How to improve “look ahead” for F2L and solve quicker

So you’ve been learning the F2L and are getting comfortable with it? Solving the cube in approximately 25-50 seconds? Very good!

Now there are numerous things to do if you want to drastically reduce your solve times.
These include things like:
• Solving the cross on the bottom (Practice blindfolded crosses). This leads to better look ahead into F2L.
• Intuitively knowing all cases of the F2L from various locations on the cube, and making full use of both the hands.
• Less cube rotations while F2L
• Knowing full PLL
etc… (Here is a good list)

But arguably the most important aspect to gain quick times is (drum roll please) Look ahead!
It is sometimes difficult for a new cuber to really appreciate the raw power of look-ahead. He may be wondering ‘how much does it help?’ or ‘what am I looking ahead for?’ or ‘how to achieve great look-aheads? Is there an exercise?’
I will try to break this down for you and hopefully you will understand it. There is also a sample video in the end of the post.

Before we start it is necessary that you are comfortable with all F2L cases. You should be able to spot a case, close your eyes, and solve that case. If not, then do not read this guide right now. Come back later when you are comfortable.

Ok so look ahead is generally associated with the term “go slow”. You will hear a lot of great cubers advising “Go slow. Look ahead.” Quite interestingly, if you go slow, you will automatically be comfortable with look-ahead. Here’s how it works. (I like to teach using analogy and that’s what I will do. Car racing this time!)

Getting a quick lap time
So a race car is approaching a corner and needs to take a turn. The driver will slow down and adjust his car before a turn, as he knows that the next turn is a right or left hander. In cubing you don’t really know (yet) what the next turn is. Let’s say you, the cuber, are the driver. In cubing terms, if you are not looking ahead, you are basically approaching the corner at full speed, screeching to a halt at the corner, assessing the road, left or right, adjusting the car and starting to speed away. Great loss ain’t it?
Reaching the corner quickly isn’t important. Getting out of there quickly is!
So if you know racing, there is a braking point. You carry maximum speed into the corner, hit the apex and have a great exit for the next straight. Optimum racing line!

Each F2L case is a straight road. The gap between two F2L cases is a turn in the road. You need to slow down before taking the turn and get out seamlessly. Makes sense?

So in F2L what is my braking point and how do I assess my next turn?
For starters, (exercise sake) your braking point is the point where you insert the current F2L pair in its slot. So if you have 3 simple moves left (an R U’ R’ for example) that inserts the F2L pair in its place, hold it right there! Do not insert it. Just pause the whole world. Keep the cube down if you want. Take a deep breath. Don’t be in a hurry…… Now, scan for the next possible F2L case. Once you roughly know the next case, insert the current F2L pair in its place and seamlessly, without the slightest pause (very important), start the moves for the next F2L pair that you just spotted.

You have just learnt to drive on the optimum racing line!

I know, there is a gap after all! But a gap before a known step is better than a gap before an unknown step. This new gap is easy to eliminate as you already know what to do. So while your hands will continue moving, your mind and eyes will start assessing the next turn eventually. You do not have to work at bringing this new gap down! It will come down on its own. This is the reason why I told earlier that you should be able to solve the F2L cases blindfolded. Just consciously work on "not keeping a gap between two F2Ls." I cannot stress enough how important this is.

Once you get a taste of that seamless transition between two F2Ls, you will feel like a lion who has tasted human blood for the first time. (It’s just a saying in my part of the world)

Over time, you can adjust your braking point over the entire step of the current F2L pair. Slowly you will find that you do not need to brake. You just need to slow down a little.

The mind should be faster than the hands
Train yourself to achieve this. Well, initially you can achieve this easily by cheating. Simply slow down your hands! If you find that your hands are moving fast and your brain does not know the next F2L case, you are basically going into the ‘screeching halt at the corner’ mode. Consider this as a big crime and punish yourself if you want. Avoid this at all costs. Hand speed is something that will come naturally once your mind is the governor. Don’t let your hands be the governor. Having said that, finger tricks while F2L are important. You must work on that separately.

Knowing the probable locations of solved and unsolved pieces.
1. If you cut down your cube rotations, you can remember which slots are solved and which are unsolved. Like memory locations inside a RAM. Mentally tick-mark the solved slots. Only 4 to remember. So easy! Use these free slots for solving cases.
2. The edge pieces will obviously lie either on the top layer or in the middle layer (as bottom is a solved cross)

Combining the above two ideas, you will be able to zero down on the probable locations of the next pieces.

