Learning by mistakes

Oct 21, 2009, 4:37 AM |

I guess everybody has heard or read that you shouldn't be grudging your own mistakes, as there is always something to be learnt from them. And consequently playing through your lost games is supposed to yield some improvement as well.


How often have I heard this phrase, and how often have I cursed it for it's simple and somewhat naive wisdom, as I still hated making mistakes!

Maybe I should explain that I'm the type of person who seems to pick up things rather easily, it's improving from a rather good start which poses the most problems. For example, I have been rather good at school without much exercising effort, and the same goes for chess: After taking up the game, I soon became a fairly decent player. My deficits lay in rather technical things like the correct calculation of variations, or remembering opening variations by heart. All these things can be improved by practice, but I rather chose to avoid them altogether: I took up the English and the Réti opening and some rock-solid defences as Black, such as the accelerated dragon or the QID, and managed to outplay many opponents positionally without ever giving them the opportunity to start some fireworks tactics. Of course at times I could not always avoid the game to go tactical, and that is where I would lose, even if the initial position seemed quite favourable for me.


So some years back I decided upon a radical change of my repertoire, when I took up some agressive 1.e4 lines including the Evans Gambit as White, and finally did some tactical exercises. The effect was amazing: My otb rating grew from somewhere around 1650 to about 1950.

Yet one thing still remained the same: I was always afraid of making mistakes, because it is easy to think you cannot afford to do that, since everyone around you considers you to be a strong player. Consequently I would spend endless time on preparing the perfect opening repertoire (which of course never featured in my games since either my opponent or I would still forget the book moves), think too long during the game only to end up in time trouble and blow it anyway. Of course afterwards I would complain that I had outplayed my opponent and should have won hadn't I blundered so horribly in timetrouble. Oh well...!

It is quite striking that I would play my best games when two conditions were met:

  1. When I managed not to care about the result or my rating, which happened quite rarely, but alway to good effect.
  2. When I was kicked out of my opening book and had to play creatively from very early on.

So at long last I found out that maybe I didn't have to know so much about theory but just should play with a kind of relaxed attitude, permitting myself even to play a move the consequences of which I couldn't really work out, and filing the result under learning experience. To that end I have started to play all kinds of opening variations which I'm not to familiar with, just to get a feel for the resulting positions. The most recent addition to this is something I have avoided through 20 years of chess "career": 1.e4 e5 as Black. I have been successful at times, but also I have made some mistakes which will be of absolute "beginner" status to most of you. I am going to show you an example in a moment, but before that I would like to thank my friend Greg (aka ClaypOT) whose completely unpretentious and relaxed attitude towards ratings in general and losing in particular has served as a guiding light for me and virtually opened my eyes. Thank you, Greg!


So the mistakes in this game were of a pretty basic nature: One theoretical one, e.g. forgetting about the important move h7-h6, and after that I proved to be not prepared for the task of defending my king adequately, which is another relic from my hyper-positional times. Still, I suppose I learnt a bit from this game, and I don't care it actually cost me a hundred rating points either Smile Thank you to Dariusz!