Tilt, Learning Plateau & Future Resolutions
A couple of months ago I seemingly got stuck at the 97-98th percentile of correspondence chess. This frustrated me and I lost 100 rating points quite quickly. After recovering about 50 points I decided the reason I reached a plateau was that correspondence chess was boring me a bit and I decided to go back to live games. I picked the Blitz format because my rating there was the most mediocre, 90th percentile, say what?!
Fast forward a couple of months and a couple hundred or so blitz games later and I reached the same problem. Stuck at the 93th percentile, tilting, losing 10 games in a row making the most horrendous moves. It was at this point I realised I play completely different when my rating is below what I think I should be, a common characteristic of chassing your losses, tilting. I took a step back and decided to find a solution. My search led me to a book entitled The mental game of poker by Jared Tendler, a sport psychologist. The insights I drew were extremely helpful.
Jared cites the Adult Learning Model (ALM) theory in his book which describes how certain skills we know (or don't) have four different levels of competence. The levels are Unconscious Incompetence, Conscious Incompetence, Conscious Competence and Unconscious Competence. Most GMs can win blindfolded against multiple opponnents because most of their skills lie in the Unconscious Competence category.
The problem that we, as learners have is that most of the skills we think we know are actually still in the Conscious Competence category. These skills are fragile and require utmost attention and focus for us to execute them properly. If emotions show up, including time pressure, these skills go out of the window and we start playing a subpar game. Jared argues that emotions are difficult to control and perhaps counterproductive as well, therefore the best way to stop emotions (or tilt) affecting your play is to move more skills to the Unconscious Competence category, aka the skills that show up irrelevant of how you are feeling.
Think about it, even in time pressure, you won't try to move your queen like a knight, right? That's an example of UC and that's where we need to bring the rest of our skills up to. Furthermore, if you are a beginner then it's likely a lot of your skills are either in the UI or CI category! For instance, if you know that moving a piece twice during the opening is considered bad, but do not know what to do about it then that skill is in the Conscious Incompetence category. Once you learn that you must complete development of all your pieces because it is an integral part of the game, this skill moves up to the Conscious Competence category.
Jared also uses a helpful example of an inchworm to drive the point home, but to keep things short I will put forward some concrete findings based on this principle that apply to my game:
1. When I reach a plateau and stop climbing rating points as fast, I get frustrated, my emotions are all over the place. This means I start playing worse than usual because all the things I think I know go out of the window.
2. To improve, I need to identify which of these skills are still at the CC level and study them to finally get them over to the UC level. When I do this, my rating will naturally climb up until I reach another plateau at which point I have to find the next UC skills to promote.
3. On the basis of that logic, I realised that I do not practise prophylaxis on every move as I should. Therefore I resolve to make it a commandment that I shall ALWAYS analyse what my oponnent's move intends before I plan my own move. Sounds simple enough, but the trick is to get used to doing it EVERY move. Bring it to the UC level.
4. I also realised how I stopped studying as much, and therefore I resolve to quit playing live games once again until I reach the 99th percentile on correspondence. Meanwhile, I will do the tactics trainer and hopefully double my tactics time from 48 hours to 100 hours. Bring some more tactical patterns to the UC level.
I realise this post is very technical, psychological and lacks detail. However, in order to go in more depth I would end up writing a chapter of a book. I will leave that for later.