What Don’t You Like?

One good way of detecting weaknesses in your play is to consider what it is that you don’t like. Most of us prefer to do things which we’re good at because we like to feel competent. On the other hand we can shy away from areas in which we are not so strong.

This tendency can be seen quite clearly when club level players declare that particular openings (and this can be just about anything but the Sicilian Dragon) are ‘boring’ or ‘stodgy’. What they’re really saying is that they don’t understand what to do unless the position responds to forcing moves (threats, captures and checks). And going in with this attitude means that they’ll avoid exposure to quieter positions like the plague.

What’s the answer to this problem? Well as with so many things the first step requires a dose of self honesty by admitting to ourselves that we might have areas of diminished competence. The second step is doing something about it!

The most common area of weakness at club level is probably the endgame; in my experience most club players focus their efforts more on openings which they perceive to be the weakest part of their game. Yet here there is an element of confusion because the definitions ‘opening’ and ‘endgame’ are to a large extent artificial concepts. It would be better instead to define positions as ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ after which it’s easier to understand that the openings will always be unfathomable unless someone first understands the simpler building blocks.

Thus we arrive at the apparent paradox that an immersion in endgames helps players understand the opening better, and the fact that this seems counterintuitive to many means that their entire conception of the nature of chess is flawed. Of course I won’t be able to demonstrate this to anyone’s satisfaction in a short blog post but I’ll leave you with the thought that it’s better to study the endgame.