A Long Time Absence-Long Time Debate

A Long Time Absence-Long Time Debate

Troffy
GM Troffy
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5

Hello chess.com! 

It has been a little over 5 years now since I have updated my blog, so I figure it’s about time!

Besides posting blogs, some of you may have noticed that I have been absent from the chess scene altogether. From October 2017-October 2019 I was living in Australia serving as a missionary from my church. I did still have some opportunities to play chess, but pretty limited as my focus was directed in other places. 

This has helped me gain some insight into something I have heard talked a lot about before, but had never experienced for myself. Which was the debate about what part of your chess ability starts to struggle the most when you stop practicing?

For the longest time I had always believed it to be calculation. I remember being told once that even Kasparov, who has been retired from chess for many years, still spends a good amount of time keeping up his chess game especially in calculation. The coach I had for 5 years GM Alex Chernin strongly recommended that I always make sure I do at least an hour of calculation a day, but that was an “at least” thing, not the recommended amount. In Australia for two years I definitely can say I did not keep up with that. And I definitely felt the effects. 

I played a few simuls while I was in Australia and did an event where I did two simuls in one day. The first a 20 game simul and another 22 game simul to follow (which was meant to be a 20 game simul, but two more people really wanted to join in). It was a full day and it would be easy to expect that I would struggle more in the second simul feeling the effects of fatigue. It turned out however that the first simul is where I struggled, losing two games and drawing another, and the following simul even though I should have been more tired and where I also believe my opponents had a higher average rating, I won all of them. 

I have actually been slightly skilled (and mostly lucky) over the years having only ever lost one game in simuls I have given, which has included players above 2000. So doubling that in one simul was definitely not the highlight of my day. I had only played a handful of games in the previous 5 months and had fallen away from doing some of that basic calculation and thinking ahead that usually keeps us out of trouble, which they unfortunately took full advantage of and beat me. Although what I found to be remarkable about it all was that I felt more energized and ready for the second simul. Playing a good amount of games-and especially losing a couple of them-was the kickstarter I needed to play better, and I felt that I was thinking more clearly than the previous simul. 

I use that example because even though it didn’t make up for hours of practicing, I still feel that my calculation had faded a bit, and even the 20 games I played first got me back to thinking the way I needed to for the following 22 games. 

With all of that said however, calculation is not what I have struggled with the most with being back and playing more (pretty much online). If you have played me online you may have clued in on what I struggle with the most (some of you may be in disbelief it isn’t calculation after some of me moves), but my biggest challenge has been openings. Especially for Black I play very theoretical openings (Grunfeld and Najdorf) which are openings that after not looking at them for two years some variations I have absolutely no recollection of. So if I have played what seems to be a very dubious opening against you, that might be why. The other reason is likely that I just enjoy throwing my h-Pawn and trying to sacrifice stuff #everygamewithwhite. 

So what am I going to do about it? Well, this actually feels like somewhat of an opportunity for me. Before I was not the most flexible in what I played, I definitely took the approach most times of playing what always play and just trusting I know it better than my opponent, or throwing out an uncommon move/novelty on move 15. But if you played me as White and you played d4 you could always expect the Grunfeld and would always be correct. So yeah I want to review my previous openings and refresh them, but I say it is an opportunity because it feels like a perfect time to work on being more flexible and learning more openings. 

Now, I have had quite a number of people ask if I am going to get back into chess like I was before, and right now I am not necessarily thinking I will. It is a very personal decision and one that would likely take a whole other blog to really get into. But for now I am focusing on teaching and increasing the number of people I am working with, while also getting back into the swing of some things. Like, calculation and openings .

If you have experienced the contrast of practicing a lot to not practicing a lot please share some of your insights in the comments. If you haven’t experienced that contrast but just have some thoughts feel free to share that in the comments too! 

I will leave you with a fun finish in one of my recent blitz games (credit to Sergey Matsenko though, he beat me pretty handily in a couple of the games we played):