The Samurai’s Cat

“You know the story of the three cats: there was a samurai who had a rat in his house and could not get rid of it. He acquired a superb cat, stalwart and robust. But the rat was quicker and simply made a fool of it. Then the samurai got another cat, more cunning and astute. But the rat was on his guard and hid except when the cat was asleep. Then a Zen monk from a nearby temple lent the samurai his own cat, the most ordinary-looking cat you could imagine, that spent all its time drowsing and napping and paid no attention to anything around it. The samurai shrugged and said the cat was no good, but the monk insisted he keep it. So the cat stayed and slept and slept, and soon the rat grew bold again and began trotting back and forth right in front of the cat, which showed absolutely no interest in it. Then one day, with one swipe of its paw, it caught the rat and pinned it down. Strength of body and technical skill are nothing, without vigilance of mind!”  Taisen Deshimaru ~ (The Zen Way to the Martial Arts)

There’s not a mention of chess in this story but it’s one of immense value to players who want to improve. The issue of vigilance is one that chess books just don’t mention, yet it plays a vital role in the to and fro of many chess games. A typical scenario is that of a player getting a ‘winning’ position and then relaxing his vigilance, meanwhile his opponent might fight with tooth and nail to try and save himself. Given these psychological dynamics it’s not surprising when many turnarounds occur.

How can someone prevent this from happening? Well when players have been stung by enough defeats for letting their guard down they often acquire different wiring to less experienced players. For example I find myself being extra careful when it should be ‘easy’, some kind of compensation for part of the mind starting to celebrate.

I don’t know the mechanics involved and neither have I seen them described elsewhere. So for the time being let’s just call it a habit.