Learning how I learn, part 1

Jul 23, 2009, 6:14 PM |

I was inspired to join chess.com by James Bach.

James has written Secrets of a Buccaneer Scholar, a terrific book about self-directed learning. I recently read the book, which leaves me curious about how I learn.

One reason I joined chess.com, in addition to playing chess, is to observe how I learn. It's been a while since I've played chess. Twice in the 1980s I enjoyed six-month obsessions with chess. I worked my way up from complete novice to lousy club player. I played seven games at the Portland, Maine chess club, and won one, against a player who made one more blunder than I did. Since then I recall playing only one game, and that was in 1995.

So here's the current state of my chess skill: I vaguely remember some of the principles of opening play, though my opening repertoire consists entirely of 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4. I'm not entirely awful with tactics (I've run through a dozen or so of the Chess Mentor challenges). I remember the principle of "the opposition" in endgames. I don't know nuthin' 'bout no strategery.

And here's the state of my learning:

Right away I've reconfirmed something I already knew about how I learn. My immediate tendency, on exploring a "new" subject, is to rush out and buy books. I'm much less likely to experiment with the subject on my own.

Another tendency: I dislike memorizing facts and details, such as chess opening lines. I suspect I am also poor at it, but given my dislike I rarely create (or allow) an opportunity to test (or build) my skill at memorizing.

I'm much more eager to seek underlying principles that I can explore and experiment with. I love discovering, stealing, and testing the principles that seem to govern how things work. I can already feel that love at work here.

The challenge I remember from my earlier brief obsessions with chess is that chess has 8.31 gazillion principles, and they all come in contradictory pairs.

My dozen Chess Mentor challenges have already taught me this: When I know what principle to apply, I am reasonably good at applying it. I am not yet good at recognizing when each principle applies well to the situation on the board, and not yet good at prioritizing principles when multiple principles apply.