Last week I dished out some highfalutin philosophical advice and some koans, but stated another way, one of my chess weaknesses has been that I sometimes turn to negative thoughts after I made a mistake I “shouldn’t of,” leading to more weak moves. Strong players mentally wipe away previous events in the game and concentrate on the position in front of them; some truly great players like Fischer and Korchnoi seemed to have an uncanny ability to play great chess after making a bad mistake.
It struck me when I was rereading the article that this tendency was totally unlike my performances in basketball where, as a modestly talented player, relentless effort and shrugging off of reverses was my stock in trade. In basketball one is completely in the moment while the ball is in play; tournament chess allows ample time for negative thought to come to consciousness.
A concept I came across only a few years ago that is of great value is “loving reality,” a part of The Work of Byron Katie. Many humans, much of the time, feel that reality is a rather inferior version of their fantasy of The Way Things Ought To Be; such a feeling leads only to suffering. Loving reality means that one is loving the thing that, in any case, one is going to get.
Loving the reality of the position on the chess board before you, regardless of what has gone before, does wonders for the strength with which you will play that position.
So this all does have something to do with chess improvement.
The following game is one in which I was able to capture what I’m talking about. Indeed, this tournament was one of my best; in almost every game I had the patience and determination to sit at the board and fight, for as long as it might take. After winning my first round game, in Round 2 I was paired with a higher-rated teenager (who within a few years was a USCF Master). It’s not a great game, or a good game, or some kind of example of my brilliance and prowess. Despite all the reality-loving in the world, I could and probably should have lost. But as reality, it will do!
As you’ll see, after 12 moves as White I already had an awful position, but I still remember flashing on how Keres or Lasker or one of those guys would have handled it; Maximum Resistance! So I buckled down and after some inaccuracies by my opponent got back to pretty even, then blundered the Exchange. But on this occasion I chose not to berate myself and just played the position, with little or no thought about where we’d come from. And behold, he made some second-best moves, then apparently had a vision of a winning king-and-pawn ending that’s…lost for Black.