Staying Present in Chess

Apr 18, 2008, 11:48 PM |

This is something I wrote about a year ago on a spiritual-type forum I occasionally visited.  It generated a somewhat interesting discussion (that I just renewed) that can be found here.

It is geared towards the particular audiance of the forum I posted it at but hopefully has some universal appeal as well so I'm posting it here.  Please comment if you feel so inclined. Smile


Chess is seen as a highly analytical game centered mostly around deep calculation. For the most part, this is true. However, it is important to remember, that, like everything else, chess is always in the now. All ideas must stem from the the position at hand (the present). While it may be helpful to know what moves led up to the position a highly skilled player should be able to look at the situation without any knowledge of the game's past and find the best move or series of moves.

Begginners often get an idea in their hand about a certain strategic or tactical manuvere they can pull off a few moves ahead while not taking in the whole of the present position and their opponents counterplay. While planning ahead is inevitably essential the first and most important skill required is to look into the present position as deeply as possibly. It is better to see perfectly but only one move ahead than think ten moves ahead but miss cruicial aspects of what already exists. All plans meet a bitter end if they do not take in the full potential of the position at hand. This has happened to me frequently. I often think I have a mate in four, playing over certain responses in my head, only to overlook a simply blocking move that my opponent can play immediately.

Another pitfull is what I call "winner's anxiety", this comes when one achieves a superior yet still highly complex position. The overwhelming urge is to either find a win (checkmate) quickly or to trade down pieces (simplify) to a much easier to handle winning endgame. Both these strategies (find a mate and trade down to an endgame) are sound but the pressure to turn the "winning game" into a "won game" often has the better of a player. In the desire to quickly end the contest the winning player may overlook a key aspect of the position and have the tables turned on him quickly. While chess is thought of mostly as a strategic game tactical (short term skirmishes) skills are far more important, this is part of it's appeal, games can be turned around in the blink of an eye if one player for a moment lets down his vigilance. In the above example, the "loser" in the position has ironically, nothing to lose (as, with no suprises, he is already lost), he is motavated to look as deeply as possible into the position for a way out. His job is to keep the game complex and full of counterattacking possibility.

So, to sum up, stay focused, stay present, learn to see what is there. Learn to see find what you desire (a winning combination for example) in what is already there but also learn to see with complete accuracy and honesty. See what is true, not what is illusion (an unsound combination for example). Every move should come from the dictates of the position (truth) rather than from the desire to prematurely force the game (ego).

Chess, with no dice or cards to help mitigate lack of focus/presence is one of the ultimate games of truth. When you lose a game there are no excuses. When we win a hard fought battle you know it was thru your practice, study, focus and presence.  Smile