single time (for the most part) for ever occurrence.


>>If pattern recognition is how chess is played at GM level, we are hard pressed how to explain why GMs’ performances decrease with age

Your memory gets worse. Your ability to concentrate gets worse.

All the top players have above average (if not phenomenal) memories. That cannot be a coincidence.

And if memory is important it has to be pattern recognition, what else?

>>Another fundamental problem is that as long as thinking and learning are subconscious, there is no way to tell if the brain perceives different positions as patterns

How else would the brain perceive it if not as a pattern?

Every position is by definition a pattern. A pattern that in itself consists of sub patterns. And sub patterns that may consist of sub patterns.

>>but psychologists and chess writers seem to try to make pattern acquisition look like a mechanical, conscious process

Straw man. Conscious or unconscious: irrelevant.

>>how and when does chaos transform into pattern in the chess mind?

Everything is a pattern, even the chaos (or what appears as chaos). So there is no "transformation". We learn to discard the patterns that are not useful to win the game. And we discard the patterns that are too complex to remember. We also rank the patterns based on their usefulness. For example: the more complex the pattern the less useful it tends to be.

This might be an area where neural networks (like Leela Chess) might surprise us. However so far Leela seems to work mainly with the same patterns that humans have discovered to be useful to win the game.

>>Learning chess resembles Wittgenstein's idea on how to learn to follow a rule; there must be something going on underlying our ability to understand rule-bound instructions before we know the rule,

Don't understand what you are talking about here.

Rooks tend to be good on open files: that would be a "rule". Tell this "rule" to an absolute beginner and he might be skeptical of the validity of this "rule", but by studying and playing chess this absolute beginner will quickly learn that this does indeed help in winning games, so the "rule" is kept in memory.
jonkm jonkm 7/21/2018 01:22
Another related issue: even strong players sometimes miss simple tactics. With the aid of engines, we can see this often; sometimes suprisingly simple tactics or even mating attacks are overlooked. So certainly the definition of GM is not someone who never misses a trick. Instead, they have some other talent(s) which put them at the top of the heap.
genem genem 7/21/2018 06:31
Interesting article.

The recently published book - "Kinetic Patterns in Reactive Chess" (KPiRC) - also takes a critical look at the traditional claims of 'pattern recognition', and articulates more specific reasons for doubting the claims in their traditional form (chapter 24).

Say what you will about the traditional patterns concepts in chess, they are almost entirely about 'static' patterns. Ten thousand static positional patterns (or "chunks"?).

In stark contrast to static chess patterns, KPiRC also builds a theory of 'kinetic' patterns in chess (chapter 20). 56 kinetic patterns are found, which repeat almost constantly during every chess game, at all Elo levels. Once understood, these 56 kinetic patterns bring the player a different lens for perceiving and detecting tactics in chess. Learning 10,000 static patterns presumably would being more Elo points than would learning just 56 kinetic patterns, but which learning goal is more realistic for the masses of class players?

KPiRC also argues that 'reactive' moves are strong moves, and that proactive moves are an illusion (mostly).

Full disclosure: I wrote KPiRC :-)
RayLopez RayLopez 7/20/2018 09:31
Good article, and not to be confused with this one, of a similar title: Pattern recognition in chess by Qiyu Zhou 5/30/2018 – Is there a correlation between the strength in chess of players and their ability to recall a position in chess using short-term memory?
Nudge Nudge 7/20/2018 08:13
A bunch of philosophical-sounding mumbo jumbo.
SeniorPatzer SeniorPatzer 7/20/2018 07:58
Terrific arguments in support of your well-written rebuttal to the "idealized simplicity" of pattern recognition. Much, much thanks and appreciation for your careful and thoughtful questioning of this widespread dogma.
1