Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Clear-Eyed Analysis of My Shortcomings

The time has come for a reality check.

Liquid Egg Product had a thought-provoking post a few days ago, How bad do I want it?:

Right now, I’m 1600-ish, the same as 10 years ago without putting effort into improvement. What would happen if I tried? Does the thought of “maybe there’s an Expert somewhere in here” motivate me enough to work?

More likely, the “I’m sufficiently skilled so most people can’t dismiss me; that’s good enough” win out (again).

This is something to be considered seriously; I'm pretty confident I could just play a tournament game most weeks at the Reno Chess Club, play a few blitz games at FICS when I have the time, and still have a lot of fun with chess while maintaining my rating at approximately its current level. Hell, I have a 1600 USCF floor, so I could go to the club and play gambits and weird, wild openings all the time, move fast and get the game over with in a couple of hours and go home to a good night's rest. As everyone who's tried it knows, to maximize your score in tournament play you've got to be willing to sit and sit and sit, grinding out tiny edges for a win or grimly defending lost positions with chances, you've got to use most or all of your clock time and be willing to play out the full five hours (at my club) if necessary.

Sometimes, it's a lot more like work than playing a game.

Drunknknite makes some great points:

I am REALLY tired of players who will blame a loss on one move or even worse, the opening. Sentences like "Well I blundered and then the game's pretty much over." really mean 'and then I pretty much stopped playing'. "I messed up the opening" means 'He surprised me and I stopped playing chess and watched him beat me'. A won position does not equal a win. No one loses when they deserve to win. Every point is earned. If you are not willing to own up to mistakes then you will never correct them and your development as a player will be severely stunted. Everyone makes mistakes, that's part of the game.

Okay, accept the fact that if you really enjoy playing tournament chess (and I do) then it's a titanic struggle, with yourself and your fatigue and your personal weaknesses as well as with an opponent that would like to (symbolically) chop off your head. I believe I've improved that part of the equation lately, in that I'm trying hard, I'm not being lazy at the board, never saying "The hell with it, let's just get this over with!" after a long, grinding struggle (admit it, you've said this to yourself at least once in your life if you play long games!).

Away from the board, I've fallen down on the job.

For the last two months of 2007 I had a Plan (thanks dk, for the gentle prodding), I was posting weekly on my working of the Plan, then I fell down on the job once I got back to playing in tournaments every week. Besides the sins of omission, there have also been sins of commission; I have gone back to playing occasional blitz sessions at FICS (the horror, the horror). I've been scattershotting around, solving occasional tactical diagrams sitting on the john, playing over the games of my rivals on their blogs and worst of all, for the last six weeks not analyzing and posting each tournament game as promised.

Making a plan and sticking to it has never been one of my strong points, which is too bad since it is probably the most important factor in long-term success; "studies prove" and all that. I've fallen back into old habit-patterns.

So, this is a decision point, right here, right now--do I just go "chess for fun" and play around and enjoy it and not worry too much about improvement? Or do I get back to writing down and posting my plan, staying with it, striving to rise through the ranks despite any and all challenges, setbacks and disappointments?

Ad astra per aspera!

Despite my laziness, my other failings and shortcomings, the weaknesses of the flesh, I'm still up for having written goals and plans, and reporting progress here. Look for an update every Tuesday.

Improvement (to the stars!) is a long (rough) road. There's probably nothing I can do to drastically increase my chances to win my game this Thursday except to get physically prepared, play over a few games and do some tactical exercises just to get in the flow. It's how much better I can get six months, a year, two years out that will pay off the steady, consistent work.

I have 3-5 hours, most weeks, to study and a game at the Reno Chess Club to put it into practice. This 8-10 hours of chess a week is a precious resource, not to be squandered.

After careful consideration, I'm going to (with an average of four hours/week) spend:

1) Two hours of analyzing my own games, getting into the backlog of the last six weeks and posting them here, then once caught up, analyzing the current week's game or an older one I never looked at when it was played.

2) One hour looking at two master games (30 minutes each) in openings I play, trying to "guess the move." As little as it is, this at least touches on all phases of the game.

3) One hour of tactics study, starting with the 203 positions not grouped by theme (in other words, no clues) in Neishtadt's Test Your Tactical Ability. I'm going to go through them, writing the lines in pencil, not looking at the answers in the back until I've worked through all 203. Besides tactics, this will train patience, perseverance and "backbone." I need all three.

I'm also going to use a board and pieces rather than the computer where possible--at this point, I'm still playing my serious games the old fashioned way, and I've rarely studied without the computer recently. Seeing and feeling the pieces can only help when real game time comes. I rarely have a chance to use them at home, but I'm going to devote two lunch hours to study per week, and that is a nice opportunity to find peace and quiet and work with the "real thing."

