Sunday, May 02, 2010

The amateur’s scramble mind

(Have this playing while you read this... it will make more sense)

More than two months had passed since I really had any serious chess study. Like a lot of folks, life things took priority over my passion for this game. I knew I was in trouble when back in March, my rating was in a freefall, rapidly heading to my floor. THANK GOD for floors.

With the World Open looming in 2 months, and tied of life beginning to ebb, I thought I’d tip my toe into Caissa’s Ocean of Chess at the Mass Game 60 open tournament. Going into this event I knew I was not going to be playing my top game. This being a “quick” tournament and an All for one open section, meant some hard humbling lessons were waiting for me. I really wanted to practice controlling my thought process and went in with full intention of jotting down my ideas and thought process during the games. What ended up happening was an abomination of any real thought process. Like a vehicle that sits in the yard too long, the rust on this machine made the engine freeze.

Because life is full for me, the only time I had to prepare for the event was 2 evenings prior juggling schedules with after work appointments to take kids to and making sure everyone is happy. Add to this, a weekend at church where I had an obligation to uphold for this weekend. No problem, I was planning on a Bye for both Saturday and Sunday Morning to address this.

Let me digress a moment, more important than chess is when I make a commitment to someone or some fellowship. This was an important weekend for some of the youth at our church and I dutifully showed up for the rehearsal on Saturday… then extended myself even further and offered to accompany our youth minister with my bass guitar to augment the songs they were going to sing. This was a last minute decision three of us made and meant learning 3 songs before Sunday morning. So off I went to play chess on Saturday.

The first round, I had a confidence builder to ease me into the weekend chess event. The second round I played I was paired against IM Igor Foygel. That was a lesson … I will share in a subsequent post. Right now, I am decompressing. My last round on Saturday, I was paired against a strong class A kid. I almost got a draw but blew the position ( again, another lesson for a later post).

I rush home, pull off the web the three songs I need to learn. I had the chord charts from the team, struggled with those as my ear was hearing a different chord when I played the video of the original to try and play along with. Now, if any of you are musicians out there, repetition is a common theme. I must have played Joni Mitchell’s The Circle Game, The Beatle’s Let it be, and Leonard Cohen’s Halleluiah several times that I had this sound track for bed time.

Sunday morning came too early. I woke up, rushed out the door and headed to church with my acoustic Bass guitar. On the passenger’s seat was my chess set. First things first, there was one last practice with the team before the service. Then it was show time where we pulled it off with out a hitch. The youth loved it. We did a good service to show them how important they were to the community. My heart was full to see many smiles and hearing hope for the future of humanity.

With the many smiles, the service did go into overtime. My window was closing to make round 6 without my clock starting. I politely excused myself and made a mad dash.

Today was the first day that we hit over 80-degrees since winter. I needed to get out of church clothes and into summer chess attire. My clock had elapsed 13 minutes when I moved my black pawn to c6 to stop time. As luck has it, I was paired with a kid who took this as an opportunity to play speed chess. I rattled off an exchange C-K with my 4…Qc7 move meant for the unprepared. It served only as a speed bump.

Remember how I mentioned my intent was to focus on thought process. Enter, blunderprone post frantic weekend rush. What follows is the inner narrative stream of unconciousness:

“ Man, I can’t believe we pulled that off. I am so glad that worked out… Hallelujuh… ha ha, yeah that really went over well. I can’t see my clock, sh*t, I still have my sunglasses on. Well, I can see he moved e4, here we go ( shakes hands) sorry to make you wait ( snaps c6 and hits the clock)”

At this point I started to replace my sunglasses with my regular glasses and the kid already was making sure his clock didn’t dip below a minute. “ OK, I can see my clock now, 47 minutes… no problem, I can do this.”
We rifle through the next few moves. I am playing by memory, he is playing for speed. “ OK, I see this is going down the exchange C-K. Everything is good so far.” I get to play the Qc7 move hoping the kid slows down. NOT A CHANCE. I rattle off the next few moves and worked the time deficit down to 11 minutes. We get to a point where we both castle and I start leaving “book”.

“ OK, here we go, Positional evaluation… and go” … to fill the void, my mind does funny things. The refrain from Lenard Cohen’s song starts coming up in my head… over and over. “ … the forth the fifth, the minor fall the major lift….shut up!” I am having a hard time concentrating. “OK I see it… um… I can win a pawn in the center… Hallelujah… I said shut up… Let it be… NO damn it!” The kid missed my fourteenth move as he got up to do jumping jacks or something to take care of the ants in his pants. He comes back and asks “ Where did you move?”

OK, I wasn’t feeling particularly spiritual at that moment, so in a typical grumpy old patzer voice I chortled “ You figure it out.”

I look for a remedy to squelch the singing voices in my head. I fumble for my iPod shuffle, I get some soothing Bella Fleck and the flectones ( Nice bass work by Victor Wooten BTW) and it goes into some soothing Neko Case. I’m a pawn ahead and in my groove. Rodrigo Y Gabriella strum a nice Spanish flavored guitar instrumental as I flow through a series of exchanges. I’m down to Bishops of Opposite colors and an extra pawn, the kid extends his hand “draw?”

