Chess – how I became good at it.

I was thinking about when I was much younger in my early to mid-teens, when I used to play Chess. It was a most intriguing game for a number of reasons that I don’t intend to go into. I became quite good at it and made at least one National landmark by holding the junior Chess champion to a draw, when this chap was busy ‘slaughtering’ all other players. It demanded extreme effort of course.

chesstudy9But on reflection, I’m thinking back also to when I wasn’t good at the game. In the first year or two, my dad, cousin and uncle used to trounce me properly a very high percentage of the time – like about 80 – 90%. Most people never become Chess players for that reason – they just think, know or feel that they can’t make progress. Being beaten repeatedly in this game is terribly unrewarding, so it’s natural for people to say to themselves, ‘Oh I’m no good at this.

So what kept me going? An number of things but I’ll pick just one or two. Firstly, I couldn’t stand to lose! I had to find out why I was losing. I had to learn this game and eventually claim victory over those who would enjoy some ‘sadistic’ pleasure from beating me. If they could play it well, why couldn’t I? Was it their genes that made them good at it? Were they born with a natural gift for playing Chess? Did they play Chess in another life, or in their mothers’ wombs? Well I hope those questions appear ridiculous to most who read this.

Secondly, the taste of victory on a minority of occasions, told me that I could do this i.e. I got it right on a few occasions. So, I was intrigued to extract what I did right and do it again.

What happened next? Well – for about 3 years straight, I studied various books written by the masters like Bobby Fisher [and this is definitely not an invitation for me to be told about Fischer’s eccentricities – thank you very much!]. I played the game several times per week. I played by myself (no computers to play against in those days). I analysed various positions. Along that way, I could see that I was getting better, because the smirks of victory were wiped from the faces of those who had grown used to beating me! It was a good feeling – one that reinforced my drive to get even better. Eventually, my dad was beaten at the game about 95% of the time! Then he couldn’t understand why or how. Instead of him dancing around in victory, it was now my time to dance around!! LOL.

So if you’re counting, that’s about 5 years of me and the game – and countless hours spent.

The interesting thing is that near the end of those 5 years, I realised I could ‘see’ into positions on the board more easily. I could spot the traps, pitfalls, know what not to do, recognised strong moves, exploit weakness in positions of my opponents. That mental muscle took a lot of work to grow. It must have been a particular part of my brain (and I’m not interested in brain scans etc – thank you very much).

What’s the point of this post? Well it isn’t about Chess!! It’s about how I became good at something I was not good at. Reminds me about my history with mathematics. I was never good at it, but for two years of my life before A’levels, I practiced on nearly every maths problem I could find. Eventually it paid off and I got an A grade,  when my performance over the years – going back to primary school days – had predicted a C.

The point is that effort, practice, determination and continuously working at a thing, can – by hard graft – bring improved performance. No – I didn’t say ‘perfection’. And finally – I realise that my saying, ‘If I can, you cannot!’ is correct for most people. Why? – because most people just give up. Is it any wonder that some people excel at certain things – becoming experts for example – and some don’t.

[Oh dear – I’ve suddenly realised that I’m rather anxious about making this post because some rebellious smartass is likely to start flying around the internet, and return to regurgitate material on the game of Chess. I’m not interested in ‘the game of Chess’ in this post. I’m not interested in the position shown above. Ooops that’s  like a red rag to a bull – innit? Be rebellious – today is your day to get banned from this site. If the latter doesn’t apply to you then no worries.]
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