See The Big Picture!

See The Big Picture!

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GM David Bronstein famously said: “To lose one’s objective attitude to a position, nearly always means ruining your game.” I doubt that anyone would argue with this simple yet very powerful statement. Moreover, this wisdom can be extrapolated to almost any kind of human activity.

Here are, for example, the words of Sydney Pollack: "At some point during the filmmaking process, you lose objectivity, and you need the eyes of someone who understands the process and has been in the trenches." Unfortunately, in real life, people frequently lose their objectivity and, as a result, come to the wrong conclusions. Here is one hilarious example:

I re-watched it many times, and my favorite moment is the pause after the lady says: "Checkmate!" You can see how George is trying to understand what happened since the harsh reality (checkmate!) is totally opposite to the opinion he just expressed. He quickly finds the solution to this inconsistency: of course, the problem must be his girlfriend and not his misogynistic views. 

By the way, this TV episode eloquently demonstrates the main beauty of chess described by Emanuel Lasker: “On the chessboard lies and hypocrisy do not survive long. The creative combination lays bare the presumption of a lie; the merciless fact, culminating in a checkmate, contradicts the hypocrite.” 

Naturally, the big question is how to stay objective. We all have our biases, and sometimes they completely cloud our judgment. In my opinion, the best way to stay objective is to see the big picture. Let me show you the following game as a very simple example:

If you played Black and got checkmated like this, you could complain that it was not your day, you were distracted and didn't defend very well, that you had a big material advantage and were on your way to winning if it were not for that accidental combination... Or you could admit that the final result contradicts your views and maybe there is something wrong with them. You can ask for the help of a friend, coach, or engine, and hopefully, you'll figure out that your loss is not an annoying accident but the result of a wrong opening strategy. Such an analysis will definitely make you a better player.

The examples I provided so far might give you the wrong impression that looking for the big picture is only a way of finding and fixing your deficiencies. That is not the case, however. Sometimes such analysis can prove that you are on the right path and that a painful obstacle is just a temporary hiccup. Here is an example from a game played by one of my students, who was playing White:

It was a tournament game, not blitz, and at the moment of the stalemate, White had over 10 minutes on his clock. Can you guess player A's chess level? You probably think that he is a beginner. That would be a correct assumption because you don't have any other information about him. But I do have more information. Here is the game he played against GM Sergey Volkov, who was the Russian Champion in 2000 with a peak FIDE rating of 2659:

Again, this is a tournament game, not a casual blitz game. It was played a couple of months before the "stalemate game." As you can see, the player who looked like a beginner in the previous game, had a completely winning position against a strong GM and didn't actually win it only due to the lack of experience. He also drew some other GMs and beat a couple of IMs. So, the big picture clearly shows that the stalemate incident was just that: an incident. Although the kid's parents were concerned, I explained the situation and assured them that this annoying hiccup shouldn't cloud the bright big picture. Exactly one week after the "stalemate game," this kid won Nationals in his age group.

For a chess player, this approach of looking at the big picture shouldn't be just a chess tool, it should be their way of life! Whatever everyday problem you are trying to solve, look at the big picture. Here is a simple example. On December 14, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said: "I don't think anyone knows whether we're going to have a recession or not, and if we do, whether it’s going to be a deep one or not. It's... not knowable." But we are chess players, and even though we don't have the Fed's sophisticated tools, we can see the big picture. Using a free website, I produced the following chart in about two minutes. 

I am not going to bore you with explanations of the inverted yield curve shown on the bottom pane or the indicator of unemployment claims shown on the upper pane. Just notice the pink lines indicating the start of a recession. As a chess geek, I marked them c4 (the "dot com" bubble), d4 (the great financial crisis), and e4 (COVID).

Just look at the rectangles at the bottom showing the moment the chart drops below the zero line. It indicates that the recession is coming in about six to 12 months. The circles at the top pane indicate the points where the chart goes above 70. It confirms the bottom panel. Now, when you see the big picture, do you have any doubts that the recession that I call Ke2 is coming within the next six months?

I give Mr. Powell about three to four months to admit the inevitable. Last time it took longer, though. When in April of 2021, the Federal reserve mentioned "transitory inflation," I questioned it in my article and provided some numbers in the comments section. It took the Fed about six months to admit that the inflation was not transitory at all. This time I expect them to fix their mistakes faster.

In the comment section of my last article about openings, one reader admitted that he was "someone who was genuinely interested in the question you posed, but not in the answer you provided." Generally speaking, I am a big proponent of saying, “if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime,” and therefore prefer not to spoon-feed people.

Besides, analyzing any opening variation in detail is an absolutely unfeasible task for an article. My old book on the English Opening by GM Vladimir Bagirov, published in 1989, has 464 pages. If it was published today, it would be even bigger. But maybe the reader was asking for more examples of the implementation of the method that I described. So, since today we are talking about looking at the big picture, let me provide you with one more example of its practical application. 

2.Ke2 again.

Some time ago, I wrote an article that started a big dispute about the merits of Ke2 (the opening, not a recession.) To tell you the truth, I don't even see anything to argue about. If you look at the big picture, everything becomes crystal clear.

Say a chess player comes to me and says that he is playing the Bongcloud. He asks if he should continue doing so. Before answering the question, I'd need to see the big picture, so I'll ask him why he plays chess and what his goals are. If he tells me that he plays chess with his buddies at a bar to unwind after a long workday, then it is obvious that he is a recreational chess player with no specific chess goals. Just imagine such a player drinking beer with his friends at a bar and playing deep prophylactic moves or dry, boring endgames. Therefore, I would tell such a player that if he enjoys playing some unsound openings just for giggles, then he should continue doing so. Whatever works for them!

But if this chess player tells me that they have other goals in chess, like raising their rating, winning their club championship, becoming a master, etc., then I would answer that they should first change their attitude toward chess and only then think about the openings they play. The sheer fact that they consider playing meme openings indicates that they are not very serious about improving their play.

I hope I have managed to convince you that looking at the big picture will make it easier to make big decisions and come to correct conclusions both in chess and in life.

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