Good chess question #1

What are you good at?

David K specifically asked: “do you have a chess goal? and i don’t mean a number, but seeking a state or beauty of to uphold or to renew or discover, etc?”

A state of beauty to uphold or renew or discover. Man, that’s beautiful. Actually, I am not totally opposed to ELO as a measure of skill, and hold the naked ambition of hitting 2200 before the engine seizes. However, what I really wish is that I could STOP PLAYING BAD MOVES. Not the short-sighted tactical mistakes – that’s part of life. And I accept that I’m not going to rediscover my long-lost ability to just blow people off the board tactically.

I mean I wanna stop playing the moves that are just totally out of whack with the demands of the position at hand. Having finally slogged back over 2100 (after 7 years’ effort), I immediately play like a total bonehead and get deservingly crushed by Jesse Nicholas, who is younger than my car.

Greg K (no relation to David K) asked what I believe to be a similar question at USATE this year: “what are you good at?”

(As it turns out, here’s something he’s good at: if you show him a random position, he can usually tell you a good move pretty much at a glance. Alas, I cannot. Dang him.)

I DON’T think that the point is to try to play into positions where you are comfortable. To me, that’s the ultimate form of giving up. That’s how you maximize your parole at the expense of your langue. (I.e. you stop trying to deepen your knowledge of the game and simply try to stop making silly errors.)

Instead, identifying your strengths is about enjoying what you’ve learned (an element of chess achievement that shouldn’t be underappreciated) and identifying where you should spend your study time and what you should be doing in blitz chess. To beat a dead horse, I think improvement can only occur when you intentionally avoid positions that are familiar and comfortable.

I have been playing really classical stuff in online blitz.  d4 d5 and e4 e5 (which as an aside goes into Scotch/Goring lines probably 70% of the time – amazing how many A/Expert level players are avoiding the Ruy as white). Wow, I am astonishingly tone-deaf in these positions. But if I only  played what I’m good at, how would I get better?


7 thoughts on “Good chess question #1

  1. thank you for the acknowledgement. as you know, i was a professional investor, for some years. in time, i really began through sustained observation of customers–and i dont mean particularly “bad ones”, but many of the “good one’s”, all almost all of the good ones, began to see that they really enjoyed investment as an ‘entertainment process’.

    this term was not of my own discovery or realization. my guru, who was enlightened and truly integrated a being as i ever knew, she always called things great entertainment, often laughing at the foibles of others. now, i dont mean it in this sense.

    but some folks dont freak out in declines, or in erosion of capital, because they JUST enjoying knowing they are in the game, that there money is in play. they like it. they like the process, and as some follow the NFL or NBA or NASCAR (not me, the latter, please: hell on earth, the noise and consumption), so they but its the NYSE or another similar euphoneous ding, the NASDAQ, not Aztec!

    what am i trying to say? i dont know, but im getting there, reaching for the etherial and subtle, to say what cannot be said.

    it seems to me, that what you are describing is what i call delight. Gustafson indeed wrote on this, the Chair of the Univ of Madison Wisconson Psychiatric department–and yes, we did exchange many letters, as he founded the Brief versus Long Psychotherapy department there, writing a wonderful book called: “Self Delight in a harsh world”.

    all these things such as health, and vitality and nutrition, i call ‘wellness’, but also includes inner work.

    it seems to me, in the chess your describe, you are describing chess wellness, chess fitness, chess delight. you wish to be able to play a very good game, distinct from elo alone, or money or fame or honors. to be able to play a good chess game, is a beautiful thing, that not many can do. i noticed that in the last year, i could loose and be very happy, if i played a good game.

    we are also talking about excellence, and soundness.

    let me stop. just a few thoughts.

    Phaedrus is calling in an hour, to discuss some personal practical stuff, and our gmC project is going swimmingly well. he is the best sort of person, as are you.

    love to all beings, dk

  2. I recently switched to e4 e5 and d4 d5 after years of avoiding them, and I feel like I’m learning a lot.

  3. My goal for every game is to not produce an egregious blunder. If I lose, but play a game free of obvious (to me) errors, then I’m fine with that, and in fact often learn much from it. 90% of my losses are due to just missing something my opponent has because I’m concentrating on unimportant “fantasy variations” (you know the kind, “If my queen was on g7, and my knight could move like a bishop for one move, and he didn’t have that rook there, I could play…”).

    This should be a fixable problem, right? What I need is a coach, who works pro-bono for middle aged, middle class white guys.


  4. Great little article, Derek. Congrats on getting back over 2100. Have you ever worked with a coach?

    Matt, if you haven’t worked with a coach, try it. I just finished re-reading Heisman’s excellent article titled “A Theory of Chess Improvement.” Great stuff. In the article, Heisman claims that a coach’s role should be the elimination of weaknesses. Adding strength, like learning more endgames or theory, could be done mostly on one’s own. I recently completed the sale of most of my old chess magazines and novels to fund a coach.


  5. DK – first, I’m with you on Nascar. Second, and Matt says the same thing, yes, to play a good game. That’s really all there is. This week I played what you’d have to call a bloodless draw in 26 moves with Dr. Epp. But I was happy with it – I had black in a KIA-versus-French setup. I didn’t freak out, I just neutralized and equalized. Boring for the spectators and not a satisfying ELOsport result, but since it’s the kind of play I’m bad at, I feel like I demonstrated something a little bit new for me.

    Matt – I do the same thing. Goofy stuff. FWIW Foygel walked us through the same thing in a lecture once – he does it too on occasion.

    Dan – Hi and yes. Solidarity of the classical chess latecomers.

    Howard – I haven’t. I was too stupid as a youngster and now it’s a question of time, money and convenience. I like your creative funding decision.

  6. Derek,

    Time: You’re going to train anyway, so you might as well use that time to work with a coach.

    Money: There are creative solutions.

    Convenience: See “Time” above.


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