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Things I have learned By an old woodpusher
Every Chess player has a story that explains his/her game. My story can be expressed in things that I have learned about the game, and about the player. There are no pictures or diagrams this time, my friends, just thoughts.
Here are some of the things that I learned since I began playing chess in 1943. I have only played on the internet for a few years, so I have had new things to learn. Feel free to disagree, but please tell me of your disagreement. No two people see things exactly the same way, and I am sincerely interested in your thoughts. You can send your thoughts to me by using the “comments” option, which appears after this article, near the bottom of this page.
1. I learned to respect every opponent, as a person and as a worthy player. I believe that courtesy is essential in engaging another person. I consider every opponent as my equal. I believe that by maintaining this respect, I will play my best game. If I were to believe myself to be a superior player, I may take the game too lightly and subconsciously misposition my pieces; my game may become more reckless. If I believe myself to be inferior to my opponent, I may play overcautiously, perhaps over-defensively, perhaps fearfully, missing more of the best moves.
2. I learned that it is best to play by position, not by move. The moves themselves can keep a player from seeing transpositions. From the existing position, One can then create the aspired position. I then try to see what my opponent is trying to create. The position-creating moves may take many more moves in the actual game as I, or my opponent, create obstacles or opportunities. When it appears I may be drawn down another path, I believe it is important to determine if it is beneficial to me or if it is detrimental; when it seems detrimental I strive to find and remedy the potential flaw. I believe that anyone’s greatest strength is their power of choice. As much as we may prefer already known paths, we owe it to our game to choose our path wisely.
3. I learned to strictly control my game load. I do not think as quickly as when I was young, I need to focus and concentrate. I am not a blitz player and I can no longer play and hope to win simultaneous games against strong opponents. (Can you?) Over the board, I have only one game on which to apply all of my skill and talent; in correspondence I have to divide my attention among several games, and to play a game I need to put all other games aside and internalize that single game. I do this by a routine: On each move of every correspondence game, I start from a previous move and scrutinize each of these previous moves, as if the game were completed and I was doing an in-depth analysis. I believe that a big reason players in internet matches make wrong moves is that they are playing too many games and can’t remember the order or intentions of their previous moves, and they save all analysis for post-game. I am also amazed at how many players lose games to time-out! I’m sure that many time outs can be attributed to a game load that consumes too much time. (In this regard: Once last year my computer cable went down and I lost two important games to time-out before the cable came back. I have a daughter and a daughter in-law who live in a different geographical area than I. I spoke to both, after the fact, and asked them to put me on vacation on my (chessmaniac.com) chess site should I lose electrical power or computer cable in the future. Toward this end, I emailed them instructions on how to access my account on this site. I gave them my passwords to enter the account for the purpose of putting me on vacation. I don’t want to lose more interesting games that I am enjoying because of nature, illness, act of god, or act of man.)
In correspondence or Internet chess, I believe we should enjoy and explore the positions, as if each were the only thing there is to do for the next ten or fifteen minutes. Think of it as visiting a picture gallery: we pause, and appreciate each picture before moving on. A player cannot improve when he does not learn from his games. I analyze every game I do not win. I look for commonalities in my losing games. They are usually difficult to find, but they are there. If they had been obvious I would not have made them, therefore they will be a challenge to find. When I find a losing idea that I have been playing, I seek a better idea and experience a jump in performance, which I can see within six to ten games following the discovery! I believe it is important for the enjoyment of the game to savor every move and every position, and to give my opponent my best moves. Every time. When I fail to do so, I fail myself.
4. I learned that the position changes with every move! I believe I must work to fully observe the position. First, because all blunders are caused by lack of positional observation – better observation reduces blunders. (“The blunders are all there on the board, waiting to be made.”) Second, I know my own plan and intentions, but I must learn my opponents’ probable intentions, I must try to see the game from his perspective. There is plenty of time “on the clock” in correspondence chess to look at the position several times, I learned to look at it four times on each half-move, until it became habit. At first, I didn’t have this luxury in over the board games, where the clock sometimes hastened my move. Once it became habit, however, I was able to do it very quickly and accurately. Practice does not make perfect, practice makes permanent! Only perfect practice makes perfect. And, Habit makes permanent! And, The position changes with every move!
5. I believe in always playing the best move I can find. Even if I am far ahead, I play the best move, not just a winning move. I believe: “When you see a good move, look for a better one.”
