Monday, May 28, 2007

Fighting Frustration and Disappointment

Every club player occasionally has to battle frustration and disappointment in his play and results. Part of the solution to this recurring problem is to examine your losses and discover, in a practical sense, what the biggest flaws in your game are at that moment. To simply think that you get beat by 'tactical tricks' is a cop-out. It avoids answering the tough questions about your own play - something that humans, in general, have difficulty doing. In our own selfish way, people generally overlook their own flaws. Being self-critical is an important step to improving your game and creating a realistic assessment of your chess skills.

For example, I recently played a game in which I, as black, managed to get an advantageous position. Everyone knows the ideas behind the Poisoned Pawn variation of the Najdorf and the inherent risks involved in that variation. Of course, I was very much aware of it, and even though the actual opening was not the Sicilian, the same themes and ideas were present in this line of play. Temporary chess blindness led me to snap off the b-pawn and as my opponent slid his King Rook across the board to attack and trap my Queen, fear and anger gripped me immediately. How could I miss such a simple tactic? I had simply not assessed the specifics of the position and had (incorrectly) assumed he would move the *other* rook. Resignation followed soon, not to mention some chess books hurled across the room in anger.

Now, dropping your Queen happens to everyone on occasion, especially if you are not careful. But the real focus of this game had to be looked at closer - I had a winning position, my opponent was on the ropes, and I blundered after playing a pretty good opening. I had to take the positives from this game and *forget* about the negatives, *forget* meaning to not dwell on the actual blunder but to identify and address the reasons behind my fallacious play.

I did several things wrong prior to this real boner of a move:

1) I *fell in love* with a pawn grab idea that was superfluous to the position.
2) This love affair led me to assimilate the idea to a well-known opening variation.
3) Knowledge of that idea made me lazy in looking at the specifics of the position.

The specific position is not important here: suffice to say that doubling of my Rooks on the e-file was probably sufficient enough pressure on my opponent's position to gain the full point. That really simple strategic idea - nothing fancy mind you - instead of pawn-grabbing on a side of the board that I had no advantage, was the correct path to take.

Examining positions in chess to gather together information about the imbalances consistently leads to better play. In this instance, I got drawn into grabbing material away from the theatre of battle (the Center/Kingside). This could be the first chapter of any novice book on how not to play chess.

How to Recover?
So, I've gathered back the books I flung across the room, with minimum damage, luckily (I had the presence of mind not to hurl the signed Kasparov #4 My Great Predecessors copy I have), but a couple of Everyman Chess 'Starting Out' tomes did not fare so well. Live and Learn.

So, how does one recover from such impetulant play? My first reaction was to drop out of the next round in Team Play and spend the week gathering my thoughts and trying to figure out how a Cat. A player can foresake one's Queen so blatantly in an otherwise winning position. After doing that, I replayed that game half a dozen times up to the point of blunder to make sure I understood why I would make such a terrible, hasty move. Many players would just soon forget thier bad moves, but if you forget history, you are doomed to repeat it, so I self-tortured for several roundtrips on the game then moved on to assess what I actually did right in the game. Here I found that I played fairly well during the opening against a somewhat similar strength opponent (if you believe online ratings - who does?), as far as Fritz goes (-/+).

The point here is that for every loss you must:

1) Feel good about the things you did right
2) Be honestly critical about the things you did wrong
3) Fix the problem

Copping out with the excuse of being the victim of a tactical trick only underlines a flaw in your play and a lack of understanding of the tactics in the position you were in. Take those positions and play them out from both sides against the computer until you exhaust all the possibilities. It can only help.

Chess is forever a game of small tweaks and adjustments to ones' play. When you cease to adjust your play based on the best feedback mechanism in the game (your losses), you cease to improve in any capacity.

Take your lumps, and take your losses. But be sure to take something FROM your losses. This is vitally important for improving your play.

1 comment:

Sciurus said...

I feel with you. Most of the things you described here feels just like me.