Concrete Problems, Part 1
Another kind of concrete problem.

Concrete Problems, Part 1


    I have serious mixed feelings about the "two introductory paragraphs" requirement. So many times it keeps me from getting right to the point. But this time it gave me tons of material, so I can forgive it for now.

    Welcome to a new series, as always. This one is like my Why Players Plateau series, if you've read it. I talk about stuff here which is not always and often rarely mentioned in discussions of improvement. This series, too, serves as a reminder of why chess is so hard, but it's also about one specific thing. Where the WPP series featured me educationally griping and moaning about stress and blunders and a jumbled thought process and all those other things, this series is about one thing only: concrete problems in chess and (maybe) how to solve them more effectively.

    If you search "concrete problems" on Google, the results have nothing to do with chess. They don't have anything to do with anything, unless you're a DIYer or currently managing a construction program. What they have everything to do with is concrete, showing pages upon pages about what to do if your concrete cracks and how to prevent it.

    That's why when I was looking for a thumbnail for this blog, I had my eye on a nice 630x354 piece of decorative concrete with some pretty serious cracks. But alas, Google screwed me over again and gave me a picture of a crumbling house in Mayo, Ireland, among other things.


A third kind of concrete problem.

    So I removed the word "problems", and after looking up and down the list and looking at the eventual thumbnail about five times, I realized it was perfect, an image of plans thwarted by other people.

    I'll turn the mic over now to Scottish IM Edward Dearing, so I can finally get to my point after all of this.

    "Let us name our chess player Ben... Ben's rating is a measure of how many problems he can solve." - IM Edward Dearing, Play the Nimzo-Indian

    Although this quote is from the introduction to an opening book (!), it contains more than a grain of truth. I've succumbed to problems posed by my opponents more times than I can count, and I bet you have too.

    Those experiences have convinced me that problems, as much as mistakes, are the currency of amateur chess. After all, amateurs are not nearly as awful as some titled players who I won't name here would have you believe: give us a position where blunders and mistakes aren't waiting to happen and we'll play it quite decently, maybe even well.

    It's when there are problems we have to solve that things often go haywire, often terribly so, and it only takes a little push.

    That push is a concrete problem.

    Let me move back into my long tangent now, if you will, and I'll talk about something which isn't melted rock, but at the same time isn't what I was talking about, and I'll try to explain, in my usual long, winding, offbeat but oddly true way, what on earth a concrete problem is.

    Close your eyes and imagine a 1500 player playing a game... and now open your eyes because I forgot that you need to read this next part and imagine this: The 1500, playing against a stronger player, rattles off about 10 moves of theory and gets a fine position. Then an imposing, somehow threatening move is made, whether it's a concerted attack against a pawn, a knight coming into f4 or a pawn break.

    The 1500 wonders: Where did my advantage go? Is my position still fine? Can they really get away with this? Why is my position suddenly so uncomfortable?

    Do I have anything at all if I let that Knight into f4?

    The 1500 is me, and the game is a disastrous loss I suffered to an 1850 who, it turns out, was an engine, a game which I might never stop reprinting. It took just two concrete problems to bring me down.

    As we see in this game, concrete problems don't need to be tactical. They don't even need to be threats. All they need to be is menacing enough to make you panic and play something weakening. In this game, all I did was respond to Black's idea of ... Nf4 (the problem) with g2-g3 and my position became very, very ugly.
    Chess is a slippery slope: once you take one step down, it's hard to get back up.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog! Part 2 is coming next week, where I examine two very similar losses and relate them to the topic of concrete problems in chess. Be sure to leave a comment, follow my blog and join Blogosphere to get the most out of a quality blogging community.
    See you next week!