27 July 2023

Training quote of the day #44: Victor Korchnoi

 From the commentary to game 54 in My Best Games by Victor Korchnoi (2011 edition):

A clash of plans is a normal phenomenon in a full-blooded game. There are two ways of behaving in this case. For example, you can continue carrying out your plan in the hope of being the first to create real threats. Or, putting your own problems to one side, in the first instance you can try and prevent the opponent from activating his position. One of the greatest experts of this so-called preventive style was Tigran Petrosian. Mikhail Botvinnik, who was removed from the world chess throne by Petrosian, with a grudge in his voice called Petrosian a 'destroyer of ideas'. This implies that he himself was a creator... Meanwhile, to anticipate the opponent's plans and then forestall them is a great skill, in no way inferior to the skill of 'creating'! 

01 July 2023

Thoughts on "Intelligent Failures"

Failure is inevitable in chess: mathematically speaking, the more games you play, the more games you will eventually lose, because no player is perfect. This fact is why the emotional fear of losing games (and rating points) can be so pernicious to players' performance and growth. Chessplayers - like anyone - often have a hard time with the idea of exposing themselves to potential failure. In what is unfortunately a rather common phenomenon, this can lead to avoidance-type behavior, the logic being that feeling bad about your performance is best avoided - meaning, it is simply best not to play, to avoid losing.

Such behavior manifests itself in everything from dropping out of tournaments to ceasing to play entirely. I've been struck by how often I've seen comments in various places by people who have passed a particular (arbitrary) rating threshold - Class A, Expert, etc. - and then state that they have stopped playing to preserve their new status. This is a sign that such people are not really chessplayers - in the sense of having a love of the game and practicing it - but rather hobbyists for whom status in the community is what is the most important. To be clear, this is a personal choice, but then such people should not go around claiming they are "Expert" level or whatever if they have not played seriously in years; chess strength has nothing to do with old statistics.

I'm certainly not immune to such fears, which are common where status and by extension feelings of personal worth may be involved. So how can we best combat these fears? I think it is most important to divorce one's self-worth from one's rating, as well as suspending judgment of other players based on theirs; see "Ratings Fear and Loathing" for more thoughts on this.

Another important and useful method is to intellectually treat any failure as a learning experience - then actually learn from it. This is another reason why analyzing your own games is fundamentally important to progressing in chess strength.

The above thoughts were generated when reading "Are you squandering your intelligent failures?" on Medium by Rita McGrath. The basic idea is that "intelligent failures" - ones that occur after you do your best in a complex situation or challenge - need to be examined and analyzed for learning purposes; indeed, this is often the only way real learning can take place. These types of failures are in contrast to "basic" ones, which are due to simple inattention or carelessness - for chessplayers, an example would be a one-move blunder or major oversight.

The full article is worth reading, but here's how she characterizes "intelligent" failures from an organizational perspective - which seem very applicable to an individual chessplayer's practice as well, as I've noted in brackets. 

  • They are carefully planned, so that when things go wrong you know why [figure out which of your chess strategies or tactics failed, and why]
  • They are genuinely uncertain, so the outcome cannot be known ahead of time [no chess game outcome is certain!]
  • They are modest in scale, so that a catastrophe does not result [it is good to remember that losing a game is not a catastrophe]
  • They are managed quickly, so that not too much time elapses between outcome and interpretation [analyze the game while you can still recall your thinking about it]
  • Something about what is learned is familiar enough to inform other parts of the business. [you should recognize how to apply the lessons to future games]