At the end of Part I of this look at "non-chess" factors in improving your chess results, I promised that we'd talk about "the psychology of openings, optimism and opening optimism, amongst others," in Part II. This is known in the business as a "tease," hoping to keep the reader on tenterhooks until the next part--the equivalent of the pretty girl, tied up and laying across the railroad tracks in an old Western movie serial.
I doubt that anyone who read the first part has been experiencing that degree of anticipation, but I was very pleased to see that the Portuguese blog Ala de Rei linked to it here--I hope the translation program didn't mangle my thank-you comment too much...anyway, enough preliminary blather, forward to
The psychology of openings, optimism and opening optimism...
Again, these posts aren't going to be about the merits of specific openings, study methods or tactical training as such, but about other factors; attitude, viewpoint, goals and knowing why as well as how.
Openings and optimism
Some weeks back I wrote a series of posts about openings that started some good discussions, including the one in the comments here; one of my main points was that it was a mistake to try to win games in the opening, though of course it's enjoyable if we do get an overwhelming position after very few moves. But it's bad success psychology to hope or expect our opponents to fall into our opening traps or collapse as soon as we make a few aggressive thrusts with the kingside pawns. When and if they don't, it's all too easy to become discouraged and either blunder or try to force the position further with unsound sacrifices. This happens to everyone at times, at least everyone who is not a Master, and it probably happened to all of them once or twice on their way up the ladder. The only good way to approach the opening in my opinion is to mentally prepare for the opponent to play good moves; then if he does so you're not disappointed, and if he does not you are happy to take advantage of his mistakes. Being optimistic before the game means being optimistic that you are going to play good moves, not that he will play bad ones.
In fact, you might feel delight if he plays very well, thus providing you with an opportunity to show your best chess and perhaps play the "game of your life." That's the sort of optimism I believe can really prepare you for the opening, and for the rest of the game as well.
The World in Black and White
I recently ordered Jonathan Rowson's book Chess for Zebras, but it hasn't arrived yet and so I write this without the benefit of having fully read his ideas on playing White and Black (though there's a nice excerpt here). At any rate, in relation to "opening optimism" I recall that early in my chess career, when I was learning a lot and going up the ratings ladder fairly rapidly, I compiled some numbers and found that out of my first 50 or so tournament games I had won slightly more games as Black than as White! Admittedly, this sample wasn't the millions of games that show that in practice White has approximately a 56-44 percent advantage; it was just a sample of my games on the road from a 1200 to a 1400 rating. But looking into things, I realized that as White I was playing 1. e4 and pressing for attack (my "birthright" as White) and as Black I was more flexible and patient, "letting the game come to me" as the saying goes. I soon switched to 1. d4 and became more comfortable with the White pieces but the lesson has stayed with me.
Another thing I've noted with great interest is that in the "Best Games" books of great players like Alekhine and Nunn (two I can think of without actually having the books in front of me) there are a lot more games with Our Hero playing White than with Black, though of course these players won many a game with the Black pieces in their long careers. True, this type of book usually only presents wins by the author, but I think you'll find if you look through a larger sample that most of the "Best Games" books are at well above the 56 percent level (say about 10 wins for White to every 8 for Black) that we know are the actual results of millions of games in the databases. What to make of this?
My theory is simply that when the Grandmasters go through their careers looking for "best" games that will entertain readers (and presumably boost sales) they understand that "attacking" games are mainly what the buyer wants to see (though some exciting attacks resolve into a winning endgame). And the type of game where the author pulls off a beautiful attack is more likely to be with White, as a lot of Black wins at the Master level are longer, tougher fights.
What has all this to do with practical chess psychology? I think a lot of players that these articles are aimed at (say 1200-2000) are a little less confident, a little more uncertain, with Black. Not everybody, mind you, but a good many of us. And I think that in order to be a stronger player you need to embrace the Black pieces--you're going to have them half the time, after all. You need to feel that it's at least as much fun to play Black and that the odds of the opponent making a mistake and giving you an opportunity are just as great when he's White.
That's opening optimism, too.
Perhaps this doesn't completely apply in the to the guys playing in Mexico City for the World Championship, but we can all cross that bridge when we come to it.
(Next time in Part III we'll try to figure out why sometimes it's so much easier to see the right move when you're spectating, rather than playing).