More on the Chunky Rook Project

I’ve already posted some thoughts on the goals and ideas behind The Chunky Rook in the Read Me! section, but I figured it’s necessary to provide some more substance to the why and the how.

For starters, the project’s designed to be within my own zone of proximal development, which simply means I’m going to feature material that’s neither too easy nor too difficult for me. Also, some of the positions I’m going to post may seem utterly trivial to you, but had such an impact on me that I want to record them.

Further, I aspire to post material that has a clear achievement aim. In teaching, we distinguish between procedure aims (what you do during class) and achievement aims (the knowledge or skill you learn from the class). Similarly in chess, we can distinguish between, say, playing through a grandmaster game (a procedure aim) and knowing what to do with bishops during the opening (achievement aim). Or, to give you another example, practising tactics at Chess Tempo: solving a tactic is a procedure aim, retaining the idea or pattern so that you can spot a similar tactic in the next OTB game is an achievement aim.

Having said that, what’s the procedure and achievement aim of a typical Chunky Rook post? Well, the procedure aim, obviously, is having watched an animated gif repeatedly (and read the occasional blurb underneath). The achievement aim, on the other hand, differs for each gif, but the general achievement aim can be summed up as follows: familiarising yourself with and absorbing ideas that will help you to think about positions and decide on moves. (I’m rather fond of the term “idea”, vague as it is, because it encompasses the whole range of chess knowledge instead of cutting it up into bits, as happens when people talk about “tactics vs strategy” or “calculation vs evaluation” — necessary and useful distinctions, no doubt, but only once they’re integrated into a holistic learning approach.)

However, the gifs themselves are insufficient as procedures to master this achievement aim. They merely represent the end-product of a host of procedures (reading a chess book, post-mortem analysis, OTB experiences, hints from chess teachers or better players, video lectures, and what not) boiled down to one or two ideas. In other words, the gifs are not primarily teaching tools, but mnemonic devices meant to anchor previous learning experiences and facilitate recall once we are back at the board. Put simply, they are animated flash cards.

So now that I’ve spewed some fancy learning terminology at you, feel free to comment on the method of the Chunky Rook and let me know whether you think there’s any merit to the approach. This is an experiment, and the proof of the pudding is in my OTB performance. The moment of truth is the moment I make a (good) decision based upon an idea I retained from watching a gif, the moment I’m looking at wooden pieces on a wooden board when suddenly an animated bishop on blue squares pops into my head and I go “Oh yeah, there was that neat idea with the bishop and the rook.”

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4 Responses to More on the Chunky Rook Project

  1. chesstiger says:

    First i want to say that this is your blog, you decide what you post and how and when. Others will visit and decide if they find what you post is worth returning, some will others dont.

    But if i read correctly it’s about your way of improvement so i wouldn’t bother to much about people returning or not. Write what you want, post what is intresting for you and what you want to share with others.

    For me personnally, i shall return. :-)

  2. chunkyrook says:

    True, it’s about my improvement, but of course I’m keen on finding out whether such an approach would work for others as well. Thanks for stopping by and coming back!

  3. Ken says:

    Just recently stumbled on to this blog, and thought I would start at the beginning. What has your experience been with this? Has it been helpful in improving your game?

  4. Chunky Rook says:

    Thanks for your interest, Ken. In answer to your question: My experience has shown that it depends very much on the type of idea behind the chunk. There are chunks that I consider more or less useless because they turned out to be too abstract and of little practical value so far. (This might change once I achieve a higher rating.) End game chunks in particular have proven to be more or less useless in over the board games for the simple fact that I lost or won games before even entering an endgame (or pursuing middle game plans that were not based on achieving a certain endgame). Some chunks have proven to be so important and so frequently part of my games that I didn’t really need the animated gif to learn them in the first place. I absorbed the idea and it cropped up frequently enough in my own games from then on that I didn’t need a picture to remind me of what was going on. Last but not least, there are chunks that do not appear on the board too often but that I consider valuable nonetheless because they do impact my plans and decisions. The gifs in this case help me spot the potential of a position (unlike certain endgame chunks that are just too far down the road for me at my current level to apply them to a position arising from the opening or middlegame). The problem with this last type of chunk — which is the problem of almost any road to chess improvement — is that I have to make myself re-visit the gif repeatedly to keep it fresh in my memory until it’s stored to the degree that repetition is no longer needed. This is what I have been neglecting. However, I believe the format as such is great for repeated use: you don’t have to wade through lengthy introductions. I just have to spend 5, 10, 15 minutes perusing my blog to remember the more useful chunks. Long story short: Yes, it has been helpful, but it still requires work and dedication to turn an animated gif into an active tool in your mind that you can use over the board.

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