Friday, October 1, 2010

Too Much Thinking

Technical knowledge will always be a large part of chess. I would say that technical knowledge is probably about 50% of your success in chess, and the other 50% is everything else.

Now this "everything else" category is huge. You can call them whatever name you want in your writings, joining the dots and what not. The names for these things don't matter. But being good in thinking does not automatically qualify you to become a good chess player. You can teach some brilliant scientist chess, but he is not going to be a GM overnight.

Like you said, "external factors" have to be assimilated with your chess skill. The broader the base of your chess skill, the more factors you can use to combine with your skill. That is why I don't agree with you that the importance of technical skills diminish.

Believe it or not, I have won many of my games through non-chess techniques. I will give 2 examples of non-chess techniques:

1. I noticed that my opponent felt a bit cold in the playing hall because he forgot his jacket or something. Even before my first move, I had already decided I will play a long, drawn out game to "capitalize" on my tiny advantage. While you may think this is unethical or "not chess-like" but this is how you win any battle. Sun Tzu would have been proud. My opponent failed to come to the tournament prepared with a jacket and he deserves to lose if he does not take the tournament seriously enough to prepare for everything, including the playing environment.

2. Very often, I play "the opponent" instead of the game. That is why playing in many tournaments is important. You learn more and more about your opponents. This is almost the opposite of what any chess coach would teach you. At the beginner's level, if you know your opponent is a tactical player, you can choose to play a positional game etc. But to apply it at a very advanced level, you have to understand your opponent's personality. Even better, you can read your opponent's behavior. For example, it will help to notice if your opponent is excited, or exasperated, or tired, etc. A good chess player can and will exploit that. I can't tell you what each of those emotions entail because you must combine your observations with what is going on on the board to formulate an interpretation. Of course, at the start, you may misread signals, but like anything else, you just get better with practice.

These are just some of the ways of thinking beyond the chess board. Kasparov's book goes into much more detail about these external factors, which is why I highly recommend it. One of the examples he gave was how he played right into Kramnik's "trap" of employing the Berlin Wall against Kasparov during their World Championship match.

Even with this said, you cannot simply say that knowing how to think will automatically make your chess better. There are many ways of thinking. Chess requires one of the specific ways. You can easily claim that you can strive to master ALL ways of thinking, but let us be realistic. You can pick a top physicist with a high IQ and what not and teach him chess, he would still need a lot more than "basic understanding" to play at a competitive level.

But definitely, if you talk about the rate of improvement, then any additional "topping" will help you improve faster. The rate of improvement is a function of a lot of things. You can never hold everything else constant, so there will never be empirical proof of your methods. But I dare say that a more hardworking player has a better chance of improving faster than a player who can think better.

As a final word, I just want to throw it out there that over-thinking about thinking is not going to help Mark progress. You can continue to believe in your methods, but in attempt to formalize "thinking", you have placed it inside a square box. You must allow thinking to steer its own course. Just as an example, consider a professional 9-ball pool player. I think it is safe to say that shooting accuracy in pool is a function of shot power and angle, both of which are mathematical concepts. But if you were to ask that professional pool player about these concepts, he would tell you that he doesn't use them. The way he knows how hard or at what angle to aim his cue ball comes from practice, and practice only.

Similarly, a chess player will hone his thinking skills in a "unique chess kind of way" if you let it. Build on your chess, but stay flexible in applying everything else in life to your chess. If you allow it, you can use practically everything around you, as shown by my examples. Don't get bogged down by formal ideas.


  1. Chess Ninja,

    I truly admire your patience with Raymond. Mine has run out.

    I believe that he has contradicted most of what he has started out to do. He has accused me of self-promoting - I guess you can read that blatantly from his blog who is self promoting.

    He has decided long ago that whatever we have to say about the necessity of technical training and its priority over other forms of training. It is the domain knowledge of the game that has to be grasped (not mastered, that belongs to the world champions)first. Generally, we both know that mistakes in chess occur often from technical factors first over the other factors (fatigue,stubborness,fear) with the exception of time pressure which is co-related to how fast the mind computes or decides. Anand in his younger days played very fast but was amazingly accurate due to his highly developed intuition, which helped him pick the right lines in record time.

    So I suggest we refrain from commenting at his blog, rather. Why give him the attention that he seeks?

  2. John is completely right. After a while he just repeats himself, it is a sign there is little he knows. Big ego too.

    I too am going to stop visiting his site. What he wants is attention and the more people commenting on his outrageous claims the more attention he is getting.

  3. I saw this idea in your previous posts. Just necessary to remember the story of Anatoly Karpov. I suppose he have all his technical arsenal today, but his tactical skills decreased and he doesn't work on the opening as much as before.