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Monday, June 5, 2017

Learning Chess by Spaced Repitition and Flash Cards

     Alexey Suetin wrote in How to Play the Opening that the study of openings requires a good memory, but one should not blindly memorize as many variations as possible. Players should find games that illustrate the variations that they have chosen to learn. He also notes that some people are better at remembering visual features such as positions, while others are better at remembering move sequences and it is not feasible to provide a recipe that works for everyone. 
     Spaced repetition is a learning technique that repeats content after increasing time spans according to learning success, i.e. faster for stuff you haven't grasped yet, longer if you do well. In chess it is either used to learn a certain set of easy tactical exercises by heart, what Michael de la Maza called the "woodpecker method." This technique is supposed to improve your tactical pattern recognition. It can also be used to learn an opening repertoire by heart.
     Thousands of studies have replicated the finding that people forget what they’ve learned at a predictable rate, but relearning the material at spaced intervals dramatically improves long-term recall. 
     Spaced repetition is a learning technique that incorporates increasing intervals of time between subsequent review of previously learned material in order to exploit the psychological spacing effect. The method is commonly used in situations where a learner must acquire a large number of items and retain them indefinitely in memory, so the method is well suited for learning a second language learning. 
     For most students cramming for tests is a common practice when they need to learn a large amount of material that is going to be on the exam, but doesn't work for long-term retention. 
     We learn most things through intense focus on one topic, testing our knowledge of the topic, then moving onto the next in a never ending series. Skills and knowledge build on one another and a review what we’ve learned before moving on to the next subject is normally the way we approach learning. This works for getting to proficiency quickly but falls apart when it comes to retention. 
     Short version: after you have memorized something, you need to review it or you will forget it. But, it is much more effective to space out reviews over the course over several days, rather than cramming all the revisions in a single session. This is what is called the spacing effect. 
     Some chess players have tried this approach using flash cards. Rolf Wetzell used this method and described it in his book Chess Master At Any Age
     When it comes to using flash cards, research has shown that in order to get the best results, the intervals between review of old cards should gradually increase which allows you to focus on things you still haven't mastered, while not wasting time on cards you remember very well. A computer program can be very valuable in assisting in this process by keeping track of how difficult you find a card. 
     There is free software for spaced repetition based learning called Mnemosyne. It's a free flash card generator which uses an advanced algorithm to schedule the best time for a card to come up for review. The flash cards with content that you find difficult to recall will come up more often, while Mnemosyne will display what you remember well less frequently. Mnemosyne uses the method of spaced repetition to firm up your memory against the content that you tend to forget easily. The initial setup will involve some work as you have to manually insert the content that you are studying and create the flash cards. I am not sure how well this software would work for chess, but there are other free programs available for download that players might find valuable for making flash cards. 
     One free program is Open Flash Cards that is based on Power Point. Another easy way to make flash cards is with Power Point itself. One chess player used the Mnemosyne system and credits it with raising his USCF rating from 1800 to over 2000. He describes the method in a three part Blog article.  Part 1  Part 2  Part 3
     You can also use a chess program to create flash cards. An example of a player who used Wetzell's method in conjunction with Fritz can be seen HERE
     The biggest advantage I see to this method is that it helps remember postions that are important to YOU personally.

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