It has been my observation ( and a culmination through much discussion with other players) that most of us players “stuck” in the class ratings ( below 2000 USCF) are here because of inconsistencies in our ability to apply our knowledge base. We work feverishly to expand that knowledge and even attempt to apply through practice. Why is it then, some days we can be on top of our game and other days have our “chess period” as CL put it once?
I’m a Class B player. I play in tournaments and against Class A players I can hold my ground often enough. Other times I play class C opponents and I am hanging a piece. These two scenarios are fundamental insights into the problem of consistency. I think my ability to play well consistently takes on many components. I can only speak of my internal observations but I am sure others will identify. I list them as follows, feel free to add to them… in no particular order.
1) The Psychological component takes on several forms. There’s the sizing up one’s opponent that often leaves me with a predisposition on what the outcome should be. This will either make me play timidly or over aggressively in certain circumstances. Learning to play the board versus the rating is a tough transition. Another issue is the psychological state I may be in due to external issues outside the 64 squares ( Life worries etc). I try to set my worries aside once I enter the arena but its hard. Lastly, my psyche can get broken during a game when the position suddenly changes direction either in my favor or against. If it’s a win to a loss transition, I am fighting anxiety over the loss of the point. If it’s a point in the game where it looks like I might win, I have a different kind of anxiety over whether I will blunder it away and not get the point.
2) Physiological needs are the next factor. Did I get enough sleep? What did I eat? Did I eat too much? When is the next break between rounds? There are others, but the bottom line is that these are basic survival needs and if I don’t take care of them, they will get in the way of my consistent application of knowledge.
3) Chessloser was talking about “mindfulness”. Being in the present. My wife insists I have adult ADD because I am driven to distractions.( I love the fact that I have someone to look after my well being). Staying focused means I have to get up and walk about sometimes so I can come back and be one with the board. It’s a tough call for me. I practice meditation to center myself but even with that, I am inconsistent.
4) Finally, the mechanics of gather the knowledge in the first place plays an important role in my consistency. What I study, how much I study, where and when I study…all have bearings on this component. This is the essence of the CIB ( chess improvement blogs) I try to journal my trials and errors in my improvement process. I used to never believe in over preparation until my results suggested otherwise. Learning to learn… not memorize. I liked the notion of self speak brought up by BDK to reinforce concepts because it was something I was not doing regularly while doing a ridiculous amount of tactical problems. Then I’d wonder why I still sucked at it. I was under the “field of dreams” method of training. Cram it and the knowledge will come eventually at the subconscious level. But if I don’t stop and take the time to give the necessary memory tags, retrieval is like looking in the filing cabinet under one folder called “tactics”.
My bottom line is that with these components of inconsistencies, improvement lies in minimizing them as much as possible. I don’t think its ever possible to get rid of these idiosyncrasies. I do feel its important to learn about them on an individual basis and see where you can make the most improvements. Awareness is the first step.
The difference in my ability to be an 1800 player ( or higher) or where I am now, is rooted in how I can resolve this part of the process. The knowledge is there. These are the blocks to the application of that knowledge.
Thinking out loud… hope it makes sense.