Monday, December 7, 2015

I Am NOT Quitting chess!

Ok this might seem bizarre to some of you.  Nearly always lurking on, playing 16 correspondance games and part of two small but active groups… and Yet a poorly worded email and the lack recently of Live had my coach quite concerned.  It ‘sounded’ (from the email) that I didn’t intend to play chess – against people again – possibly for good!

I quickly assured him that this was wrong, very wrong.   I’m not necessarily having great success right now in my chess training program.  But I’m still feeling strong and active;  working through puzzles, (trying to) meticulously working through my 16 games, and recently more than anything.  Reviewing Old Games!  I’ve got to try to quit making similar mistakes—and If I must keep on making the same weary game losing mistakes—I can at least be aware what I struggle with most.

Nevertheless.. there really has been a lack of games recently.  This wasn’t intentional.  But a number of times in the last few months have I had nagging doubts that I should be playing live (am I thinking well enough?  Will I blunder a lot??)- and yes, I’ve lost rating.

Perhaps this Rating Game is getting to even me!   You see its actually a great secret that many chess players don’t seem to realize…

Improving in this game doesn’t Always or Consistently lead to Rating gains. 

Rating even when you are playing constantly ; comes at its own time and place.  Rating gain as well, is an indication that you have worked out a limited habit; whether that is playing too blindly to tactics- or too unaware of a positional problem.   But the point is that THEY are many chess topics to learn;  and many are not as critical to your chess results.

BUT I DON’T WANT TO GO OVER THE ‘RATING GAME’ in this blog.   Most of those that are most caught up with rating; don’t read my blog and wouldn’t/couldn’t be persuaded to change there mind anyway.   ISN’T A sky High Rating Proof that you are talented and smart at chess?! (ahem-no!)

INSTEAD.  I wanted to reiterate the need for LIVE games-   WHY CAN’T WE JUST ‘STUDY’ CHESS?

  1. WELL first,  game review excluded,  you tend to lose the perspective of a game as a narrative a clash of ideas.  And THAT is a big problem.   Losing your ability to make long term plans, and juggle positional realities while remaining sharp to tactical threats and opportunities will make you MUCH weaker, when you do go back into the game…

  1. PUZZLES are exceptional positions with unique and “vetted” significance.  IN a puzzle, its ALWAYS worth completely exploring the outlandish and un-natural.  In the game, though, most of the time chess play is a matter of attentively playing by watching your control of squares and lines.      You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) meticulously go through zillions of variations (this is OUR advantage over a computer by the way).   Its important to realize most positions don’t HAVE a ‘right’ answer.  only moves that are good, weak, or some kind of mistake.

  1. FUN!  Ok this might seem off; I mean chess is- is it not?- fun! Well. if you feel that way strongly you probably haven’t been avidly playing deep endgame theory- or staring at chess tactics for 2 hours strait.   While those activities can be plenty obsessing;  they are draining, hard work.  In fact, this is what holds back a great many talented chess player.  but for those of us that have the determination to put in the effort- you need to recharge with quick, shorter efforts.

  1. THE WHOLE GAME.  playing the whole game regularly keeps one from getting too narrow a focus.  And too hung up on things that Really aren’t as important.  It’s also a good indication of where you stand.  This latter fact is why it pairs so well to game review.  If you’re reviewing what you just played- your working on understanding where you are at. 

  1. THOUGHT PROCESS.  this I think is the most important skill to learn.  It is Not enough to be able to recite chess principles or to do long calculations.  Instead the most important skill is to be able to do a little of both and integrate it to a thinking process, in which you keep you pawns and pieces, safe and active.   Alert to opportunity and threats.   An easy way to show HOW important this is,  if you knew, at a given position whether there was a stunning tactical win or an important game-ending flaw—how much easier would it be to get the right move?  In short, we don’t know- not in a real game and however hard we work to develop our abilities to understand and visualize great chess moves—we can only develop a good careful process for seeing them by trying and failing and trying harder.

I WANT to end with this thought.  In the end, as much as I would like to achieve a given rating (actually 2000 if you wanted to know).  Its not important to me.   I need to take joy in what I’m doing- building skills and understanding more chess day by day.   I have no idea what ultimate rating ‘ceiling’ I have…. But I know I have one!  EVERYBODY does. 

I wrote back to my Coach that I am strong player; and I know I am.

I am strong because I am striving.  I am strong because I am studying.   Chess is actually really delightfully unpredictable.   Exploring chess’s hidden insights is no small task, and no quick accomplishment.

Above all else “I’m not dead yet”.  And I think until I am, there is always the chance that I gain continue to grow as a chess player


  1. Either you improve, then you can handle positions better, then you make better moves, then you win more games, then your rating improves...... or not!

    Tacics especially tactic puzzles are only one aspect of the chessability. Knowledge of opening enables the tactical week player to bypass tactics to some extend and if this player knows the endgames well then he will win quite often

  2. I just want to share a few of my remarks.

    1) "Improving in this game doesn’t Always or Consistently lead to Rating gains".
    That's right. At first you should expect some decrease in your rating. Afterwards your rating goes up much further than original. For example: you are 1400 rated player. You have been working very hard for the last 4-5 months. You are playing a tournament. At first you should obtain a rating in the range of 1350-1420. However after the next tournament is over you may be really surprised if your rating shot (even) up to the 1480-1550 rating level. At least it was my experience when I played chess.

