Thursday, October 18, 2007

Chess for Humans

A long time ago I promised myself that I'd post all my tournament games here as a learning tool, and I have with more or less success--sometimes with extensive comments, sometimes not. After my modest but satisfying success at the recent Sands Regency Western States Open I'm happy to do so for those games, but prior to getting into that I'd like to get a couple of items and opinions out there.

First, a hearty "thank you!" to Douglas L. Stewart, a USCF Expert from Mississippi who has been kind enough to play through some of my games and make excellent comments--without my ever having asked. I don't know Mr. Stewart personally, but I sure appreciate the notes he's posted in the comments (for example, here).

Next, a little bit about "mental attitude," "psychology" or whatever your preferred term is, and its relation to chess results. In my previous posts about the Western States I noted that "I didn't get too high or too low, really did a pretty good job of just playing chess, not worrying too much about who was better, what might have happened earlier in the game, etc." Basically, in the games I won I just hung around doing the best I could, not regretting any mistakes from earlier in the game and was rewarded when my opponents allowed me some opportunities that I capitalized on.

This hasn't always been my strong point; in earlier years I used to get a real adrenalin overload when I thought I was winning, especially against much higher-rated players. I also tended to get down on myself when I made a mistake, a tendency which seems to me to be very common among all classes of players, and which keeps anyone subject to it from achieving their full potential. We all know, intellectually, that chess is just too hard for anyone not to make mistakes, and plenty of them, during a game, yet so many of us have a tough time really feeling that, and just looking at the position in front of us and doing the best we can, regardless of how we got there.

During this tournament I did a pretty good job of just playing the position--and I also noticed that there were more and longer periods during the games when the rest of the tournament room, and the world, sort of faded away, and all I saw was the board in front of me. I spent less time looking at the demo boards from the Open section, and the games next to me, as well. I think these were all helpful in doing my best.

Last week I'd posted something about Jonathon Rowson's Chess for Zebras, but mainly in relation to his discussion of knowledge v. skill. Blue Devil Knight asked in the comments there, reasonably enough:

Incidentally, I haven't read much specific about that book. People say "Oh, man it rocks," say something about knowledge versus skill, and then I haven't seen much else. Is it more than just a cheerleading section for adults to go and actually play?

Well BDK, at this point I'll say "yes!" Reading the sections on meaning-making, myths and "falsifying" your plans and ideas by trying to find the best ways for your opponent to stop them all had a positive effect on my play in this tournament, I feel. Maybe I'm just high from my reasonably good result, but I think that Rowson's book(s) and working on the mental aspects of your game is also a "practical" method to improve your OTB play.

Don't throw out your tactics books and CDs, though!


transformation said...

nice post!

wang said...

Funny you mention this Robert. Although my results haven't improved much, I have not gotten too high or low during my last two tournaments. Espcially this last one. I'm not so worried about the result of the game or what's going on around me as much as I am focusing on finding a good plan and playing the position without any preconceived notions, but more on that later.

I will also second DK's nice post!

Blue Devil Knight said...

Thanks for the explanation. I'll definitely take a look at that book next time I see it.