Monday, March 7, 2016

Chess Log: If You Want to Improve, Player Stronger Opponents

I played White:

1. e4 c5 2. ♘f3 ♘c6 3. d4 cxd4 4. ♘xd4 ♘e5 5. ♗f4 ♘g6 6. ♗g3 e5 7. ♘f3 f6 8. ♗c4 ♘8e7 9. ♕d5 ♘xd5 10. ♗xd5 ♗b4 11. c3 ♗a5 12. O-O ♕b6 13. b4 ♗xb4 14. cxb4 ♕xb4 15. ♘bd2 ♘e7 16. a3 ♕a4 17. ♗b3 ♕c6 18. ♖fc1 ♕b6 19. ♘c4 ♕xb3 20. ♘d6 ♔f8 21. ♖cb1 ♕e6 22. ♘b5 ♘c6 23. ♘c7 ♕e7 24. ♘xa8 b6 25. ♘c7 ♗b7 26. ♘d5 ♕f7 27. h3 ♘d4 28. ♘xd4 exd4 29. ♗d6 ♔e8 30. ♘c7 ♔d8 31. ♘b5 ♗xe4 32. ♗c7 ♔e7 33. ♖e1 ♕d5 34. a4 ♖c8 35. f3 ♖xc7 36. ♖xe4 ♔f7 37. ♘xc7 ♕c4 38. ♘b5 a6 39. ♘d6 1-0 {Black resigns}

For several months now I've been taking the advice given by the chess master in Guy Ritchie's magnificent, greatly-underrated movie Revolver: if you want to improve, play opponents who are better than you. Presumably there's some different advice for whoever happens to best the best chess player in the world at any given time. But this does not directly affect me. It's been some years since I've had any hope that I would ever become such a good chess player that it would be difficult to find stronger opponents.

But there is no question at all anymore that I am becoming a better player by playing opponents stronger than I am. Not all of my games are against higher-rated opponents, but I no longer limit the rating of opponents against whom I will play.

And I'm somewhat conscious now, because of watching that movie, of the huge role of the ego in the game of chess. The huge, negative role. Just today I played someone rated 700 points higher than I. 700 is a huge difference. So big that when he beat me it didn't change our ratings. Now, the thing is, I experienced the entire game as an unpleasant humiliation, when in fact it could have been a great learning experience, for the simplest conceivable reason: a player rated 700 points higher than I am presumably has some skills and insights into chess which I lack. But even after months of consciously battling my own ego at the chessboard I had great difficulty learning from the game, because my ego was objecting to my being trounced.

Along with the great advice about playing stronger opponents, I would add: don't resign. Don't give up. I don't always follow my own advice here. But I followed it in the game shown above, against an opponent rated about the same as I am. After 8 moves we each still had all of our pieces and 7 of our 8 Pawns. Then I made the simplest possible blunder on my 9th move: 9. ♕d5 gave my Queen away in exchange for a Knight.

But I didn't resign.

By the 14th move I had exchanged 2 Pawns for his black Bishop, on my 24th move I took one of his Rooks without exchanging anything for it, on my 33rd move I pinned his White Bishop, and on my 39th move, when he was down to his Queen and 7 Pawns against both Rooks, a Knight and 4 Pawns for me, after having chased his Queen all over the board for most of the game, I finally forked his King and Queen with my Knight, and, perhaps with ego-involved anger outweighing whatever else this game might have been able to teach him -- possibly, for instance: stay focused if your opponent blunders away his Queen on the 9th move of a game which had been pretty even until then, instead of letting it make you over-confident -- he resigned.

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