May. 15th, 2017

Chess

May. 15th, 2017 04:58 pm
monk222: (Devil)
Over the past couple of days, I was dreading that I might be losing my interest in chess. It was a particularly depressing thought since I had believed the game had finally become a real passion with me. This episode was set up last week as I was running through the games in David Bronstein's "Zurich International Chess Tournament 1953". These games are wonderful themselves. You can sense the players' competitive wariness and nervousness, as they seem to make a lot more stalling and testing moves, in contrast to the usual grandmaster games that we come across in books. Nevertheless, I starting feeling doubts over the value of doing this. As nice as it is to run through these games, I began to sense that I was just spinning my wheels. I was feeling some desire to at least try to make some real progress in the game myself, and I understood that this was not going to happen if I just kept working my way through chess books playing famous games. I realized that if I wanted to advance, I was simply going to have to pay my dues and put in some work at mastering those openings.

Remember, during an earlier transient flirtation with the game, I had picked up a encyclopedic book on chess openings that has more heft that a city phone book. It quickly became a dust-collector on my shelves, another wasted purchase it seemed. This time, as I retrieved the book and blew off the dust, I was wondering if my interest in the game had reached a high enough notch that I was going to be able to actually get into the material now, and, at first, I was happy to think that this was the case. I especially enjoyed experimenting with the Bishop's Opening in my own games against the computer. It calls for the Queen coming out early, which is not something one generally wants to do, but it was good to be able to follow the protocol. By learning these openings, you can go into your games with some plans and expectations. It enriches the experience a lot more.

However, as I was working my way through the variations of the Four-Knights Opening, I started to feel overwhelmed again. The expected lines of play seemed more random, and my fooling around with them seemed pointless. It was at this point that the whole enterprise seemed to be collapsing around me. And I had thought that I finally found myself! Fooled again?

Then I thought that maybe I should just slow things down. Maybe I needed to forget that I got a telephone book to work through and just lose myself in the particular game or set of moves that I am looking at as if nothing else in the world mattered. I started to write out the game being studied, ready to make my own annotations. I even brought out my second chess set with the magnetic pieces, so that I could further take time away from quotidian reality and look at my own variations of certain positions. And this proved to be my answer, as I fell back in love with chess.

An old maxim goes 'Don't lose the forest for the trees', but it is also true that you can lose the trees for the forest. I probably won't ever make it all the way through Horowitz's "Chess Openings: Theory and Practice", nor ever learn many openings at all, but so what? Pop might have a heart attack and die tomorrow, and next week I might be sleeping under a bridge or looking for a homeless shelter. If I can happily lose myself for an afternoon in the delightfully mind-absorbing permutations of a chess game, that is about as good as it ever gets for me, and I will gladly take as many of such afternoons as I can possibly have.

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