"...a Chessmaster should be a combination of a beast of prey and a monk."

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Navel Gazing

                I've been a bit distracted from chess for a little while now. I've just had various things going on. I did finish out a term in the FICS teamleague, and did complete a qualifier for the chess.com slow chess league. Still, I was a bit frustrated with league play because I had a very bad losing record over several rounds. Not sure why it was but it seemed that I could do well against people near my level if I was playing slow time control whenever I felt like it, but in the league I would lose to people who were rated lower than me. There seemed to be several possibilities. 1) Just bad luck in it being a string of losses that don't mean much. There really weren't all that many games altogether so maybe it wasn't really significant that I was on a losing streak in league games. 2) One idea is that despite the fact that I scheduled the games, the fact that they were scheduled ahead of time meant that I often wasn't really in my optimal mood for chess when it was time. Of course this is a character defect of mine. When I spontaneously decide to do something I can really put a lot of myself into it. However, when I feel I have to or ought to I encounter a psychological block. 3) Another possibility is that the people I was playing were putting more effort into the games because they were league games and so they were out-performing their rating while I was playing at or below my rating. Anyway, I don't suppose any of this really matters. The important thing is whether I will continue playing chess.

      Lately, I've been playing some go again and even trying my hand at shogi as well as well as a few games of Chinese chess a couple of days ago. Still, I feel that as it stands I like the feeling of a well played western chess game better than the feelings I get from playing those games. Of course it could be a question of familiarity but I really enjoy the feeling of really being immersed in a game and pushing at the limits of my ability that comes from playing a good quality (compared to my ability level) slow game of chess. My friend RudiV has been a good part of that. Fortunately, after having taken a lengthy hiatus from our weekly sessions he's back now, so this should be a point to kick me back into the swing of chess studies and playing.

      So, as a result, I've started playing some games on chess.com. One thing that took me by surprise was how much my skill level had deteriorated. I was playing like someone who just learned the rules and making horrible disgusting moves. Anyway, I did play one game today so far where I felt my level was coming back a bit. So hopefully I can get back up to speed by next Wednesday when it looks like I will be playing RudiV again.

       Another topic of interest is study methods. I think in some ways playing games is the best way for me to get better. I've heard somewhere that study time and playing time should be the inverse of eachother. When you are starting out, you should play a lot and not study very much whereas when you are really good you study very much and don't play as often. I'm clearly closer to the beginning than to the top.

        Still, one thing I berate myself for is that I am not very good at studying. I spend a lot of time on just randomly browsing books or looking at random chess videos or looking up openings in FCO that I don't really intend to play. I guess it seems like I should be methodically working through one book at a time, or one training DVD at time page by page or game by game following through all of the variations and thinking about each of the moves. Anyway, I don't think that is wrong, but recently I saw a couple of different people talking about the value of just browsing through chess materials. One was Andrew Soltis in his "How to Study Chess" book. He makes the point that a lot of chess learning is actually below the surface. Not necessarily happening at the conscious level. In this sense he argues that actually just kind of browsing through material is actually part of the process. Hard to say if this is a case of someone telling you what you want to hear so you will pay them to keep saying it or whether there is any truth in it. Still, it seems that it is partly confirmed by Jeremy Silman recently on chess.com where he talks about the value of playing through lots and lots of high level games very fast, that is literally at less than a minute per game. Now it's clear that there are some big differences here. The thing Silman is talking about it not browsing through 20 games with limited attention over the course of a couple of weeks. He's talking about looking through thousands of games in a quite short period of time. So it seems that there are some similarities in that he is talking about learning a lot in a more subconscious way but at the same time by doing a lot of work.

           As a person, I feel that I am undisciplined. One of the reasons that I think something like this project to achieve a 2000 rating is useful to me is because I think I would benefit as a person from seeing the project through. Of course it has to be something I like and want to do in the first place but I think the project is a good one. Still, I think I also have unreasonable expectations of myself. Like somehow I will suddenly be able to be extremely regular in my study habits and proceed in a logical and methodical manner in all aspects of my rise through the ranks. So I think there needs to be a middle ground where I am in the process of getting more methodical but where I don't expect myself to be all robotic about it. Certainly it's absurd to think that I will train like an IM or GM for a whole host of reasons.

        I think burnout is kind of an issue for me. I can get really obsessive about something and pursue it with all my free time for a while but then the interest peters out and it's like I ate too much of a certain kind of food and the taste no longer seems appealing. Maybe if I were to be a little more balanced in terms of reserving some of my time for other things it would help me to maintain more of an even keel with it. Anyway, it's all speculation but something I would like to try.

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