Friday, 23 November 2007

I've Started so I'll Finish

One of the failings of the way I study chess is my extremely bad habit of starting reading a chess book and never actually finishing it. The list below is just a sample of the titles which grace the shelves of my bookcase, but which I have never actually finished.

  • Pawn Power in Chess - Kmoch
  • The Development of Chess Style - Euwe & Nunn
  • Understanding Chess Move by Move - Nunn
  • Chess Exam and Training Guide - Khmelnitsky
  • Tal - Botvinnik 1960 -Tal
  • Chess for Zebras - Rowson
  • 50 Essential Chess Lessons - Giddins
  • The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played - Chernev
  • My Great Predecessors Vol 1,2,3 &4 !!! - Kasparov

Phew! Just imagine how good I might be now if I'd bothered to finish that lot. They are all, as far as I can tell from my partial readings, excellent books.

So why did I stop reading them? Is it because I have the attention span of a gnat? Partly. Do I get halfway through the book and then get distracted by something shiny? Ooh, pretty...

No, I think the reason I stop reading chess books is because I lack commitment. I'd like to be a better player, but I'm not prepared to do the hard work necessary to improve.

So I'm going to make a promise here now to myself in the presence of my fellow bloggers, that I will damn well finish at least one of those books before next year. I'll start tomorrow. Honest.

Those of you easily distracted by shiny things, like myself, might like to try the games near the bottom on the right hand side of my blog. They are: Spelling Bee, Match up, Hangman, Sudoku and another one without a name (does anyone know if it has a name?). While you're all distracted by them, I'll be improving my chess!

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

The Art of Losing

(With apologies to Josh Waitzkin)

After many years of diligent study I have achieved mediocrity in a number of fields and recently had an epiphany when I realised that my skill lay not in any one area, but in that I was in fact a master of the Art of Losing.

It is chess where my mediocrity has blossomed to it's fullest extent and I will focus here on the lessons that I can pass on to others who may wish to follow in my footsteps.

The most important thing to focus on if you want to master the Art of Losing is not focusing on whatever you are doing. Sounds contradictory eh? That's Zen for you! Avoiding meditation can help with this - stop focusing your mind and instead let it wander onto any old nonsense - I find that cars, beer and sex do the trick.

Now let's apply this to chess. Say your opponent has just moved so it's your turn. What thought process do you go through to decide on your next move? Difficult to explain isn't it? The problem is with the word "process". It implies a clarity of thought that you must strive to avoid if you want to master the Art of Losing.

So the correct method is to avoid asking productive questions like:

  • why did my opponent play that move?
  • what is he/she threatening to do know that he/she wasn't before?
  • did his/her move meet the threats I made with my last move
  • do I have any useful checks, captures or threats

Instead let your mind drift merrily wherever it wants. When you become more accomplished at this technique you will find that 90% of the time you are playing chess, you are not even thinking about chess at all, but instead pondering the great mysteries of the world, like:

  • If the probability of a flipped coin landing one side or the other is 50/50, does that mean that it is impossible for the coin to land on its edge?
  • As men get older, why does our body hair stop growing on our heads, but starts growing everywhere we don't want it to?
  • If you lose a game of chess in a forest, but no-one is around to see it, is your rating affected?
This carefully cultivated unstructured thought has truly made me a master of the Art of Losing. I hope these insights can help you too...