Tuesday, August 25, 2015


I know there’s something Important I need to do!?... but, I can’t remember what.

Oh well how important can it be?

My LONG winning Streak Has come to an end!  After 15 strait wins, I played an online chess tournament against higher rated players and did terribly.   You can see the progressive erosion of my thinking process.

In the first round against a chess player 150 rating points higher, I won a piece and was doing great, until I fell to a sacrifice.  Unbelievably two pieces down- he quickly had unstoppable checkmate.
On the second round, I got to a complex spot where I had a pretty risky discovered attack-  I discover a loose piece but could have hopped to a knight fork.   I missed the simple point of his move; a pivotal piece was attacked twice and guarded once.  He got the piece and eventually won the game.
On the third round, I was clearly rattled and I didn’t get out of the opening before I gave away the exchange.   I had enough of being pummeled for the night.

“There is NO strategy, principle, guideline or concept that is more Important than this- DON’T GIVE AWAY PAWNS AND PIECES”.   This is my simple and earnest advice I gave myself a few months ago.    Its not that revolutionary! (nor is it strictly true. LOL*). But it is good advice.   The Problem is , frankly, how do I beat the idea to not hang pieces or allow easy tactics, and checkmates in my Head?  --important and simple question , no easy answer.

Well, this all relates a pretty long winded word/concept to a simple and common human failing.   “WORKING MEMORY OVERLOAD”   basically for whatever reason- we fail to do remember to do something because we are trying to fit too much into our working memory.

It is this weakness for example that might make you suddenly forget what you want to say when you are bursting to say several things at once.  Trying to say too much, you force your mind RESET! And end up saying nothing.

I THINK this effect (perhaps it should have a fancy psychological name- but it does not), is a big part of several of our problems in chess; and specifically is VERY involved in why we can fail to stop blunders even when we are intensely concentrating in chess and in particular in NOT blundering…


FIRST the STRESS and ANXIETY and reminding yourself how Much you blunder and how much you don’t want to blunder again does you no good.  its well known that working memory decreases when we feel stressed and anxious.  And the ability to hold even less information in your head at one time- directly decreases your playing strength.  This is true of being anxious because you are in a tournament or because you are playing a player you consider much stronger than you. 

BLUNDERS aren’t simple.  The problem with my quote about blunders is that it makes something that could happen for many different reasons; seem like a simple thing.   Instead, we can blunder because we didn’t protect the piece we moved.  We didn’t reinforce something that it suddenly attacked more times than it is defended. Pins. Double attacks…. because the actually material winning attack varies…. We will need to keep in mind several different patterns to avoid blunders.  What Patterns?  Well specifically we should try to understand those patterns that seem LEAST obvious.   When a pattern becomes highly obvious it doesn’t need to be in working memory.  (if this weren’t true chess would be practically impossible to improve in – as our working memory would be full just remembering how our pieces move).  Instead, we work on our weaknesses seeking things we can’t instantly (or “intuitively”) see. 

But this “work” of seeing things in a chess game, has another peril.  We can fall prey to “juggling” errors.  the important thing when seeking to understand a position is how to come to the conclusion of an important thought, and while holding a summary of that calculation – to move on to another view of the position.   I will compare that to Juggling… if we make a big calculation of an important exchange- we must next take the same position and looking at it from the point of whether our selected view Hangs any pieces (or underprotects them).   but it is important that the Earlier information is in your head TOO.  Perhaps the earlier exchange makes the latter calculation unimportant.   The point is that more simplistic calculations about piece (and King) safety must be done in addition to Tactical, Strategic and Positional calculations.  We must strive to juggle each of these calculations carefully and thoroughly to be playing our best chess. We can’t push ourselves to the point at which our working memory is overloaded- either our calculations are inaccurate or our understanding of how everything relates becomes muddled.    This is Just like someone who wants to say So much he struggles to say anything.   The worst failure ,though, is definitely of piece or king safety.  It would be far better to try to say less (to use the analogy) than to say  something that is Obviously and Easily show as absolutely wrong.

