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...

4 comments:

Loomis said...

"If you lose a game of chess in a forest, but no-one is around to see it, is your rating affected?"

This one has me cracking up. Thanks for a great post.

Wahrheit said...

Wu-wei, baby! Even better, don't think about chess at all when it's your move, relax, think about sex and let the clock run. Time is an illusion, live in the eternal now until your flag drops, then congratulate the opponent on the art you have created together. No-stress chess!

Ryan Emmett said...

Wu-wei indeed! Or as Homer Simpson said, "Trying is the first step towards failure".

Polly said...

Damn! I've been doing that for years. I never thought of it as an art form, but I will keep that in mind the next time I do something totally "artistic" like drop a rook when I'm up a piece.

If the forest is a USCF affiliate, and the tree submits it for rating then yes your rating will be affected.