Annotate the Game

I was having breakfast with good friend Amir Nissen this morning and we got to talking about how to learn, learn well and learn quickly. 

Fast learning is not a particularly new concept – Tynan recently got a tutor to speed him through learning Japanese whilst Tim Ferris took to learning his language through martial arts. Both are great ideas and hacks to aquire a skill quickly. But Amir has a different way to hack quickly to a point of mastering a skill.


Amir used to play competitive chess (funnily enough, against a great school friend of mine, Igor Loza) and got quite good. He explains that when you begin learning how to play chess, the instructors would make you annotate the game, jotting down all of the moves you made during the contest. When the game was over, the instructors would sit down and walk through the game with him, blow-by-blow, questioning his strategy and ideas at each stage. This quickly developed Amir’s chess skills because it began highlighting where he was making common mistakes often, as well as making him more aware of the patterns that, when presented to him in a game, would cause him problems. This enabled him to eliminate these patterns earlier in games of chess, which left him playing to his strengths more often. As a result, he became very good, very quickly.

The key is to spot patterns in your actions as they emerge AND build an understanding of how you react to those patterns as they take shape. Annotating the game is just one way to do this, but a very powerful one at that. I look forward to giving it more of a go.

13 thoughts on “Annotate the Game

  1. Awesome dude, trying to learn programming is similar in many ways. It’s about working out the patterns. I’m also thinking about getting a tutor to help me out as well.

    Blog on!

  2. I think the key is that they didn’t stop and talk turn-by-turn, but they waited until they had the context of the full game before discussing what happened. Nice strategy.

    Feel like a game?

  3. Recently, I have been prepping (learning tactic?) on agile development
    and read a quote “Learning is the bottle neck of software development”.
    In the information economy “Learning is the bottleneck” and only if you
    can execute then make that knowledge tacit does it release it’s hold.
    Amir made his knowledge (learnings) stick using a document and review
    technique but how do others annotate in an “Open” system? Having a
    facilitated debrief session with an expert in the field would be
    brilliant. But what if you don’t know any, can’t afford or none exist?
    I suck at self reflectionpost mortem briefslearning from my mistakes.
    Is there anything out there for me?

  4. This reminds me a bit of a conversation I had with @rosshill recently, he said that if he was back at uni now it would be really different, pretty much after learning something new he would blog it. That way his understanding of what was being learned would be refined and most likely well retained.
    Do you think this would count as annotating the game?

  5. I think the idea of blogging something after each lesson is a god example of putting your own spin on what you’re learning. It’s the ultimate – being able to take information in, synthesize it, and then retell it in yor own words.

    I think however, annotating the game is mre concerned with learning in an open/competitive environment where what you need to learn is not always just the comprehension of a given topic. Amir went through debrief sessions after each game, which helped him comprehend his own pattens of play and how they survived (or failed!) when they made contact with the opposition.

    @cama – I think the facilitated debrief is the key and admit that finding an expert is not always easy. Perhaps a peer review might help in the mean time? I also think there is huge potential in utilizing all the different forums around online tk recurve specific feedback.

  6. Nice post Steve! My .02…

    Patterns (as arising in certain positions) are key to chess – the more often you play, the more likely you are to come across similar patterns. The coaches who went through my games would stop along the way and talk about the positions that emerged, and what strategies and tactics (i.e. patterns) are common to such situations. After a while this becomes ingrained, and you can start extrapolating how you should play when new positions emerge.

    I think that recording and analysing a game is key to learning, but we all do this in some way, shape, or form in other endeavours do we not? (post mortems after exams/business meetings anyone). Learning is as much about reflecting on ones actions as it as about doing the actions itself. On this note, I agree that @Ross would’ve benefit from writing his thoughts in a blog post class.

    As far as facilitation goes, it definitely helps speed the process, and takes you to a certain level. Beyond this (for the thought leaders/best players etc), it is often through discussion amongst peers – as opposed to structured coaching – that increases ones ability.

    I feel so famous now 😀

  7. Thanks for the follow up comment Amir – excellent points!!!

    I love your point the facilitated coaching only takes you so far, and then a good mix of peer discussion is what leads to better mastery. Lessons for life 🙂

    I think the key thing to focus on, is the idea that patterns are emerging all the time and our response to those patterns is what creates mastery. Annotating the game, therefore, is just one tool to get better at recognizing the different patterns that are emerging in your life and learning about how to deal with them well.

    Thanks for the inspiration, Amir. #famous.

  8. “… The key is to spot patterns in your actions as they emerge AND build an understanding of how you react to those patterns as they take shape. …”

    and tutor, don’t underestimate the power of tutors. Music, martial arts and chess all use them as a way of accelerated learning. Tutors help by letting you “learn by doing better” not just doing & trial and error.

  9. Thanks for sharing this Steve. Going through steep learning curve of theory and practice with development of Social Change Collaboratory and Gathering at the moment. Am trying to capture as much in notes as possible (thank God for Evernote and google docs) in order to share learning for both and to improve planning process for Gathering ’12 next year. One thing I’m missing is the space to annotate or write blog posts, but grateful for the reminder to do so. 

    Will make sure I make some space over next few weeks and glad to have so many awesome people sharing the experience to get their annotations on a collective experience.

    Hope to see you at Gathering ’11: To Build Better Futures – gotta give it a plug. 😉

    BTW am in Brisbane this week. Somehow managed to get a spot in the OpenIDEO workshop with Tom Hulme, Paul Bennett and (I think) Tim Brown for their local food challenge:
    Am pretty excited to get the chance to experience the IDEO approach hands on – “How might we…” OpenIDEO platform is an inspiration for next iteration of the Social Change Collaboratory.

    And if you know anyone in Brisbane there are some great sessions on for the Ideas Festival too:

    Thanks @0a9edf5f7bba8180b2338478ae1184d9:disqus  😉

    1. Great comment David, thanks for your thoughts and input.  

      Perhaps you could turn your annotations into a blog? 😉 

      #fomo about the IDEO event you’re attending. I love those guys. Keen to pick your brain all about it at @thisismindful!

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