On Embracing the Suck

All generalizations are false, in some sense. Including this one.

I am very interested in the intersection of chess, philosophy and psychology. It would be wonderful if by improving our understanding of these we could at the same time “improve” our chess, A “Royal Road” to chess improvement: Become more intelligent and more enlightened in general and become a stronger chess player at the same time! How beautiful and elegant.

I was struck by a few statements in this piece by Charlie Martin, “Actually, Life Doesn’t Suck.” Here’s a little explanation of Buddhist concepts that thoroughly apply to playing chess:

The First Noble Truth, you may recall, is “Life sucks. Everything is frustrating and worrisome and there seems no cure.” The Sanskrit word is “duhkha,” which is often translated as “suffering.” The Second Noble Truth is that duhkha arises out of desire or craving; we want good things to happen and bad things not to happen and we want to not have to worry about bad things happening in the future. This is called samudhaya in Sanskrit, and after some thought I think the best translation for samudhaya is “addiction.” We’re addicted to our fantasy of a world in which nothing bad ever happens and we’re happy all the time.

One of my big barriers to playing better in serious chess games is right here: I had a dream and expectation that just this once I could play a “perfect” game, that my “real” ability and knowledge of chess would show itself. When (of course) that fantasy didn’t happen I would often have a negative reaction, leading to weaker play after realizing I had missed something I “should have” seen.

I am not being especially hard on myself or saying I am at all unusual  in this respect; I think it applies to all humans (though in varying degrees), in chess and other aspects of life. Also, it’s perhaps just a new fantasy, a different samudhaya, that this human tendency can ever be completely erased from the psyche. But we can, indeed, improve. That is not a fantasy, as there are as many inspiring examples in the world as you can find time to search for.

One of the activities that has helped me become a tiny bit more “enlightened” (heh) about chess is my blitz experiment. In blitz chess, there is no time for regret or recrimination. One must just get on with it after making a blunder.

During my recent tournament play, a couple of casual events at a 10 0 time control, I found that I had achieved quite a more relaxed attitude and quiet mind during the games. It showed in the results (9.5/10) and in how little stress was involved.

When I eventually play in a “real” tournament at a longer time control with cash money on the line in a last-round game, will I be as relaxed? Perhaps not. but it seems that at least after more than 50 years on earth I have gotten to the point where I don’t worry about whether I am going to worry. Also I don’t strive not to strive. And that’s something good and real.

Quit smoking, quit drinking, quit worrying.

Or just quit quitting.

Robert Pearson