Three Years a Beginner
I just re-read the reflections I wrote after my first year playing chess. I came across it again because, despite it being old and having only two comments, someone made a nice comment on it recently.
Time flies and now it's three years since the summer of 2014, when I first decided to learn a little. Looking back, I think I have some things to say to my two years ago self (really doesn't feel like like that long ago--not sure I believe it).
1. GETTING PSYCHED OUT
Getting psyched out is part of the competition. You can ignore it or wish it wasn't there, and just enjoy pure chess like some kind of beautiful mathematics or art (depending on your take), but to really win you have to acknowledge the human performance aspects in a "play to win" kind of attitude. If that isn't your thing, then games will be constantly stolen from you due to circumstance and lessons will not be learned.
The amount of ways circumstance, your opponent, and yourself can throw you off in new ways you might not handle are myriad. If you are tired for whatever reason that is going to make you prone to lazier decisions, having less grit for calculations and for personality struggles. Here's one example. I had a player get me thinking that the time control (OTB) was going to be a problem for him. At first it seemed I was gaining a little time on him each move, but it wasn't easy. I kind of pressured myself to keep my time lead. Then suddenly he sped up. He might have even gambled and stopped writing down the moves at one point, which might be illegal if I caught him and called the arbiter. It was like he set the bait, and kind of hypnotized me with a rhythm of play, then switched and then once he saw it worked he went into overdrive. Finally he offered a queen trade and I didn't look at it long enough. I avoided it, and missed tactics and my game was over. It could be all in my head--or it could be that I lacked experiences like these. But, either way, there is no way to handle this kind of situation well except by having experience like this, and then to learn as much as possible from it.
I have learned not to try to cram before competition. Whatever openings I know or don't know, I just stick with that and focus on being my sharpest. I have tried to get myself psyched up for a game. Not able to be lulled into thinking my opponent is my friend, or that their irritating behaviors are going to do anything other than make me play harder.
I think some people can approach chess without having to learn anything new about handling others or themselves--maybe they are very cool or cold--or maybe they already handle life this way constantly so to them, this isn't even visible to them as a feature of chess. For me, it's a very dynamic, challenging part of chess, and I really haven't scratched the surface of it.
2. LIVING IN THE PAST
I am haunted by my impressions of past chess ability. I remember weeks when my tactics were better than ever before. They faded and I can't get them back to that level. I have similar feelings about past play, even about my passion and interest in chess practice.
Real or not, these impressions give me a target and an idea of what's possible for myself, but they also seem unobtainable. I didn't obtain them by aiming for them--they happened before I ever knew what they were. So when they slipped away, probably aiming for them isn't going to help as much as just being good at whatever I was doing before. Sometimes I forget what really was working for me, and instead of doing it, I make other routines, and they become mundane, monotonous, like re-reaching where I should be already becomes this burden I have to bear. This is not the best attitude for improving. It's a distraction and the wrong way to think.
3. CHESS CLUBS AND OPPONENTS
I still don't like casual games. They are all the work of chess without all the intensity and experience of competitive ones. An important skill for me seems to be to do what it takes to never waste my time doing things I don't believe I should be doing due to social pressure.
I DO come across players who are both trying to get better AND worth playing (not too far above/below me). I should just meet with them and have serious OTB games, maybe a match that continues week to week.
I should just have the will to get away from people and advice that are misplaced. I won't be able to analyze with someone unless they have about the same level of experience and abilities as me.
Overall, I should decide in advance what kind of games and interactions I think are productive and unproductive and be a bit bold in pursuing that.
Making rules and routines for myself seems to be really helpful as far as getting in daily practice. Recognizing where opportunities fit in my "typical days" and then taking action is key. I can listen to key YouTube videos on the way to work. I can re-read that PDF that really gets in my head during some downtime at the office. I can play bullet games when waiting for mundane things. I can play longer online games at night. I can wake up early, go to a coffee shop and get my tactics in, free from distraction. I can use lunch as a study time.
Whatever your goals or passion, chess or otherwise, I think I am beginning to see ways forward better than two years ago. If I had stopped and thought about it, I could have seen it then. I was distracted by aiming for completing the wrong things. Some of it I just needed to experience, though, before I could build the dissatisfaction with what was happening and then figure out how to shift.
I like chess because for me it's a good area to discover how a lot of these things work. To me they are interesting because they aren't just about chess.