6. I learned to “Play” my opponents move! It’s a natural consequence of considering his possible responses to a move I am about to make. After I have made my move, I mentally “turn the board around” and explore his probable move! I believe it helps me to learn how he thinks when his actual move differs from the move I believed he would play. It also shows up flaws in my move. I learn from those times when my opponent deviates from what I perceived as best for him. I try to understand why he played the move he did, rather than the move I believe to be best for him. (I believe that if you do not currently do this, you can improve your game quickly by doing it for every move for just six complete games.) I look at my opponents’ previous games before moving in my first game against him, to gain a sense of his preferences. I then forecast his opening moves, based on these past games. Sometimes his opening tells me that he has prepared for my expected opening. Playing the actual moves repetitiously helps memory. When my opponent moves, my memory clicks in most of the time and I either internally ‘smile’ when I have predicted it correctly, or I begin analyzing the reason he selected that particular move.
7. Perhaps my most intense belief is that what holds a player back is simply some mental habit he has formed that is firmly implanted, and that is counter-productive. Some of the non-productive and counter-productive things learned early stick with a player. It is far easier to form a beneficial thought about the game than it is to change a habit of thought that has built up over time. An inexperienced teacher or coach can unwittingly load the mind of a beginning player with thoughts that will limit growth. I seek continuous improvement, and develop the thinking that facilitates continuous growth. As I age, I feel the great effort required to alter habits of thinking. I know that continuous change is necessary; life is change, anything living is constantly changing. When we stop changing, we stop living. The one observation that I believe is beneficial to share with any and everyone is that feedback is the essential to beneficial change. (“Feedback is the breakfast of Champions.”) When a player tells me that he knows what his problem is, I doubt it. Introspection alone will probably not result in a correct finding; it takes feedback. It seems absurd for a person to tell a doctor what medication to prescribe, yet that same person believes that he knows the medicine for his own chess development. I believe that prescription without diagnosis is malpractice, we all need someone or something that willingly gives us feedback on our performance and our state of mind.
8. I believe I must focus on staying disciplined. There is no hurry, and we should do the things we know to be right, not the things that are easiest or the things that we “intuitively” know. That is not to say that we should desert our intuition. But we should consider it with all information on hand. I play intuitive sacs, and intuitive combinations, but in correspondence, I still try them out on the practice board before the actual move. I stay with one opening until I know it at least eight moves in every variation. Some of my stronger opponents will verify that I know our opening more than fifteen moves in the game I played against them. This requires self-discipline and may seem to others that it keeps the fun out of the game, at first. But, after we have learned a single opening well, as opposed to several or many openings that are only superficially known, the games are far more rewarding! One great benefit is a deviation from a known line by my opponent. That is a signal to study his intent, to learn if he has erred or found a new line. I usually conclude that he has simply missed the move and I take time to learn how to take advantage of the misposition. I believe in solving chess puzzles before playing games each day. It may seem to be a downer or unnecessary delay, to those players rushing to get into their game; but solving problems before playing chess is like a physical warm up before an athletic competition. Where the physical calesthenics loosen and prepare our muscles, so working a problem prepares our mind.
9. I believe that a player learns more, better and more quickly, playing over-the-board than playing on the net for three reasons: First, as mentioned above, the one game is the only thing in the players’ life at that time; all of his talent and ability are directed to that one board. Second, playing over the board, he watches his opponent think and move, then chooses his move, then thinks of what his opponents’ best move should be. He can also observe the opponents’ neuro-linguistics, the ‘body language’. He is totally immersed in that game. Third, he kibitzes when others play. The kibitzer normally sits at the side of the board and has a different view of the game; he anticipates each move! He thinks of the right move for each player, not just the right move for one of them! Kibitzers often see potentials and possibilities that one or both players miss. These advantages are lost in correspondence chess, where we can only kibitz when the game ends. I believe that it is important to find ways to keep these advantages alive in our games. This is the prime reason that I set my games up on an actual board (even though I have good screen pictures- pattern recognition.) “All obvious moves look dubious in analysis after the game” – Korchnoi
I enjoy sitting for ten or fifteen minutes just focusing on one game and one move! I reset the game and the position in my mind and treat it as a subject of analysis; as if it were the game of another player and I was critiquing it. I have found that when I am rushed or pressured, I tend to make inferior moves. “Move in haste, repent in leisure.”
There are other things that make up my beliefs, but these ten are those that are foremost in my mind. Learning the game from the standpoint of pieces and moves can create a future plateau that can only be overcome by “forgetting” the things that hold players back.
On another subject: Please help me with feedback. How many of these thoughts do you agree with? Which ones seem most doubtful? Can you think of one or more that I have missed that would benefit others? Could I have worded one or more of these better, so it would be easier to understand or appreciate? I will answer every communication I receive. Al
Tags: chess playing, chess teams, chess tournament, correspondence chess, free online chess, online chess, play chess
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