Let's do the math.
An average Fridrich solve takes 60 moves. To solve it in 30 sec you just need to do a mere 2 turns per second!
20 sec - 3 tps! and so on...
But it gets even better. Based on your practice levels, you can execute the OLLs and PLLs much faster than just 2 or 3 tps! (Sub 1 oll/pll folks are grinning right now) So you can afford to 'waste' more time at the cross and F2L. You can make up for lost time at the OLL/PLL stage!
The key to maintaining a constant and slow tps is (you guessed it right) look ahead! Going fast will make matters worse.

How much is look ahead and how much is YOU?
Take the same scramble and solve it 5-6 times using the same solution. You will, by then, have memorized the solution. Next time when you solve it you will practically not have to ‘look ahead’. You know what is where all the time. So the timing you get after memorizing the solution is what look-ahead can theoretically get you at! For further improvement, work on tps and techniques. Get some good algs.

Corner biased and edge biased
Corner biased: Track/Spot a corner, and then search for its corresponding edge piece.
Edge biased: Track/Spot an edge and then search for its parent corner.
Here is a discussion on that.
In the beginning, being a white cross solver, it may be easy to spot the white corners and be corner biased. But eventually as you improve, you will shift towards being neuteral biased and will track more pieces automatically (or you should work at it and get there).

F2L done! Shall I look ahead for OLL/PLL?
Ummm…. Nope. Cos you just have to scan one face (or layer if you know full OLL) as opposed to 3D scan while at the F2L stage. So just spam the last f2l, oll and pll conventionally as of now.
Later on you can do things like partial edge control. Or even winter variation if you are getting better. I mean really really better.

Air Cubing (Self assessment tool)
Like playing the air guitar, solve the air cube. Start the timer, and in your mind just imagine each step being solved. Cross, each f2l, oll and pll. Give each step the same amount of time as you would need in real. Not astronomical or Faz-ical times. After the air solve, stop the timer and see the time. Noticed a big difference? All that difference in time is just because in real you waste a lot of time figuring out your next moves. This highlights the fact that the mind is to be trained. Make a video of yourself solving the cube (real cube this time) and see it. You will know which areas you need to work at.

Use a bad cube occasionally
Ok this one is just for fun but may be helpful. I have two cubes that are really slow and bad. When sometimes I solve them, it gets locked up and stuff, and all this time my mind gets bored to look at the steps and instead it automatically focuses on the next pieces. So the bad cube is forcing you to actually slow down. Like a speed limiter on a vehicle.

How to avoid getting panicked while using a timer
When you are slow and use a timer, you generally tend to panic and take more time. This happened to me too. Here is a possible solution for that. Getting good look aheads helps.

And finally... some proof!
Very Slow Turning: 19.57 avg5 - a video by qqwref

Many such videos are available online. If you observe carefully you can also see people doing the Cross & F2L at slower tps than OLL PLL.

Alright so this post was mainly written to throw some light on 'look ahead'. Hope it helps.
There is more to speed cubing than look ahead.
As usual, discussions here. I thank the members of the forum for sharing their valuable thoughts towards the refinement of this article.

Looking forward to looking ahead! (what was that?)


Jonas said...

thank you! Helped me allooooot!!

nafees_wanted said...

Am fan of Ur Hunting story and PLL patterns, Great job.


The Vagabond said...

Really hats-off to you Rishi!!! Your video (Hunting) is marvellous and too theatrical!! I loved it!!

- Omkar Vagabond

yaswnt said...

hey it really helped me alot!

Anonymous said...

Good one RIDO !

- Swaminathan Chandrasekaran

Anonymous said...

Hey...the guuide has helped me a lot.....thnx for the brilliant job.....

Mark Zemegs said...

I always wondered what to do next! I have averaged 40 sec for the past 7 months! I did not know how to get faster! I just wasn't getting faster! But then I realized that I stopped after i put in every f2l slot! For about 5 sec which slowed me down so much! Thanks man for this guide! Really helped me and I can clearly see the changes!

Yours Aye, Me said...

Hey Rido, How to lubricate the cube and what lubricant you use (the brand)?? I cant get it and donw what to get when I go looking for a lube?? Kindly suggest me one so that I can get lube my cube for better

Pranav Jayaprakasan UT said...

really helpful

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