The Only Way To Progress As A Chess Player (And A Person)

The Only Way To Progress As A Chess Player (And A Person)

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Whenever I see our readers' comments, I cannot help but think: we have the best chess community on Earth! It is such a striking contrast to the majority of Internet forums, where a typical conversation would be like this:

Original Poster: "Are apples any good in XYZ grocery?"

Person A: "Apples? Are you kidding me? Buy pears, they are better for your health!"

Person B: "Don't shop in XYZ grocery, Walmart is better!"

Then there would be a thread of 100+ messages where people are arguing if pears are better than apples and Walmart is cheaper than XYZ grocery. Meanwhile, all the original poster needed was a short answer like: "Apples in XYZ grocery are sweet and quite cheap at $.99 per pound."

Fortunately, our community is quite mature and helpful. I can attest that I have learned a lot here and strongly recommend that you use the collective intelligence of millions of our members.

the only way to progress as a chess player
The forums are a great place to learn from our users.

You see, there are two categories of people: those who have their opinions written in stone and those who are always ready to evolve and progress. A good example of this phenomenon are two prominent chess personalities from Saint Petersburg (formerly known as Leningrad).

A famous chess coach, Vladimir Zak, was known for his strong opinions and the general attitude of "my way or the highway." In his awesome book The Road To Chess Improvement, GM Alex Yermolinsky describes Zak quite well:

"Zak religiously believed in the dogma of the classical school. [...] Any new (that would be anything after 1947) ideas were ignored or vehemently opposed when brought up by the students themselves; even the openings other than 1.e4 e5 or 1.d4 d5 were frowned upon."

the only way to evolve in chess
Yermolinsky in 2003. Photo: © James Perry, CC.

Yermolinsky told me about an episode that got engraved into his memory. He won his first game against a master and was about to show it to other members of his chess club. Note that at that time beating a master was an extraordinary event—just imagine that you beat GM Hikaru Nakamura, even if it was just a simul.

So, the kids circled the board and proud Yermolinsky played his first move in that game which happened to be 1.g3. Once Zak saw this "indecent" move he instantly left saying, "from this point the game is not interesting for me." Yermolinsky was a tough kid who grew up in a neighborhood where street fights were a regular daily routine. And yet, after such a let down from his coach he had tears in his eyes. Therefore Yermolinsky's conclusion shouldn't come as a surprise:

"We had a joke: anybody who survives the "training method" is guaranteed a bright future! The important thing was to leave Zak before frustration sets in and you decide to quit chess. GMs Valery Salov and Gata Kamsky left early and became stars in their teens."

Another of Zak's students, GM Viktor Korchnoi, had the exact opposite attitude: he questioned everything and therefore constantly evolved.

the only way to evolve as a chess player
Korchnoi in 1993. Photo: Stefan64, CC.

I remember a conversation I had with Korchnoi in the 1990s when he told me that after winning his second Soviet Championship in 1962, he analyzed his games and came to the realization that he "didn't really know how to play chess." I was shocked to hear this! In order to learn new ideas, he constantly invited young players to his training sessions. As a result, he was evolving his whole life while enthusiastically adopting new chess trends.

Look at the following game of a 78-year-old Korchnoi versus a very strong opponent who was almost four times younger:

So if you want to progress as a person and as a chess player, here are two things I would recommend:

1) Listen to other people and be ready to accept their point of view even if it is different from yours!

Here is where our beautiful 60 million+ member community can be very useful. Talk to our members and listen to what they say. One of three things can happen:

a) You will change your point of view.

This has actually happened to me more than once. One recent example happened after this article where I casually mentioned bitcoin. One of the readers challenged my opinion and after some research, I have to agree with him. I always viewed bitcoin as some shady product and was wondering why regulators didn't step in to protect people from losing their money.

the only way to progress as a chess player
My view on bitcoin was changed. Image: Onov3056, CC.

By listening to the reader's advice, I learned that bitcoin was invented by an unknown group of people in January 2009 and everything became clear to me. Bitcoin was invented almost immediately after "Quantitative Easing" started during the Great Financial Crisis. So Bitcoin is like a money trap. Money will flow there (instead of pushing consumer prices and inflation up) and will never leave (especially since already about $140 Billion of bitcoin are trapped in wallets due to lost passwords).

So, what I thought was a scam turned out to be genius financial engineering that will allow us to print our way to prosperity without the danger of hyperinflation! Yes, this is not directly related to chess, but it shows how much you can learn from our fellow members.

b) You still keep your opinion but see that other opinions on the subject are as valid as yours.

In one of my articles I showed the following famous game:

I wrote that the pawn sacrifice 15.g4! is a no-brainer move—to me, it is the ABCs of chess. Yet, one of the readers wrote that 15.g4 is not a "no-brainer" move and while it is definitely possible, there are other options. Again, I have to agree with the reader. You can read my article on this subject here. This is the case where while my opinion is still valid, but it is not the only correct point of view.

c) Other people's opinions only enhance your own opinion.

In my previous article, I called the recent "game" between GM Magnus Carlsen and Nakamura featuring 1.e4 e5 2.Ke2 Ke7 a pure chess evil. I had an opportunity to hear some opinions about it being a "meme opening" and a joke showing a fine sense of chess humor, etc. With all due respect, I will stick with my original opinion. 

You see, there are certain movies you can watch on certain paid TV channels intended for a certain mature audience and it is fine. Just don't show these movies on major TV networks at primetime. If Carlsen and Nakamura played their "game" during a friendly blitz session that would be totally fine with me, but they played this on a larger stage with many viewers.

2) Challenge your opinions!

Ask yourself, "What if the exact opposite is true?" In some cases, you might get surprised!

Take for example the old axiom: "Don't bring your Queen into the game too early." Upon some investigation, you might find out that unpopular openings like 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Qxd4 aren't that bad. You can try it in some friendly games here on and who knows, maybe you'll create brilliancies like these:

In conclusion, I can only repeat the wise words of Heraclitus which he said 2500 years ago: "The only constant in life is change!"

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