My day job is particularly tedious today, hence the following rant to ease the pain…
Most computing engineers have heard of Dykstra’s “The Humble Programmer” article. Dykstra, although a great engineer, readily acknowledged that the human brain has it’s limitations. And rather than try to pretend that such shortcomings don’t exist, or that our brains can keep “expanding” to overcome them, he suggested that we develop techniques that take reality into account.
What’s this got to do with chess? Nothing. I just thought he’s a cool guy.
I think that a big limiting factor for many chess players is that they don’t realise how humble they are in relation to trying to solve a problem as complex as chess. Many chess players are too fast in thinking they’ve got it right… they under-estimate the difficulty of playing chess well.
When I analyse post-mortem games with weak players, they often show a lot of confidence… “I should have done that”… “this wins”… “that loses”. But with stronger players there is more doubt… “I’m not sure”… “it’s unclear”… “it’s maybe winning”. (GM Rowson writes about this in “Chess for Zebras&rdquo
. I often find that while stronger players outplay me, weaker ones often talk a better game.
So, a small suggestion is to feel a bit more humble about one’s abilities. This is not to say that you shouldn’t be confident; but rather just a recognition of how daunting chess is.
After some calculation, do you then focus on what you saw… or do you wonder what you may have missed? When you’re sure that a general principle applies, how much consideration do you give that the position in question is actually an exception? When you conceive an attractive looking plan or idea, can you honestly within yourself critically review its true merits? While playing a significantly lower rated player, can you really convince yourself of the possibility of losing? Etc. etc.
There are many moments in every game when we think we’ve got it right, but we don’t. I think a big part of progress is being able to look for such opportunities to better ourselves. And they are easier to spot if we’re more willing to think we’ve got it wrong in the first place. As Rowson points out, saying “I’m not sure” is often a good thing in chess.