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Chess: It's A Trap! (my apologies to Adm. Ackbar)

In my last post--my first blog entry ever--I alluded to my temporary weariness of chess. Everyone experiences this kind of exhaustion with the game from time to time, so I'm not worried about it. But I have attempted--many times, not just this time--to figure out why this haze descends upon me. Not surprisingly, I thought of many reasons why. Such things are never uncomplicated, are they?

One surefire way to come down with the chess flu is to observe master games. Many people say that studying master games is a very effective way to increase one's skill, because one begins to gain insight into their complex ideas. I believe this is true. But a big chasm separates studying master games from observing master games.

I read in a forum thread not long ago that many amateurs are under the misconception that they can improve by simply watching masters play; it simply doesn't work that way. I absolutely agree with this. I have spent many years--not continuously!--observing master games, not merely in hopes of gaining miraculous understanding, but simply because they are fun to watch. I have watched more games than I can count featuring GM personalities on my Chessmaster program, with such marquee matchups as Alekhine v. Botvinnik, the obligatory Fischer v. Spassky, and many others. Just sitting back and seeing the craziness that erupts on the chessboard is pure entertainment. Of course I hoped, in the back of my mind, that observing such hundreds of games would grant me the unplanned side effect of serendipitously bestowing me with sage-like playing powers, thus preparing me to suddenly contend with 2200-rated players. Kind of like an old ninja movie where the young protagonist studies and trains, and his sensei finally tells him, "You are ready, my son. Go and checkmate your enemies. Make this old man proud."

Honestly, I never really believed that would happen. But as Mr. Potato Head said in Toy Story, "Hey, I can dream, can't I?"

Anyway, I've never really had the patience to study master games, or my own games, to the necessary depth in order to improve to this great extent. I have actually studied master games before, and it is fun. But it is also difficult. And very time-consuming. It may be easy for some--possibly even many. But I have a day job that demands 40+ hours a week, plus a family to support. Although I've long hungered to get as good at chess as I possibly can and eventually obtain a rating of expert or even (gasp!) master level, I cannot neglect these other things--nor do I want to. I love my job, and my family is the best. If I totally fail at chess, life will still be just peachy.

I mentioned last post that I was extremely mistrustful of pretty much everyone on the Internet, because of past, unpleasant experiences. I've seen what people on the Internet are capable of. They're highly entertaining as long as one remembers that they cannot actually hurt anyone through cyberspace. I've fallen for quite a few trolls on the Internet in my time. On a daily basis I see people make fools of themselves on Chess.com forums in seemingly limitless ways. These people of whom I speak convince me not to share my games for community advice and analysis. This also accounts for my hiatus from chess. I could go on, but it boils down to a disillusionment with people--and when I get tired of people, I don't feel like playing chess with people.

Oh, don't misunderstand: I'm not bitter toward anyone specific or any particular group of people. I am thinking of a particular time recently when I dared to be so audacious as to share two games I played, both wins. I wasn't showcasing the games to espouse my greatness or flaunt my achievements over my opponents. I was actually pointing out my mistakes and blunders in those games and poking fun at myself over them. My goal was to have people laugh with me at the surrealism exhibited in the games. Then I received feedback from one contributor in the form of pithy derision and undisguised smugness.

Truthfully, I am not upset or distraught at this individual, so please don't think that I am whining. I responded to him good-naturedly, and I received much positive, supportive feedback from other acquaintances on the two games. But even though I harbor no ill will toward this exceedingly pessimistic academician, I nevertheless find myself running somewhat dry on enthusiasm to run back to the forums and share much of anything else with the community.

Other times, the chess blues seem inevitable: the struggle to improve simply by practicing and playing many games seems to be a self-defeating exercise. In my last turn-based game, I was in a hugely fascinating position as soon as the middlegame phase started. I was down a pawn, but I had more activity and development, and my opponent's King was stranded in the center. All that I had read screamed at me that I needed to launch an attack against my opponent for all I was worth. I found myself wanting more than anything to play the best moves, even if they were moves I wouldn't normally think of. I wanted to play like a master. Since I'm not a master, my typical style wasn't going to cut it, lest I settle for average-looking, uninspired moves that allow my opponent to squirm away and/or defend.

So I started to think of every possibility, and tried to imagine each legal move in turn, no matter how implausible it looked at first. I investigated the craziest sacrifices and chains of sacrifices, until I would become dizzy. I don't know if I came up with anywhere near the best moves, because I still haven't analyzed the game.

Giving one's all can really wear a guy out.

I'm not dealing with anything new here, so I know that I will be playing chess again before long. I will certainly be ready by the time the second round of my tournament begins--whenever that will be. Yet, the more I play and read about chess, the more inclined I am to think that chess greatness isn't as gratifying as it always seemed to be in my more innocent, idealistic days.


  • 3 years ago


    @CharlyAZ: Thanks for your great comment! Your perspective is enlightening. To improve, of course one must train. It's a fundamental principle, well understood intuitively by virtually everyone as manifested in their vocations, but suddenly often forgotten when they turn to chess, or any other pastime or hobby.

    Indeed, I'm not upset over the individual who exhibited arrogance toward me. He may well be the only person who has been rude to me on Chess.com since I've joined. Most of the people with whom I've interacted have been great, very nice, helpful, and candid. It's been quite refreshing.

  • 3 years ago

    FM CharlyAZ

    Commenting about the chess "watching-study", you have said it well, whirl... still blows my mind when I read around the web proposals for "training", like to train strategy "read X book and whatsoever-another XZ book..." and everything in the middle (that's study!). There is a major difference between watch, study and train... many people get stuck in the study phase, and that one of the many reasons some players feel that their game goes down when study some classic book and it's supposed to go up... they never realized that what they have done is like just to know how to work in the bench and not actually train and do all the exercises... no muscles are going to show up just because you know the kind of exercises you should do.

    In the other hand, dont get upset with people, you have to understand that between millions persons always it has to be some rotten apple...ot two, even more. Just go along with it: because Humans there is no Paradise, but because of some it does not means we are living in Hell.

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