26 November 2017

Learning from a Prodigy - the science behind Magnus Carlsen's success

"Learning from a Prodigy: The Science Behind the Feats of the Greatest Chess Player of All Time" may be slightly hyped (is Magnus Carlsen really the greatest of all time?); occasionally breathless in tone; and not fully cognizant of standard chess training procedures (e.g. lots of people of all skill levels use computer analysis).  But the other 95% of the article, which was composed for a UCSD-hosted course on learning, offers a number of good observations.

The primary methods covered are:
  • Chunking: Building Actionable Knowledge
  • Diffuse Mode: Learning Through Reveries
  • Deliberate Practice: Kick-Starting Our Brain
  • Interleaving: Switching It Up
  • Transfer: Solving Parallel Problems
  • Health: Building on Solid Foundations
My comments:

I would say that chunking is probably the most relevant to gaining chess knowledge and skill, since it's the fundamental process in building pattern recognition and the intuitive base for position assessment and decisionmaking.  We learn things like openings, typical middlegame strategies, and endgames in this manner.

On this blog I've emphasized deliberate practice (or effortful study) as the best way of making progress in training, which basically means taking on difficult tasks (or opponents) that push your boundaries and therefore make you learn, rather than repeating the same tasks over and over.

Physical training (health) is also fundamental to maximizing our chess performance, especially in tournaments where your personal energy management and focus is so important to maintain at the highest level possible.

The subjects of Diffuse Mode and Interleaving are useful in highlighting why you should switch up study topics and take periodic breaks to let your brain make the necessary connections (literally) to achieve the next level of understanding.

I'm not completely sold on the "Transfer" idea of directly improving chess as a skill via other activities, although it can't hurt to have some broader interests and practices that also stimulate your brain.

All in all, worth checking out in detail.

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