Sunday, January 03, 2010

Break Out!

A NY Times article, How to Train the Aging Brain, while not exactly NEW! and IMPROVED! (I've seen the same basic prescription for some years) can serve as a reminder to us Adult Chess Improvement Seekers that we need to take some different approaches to learning than those young whippersnappers:

Educators say that, for adults, one way to nudge neurons in the right direction is to challenge the very assumptions they have worked so hard to accumulate while young. With a brain already full of well-connected pathways, adult learners should “jiggle their synapses a bit” by confronting thoughts that are contrary to their own, says Dr. Taylor, who is 66.

Teaching new facts should not be the focus of adult education, she says. Instead, continued brain development and a richer form of learning may require that you “bump up against people and ideas” that are different. In a history class, that might mean reading multiple viewpoints, and then prying open brain networks by reflecting on how what was learned has changed your view of the world.

“There’s a place for information,” Dr. Taylor says. “We need to know stuff. But we need to move beyond that and challenge our perception of the world. If you always hang around with those you agree with and read things that agree with what you already know, you’re not going to wrestle with your established brain connections.”

Such stretching is exactly what scientists say best keeps a brain in tune: get out of the comfort zone to push and nourish your brain. Do anything from learning a foreign language to taking a different route to work.

This goes to the heart of what many good chess authors, including Silman and Rowson, have suggested as the prescription for adult chess improvers: Our thinking about chess in general, and how to choose a move in particular, tends to become routine, stale, stereotypical if we don't make special efforts to go beyond what we are comfortable with. We hit plateaus when we apply the same limited set of tools all the time. We need to break out of that comfort zone, even if we go backwards temporarily in rating, in order to lay the groundwork for a higher plateau. To break down our game like a muscle that lifts some heavy weights, and thus becomes stronger. Then, presumably, do it all over again at our next plateau...(ouch!).

A few easy steps that you could take come to mind. First, you could change up your openings, throw something out there that you've never played before; if you're an "e4 player" go to 1. c4 and don't study it too much in advance--try working it out on the board from move one. Or look into something like Hugh Myer's researches or even Benjamin and Schiller's Unorthodox Openings.

Something I've tried occasionally in blitz games with fair success is what might be called "Doing nothing and doing it well," that is, going totally contrary to my usual style and just developing pieces behind my own lines with no early intent to attack at all. Usually the "other guy" soon feels the need to attack and I end up with a tactical battle as good as any other, but it's interesting how doing this gives a new perspective on the game.

Who's to say
What's impossible
Well they forgot
This world keeps spinning
And with each new day
I can feel a change in everything
And as the surface breaks reflections fade
But in some ways they remain the same
And as my mind begins to spread its wings
There's no stoppin' curiosity

I want to turn the whole thing upside down...


Tentative said...

Great information. I can support it from my own experience. I used to be an attacking e4 player allways for many years. After I switched to Nf3 with a positional style for a year my rating went up 150 points. Now I'm back to e4 attacking again but more versatile and stronger.

Aaron DeWeese said...

This is a great article! I turn 30 this month. I must remember not to grow complacent of mind, or satisfied in my reality tunnel (it is really sad to see these polarized groupings of elderly know-it-all eaters).

I'm a big fan of Silman's books & the articles he writes.

Hail Curious George and altered perspectives (that are relatively grounded)!

chesstiger said...

So when you are young you must everything you learn in a box and shake it so that everything falls into place.

When old one has to take this box, open it, shake it and then try something that isn't in the box? Or work further on what is already in the box but expand it to new horizons?

I guess reading different methods about thinking process and then distill your own thinking process out of all this information is the way to go, or am i still mistaken the message in this post?

Liquid Egg Product said...

I love your new profile pic. It's what they should have used for the mascot for the Fightin' Whities.

Wahrheit said...

@Tentative--that's what I'm talkin' about! Shake it up a little from time to time, build more neural nets or whatever those little tentacle thingies are.

@Aaron--RAW was the ultimate in gettin one out of one's reality tunnel and keeping the neurons from getting stale! I need to do something like Robert Anton Wilson teaches chess...

@chesstiger--No, when old, one has to keep stuffing the box with new stuff and shake hell out of it, both, rather than just pulling out the old stuff and looking at it again. Chess boxing could be a method.

@LEP--Do you know who that pic is? He would very much approve of the Fighting Whities, I think. However, the pipe was too un-PC even for the FW guys. You know, tobacco is more dangerous than heli-skiing blindfold on LSD, or something like that. I think I need to do another post, BOB DOBBS teaches chess.

James Stripes said...

Scrambled brains are the key to adult education whether learning about the crimes of Richard Nixon from Pat Buchanan's point of view or trying to crack into the next rating class in your fifties! Something to think about.