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In Search of Chess Mastery & Flying Turtles Tell No Lies

In Search of Chess Mastery & Flying Turtles Tell No Lies

Apr 8, 2010, 12:00 AM 11,491 Reads 31 Comments Other

Zuud08 asked:

I am yet another 1900 in search of chess mastery ... I have made incredible sacrifices for chess study. I changed my job so as not to stay 8 hrs in an office and be tired for studying. I neglect my wife and child a bit (although she understands because she’s a chess player too). I have read several instructive.

What frustrates me is: When I do puzzles from one of them, I get almost all right to the last detail – doesn’t that mean I should be a decent player?

But I am not. I am a lousy 1900 - 2000 and I think the reason is: When I do positions from the Reassess Your Chess Workbook I get only 50% right! I have always believed that strategy is more important than calculation – because it guides the calculation. In fact I can often spot wins for several stronger players but I never get such juicy positions in my own games!

So I am left with a bitter sense of disappointment and impotence to improve. I am very sad, and I am asking you for help with almost tears in my eyes. Could you give me advice? What should I do? 

Dear Zuud08:

Around 17 years ago I got a letter from some guy on the other side of the US (I live in California) who said he would do anything to improve and offered (in exchange for daily chess lessons) to come out to CA and move in with me and be my 24/7 slave! I’m not kidding! Now, the idea of having some dude with a leash around his neck chained to my bathtub just doesn’t appeal to me (though if it was some female supermodel, I would have been seriously tempted), so it was a no-go. But, your letter brought back memories of Mr. Slave’s level of chess desperation.

Fortunately, you’re in luck – scientists have recently refined the molecular components of the taste and smell of chess into a liquid compound that can be injected directly into the vein. No more study, no more wasting time playing or buying chess books, just one injection a day takes care of the chess addiction problem and let’s you get on with your life.

Seriously dude, it’s a game! Yes, it’s also a passion and an art and a science and many other things to many other people, but you can’t let it become an obsession. Most importantly, chess is supposed to be fun and fulfilling, yet you seem to get nothing but misery from it.

The problem is in your outrageous expectations.

You say you’re a “lousy” 1900 to 2000. Lousy? Most tournament players (forget about the insanely inflated internet ratings – I know many 1800 tournament players who have 2400 internet blitz ratings) dream of having a 1900 or 2000 rating! You are already a very strong chess player! Give yourself some credit.

You need to make small, realistic goals. Then, when you achieve it, you make another and another. Thus, in your case 2100 would be a proper goal. Once you are solidly at that level, 2200 can be placed on the radar.

Now, it sounds like you are most likely very strong tactically but have serious positional deficiencies. Well, that’s not necessarily a bad thing since the ability to calculate deeply and quickly is a talent (which you appear to possess), while the ability to read the positional characteristics of the board is easily learned. My new (upcoming … perhaps the end of July or August) book, How to Reassess Your Chess 4th Edition, is almost completely dedicated to this problem (I also do a serious study of chess psychology … but a form of psychology that’s practical and vastly improves one’s results). However, elsewhere on this site I’ve recommended (on many occasions!) that one look at tens of thousands of grandmaster games. Zip through the suckers at warp speed (of course, you can slow down or even do a deep analysis if you come upon a situation that fascinates you), and rest assured that you will subconsciously absorb the many patterns that are flowing by your eyes.

You desperately need to remove your chess-related stress. Simply put, if it’s not fun, if it doesn’t enrich your life, why in the world are you doing it? So, calm down, create a reachable goal, and enjoy the process! The Book of Chess I Ching (aka: the Chess Book of Changes) says: Those that are only interested in the destination but hate the journey will find that they have missed out on life – this is true in all things, chess included.

Please keep in mind that this journey never ends – once you get to 2100, you’ll be chomping at the bit to reach 2200, and once you do that, 2300, and on and on it goes. It’s all completely pointless if you don’t have a fantastic time with chess while all this is going on.


Quick Sound bytes

Exigentsky asked:

What rating range is the 4th edition geared to? Would a Class “A” player find it too basic?

Dear Mr. Exigentsky:

The book is for players in the 1400 to 2100 range, and I suspect many 2200s will also find much of interest. Yes, there will be some examples that will seem basic, and there will be other examples that seem difficult, but the idea is to learn a series of concepts and a new way of looking at chess in general, and thus “hard” and “easy” don’t really apply. What does matter is whether or not the book actually helps you learn the things it set out to do. And, in my view, I’ve succeeded in that (well, I hope I did, though it will be up to the readers to give it thumbs up or thumbs down once they read it).


MrAttribute (commenting on my article, LEARNING AN OPENING) said:

Good article but way too loooooong.


Dear MrAttribute:

Perhaps for yoooooou, but not for ooootherrrs.


Cally-ntete (referring to my article, LEARNING AN OPENING) said:

The moment I encountered 9...Bc8 I lost interest, and went back to confirm if my favorite IM Silman is really the one analyzing this beginner game with so much passion. How could such a high profile chess player spend his resources like that?

Dear Mr. Cally:

First: Don’t beginners deserve some loving care too? Should I only cater to players of your rating or higher?

Second: When I am no longer passionate about teaching lovers of chess to improve their game, I’ll hang up my chess pen. I am extremely passionate about making the game easier for players of all ratings to understand.

Third: Yes, 9…Bc8 was horrible, and as I pointed out, it’s forced me into daily (and expensive!) therapy. But there was a very important lesson there too – one that will prove useful for players in the beginner to 1800 range. Perhaps you’re so strong that such lessons are obvious to you, which is great. But there is also a high likelihood that you missed out on a learning experience because you felt a “beginner” game couldn’t teach you anything. That’s your loss.

In my upcoming book, I used a mix of games: modern grandmaster games (some just a few months old), old classic grandmaster games, very old games (from the 1600s!), games played by my students, and even blitz games that I found online (by grandmasters and beginners). In all cases, the rating doesn’t teach you anything! The instruction lies in a specific position (which anyone can arrive at), and in my notes. It all comes down to my ability to explain concepts in a user-friendly manner. If I come up short, blame me, not the poor position.

And that brings us back to passion: if I’m looking at some position and a turtle falls from the sky onto a chessboard and the result is some highly instructive situation, I’ll happily use it as a teaching tool – Flying Turtle (unrated) vs. Silman, LA 2010.

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