Identifying One's Weaknesses
National Master, Bill Richards, founder of the Aww-Rats chess group, has got me inspired. He has convinced me, that if I work at it, I can achieve a dream that I have had ever since I was a pup. He believes anyone can be a master if you follow his program. He’s got me believing it too. One thing you have to do, he says, is analyze your own games. The idea is to pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses. Strengths—good to know, steer towards those during your games. Weaknesses—even better! Work on them, turn them into strengths.
Bill mentions one particular weakness in his videos that I have in abundance. Not being very smart, I am quite impulsive, and therefore tend to go for exciting looking moves. Yes, I admit it. I am a Redneck and am attracted to shiny objects. A shiny, sexy, exciting move that just looks like it’s winning—is just irresistible to me. Take the following position from one of my recent games:
When I saw that my opponent’s move created a hole for my Knight, the d3 square, I could not restrain my eager steed from jumping there. I played Nd3+ immediately! I saw that the hapless foot soldier on b2 would fall to my Knight, saw the discovered check on the enemy king, and saw that her royal highness was there for the taking. I was literally dancing in my chair.
“Not so fast genius,” said left-brain. “White does get to move afterwards you know. Calm down and actually examine the position first. What could white do in response after Nxb2?
“Ummm, he moved already,” admitted right-brain.
“When will you two ever learn?”
So I started playing real chess (thank you NM Dan Heisman), and examined the possible continuations. Admittedly, I was a little late, should have done so before the actual move, but I’ve got to live with what I played now. I looked at several possible continuations, and decided the one that got me all excited, the Nxb2 continuation, was a non-starter:
As you can see, my shiny move had lost its luster. After Nxb2, the White queen easily parries, the queens then come off the board, my Knight remains surrounded—a certain goner—with the White monarch in a good position for an end game, and probably none too happy to be widower, so I expect he will be looking for some serious payback. This line did not appear promising. I decided my best bet would be to bring my embarrassed horse back to e5. There at least, he could be a participant in the battle rather than a casualty. White will lose his castling privilege, so that might be worth something. But it seemed a small advantage, considering how far I appear to be behind in development. I figured I had a long road ahead of me. I premoved Ne5, and waited for my opponent’s response.
Later when I checked the computer, I got a big shock—my opponent had resigned! Apparently, my opponent was also seduced by the threatening looks of my move. I’m not the only one impressed by shiny objects. Yes Virginia, there is luck in chess.
Here’s another example of my crazy, impulsive play:
After looking at this game, left-brain is now refusing to speak to me. Capturing the pawn was dubious enough (another shiny object), but why I moved back to e4, I’m really not sure. Actually, the whole position looks pretty terrible, not sure anything is good there for me. The notes I took during the game aren’t much help. But one thing I annotated hits home: “My 18th move, Ne4, proved to be a disaster. The thing about it is, I saw the danger! But I later somehow went for it on impulse.”
Oh you think?
Fortunately, I got lucky here too. This was also a turn-based game, and we happened to be playing at the same time. We sort of blitzed out these moves—relatively speaking. I think we finished it out in under an hour. I don’t think either one of us was very accurate, but I ended up stumbling on some tactical shots that gave me the upper hand.
The point is, as painful as it is, it is important to examine your games, and to figure out where you went wrong, why you went wrong, and then to implement measures to correct the faults you discover. (Suggestions on how to help me conquer shinyitus definitely welcome!). Only then, is there any kind of real hope for improvement. That’s the kind of hope chess that I think even Dan Heisman would approve of.
So for all you other aspiring future masters out there (especially if you're a little long in the tooth such as myself), we’ll just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and like Bill says, we’ll eventually get there. I hope to make blogs of my journey a kind of regular feature. Move over Silman—you can only imagine the amateur’s mind. This one aint Memorex ;-)