    Because IF you are interested at improving at this game - you are obliged to make every single practical activites (no matter how hard or boring) that lead to improvement. And if you are better player - you can show it playing on the board. You have to experience some problems you have not had analysed or learnt before. That's what is all about - how good you are when facing a new problem and how efficient you can solve it!

    3) "PUZZLES are exceptional positions with unique and “vetted” significance."
    You have to solve puzzles to extend your knowledge. Otherwise you will be MUCH weaker player due to the lack of "recognition of ideas and specific pieces configuration (patterns)". Beside that you should work on (and analyse very detailed) the positions of a great importance. For example: there are some tactics that occur very frequently. If you study and solve them quite deep - you may be surprised how easy it may be to spot these at the board when playing against your opponents.

    4) "Its important to realize most positions don’t HAVE a ‘right’ answer. only moves that are good, weak, or some kind of mistake."
    I would go a bit further and notice the difference between these kind of moves. There are JUST TWO type of moves: A) the moves that preserve the eval and B) the moves that change it. If you have just reached the winning position (due to your opponent's mistake) your task is to find the A-type move - no matter how easy or hard it is. It is MUCH more important to avoid the B-type moves - they are called blunders, mistakes and bad moves (notice they are not the weak ones! - as they do not change the eval).

    5) "FUN! Ok this might seem off; I mean chess is- is it not?- fun!"
    Please be careful NOT to confuse "having fun" with "playing and working hard". They are not mutually exclusive terms, but if you are interested at progress you have to play and work hard and WHEN this process (task, activity) is done in a high level - you will be enjoying the process. That's proven by me. Whenever I have been playing really determined, focused and well prepared (mentally, physically and chess style) I ALWAYS had fun - even when I failed to win the game.

  3. ...
    6) "THE WHOLE GAME. playing the whole game regularly keeps one from getting too narrow a focus...If you’re reviewing what you just played- your working on understanding where you are at...It’s also a good indication of where you stand.".
    VERY well said! I cannot agree more! When you start analysing your recently (latest) played games - you can see what kind of problems you are good or bad at. You cannot hide ANYTHING when the game is over - the serious (and honest) analysis will show everything very clear!

    7) "THOUGHT PROCESS. this I think is the most important skill to learn."
    ...And the least analysed and described in a chess literature. Even most masters and grandmasters do not know how they thin DURING a chess game. Yes, they can describe their thinking process, but most often they are solving the problems with the using of subconcious process. When you can hear the (grand)master speaking about "that move must be good" or "it is absolutelly necessary to play this" - you are sure they are talking about "I cannot explaing this process in words" solving algorithm!

    8) "...we can only develop a good careful process for seeing them [good moves] by trying and failing and trying harder."
    That's right! That's why we have to analyse the games and solve the puzzles. The first thing gives us the whole picture of the game and the second - the more specific positions we can integrate into our chess database (as patterns, familiar positions, the positions we have seen before, etc.).

    9) "I need to take joy in what I’m doing- building skills and understanding more chess day by day."
    It is not easy if you cannot MEASURE your progress. There are many ways to do it, but most players are simply obssesed with "OTB rating system". If you are NOT - you can enjoy chess to the end of your life. It would be a good idea to write down what you have learnt every single chess session. This way you can be sure you are doing the right things!

    10) " I have no idea what ultimate rating ‘ceiling’ I have…. But I know I have one! EVERYBODY does."
    The older and more amateur player you are - the lower the ceiling is above you. The best idea is to "just have fun and do what you really want, need and enjoy this process". Otherwise it is pointless to do anything you do not feel interesting, developing and beneficial.

    I hope some of my remarks may trigger to think over some ideas by others! :)

  4. I love the comments! well said on many levels.

    I like the idea of point #9; and advocate keeping notes and track on ones' study time. this was something I did nearly a year ago when I got serious about chess improvement.

    I actually have a pretty elaborate system for translating it into an ELO approximation and have (by the system- seen the following change 1187 to 1339 in a year and half).
    that modest improvement indeed, but it is improvement and I think its probably not TOO far off what my efforts might be like if I worked on getting use to USCF standard OTB chess.

    there's no ceiling in that calculation so at some point-- this very simple calculation based on chess study time alone- it WILL be wrong.

    so my system as a long term flaw and several years from now; will have to be modified or scrapped. nonetheless this is better than seeing NO progress on ones rating getting discouraged and seeing declining efforts. its completely possible to get discouraged enough to work less LONG before one has 'given up' on chess.

    yet thats entirely the point. to improve espacially when one is older, ones effort must be SUSTAINED.

    Its in this sense, I think, that rating is a Poor way to motivate people. Rating only reliably improves after the big, sustained efforts have been made- and not neccesarily as that effort is Being made.

    this problem with rating as a motivator means it is much better to use STUDY TIME (despite the unknown and changing effect of study time)- as the motivator.