The VALUE of discordant thought.  Separate to the issue of understanding and relating several different calculations in our chess position- is the peril of too quickly summarizing positions into variations.   Our analysis can become simplistic.  Too often in my own thinking I race on ahead for ply after ply not realizing that the opponent has creative choices I have not considered.   This is the where the value of Discordant thought comes in.  We need to break into our own variations and ask “what if the Opponent” Does NOT do as expected.  This can be particularly true in the face of difficult play,  complicated tactics, and strong threats.  

I would add that this tendency to allow the mind to run on ply after ply (or perhaps pointlessly plan) is why it is so much easier to see the opponents mistakes than our own-  or opponents moves are less predictable; and prompt us to look for weaknesses.  Our own thinking must (to cover many moves) be much more predictable and and fit within our working memory.   Sometimes the whole calculation starts when you should be more attentively falsifying your candidate move.  Other times, we make unwise assumptions about exchanges or strategic generalizations. 

Its been Long and important blog for me.  Its important I don’t try to say too much as well!

RELAX, and reduce anxiety. Take whatever measures you can to prevent anxiety, stress from diminishing your abilities.  TAKE your time.  don’t be in such a hurry to tough the piece!  Keep an emphasis of the simplest and most important calculations as you try to see more.  Continue to work on practicing getting calculations summarized and understood.  Its more important to understand why the tactic puzzle works, than actually to solve it.  the Other point of tactical puzzles is to make important, strong tactics easy to see/understand so that you aren’t struggling to see them. 

 Don’t say Negative things to yourself during a game (the only thing I’ll highlight in the summary I promise). And don’t generalize about defeat.   Don’t overwhelm yourself with complicated plans.   See far ahead ONLY when the opponents choices are minimized if not forced.  Generally don’t play tricky, risky chess you don’t understand.  Only play tricky uncertain chess, when conservative careful moves would be certain defeat – such as when your badly behind in material. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Failing Pychololgy; FEELINGS!


Everyone has them!   I’m going to say right that are no WRONG feelings in chess (*). 

Any, issues to the extent that we encourage them.  

Feelings can after all prompt us to play really good chess.  And if there’s tricky feelings (we’re making a list….) there’s a few other feelings that are rarely bad to have

Determination , optimism, meticulousness, carefulness.

The point is control our feelings- work on mastering our thoughts and allow our “inner” grandmaster to emerge.

Nervous and stress.    So we’re facting an opponent perhaps in a first tournament, or perhaps in a time control we have bad experiences with (ME: BLITZ!), and the first challenge is powerful.  We’re NOT relaxed, we’re not calm, we’re Nervous!  FIGHT and FLIGHT are kicking in.  analysis becomes shallow- decisions become quick and un-thoughtful. Everything gets Rushed!  Creative, counter-play becomes invisible.
it’s a Poor state of mind for anyone wanting to excel as game of wit, and careful cunning.

Solution- this is about putting the brakes to your mind.  Look for a way to break your mood- for me personally in an OTB event- I find really talking with people helps.  It gets me out of state of just thinking how much I want to win this OVER and over again.  Online- I find that music is good antidote.  I know I want to WIN.  But I a little distraction tempers my mind from racing.  

I would also say that it is very important to immerse yourself in the chess- never mind the Event!  This is echoed by all kinds of tournament winners.  Many of them talk about coming to just play good chess- and not thinking about ranking- who’s ahead, etc.

Slow starts.  I credit this to a youtube video.  It was one of the suggestions I really agree with and one that I’ve been putting in place.  (and it seems to be helping!).

Solution: Don’t just jump into a game- ‘cold’!  it takes your mind a few minutes to warm up.  Don’t wear yourself out- but a few minutes doing tactical puzzles, an important endgame and looking over your repertoire is a very good idea!  If I am busy doing other things and hope right into a game- I can making very silly ridiculous opening moves within seconds.  My mind simply hasn’t switched to “chess”…

Over Confidence!.   Having some kind of concrete, long-term, “static advantages” has all kinds of advantages in chess.  The ability to easily seize (and Keep) the initiative,  the ability to sacrifice to eliminate counter-play, and room for little inaccuracy in calculation or attack.  Pychologically its also Pleasant to play a game ahead a piece.

