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RE: About the Chinese Chess - Xiangqi, 象棋

in The Chess Community10 months ago

I bought a 2nd-hand xiangqi board at a YMCA thrift shop during a big book sale, so I read the rules and played a few times against a chinese friend a while back. But it's been so long ago I don't even remember for sure which friend I was even playing, other than he was close to me in age, so I guess it was over a decade ago.

I remember it was fun to play, but I had the same experience as you: it was hard to keep track of all the movement possibilities and the potential movements were less easy to visualize than western chess. Ultimately I didn't think I had the time to invest in it to become decent at it. About 5 years before I had invested a lot of time in becoming tolerably good at weiqi, so I knew how such pursuits could go (no pun intended).


Yes, it is less easy to visualize because we don't have enough practice. But it gives me an interesting insight when it comes to blindfold chess.

I think blindfold skill is necessary to become truly good at any of these games, because the advantage comes from person who can see the board several steps into the future, which means they have to visualize positions they can't see. I guess that's why all the grandmasters have this ability.

Apparently the way it works can be described by the way we read. New readers (children) read and see character by character, and eventually syllables. Advanced readers just recognise words like they would a photo. So when you look at the word "Chess", you just see "Chess" as a picture that you recognise without having to read it. Speed readers can see entire sentences or even the following sentence in their heads before reading it out.

Those chess moves are easy for the grandmasters to visualise as they're just words or sentences to them, so they can just see them without having to think much about it.

I saw the analogy in a book I was reading about the brain and cognitive ability. Interesting stuff.

It makes sense. I've heard some people argue that the way the brain works when you play chess is very similar to when you use spoken language. So they argue that chess is a language and that would explain why children who practice chess develop better language skills. These are things I have read and remember from memory. Right now I can't cite any specific source.

On the other hand, besides the ones you pointed out, I think there are also other cognitive concepts and analogies involved here to interpret and explain the way chess players do when they play chess blindfolded or not, like intuition, you know, the ability to do things without putting a lot of conscious effort into it. It's like some tasks in daily life that you do without paying much attention because after enough practice you can do them automatically, like a routine. Chess players who are very well trained and reach a certain level can play high quality games seemingly without effort. The moves simply come to their mind and it is something easy to notice, for example, when they play bullet chess online. Of course, we can argue that this happens to some extent to players of different levels, but in advanced players the skill is remarkable and extends to different aspects of the chess game, and so on.

I think this is to some extent true. After I played games of go, I could often reconstruct the moves of the games afterwards, and it was mainly because me and my opponent were generally making high probability (i.e. relatively good) moves. Similarly, you could view words as high probability arrangements of letters, which is the underlying reason we can recognize a word right away and remember its spelling, whereas it is more difficult to remember a random string of letters.

But where this would probably fall apart is if an expert played a total amateur who was making nearly random moves at times. Such a game board wouldn't be encodable into a high probability subset of "words".

So, the question I don't have the answer to is, could a go master recall such a game? I can't say for sure, but my suspicion is "yes", which would weaken the word recognition theory somewhat. So my guess is that they have a few skills working in concert: 1) the ability to recognize and recall high probability patterns, 2) a stronger ability to remember raw go board positions, and 3) they may attach extra significance to a stone's position such as difficulties associated with its placement such as "that stone will break my ladder attack" that make it easier to recall the placement relative to the other stones on the board.

I agree, blindfold chess is always recommended to improve calculation and visualization. I've heard about a few old psychologists who have written about it.

I bet you would easily be a pro if you decide to look back into the game. And as for western chess, How much of your time did you put into it if I may ask?

I didn't invest much time into western chess, less than a year: I was only 12 years old, and I lacked discipline to study hard, I just played for fun. My parents bought me a chess computer (no good players where I lived that I knew of). I played against that some although it often cheated if you started to win because it would overheat when it "thought" too hard, and I read a few chess books, so I got good enough to beat any normal player I met in the area (small town).

I went to one chess tournament, which was fun overall, but it was also where I first experienced that some people are annoying in their competitiveness :-) I think I was rated around 1250 in chess rankings from that tournament, which is pretty weak, but good enough to crush amateurs.

I remember coming back from the tournament (my parents had to take me as it was a couple hours away from where I lived) and I couldn't make my brain stop thinking about chess positions, which was a little disturbing as it was the first time I didn't have full conscious control over my thoughts.

I was also very ambitious then, so if I spent time at it, I wanted to become among the best, and it looked like I would have to invest too much of life to potentially reach that goal (and it seemed from my brief reading on the subject that many of the strongest chess players were a bit crazy). So I gave up chess very early and never really played more than a few games after that. Nowadays, I'm less competitive, so I'm comfortable to learn something and just be "good" at it, but I found I liked go more than chess.

I played both games at very different ages, so maybe I would enjoy chess more this time if I went into it seriously. My problem as a kid was that I didn't like it when I couldn't find any obvious good move (in go this is never a problem, it is just a case of having to decide among too many good moves).

I remember coming back from the tournament (my parents had to take me as it was a couple hours away from where I lived) and I couldn't make my brain stop thinking about chess positions, which was a little disturbing as it was the first time I didn't have full conscious control over my thoughts.

This reminds me of what Albert Einstein once said "Chess holds its master in its own bonds, shackling the mind and brain so that the inner freedom of the very strongest must suffer.”
Chess can be very addictive and strong, for you to have this experiences, it really tells you love the game and you had/have Passion for the game. I hope to see you create some time and join our competitions here on Hive. Thanks for sharing your story👌