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Chess and the power of psychology

Chess+Champ+Vishwanathan+Anand+with+Vladimir+Kramnik+of+Russia+29Oct08.jpg

What does it take to win tournaments, to become a champ? "You must have mastered the necessary skills" is the obvious answer but is it enough? Usually there are many players on the same level so the psychology plays an important role. You have to believe that you can win.

For a chess patzer like me the situation isn’t that different. At the moment I lack the skills to be on the same level as the masters but, as we have seen in countless games, even they make mistakes. You must believe and wait for your chance.

And if the chance doesn’t come or I blunder first? Well, this gives you the opportunity to learn from your own mistakes – and this is what chess is all about. To become better you have to go wrong, correct it and try again. Quite simple. ūüôā

Accepting defeats shouldn’t be too difficult for most of us, they are part of the game. What is more interesting is that believing in our skills covers other areas as well. When you think that you are bad at calculation, visualization or playing endgames then this negative thinking will manifest in the games.

  • you stop calculating too early, or don’t trust the result and spend endless time to verify it
  • you overestimate your opponent’s chances because you don’t have enough trust into your position
  • you play quick moves in the endgame because "sooner or later you will err anyway"

There is this famous quote from Henry Ford:

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Imagination plays an important role in our life. It’s time to put down the Patzer attitude and let our mind know that we are currently master candidates who will become masters and win tournaments!

For adults it’s difficult if they see no progress. You get stuck, don’t know exactly what to fix and think that "this one special book" will open your eyes and start the breakthrough. The bad news is that it doesn’t exist but this is a topic for next time.

To keep the motivation up and guide the mind into the right direction it’s a great thing to use your imagination. If the desire is strong enough then the mind will follow, otherwise the conscious mind will never stop arguing that "you will never make it", that you are "such a poor player" or that "you are too old to compete with the kids".

This is all very logical but did mankind go to the moon because it looked logical? No, they accepted the challenge and made it happen. It didn’t take away the real work, the countless hours, frustration and it didn’t prevent disasters. It put the mind at work and it succeeded…

It’s your choice what you believe – make the right choice.

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Soon back again

It’s been some time, dear followers, but I plan to post regular updates to my blog very soon. It will be about chess again and I will document my tries here so that one can see if the approaches have worked or not.

The reflection how something has worked is a pretty important step when it comes to learning. Everybody thinks and learns different so taking the time to find out what works best for me and then to review how effective it really was is time well spent.

Just to give you a quick idea, in general people learn from visuals, from listening and from doing something. Usually there is a preference, e.g. I am able to grab things quickly when I hear them or play with words that sound similar. Visuals are also good but other people are able to visualize things much better than I do which is extremely useful in chess. Being able to see positions and variations helps enormously.

What does this mean for me? Do I have a disadvantage? Maybe, but it’s something that can be fixed. I just need to focus harder on visualization, which will help me to memorize key positions better. Everybody can do it, it’s just a matter of training and focus. Recognizing this shortcoming was the first step.

We have to think big and embrace our dreams!

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Chess and Goals

We hear from the super motivators out there that you have to set high goals to achieve something. That’s the way to create our own future, to force our brain to look for hidden ways to make something happen.

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So what is a good goal? When I say¬†I want to become a chess grandmaster then this isn’t really a smart goal. It’s a¬†dream¬†that not only depends on me but also on my opponents and while I only¬†have to win against many GMs, it doesn’t exactly tell me how to do it.¬†¬†

There are some interesting research studies available that point out that¬†outcome oriented¬†goals can quickly kill the motivation unless you already have the abilities (like Nakamura who sees himself as the big threat for Carlsen). It creates fear and puts a lot of pressure on you to perform well and for us Patzers this is a sure way to feel frustration. The same goes for internet chess with its ELO rating. Playing fast games doesn’t help to make progress, it’s just an indicator and pretty accurate. It’s our wrong self picture (hey, I am 100 points stronger and I must¬†close the gap) that boycotts honest efforts and hurts in the long run.

Process oriented¬†goals are different. They focus on doing something right and forgive mistakes. One knows that learning a skill takes time and failing is part of the process. The motivation stays up and one day you have made it. At least in theory. ūüôā

In chess you can for instance

  • learn to avoid blunders
  • learn to think right to find better moves
  • learn a good opening repertoire
  • practice tactical motif 1 to x
  • practice calculation
  • learn about elements of chess strategy 1 to x
  • study typical middlegame positions
  • etc.

