Don’t Read The News!

There was a time when I used to be an avid reader and watcher of news. It was long ago and I seem to remember thinking that this defined me as a serious and responsible person. But times have changed, quite considerably in fact! These days I’ll only watch Star Trek or some crime drama and never take any notice of the ‘important’ stuff. Why?

One of my inspirations for this approach was Lajos Portisch who stayed at home studying chess when the Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest. There was nothing to be done so why waste time protesting? Another was speculator and squash champion Victor Niederhoffer who restricted his reading matter to The National Enquirer so as to insulate himself from the crowd and therefore make it easier to come up with contrarian investment decisions.

My own news aversion has an additional motivation. I realised that news got my mind working on things I could do nothing about, whether it was an earth quake, volcanic eruption or the outbreak of war in a distant land. In this modern World we already have such a surfeit of information which goes way beyond our capacity to properly process it. That’s without a deliberate policy by the news agencies to report things that are most worrying in a way that is as worrisome as possible. So I made a decision to be quite minimalist with the information I take in so as to try and keep a clear head.

This minimalist approach has important applications in many walks of life but is beautifully illustrated on the chess board. Whenever someone distracts themselves from the deceptively simple job of finding the next move in their game they play worse. This can be through looking at other games, thinking about the tournament situation or chatting to someone outside the tournament hall. These are all serious distractions, especially the chatting.

With regard to chess study the same effect is in evidence. Even with limited time to improve their game it seems all too easy for people to convince themselves that reading chess news or spending hours at a forum is ‘doing some chess’. But reading an interview with, say, Vassily Ivanchuk, does nothing to improve someone’s game whereas playing through some of his games may well. And if someone really wants to improve they could sit down with a chess set and a good book, like the Pal Benko revision of Reuben Fine’s Basic Chess Endings.

So please have a think about the news you are listening to and the effect of distractions in general. And don’t worry that something terrible may be happening that you don’t know about; if it’s something really important there will be screaming on the streets or a mushroom cloud on the horizon.