22 August 2020

Bad chess attitudes #3: My losses are too painful; everything is good in my wins; draws are just boring; so no need to look at my games

I'm highlighting in a short series of posts some bad chess attitudes that can harm our performance and hold us back from improving. To avoid being seen as too judgmental, I'll only share ones that I've struggled with myself.

Bad attitudes #1 and #2 both involved reacting in an unhealthy manner to your opponent's choices - in openings and time management, respectively - which in turn meant not focusing not enough on your own play. Here, it's about your game results and what you do with them.

Bad attitude #3 (expanded version): my losses are due to blunders too painful to look at; everything must have been good with my wins; draws are indecisive (and boring); so there is no need to analyze my games afterwards.

The above sentence I think sums up well my own (superficial) attitude about my games for the majority of my chess career, starting at the scholastic level. This sort of reaction to our results I believe is fairly common and is even understandable, while unproductive.
  • It is in fact difficult to relive losses, especially ones involving painful blunders. This is the first hurdle to get over. Giving yourself a bit of time before fully reviewing the game can help, as after a day or a week the emotional reaction is lessened and you can look at the game score more objectively.
  • A certain amount of work and energy is necessary. This means saving full game analysis until after a tournament, for example, when you are more hungry for chess again. Recording some initial comments and thoughts can help capture your thinking process in the moment - a good time for this is while you are putting a game into your personal database - but it will be more productive to save the heavy lifting for later.
  • Feeding games to an engine in order to see where you and your opponent blundered, then filing them away does not count as analyzing your games. This was part of my own practice for over a decade of non-improvement (see "The Long Journey to Class A"). It is now even easier to do this, thanks to the capability for near-instant "analysis" of games on major chess sites (such as Chess.com). In reality, this consists of a single engine pass that evaluates positions at a relatively low ply (move) level. This may have some use as an immediate blunder-check tool, along with its entertainment value; however, judging from public comments, many players take it far too seriously.
  • Your wins and draws contain just as many lessons for improvement as your losses. Serious work will reveal flaws in your wins, sometimes even more so than in your losses. (This may be part of why people avoid performing an objective analysis of all of their serious games.) It will also highlight strong moves and ideas that you found, as well as general patterns of your strengths and weaknesses over time. This type of self-knowledge and increased chess understanding cannot come from any other source.
The basic problem with bad attitude #3 is that if you keep on doing the same things without understanding why, you will end up getting the same results. "Why don't I progress if I play a lot?" is a common refrain. I do think that relatively frequent play, especially with opponents near or (ideally) somewhat above your current level, is necessary for improvement. Once you reach a certain point where simply playing more is not teaching you enough, however, it is time to go deeper in your understanding of chess, which of necessity includes analyzing your own games

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