On the other hand,  a lot of times when we start winning- we stop looking so very deeply.  We go with the flow and make natural choices rather than looking for the strongest move.  This is particularly true in terms of defence where we might be inattentive to our opponent move.  The point is If we’re Ahead- our opponent is behind, and if he hasn’t tipped his king—he’s still desperately looking (and hoping) for his own break.   He’s most likely to be truly ingenious now- there’s no material surplus to protect- or easy endgame to look for. Pychologically, he’s pushed to be his very best because its utterly clear what will happen if he fails!

I’ve lost all kinds of games ahead in pieces and won not an insignificant amount of games, utterly lost.  And its nearly always these feeling—the happy blind state of the guy ahead and the desperate, creative state of the losing player.

Solution: Awareness is the solution of the problem!  That and of course experience, practice, and going over games after their done.   Look for it! highlight it! and otherwise beat it into your ahead.   IF you ahead YOU must crush any possible chances for the opponent to win and if you behind you must be creative and determined to seize any inattentiveness. 

Intimidation and Pessimism. Now lets talk Overconfidence’s unhappy opposite.  If its bad to be blinded by warm , lazy overconfidence.  We can just easily spiral into really negative feelings too.  One could divide these two emotions by whether they are centered on the opponent; but truthfully there is no point.   If we’re overwhelmed with an inflated opinion of our opponent or depressed by an assessment of the position- you’re in the same boat.  We’re not trying! 

  HAVE courage, only rarely is our position that awful!  And even then our very human opponent may blunder and give us a half chance to get back in the fight.

If we can’t create that courage and feel determined to play the best chess we can- one ought to just resign! and save yourself the agony.  There is not point to play if you can’t fight; with ALL of your creativity or ingenuity for either a win or a draw…

Solution:   Experience, I think is the massive answer to this is Experience

This is a big topic for the future for me.   While I have a lot of experience crushing casual players OTB.   I’ve been only been seriously competing online for perhaps 8-9 months.   I feel as if , as I’ve gone over all the puzzles and worked on my weaknesses in chess- I am gradually working towards playing more formidable opponents.    I know full well that intimidation is something to work on.  And I think that when I get badly behind in chess and fight for a win… I am working through the psychology of trying to beat expert level opposition. 

I can also look at my experience from the point of view of those that have played me.  In fact, quite a few people have been RELUCTANT to play me.  I’m quite sure they think that there is no point in playing someone good at chess.  If they only knew that way the game sometimes turns on people.  Even playing much weaker players- there’s always the chance of a loss.   No human if flawless. 

Expression  It is late. I need to wrap up.  I want to end on perhaps the most cryptic feeling in my list.  but I think it is the most significant….

Chess is an interesting hobby.  At one point it is a game- and to that end- there is but a ceaseless set of decisions made.  But as a game—there is little expression of luck.  Moreoever there is an unusual amount of art in it.   In fact, because it is an expression of our thoughts sometimes it feels more like writing a story or playing a musical instrument that a card game.

Perhaps this is the root cause then of the effect.   We don’t just play moves, when we play chess – we express ideas.  And when we express ideas don’t we normally express something LOULDY and boldly when we feel that a given move is right and smart?  Aren’t we usually a timid and uncertain?

SOLUTION:   In truth.  Chess doesn’t care about HOW we move our pieces- and dramatically changing the time we spend on each move is dangerous.  We must be consistent and scrutinize , accurately, the results of seizing an Opportunity.  Does our fork allow a debilitating check?  Even seizing pieces can be dangerous.  At the end  of a long chess game… grabbing the last pieces can give the opponent a stalemate- Giving away the victory you deserved!   Not all threats are to be taken seriously.  And sometimes hanging a piece plain works- the piece is poisoned!

I’m very convinced that there is a huge deal of strength is creating a routine.  A quiet consistent paced approach to chess.  Creating a habitual approach to playing the game is worth losing a few games to time. Attitude here is king.  Be resolved to win by carefully playing each move.     I’m not a fan of big lists Either- we need to work on altering our attitude to seek a strong, rigorous, methodical thought process. 

This is one of those of “I’ll know it when I see it”.  at times my thought process is better.  My gaze is enlightened- I’m seeing the opponent chances – I’m accurately weighing my own opportunities better.  Analysis becomes more complete.  The game is more predictable.  These are moments of happy confirmation- that my efforts to strengthen my thought process are working.