Each single item can be tracked and once you have mastered everything you should have the skills to beat the masters. The actual game will help you to find out what is still missing so instead of being afraid to lose you look forward to it to measure your progress.

In our success oriented Western culture it’s not easy to follow such an approach. Calming yourself, giving your best in a game and knowing that on any day everything is possible will help. If you run into a line that your opponent knows much better than you can easily lose against weaker players.

Should this make you upset? No! Learn from your mistakes and next time you will play better. One also has to keep in mind that at a certain level winning requires taking risks. This will backfire from time to time but without taking risks too many games only end in a draw.

eddison_bulb

Of course we don’t want to be like Edison who has found¬†10’000 ways that wont work until he had the best material for his light bulb. We stand on the shoulders of chess giants, from Steinitz to Carlsen, and can learn from their games.

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A game from the lower league

First of all a quick update: I have added a link to my game in the first round of the championship. Use the Export function to download the pgn if you wish.

Last Saturday my team faced the current top team in the lower league and we won the match. My game (which you can replay here) first looked like a quick disaster but turned into a convincing win. That’s chess!

A completely wrong evaluation happened in this position:

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Here I played¬†7…Ng4??, an absolute terrible move. I can’t afford any aggression in the early part of the opening and in addition I exchange one of my strongest pieces. In such a setup with e6 I can’t give away the dark squared bishop like this.¬†

Fortunately my opponent now played without the pieces and just pushed the pawns so after a careless moment I was able to turn the game:

diagram004

After¬†17…Nxf5 there are no real threats on the king side and the position is much easier to play for Black. The increasing pressure gave me the chance for a nice tactical blow:

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29…Be4!¬†wins another pawn but as I have found out later it’s a bit tricky if White replies with¬†30. Rc3 dxc3 31.Nxe4. Now the move Qg7 to push away the queen is not good and runs into a knight fork that wins back the rook.

After the text move¬†30.Rd2¬†I missed the killing¬†30…Nf7!!, which will immediately win White’s queen. We played on a bit longer but the win was never in doubt. At the end I could have finished the game with a clear mate-in-4 in the following position but one gets no extra points for beauty and after¬†57…Rg3 White gave up, made a rook move and so allowed¬†58…Qa1#.

Black to play and mate in 4

Black to play and mate in 4

That was a fine win to boost the confidence! Let’s see how my tournament continues on Friday.

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From my buddy Paul at Facebook:

¬†“The Rules: In your status line list 10 books that have stayed with you. Don’t take more than a few minutes and don’t think too hard. They don’t have to be great works, just ones that have touched you. “

I only use Facebook to get access to other people’s stuff so I post my list here. In no particular order and with only 1 entry per author:

  1. “Book of the New Sun” by Gene Wolfe
  2. “Cat’s Cradle” by Kurt Vonnegut
  3. “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler” by Italo Calvino
  4. “Foucault’s Pendulum” by Umberto Eco
  5. “Hyperion” by Dan Simmons
  6. “Brilliant Air, brilliant Fire: On the Matter of the Mind” by Gerald Edelman
  7. “Downward to the Earth” by Robert Silverberg
  8. “Golden Age” by John C. Wright
  9. “Case and the Dreamer: And Other Stories” by Theodore Sturgeon
  10. “Watchmen” by Alan Moore

What would be your top 10?

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Beloved Stranger

One of my favorite writers is Theodore Sturgeon. He has written some fantastic short stories and it’s always a pleasure to to re-read them. He made a point of “asking the next question“:

Q-ask the next question

If something doesn’t feel right or if someone tells you that this is the way how it always has been, ask questions and challenge the status quo.

All his short stories have been published in 13 volumes by a publisher that usually has other books in his portfolio. Only the enthusiasm of the editor Paul Williams made it possible to finish such a big project. It must have been pretty close at the end because after a bicycle accident and a miracle healing he started to get dementia in 2004 and his mental state went downhill.

What kind of life this is for the spouse you can read in the notes that she has prepared for a talk in San Diego, or go to Paul’s website to learn more about the man.

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Austrian Reggae

Reggae from Austria? Yesss! Pretty cool stuff:

But “Faia Salamanda” (a wordplay of Feuersalamander meaning fire salamander) was not the main act. This honor went to the S√∂hne Mannheims, a german band with soul, funk, rock and reggae influences, fast and slow. They rocked!

No real good live video is available on YouTube, only an older one but take a look:

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