I grimace, “No” and continued to play now annoyed by the ants marching in this kid. Up and down, up and down. I was turning into this curmudgeon as I was surrounded by all these kids. When they here one of there “kind” announce a draw to an old fart like me, its like chumming the waters for sharks. They start circling. He did this a couple more times until I had to tell him to stop.

Cake queues up on my iPod, I just blew my chance to get two connected pawns by hastily making a capture with the wrong pawn. Time to shut the music off, I’ll take my chances with the random Leonard Cohen verses circling in my head. Instead, I hear Joni Mitchells voice singing The Circle Game… because I was thinking of circles… and how I should have done at least one tactical circle prior to this event.

I blow my chance for the win. The pawns are now even… I see a clear draw at this point with opposite colored bishops ( sigh) “ Draw?” I offer.

“No” He says smugly “ I have a clear win.”

Ok, I deserved that. He wants me to play this out. I did manage to prove my point and draw the game with this kid at 400 points lower than my rating.

So, I wasn’t quite ready to get back into the arena. I had a couple of really good lessons and that was really what I was looking for. I hope the voices in my head stop singing by the time the World Open comes around.


LinuxGuy said...

I have a goal for my next tournament game. I want to see if I can examine 5 different replies on each move, really stress width rather than depth.

It's easy to see your move, hit your max reasonable depth, and then walk away or look at something else and stop thinking about the game.

I want to go wide and see how that works for me, that way I won't "miss" a move, such as you did with your chance for a pawn-chain.

It's weird, doing other things physical or even programming, my concentration can be broken, but not with chess, it really can't be broken by external event, perhaps because it's been so well trained over time.

I'm always amazed when others put in ear plugs. OTH, kids can be somewhat distracting because as adults we are trained to care about their emotional state. It doesn't pay to, however, when you are playing a game against them.

Liquid Egg Product said...

Wait a're liberal AND go to church???? I thought that was impossible...

BlunderProne said...

Unitarian Universalist :)

Howard Goldowsky said...

Move over ChessLoser humor, here comes BP.

That's too funny. I recently started listening to Leonard Cohen, bought my first Leonard Cohen CD, and was listening to it driving to the tournament Saturday morning. Halleluja was on in my car when I hit the Senior Center parking lot! That goddamn Leonard Cohen was stuck in my head all weekend, too. I thought it was going to be cool to have LC stuck in my head, and in some respects it is better than a lot of other crap.... At some point during Round 4, in a won position, I had Kansas stuck in my head. "...the answers my friend, are blowin' in the wind...." I thought I was being coy humming that song to myself, because I thought I had the position figured out. But I lost the game and my brain had the last laugh.

Josh Waitzkin, in "The Art of Learning," writes that he used to think in rhythm to whatever song was stuck in his head. He would calculate variations to the beat of the music. Instead of the song being a distraction, it was an aid to thinking. I strive to do this, and I'm getting better at it, but I'm still not perfect.

It's really about training oneself to concentrate better. I'm thinking about taking up meditation, in order to concentrate better. The practice should take only ten minutes per day, and the benefits should be many-fold. Meditation could really focus my mind to be in the moment. Isn't that what we all want during a chess game, to be in the moment? This is all very Zen, but all very appropriate for a mental sport like chess. I'm not quite sure where to begin, though. Has anybody out there tried meditation?


rockyrook said...

Which Cake song queued up on your iPod?

Cake is one of my favorite groups, but I don't think I could listen to them while playing chess.

Temposchlucker said...

My mind works just too slow to find the time to become distracted.

There is one situation where I use earplugs though. One of my fellow clubmates has dentures which doesn't fit well. So he is creaking with it all the time. Allthough I'm usually a very quiet guy, something snaps after 4 hours of creaking. I estimate his dentures to be worth at least a bishop!

Howard Goldowsky said...

Maybe that wasn't Kansas, maybe that was Dylan.

Tommyg said...


I have been using various forms of meditation to for quite awhile.

There are a lot of different ways to approach it and is indeed beneficial, and not just for chess.

I often do a quick meditation-(I am using the term broadly)-before a musical performance. Sometimes I use music sometimes I don't. I have even used a very watered down breath meditation to help my drum students learn how to focus themselves quickly.

So it does work! It isn't a cure all and will never replace preparation and hard work but it DOES allows us to harness all our preparation and hard work to their utmost!

Yoga is also good for this as well.

From the patzer said...

Hmmmm, i thought the use of ipod (have read many times about the use of this device during play on americain blogs) and such was forbidden since during play we may not have any outside help.

Who says that between those songs isn't a long recording of opening moves? Who says that the volume isn't disturbing the opponent? Afterall, one peep of a cellphone and you lose by forfeit, what is the difference with an ipod? It makes noise aswell.

And what is this crap with those floors? Just give the players the rating they deserve by the games they have played. This floor gives players a false sense of safety since they cannot drop lower then their floor. With other words, in the USA i would always be a 1900 player no matter my results, here in Belgium i will probably drop below 1900 thanks to my recent results and rightly so since my results didn't give me any right to be still a 1900 player.

Anyway, good luck with the lessons learned, i hope you can magically turn those weaknessess into strenghts.