I don’t always seek comments but in this case- I would appreciate it.   What feelings have caused real issues in chess?  Have you been working on- or conquered a feeling or attitude that has really elevated your game?

About how much of your chess strength would you say – is based upon your mastery of your feelings (or put it another way- suppose you suffered from confidence issues, how much weaker would that make you)?  .. and how much of it is based upon your skills?

Monday, August 10, 2015

CHESSERCISE; Athletic musing from a Passionate Patzer!

Chess has two sides.  On one hand, We stare at the UNCLEAR position- thinking of long-term plans and looking for Vague, tactical complications…

On the other we seek mainly to make Move after move- avoiding idiotic blunders and avoiding giving the opponent Easy tactical chances to win the game!

YOU don’t need to play for hour on end- you merely need play carefully, slowly, and regularly.  Chess is not kind to sweeping generalizations.  On one hand, I agree that instant obsession, and a four day marathon of only chess- does little.

 Indeed my own son; just did that – achieving a momentary 1200, then tanking his online rating as he overthought, overplayed and flat wore himself out.  (while at the same time draining himself of interest in the game.  “chess is too hard” he says)…

On the other hand, I have pretty much gone the other way—playing at best just a G30 game or two every 2-3 days. (with brief exceptions).  I have also created a persistent, real, chess improving training program.  Studying (in one form or another) at least every other day and have maintained this for now over a year.   I consider THAT an accomplishment by itself;  from my observations most patzers that Can’t OTB play have training programs that are more imaginary* than consistent.

Back to the TOPIC.  My own gaming this weekend was much more intense than normal. In no danger of draining my motivation to play (and study up on the likely) losses I joined an online tournament playing four G30 games in rapid succession.

Despite being one of the higher boards- I expected dismal results… and I GOT itt. only winning 1 game in 4 and finishing last place.  To add to the workload- I then take the next few moments and look over my games.    Why do this?

Because chess is athletic and to a degree….
We must “Push” our mental muscles to the point at which they are weak- if we are to strengthen them.  its not just being chess weary Either!  We can be plenty chess weary looking through reinfield puzzles. Or spending many long moments trying to decode a complex position but we must find senseable answers in more simple positions too!  In fact, sometimes the biggest hallmark of the master is that the master knows what should  NOT be played.  Ruling out all of the obviously incorrect moves, if you will.
The real OTB challenge features a need for careful play over a great deal of time.   Welcome to one of the biggest problems with online chess.  When games last mere minutes there isn’t the exhaustion factor that plays in serious competitive chess.  So by skipping it- and not pushing oneselves by playing lots of games in a row- we have cheapened our own abilities.

Exercise , of any sort, is always about doing a lot (more or harder), so that activity itself becomes far less taxing.  Perhaps this is one of the biggest reasons to pursue it, as well.  I want to make it a hallmark of my play.  NO STUPID errors.  Instead a clever and sensible approach to every position.  An answer that leaves no shattering Refute in every move.

Of course they must be losses and there will be the opposition to formidable to hope to even draw against.  But I don’t have to drown in some very easy puddle on the way to my funeral.  Let the opponent have to actually work to checkmate me.

Let me warn those on chess.com.  I will RETURN for more G30 tournaments.   Perhaps I will make progress in my efforts to play longer without falling apart and missing stupid stuff…

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

ONE DOES NOT simply state an opinion on the Internet!

Ah my little hobby…. Watching the threads on the forum of the mighty chess.com
http://www. chess.com/forum/new_posts

Note that I said, watching or rather reading and not so much participating.   You might wonder at that.   But I’ve come to the rather principled view that its much better “to remain silent”, rather than have “anything you say or do can (will) be used against you in a court of [public opinion]” over at chess.com.

Instead, despite the fact that those same people Could certainly can come to this blogosphere and flame away- I take comfort to know that so far the GreatPatzer readership has been VERY courteous and helpful.  Both to me and other participants.

