My grandfather taught me the moves. Don't know if I ever beat him. I considered myself a rather good player until I joined a club and lost every game I played, even from the weakest players. I Stopped playing for years until a few years ago when I realised that I lost because I didn't think. The time pressured me to move. Now I'm learning how to think about defence, positions and plans to attack and to overcome my haste and anxiety. I'm still losing games, but winning some too, which feels kind of nice.
Thanks to chess.com. A marvelous site. Happy to be playing here.
In many discussions on chess it has been mentioned in one way or another that you yourself are the biggest obstacle in winning and/or improving on you chess games. I think there is a lot of truth in that. After all, if it were just a matter of calculation there wouldn't be any 'wrong' moves or mistakes and everybody could be a grandmaster if he or she takes time to study. As this is clearly not the case there must be another reason why people at some point or another are obstructed in advancing. I found that that obstruction lies in myself. Moreover, i think that each and everyone of us is haunted by a host of different demons that take delight in messing up your concentration and clear thinking.
It was the Chinese General Sun Tsu who wrote in his "The Art of War" That for one who knows his enemy and himself, every battle will be won. Now the only way to know the enemy in chess is by the moves he makes, but You yourself can know yourself, which gives you a great advantage, as then you can avoid your own mistakes and take advantage of the weaknesses and demons of your opponent. What I mean by demons will be clearer later on.
Chess is a matter of concentration. If one is really concentrated on the situation on the board, without distraction, there will automatically be played an excellent game if the player knows strategics and tacticts and so forth. But this hardly ever happens. It's safer to say that the one who makes the gravest mistake loses than to say that the best player wins. However that may be, I decided to observe myself regarding and during chess games and make a list of the things that in some way are impairing my concentration and logical, clear headed thinking.Like I said, I discovered there are a host of them and I started listing them, so I could drive these demons out. And although I I don't have a high rating, my game (and rating) is clearly improving since I started to notice them, thereby weakening their influence.
It is my intention to put the list here, with comentary and examples where possible. I hope it can be of use for any player, regardless of his or her rating. As it will be an extensive piece of text I will post updates here from time to time until it is complete. For so far as a list like these can ever be complete of course. The purpose of posting it on line is so that other people can find and neutralise their own demons.
So I'll finish the first part and introduction here by explaining what I mean by demons. These demons are natural traits that serve the survival of the individual. But sometimes these traits get confused and obstruct one another and especially logical thinking. Take for example fear and panic. In a situation where you're life is threatened and immediate action is required, rour body instantly shuts off your reasoning facility and takes over by either resisting or evading the acute threat. This is a necessary mechanism for survival. There is no time to think a lot when in immediate danger. Now there is a game of chess where a simulation of a fight takes place. On the one hand You are playing tricks with your own reality, because this war or fight is not a real war, but an innocent abstract simulation of a war, where no one gets hurt. But you want to win and you don't want to lose and then, during the middle game, when everything is going perfect for you, your opponent makes a move that threatens to shatter everything you've built up into pieces. You break into a cold sweat and a feeling of panic set in. This Situation Has To Be Resolved!! NOW!! is the only thought in your head as you lost all sense of time and clear thinking and make the first move that comes in mind. A panic move, which was just what your opponent was waiting for as he crushes your defence. But there wasn't any need for panic or immediate action. If you would have cooled down a bit and had examined the situation clear headed you would probably find that there was an easy response to the threat you were facing and that your opponent only relied on your panic. I give this as an example of what I coined "demons".
Of course, everything I'll write is subjective and when I write "you" I mean "I". Other people may not have the same "demons" or think this is self-evident. But it is interesting to observe the stuff that is involved in a game of chess outside of logical thinking and calculation.
1 - Fear
There is a Dutch saying which reads "Fear is a bad counselor" And I think this is particularly the case in chess.
I've only started playing regularly about six months ago and before that, when somebody asked me to play a game of chess and I couldn't really refuse I would be in a panic from the first move to the last. I knew my openings sucked and I felt like I was slowly being crushed every time. This fear really obstructed my concentration on the "problem" and at moments it would evolve into sheer panic like in the situation I described above. This made me lose almost every game.
Solution: Play often and against different players. The fear and panic will go away, I guess because the subconscious learns that there is no actual threat involved. A chess game becomes a puzzle to be solved instead of a battle that is waged against you. Only then will one enjoy chess I think. It really doesn't matter if you win or lose if both players give it their best shot. Of course you still want to win, but losing won't be such an emotional disaster if you regard a seemingly lost position the same as a winning one, namely a challenge to resolve the situation. In fact I found that I think better when someone puts the thumb screws on me than when I have to form a plan myself. So just ignore your fear and play the game
and the fear will go and turn into enhanced concentration.
2 - Under- and overestimation
Since playing on Chess.com I've been judging players by their ratings. This I found had some implications. When playing against a much higher rated payer I would overestimate his abilities and play too cautious, all the while in a state of panic. But higher rated players are not infallible nor supermen/-women. As I found out, even players with higher ratings also make mistakes or don't always see what you're planning.
On the other hand I would underestimate players with a lower rating, which made me play sloppy and without thinking and as a result I lost more than one game.
Of course this works both ways. An opponent with a higher rating may underestimate you and become sloppy, or a player with a lower rating might be intimidated by your rating.
By the way: Sometimes I feel sorry for players who lose every game and I feel inclined to let them win a game to boost their confidence. I decided not to do that. It's not respectful to the opponent and the opponent doesn't learn anything from it.
I think the best solution to over- or underestimation is to play every game as if it were a stronger player than you. That way you will give every game your full coolheaded attention.
Tiredness/exhaustion and numbness
As chess is a matter of clear headed logical thinking and concentration on the game at hand it speaks for itself that tiredness means that there isn't enough energy for the brain to spend on complex deliberations. So my experience is: don't play chess when tired or exhausted If you are set on winning. The tiredness can have external causes, but it also can come about after playing a lot of games and a certain numbness and/or disinterest comes about.
Don't play until you have rested. In the case of chess numbness: lay off the game for a time and concentrate on other things.
These can be manyfold, but anything that keeps occupying the mind instead of the the situation on the board will not be conducive to the concentration needed to solve the game. When you just heard your wife is sueing for divorce or you just got fired it will take a very stoïc mind to forget about this and concentrate on a game of chess. Or maybe some training in meditation.
Either wait untill your problems are solved or at least the initial storm of the fact has settled down, or train yourself in what they call meditation, meaning calming down the inner emotional disturbances and shutting out everything that disturbs the mind except the object of concentration at hand, in this case the game(s) of chess you are playing.