Your relationship to chess

Jun 5, 2008, 11:38 AM |

  Every chess player has a relationship to chess.  In some cases, the relationship is a little unhealthy.  I don't mean how serious he takes the game, or how often he plays, what I mean is his relationship to the ideas in chess, the maneuvers, the principles of chess, and his idea of how you accomplish things (on the chessboard).

  The most common type of relationship that I have seen, and to be honest I am still desperately trying to get free of, is a perfectionist attitude to chess.  You find the player with the highest rating, or the most authoratitive voice you can find in chess.  You then believe everything he or she says, while disagreeing with everything opposite of it.  

  Your attitude will go beyond what player's say, and will delve into openings, principles, and situations that can happen on the board.  In a previous blog post I mentioned this, for instance a player's view of the isolated pawn.  A healthy player will have examined this issue in depth, from both sides.  He will have taken an isolated pawn on purpose to experiment with it, and he will have played against it as well.  He has read the common plan, the plan B's, and he's developed numerous plans of his own on how to play such positions. 

  Contrast this with the perfectionist player.  Perhaps he never accepts an isolated pawn (regardless of how good it is), or if he does, he immediately feels uncomfortable and thinks he is losing.  

   In studying (or memorizing) openings, this happens as well.  The player will get an opening book, or a database, or listen to advice of other players, and he will compile a list of variations that he thinks are 'best', and if you deviate, you have played a 'bad' move.  He himself will never deviate.  Most likely he's memorized these 'best' lines, but doesn't understand why the moves are played, or any of the subtetlies that have been found from decades of world-class players playing these lines. 

  This kind of player will play like a grandmaster, but then the second you get them out of book their game will usually fall apart like a stack of cards.  Of course, every player has this problem to some degree.  


  Contrast this with a 'healthy' relationship to studying openings, one that can be found in the book 'The road to chess improvement'.  You play an opening, you get out of book, you come up with your own ideas, you play them, maybe they get refuted, then you go look at what the book says.  You're doing it interactively, not memorizing a huge list of moves and then trying to force yourself to play them even though you don't understand them.  Even though they may not be the main lines - you've learned alot about the structure of the position and the things that can happen because you've experimented moving your pieces all over the position.  

  There are many more aspects to a healthy relationship to the game in my opinion, and they deal with how you analyze, who you analyze with, what kind of games you play, what time controls you play, etc. 

  It's very easy to adopt some of the conservative judgement that you should never play speed chess.  Old chess players have been saying this for a long time.  However, if you look at new up-coming players, do they not play speed chess?  Do they not spend countless hours playing on ICC?  Do you see GM's training on the internet by playing a ton of slow chess?  You rarely see it at all.  It's not that they don't have the time.  

   These old, conservative players say that speed chess develops bad habits.  Supposedly, by playing speed chess, you are putting your mind in 'fast-forward' mode, and when you play a real standard game, you won't be able to 'slow down'.  

  I have a few counters to this argument.  First of all, the speed of analysis that you are forced to have to succeed in speed chess can directly translate over to slow chess.  You can literally keep the same analyzing tempo and just prolong the variations.  

   Secondly, the human being is a very flexible creature.  Successful humans learn how to adapt to the situation they are in.  While yes, some people are very, very slow to adapt, modern day children and younger people seem to have a very surprising adaptability to change.  So while playing a standard game, you simply change gears right at the beginning of the game.  

  Third, speed chess does something slow chess doesn't do - it lets you see thousands of positions rapidly and experience playing them regardless of how well you are playing the positions.  You begin becoming familiar with the openings you play, familiar with reacting to wild unpredictable situations.

    Fourth , and this is the most important point in my mind, is that you 'feel' the pieces.  In speed chess, or especially lightning, you have to have the skill to move a bishop to an unattacked square instantly.  No thought - just move it to an unattacked square.  You have to be able to naturally and without thought move all the pieces you have around the board to efficient squares very quickly.  And in my opinion, besides the fact that this can help you in a blitz finish to a slow game, it will mean you have the ability to analyze quicker as well.  The bishop that you just plopped on an unattacked square quickly in a real game becomes the bishop that quickly moves to an unattacked square in your mind.  If you don't have the ability to quickly make a move in a real game, how can you have it in your mind?  You are literally operating in slow-motion. 

  Remember, your relationship to chess will evolve.  Things you hold dearly now will get destroyed in the future, or, if you're stubborn, won't.  You will learn new things, you will fear things you now fear less, and you will have a new image of the game entirely.  I'd like to wish good luck to all improving players of every level as their relationship to chess changes.  Thanks.