Do People Learn From Their Mistakes?

Do People Learn From Their Mistakes?

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The question in the title of the article might sound stupid. We are called Homo Sapiens for a reason: translated from Latin it means "Wise Man." By accumulating the knowledge of the previous generations, humankind has made tremendous progress in the 200,000 years of its existence.

Yet, whenever I read about the life of our predecessors, I cannot help but think that they weren't that much different from us. I could give many examples, but I am sure you know many of them on your own. So, I absolutely subscribe to the theory of Woland from Bulgakov's "Master and Margarita." He observed the people of Moscow, compared them to people who lived thousands of years ago and noted that people are all the same. They just got spoiled by the real estate!

According to a well known quote of Goethe, "By seeking and blundering we learn." We are seeking indeed and blundering for sure, but do we learn? Since our website is about chess, let's see if people learn from their chess mistakes.

In the article It's a Miracle we already saw how GM Reshevsky was blundering a stalemate about every ten years. We can argue that a stalemate is so rare in grandmaster games that it is excusable to forget about it once a decade. Fair enough. But what would you say about the next two games of GM Rubinstein:

It is difficult to imagine how one of the strongest chess players of his time made such a simple tactical oversight. But "by seeking and blundering we learn," don't we?

Akiba Rubinstein | Image Wikipedia

Here is the game Rubinstein played two years later:

Sure we can try to write off such an incredible double blunder on account of Rubinstein being absent minded, but what about our favorite Sailor who beat Bobby Fischer? GM Ratmir Kholmov was anything but absent minded and yet...

And then seven years later...

How could Kholmov fall into a trap that he executed himself in the previous game? Maybe it was the case that we discussed here in Playing Chess While Being Drunk?

The opening is a part of the game the majority of the chess players study the most and yet they repeat the same mistakes again and again. The unquestionable champion in this sad department are the following "twins:"

It is a very beautiful game, even considering that Black's combination could be refuted by 10. Qe1! (instead of the greedy 10.fxg4??). You'll be amazed, but Anderssen already saw this whole combination before:

So, what on Earth is going on here? Did Anderssen simply forget about the painful loss he suffered eight years ago? Or perhaps he remembered that the Black's combination had a hole, but completely forgot the refutation? Your guess is as good as mine, but if we apply the principle of Occam's razor and accept the simplest possible explanation, then we can assume that it is just some sort of a mistake in the database and that one of these games was never played Smile

Now let's jump 120 years forward. GM Artur Yusupov has just won a pretty nice game over a very dangerous opponent in their Candidates' Match:

GM Viktor Korchnoi was never a person to mince words. So, according to the reports, immediately after the game was over, he quipped: " 18 years was not enough for Karpov to learn this opening!." He was obviously referring to this game:

Here I am really puzzled. Even if we imagine that Karpov somehow managed to forget the above mentioned game, how could he forget the classical game of Petrosian, which was published everywhere and could be a good example of the proverbial game that "every Russian schoolboy knows?"

It looks like the human ability to learn is greatly overrated! Smile


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