I've got my score sheets, board and set and books with me today.

Reports here next Tuesday.



Chessaholic said...

Good luck on your schedule, looking forward to your updates.

I think the last point you make is important - use an actual board more than a computer. When I analyze my games, I do it without a computer first, just with my board, playing out variations, really digging into it. I feel like that pays off tremendously. Somehow doing too much 2D work on the computer makes it hard for me to apply it in 3D over the board...

Francis W. Porretto said...

Robert, are you sure that elevating your rating is that important to you?

I think at 56 I'm a little older than you are, so our positions in life aren't exactly parallel. But maybe this perspective will be worth it to you anyway.

As you move into the second half of your life, you'll find that it's more important to preserve your pleasures than to maximize your achievements.

I teach chess to young folks. I don't get anything for it other than the pleasure of having conveyed a bit of knowledge to someone who wants it. Those kids are delighted to learn, and eager to make use of their knowledge in combat, just as I was when my uncle Karl (an international master in his day) deigned to teach me something about the game.

It took a while, but I learned soon enough that tournament results and USCF ratings are less enduring than the sense of heightened understanding. The results and ratings are ephemeral; the sense of understanding is something you can enjoy forever.

These days, I don't enjoy playing the game nearly as much as I enjoy introducing new players to its mysteries. Not many of them ask to see my tournament results, or ask what my rating was when I stopped playing competitively. They're just happy to have the attention of a "gray head" who has some knowledge to impart.

Whatever you decide to do, stay with it only as long as it makes you happy.

transformation said...

its best Wahrheit that i say the minimum since you already say it all so well, so honestly, as you always do, but can only for now note one tiny observation:

the scale of the plan is key. if you make it too big, of course this is failure or if not too big then too specific.

so we try to make a plan have enough form to guide us when we lack motivation or amplify our effort when we already have sufficient incentive.

bottom line: just as plans are so good, plans can also confine us. so we must put enough juice in them to attain them, but not so little that they are too easy. all this is a round about way of saying:

set reasonable goals then exceed them.

having goals is the key.

if we have a goal and miss them, then at least we have something to bounce off of. i planned late march to mid april to finish this unit of Classic GM game study. i missed it. but it wont be june, and mid may is ok. the goals doesnt need to be cast in stone, but tells us about where we should be, and if we arent there, we dont beat ourselves up (for WE are our OWN boss or taskmaster).

have a plan, use the plan, review the plan, modify the plan {by scaling features up or down, and considering what fuels our passion}, then continue in plan, and so on.

again, my goals was 50,000 CTS by my 50th birthday in October, but it will more likely be December, which is fine. but 31 dec and NOT 01 jan to avoid the integer leap!

warmest, dk
this is not a short comment, but gosh, damn if i know where when or how to stop. i am a bad man, and i appologize.

wang said...

Fantastic Robert! i look forward to your posts. Just remember to keep it fun. If it's not fun, you are doing something wrong.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Inspiring stuff. Makes me want to spend an hour or two on tactics a week.

drunknknite said...

Nice. Good luck with this. If you ever want to go to Borders and study or spar that would be cool. I think you play interesting chess.

Anonymous said...

That's right, the Tuesday updates! They just vanished one week without a trace!

How badly do you want to commentariat to hold you to doing updates? In any case, make sure you want to go through with an improvement before doing it. You of course know yourself more than me, but I'm not entirely convinced that, in your heart, it's really what you want to get out of chess.

Anonymous said...

The last sentence was not intended derisively.

We all would like to play better. But there's difference between a usual wanting to improve versus burning desire.

Robert Pearson said...

Thanks to all for the great comments here, I appreciate your interest.

Yes, the words happy, fun, enjoyment, they really are what chess is all about, or should be. If I find that what I'm doing isn't leading to that, but to a monomaniacal focus on ratings and results, then I will indeed reevaluate what I'm doing.

Still, I go back and look at my posts on the the wonderful Grandpatzer, Dr. Kenneth Mark Colby, who wrote:

Why should a patzer seek to become a grandpatzer? Because of the aristos (Greek: Aristos = best). Life is more than ham sandwiches and beer. Humans strive, not just to survive, but to enhance the quality, the excellence, of survival. Striving for excellence in any endeavor, developing yourself to become your best at what you do, is rewarding and fulfilling to aspirations higher than happiness.

We all have to find our own balance of these things, and I think my program isn't taking away from my family or professional lives, so for now I will be going for it.

LEP--if there's no update posted you can send the Mascot to live with me for a month. That thought should keep me on the strait and narrow...

drunknite--I appreciate the invite, and I will take you up on it as time permits.

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