SO why is THAT?   I can only offer my meager readership as a possible reason.   Perhaps then it is Far better to gather a tiny group of throughtful chess players than the large world of rabble-rousers and cut-throat blitz players?!*

Anyways, I wanted to depart from my normal litany of WHY-PATZERS-LIKE-MYSELF-ARE-REALLY-LOUSY-AT-CHESS.   ( I imagine, however true that it is – this it must be getting old to read week after week)….

But there really is an interesting context to some of this Insults, hatin' and genuinely rude talk that chessplayers often have in threads such as

Note that I haven’t exactly been following this epic thread.  But it is epic in the sense that it SO dramatically highlights the fight.


In the end.  Both are truths and absolutes.  When people seek to undermine either principle- chaos is guaranteed.  Egos will be engaged.  Folks feeling WRONGED with escalate with WORDS and STRONG EMOTION.

I Also fundamentally think that Just like you can’t play strong chess mad (emotions dramatically color your objective judgement of the position),  good tips and useful instruction diminish in an angry rude thread.   There’s a “this thought occurs to me and might help you” VIBE that needs to occur if a random stranger is to depart any useful information to another random stranger. 

WHY SHOULD WEAKER PLAYERS have the right to speak up, think and opionate?
So here’s one good thought.  If the point is for a chess forum to be a teaching tool- a place where players learn from another- why should a weak player say anything?   I can think of three good reasons….
            FIRST the World Champion can’t spend his whole time Teaching all the world chess!   Chess Strength IS relative.  What is good to one person is a perfect patzer to another.   While we can say in general terms whether we are good or not- this greatly depends on who we’re comparing ourselves to.  IN FACT, in most cases compared to the GENERAL populations of people that have played the game- EVEN some of the Weakest tournament players are PATZER TYRO’s.  and demolish those that had only a superficial, fleeting experiences at chess.  You’d be surprised on how far PATIENCE, and a little EXPERIENCE get you against those that have little of either.
            SECOND, We all think a little Differently!  Insight at chess can occur to anyone who is thinking deeply at chess.  The most powerful ideas in chess (well at anything) are simple ones.  little ideas that affect every move can literally revolutionize your game.  most of the time these “little ideas”  catch – not so much because they are hard to figure out, but because with experience finally we are prepared to understand them- to internalize them.  Its Equally True- that just as good as to HEAR something that gives us deep insight- there is the possibility that I will finally SAY something that revolutionizes my chess.   In FACT, this is one of the reasons I relentless toil away with my Blog.  BY BLOG is the chance to share my thoughts, to clarify my thinking, and hopefully to reduce some of my most discouraging weaknesses.
            THIRD, Writing about chess allows one the opportunity to become passionate about their chess.  Staying interested in one hobby for likely years at a time is NO easy task.  ADD to this the need for time consuming, and Draining mental exercise – a bunch of it, done quietly with no one but yourself; IS daunting.  Let me be clear- I am by nature a introverted person- but when there seems no support group- its tough to slog on.   I think a good “Club player” has a significant advantage in this respect.    But the unpopularity of this hobby and the geographical smallness of this corner of PA makes connecting to other people impractical.  So, lets just say that I really value my blog readers- I picture them as a group of fellow supportive chess players. 

[WOW! This is a really LONG BLOG ENTRY!]  sorry.  I’ll try to keep the rest of it short.

WHY SHOULD STRONGER PLAYERS have respect?   Let me keep my comments Brief here.  FACE IT!  you can have whatever opinion you want.  It is those that have played and WON that have proved their KNOWLEDGE of chess.   It is particularly crazy for some mid-club newby to contradict a TITLED player.  Seeing as How a Titled Player had to face and prove his understanding of key ideas and variations against strong, slow and determined opposition.

Another Brief, Point to make.   You should be glad that someone high-rated has even bothered to discuss you own limited understanding of openings, the middlegame and chess.  There is little for them to gain and they certainly don’t need to your acclaim.  

The key problem for YOU is that LIKELY- you don’t understand enough chess to know how much more they COULD teach you.   Your not prepared to hear it.  Instead, without the pivitol battles and rigourous training; you think you know it all- as if chess were nothing more than avoiding blunders and memorizing a few lines.  The DUNNING KRUGAR Effect.

Instead really seek to MASTER THE GAME and then perhaps you won’t BE so inclined to INSULT what a HIGH RATED MASTER might choose to tell you.