Write about your psyche to win with Caissa: scribe your signature winning concepts!

Write about your psyche to win with Caissa: scribe your signature winning concepts!

NM eltenedor
Mar 13, 2015, 9:47 AM |

"Why do I win?" "Why do I lose?" There are so many factors at play, sometimes it's hard to figure it out. Caissa (the goddess of chess) doesn't make it easy! I suggest that writing is key to getting to the bottom of it -- and, ultimately, to winning more games. It all comes down to the tired maxim: know thyself.

I'd say that there are 4 general types of learning in chess: (1) learning by direct instruction (e.g., lectures, reading books, private or group lessons), (2) learning by attempting to solve problems, (3) learning by observation (e.g., watching others' games live or flipping through games of the greats online), and (4) learning by playing your own games, then analyzing those games. This blog entry is about the last concept.


First, learning from your own play and analysis requires a truly honest assessment of what went right and what went wrong in a game. If you lost, why did you lose? Was it psychological? Was it due to a lack of strategic understanding, or perhaps you need to sharpen up on your endings? Or maybe you just made an oversight and need to sit on your hands and double, triple, or quadruple check before hanging that queen? And if you won, why did you do well? Did your superior opening knowledge allow you to gain the edge? Or perhaps you slept well and drank watered down orange juice a la Carlsen that day?


Whatever it is, write it down. Write down why you thought you won and why you think you lost (and, to be constructive, what you could do better to win instead) as often as you can. Think of it as a sort of chess diary. In order to keep you honest with yourself, you may want to take a lesson or two to have a stronger player look over your games. But your assessment of what went right and what went wrong must ultimately be your own. It's what works, and what doesn't, for you. This is your chessing, no one else's. Celebrate how your idiosyncracies cause you to win and lose games (you're human)! Then write them down. Patterns will begin to emerge.


The ideas may be incredibly simple. For instance, during a tournament last year after losing a couple of games from superior positions I realized that, had I simply played with more patience, I likely would have converted those positions into wins. At the same time, I also needed to remember to not get too caught up in the nitty-gritty and to play with passion -- while still playing precisely, of course (what a wild balancing act chess is!). So I came up with three key words that were easy to remember, and which also served as motivation: Passion, Patience, Precision. And it worked. The second weekend of the tournament, applying these concepts (and the bitter frustration from having thrown 2 "masterpieces" against strong masters down the toilet) I scored 3/4. There you have it: The power of visualization and reinforcement in action, specifically tailored to your own strengths and weaknesses as determined by yourself and others.


Fast-forward a few months . . . after losing another couple of games from winning positions against very strong players last weekend, I got incredibly frustrated and wrote down a whole bunch more! Again, many of these are very simple, but that's the thing about chess: there are so many moving parts that even the simplest concepts can escape us at times! So we need to remind ourselves of them . . . over and over by creating a list, honing it, and internalizing it. As you can see, it begins as a sort of stream-of-consciousness brainstorming exercise that unfolds a bit:

  • Passion
  • Precision
  • Double-check
  • Lucid thinking 
  • Efficiency
  • Creativity
  • Exploration
  • No limits
  • Novelty
  • No expectations
  • Confidence
  • Determination
  • Fearlessness
  • Playing the board
  • Desire to win
  • Relentlessness
  • Deep analysis
  • Objectivity
  • Provocation
  • Follow-through
  • Technique
  • Imposition of will -- will-power
  • Patience
  • Accurate maneuvering
  • Planning
  • Purposefulness (see: Capablanca)
  • Tenacity
  • Resourcefulness (endgame studies)
  • Iron defense
  • Calculation
  • Using the opponent's clock
  • Consider all candidate moves
  • Focus
  • Move-by-move
  • Game by game
  • Every game an event (Carlsen)
  • Don't impress -- just play the best move
  • Consistency
  • Endurance
  • Calmness
  • Don't get cocky
  • It's not over till it's over -- the opponent is a rattlesnake till he resigns
  • Go for the simper solution when possible (if result is the same or clearer)
  • Go with your gut, unless you have a really good reason not to. That is, play simple chess; if you see a strange move, you must prove to yourself that it is better than the obvious move
  • Play the board while making it as uncomfortable for the opponent as possible
  • There's a time for dynamic play, a time for patient play, and a time for consolidation -- be fleixible and sensitive to what Caissa demands of you in each unique position 


I got 1.5/2 the following 2 games. I can hear the objections . . . "It was the frustration that led to better play, not writing down these concepts!" Who knows. But writing them down helps to keep me more focused, more in tune with what I need to do over the board, and more confident (in a sober sort of way). It's amazing how much these concepts have come in handy simply by reviewing them before the game. It becomes ingrained. And, slowly but surely, the psychological issues you face over the board (and we all have them) begin to fade, even if they may never disappear entirely!


So go ahead. Think of some concepts that you use to win and lose. Then write them down.


Caissa doesn't make it easy. Write her poetry. Then she'll let you play it.


Website: www.chessprofessor.net

Coach profile: www.chess.com/coach/david-bennett

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