Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Get Out of My Head!

Get Out of My Head!: A Discussion on Introducing a Thought Process Into Your Chess

It has come to my attention recently that I am robbing myself of gobs of rating points by having a thought process that resembles the IRS tax code. This came to my attention while scouring some of Dan Heisman's Novice Nook articles and he relentlessly talked about thought process and how it is a infused into a disciplined player's mind. I got interested and picked up his book "The Improving Chess Thinker". The book was not so much about the acquisition of theory or how to select good moves. No sir! The book was about how to create an atmosphere where you perform at the top of your ability each time you play.

You all know the feeling. When you are playing your best you are lights out, you might play 200-350 points above your rating level when you are "on". However when you are off, man are you off! I believe anyone can easily play 1,000 points below their ability on some days for a multitude reasons mostly due to mental collapses.

Just to illustrate my point here is a sampling of my thought process.  Read this carefully.  I am a class B player.  No one has ever taught me how to manage a game of chess in my mind therefore as you might imagine it's convoluted.  I consider myself a good tactician, a reasonable middlegame player and a respectable endgame player. But, observe how fractured my thought process is about a given move. A sampling of my thought process usually goes something like this, I tried to be as accurate as possible:

"Ok he moved. That was kind of a sissy move, I need to figure out how to punish him for such a passive move. You don't play chess like that against me and expect not to get punished! Moving a flank pawn? Please, obviously just wasting a move to see what I'm going to do. Ok, let's see. I have a knight fork on e5, what can I do to execute that... Oh I need to write his move down. Hrm. Play for that knight fork on e5? Oh, that pawn move discovered an attack on my queen! I absolutely have to move her. Ok no matter what I HAVE to move my queen this turn. What should I do after that? I move my queen here, he has to respond by moving that bishop backwards. That's his only move right? Yep. What do I have after that? I need to play for a pawn break on the f-file that would lead to a nice kingside attack once I get my forces organized. I need some more firepower on the f-file though. I don't want to make the same mistake I did in my game last week against Jerry. I really did deserve to lose that game but man I got lucky. Dangit 3 minutes has gone by. Ok, think. How to bolster the f-file. Ah, I can pitch that knight fork on e5 and just play Ng5, ah that looks good! Ok, Ng5 it is, that works right? Here goes. Oh my god, I forgot I have to move my queen, whew that was close. Ok first Queen to e3 THEN Ng5 after that. Oh I can't play Qe3 that loses a pawn. Qd2 instead. Write down move... move... and press clock. OH GOD I JUST HUNG MY KNIGHT! Oh wait it's protected by a discovered check! Whew. Qd2 is a good move."

Some might call this thought process "flawed".  I would like to call it efficiency-challenged.   So I decided to follow the sage advice in Dan Heisman's book and adopt a thought process.  I'm not going to lie it's a little strange at first. Almost like some weird dude living in your house.  I mean it's weird like a dude that sits on your couch and bites his toenails and talks about grave rubbings and 16th century puppetry.  Just plain weird.  However, Heisman talks about how foreign introducing a rigid thought process into your game is at first.  Yet, it is necessary to get your process in place no matter how bizarre at first.  Pay your dues and they will eventually pay dividends when it matters.

So I tried introducing this process into my first tournament game last week and it was exactly as Dan described. It felt like an intruder into my game.  Heisman assures his reader that efficiency and speed will follow.  Here is a sampling of how it went.

Weak Square(1661) vs. Chris L.(1463)

1.e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5 a6
4. Ba4 b5
5. Bb3 Bc5
6. O-O Nf6
7. Nxe5 Nxe5
8. d4 Nxe4?!
9. dxc5 Qh4?
10. Qd5!

We played 18 moves but the game was pretty much over at this point so I stop my commentary here.

"I have white, this is a 90 minute plus 5-second per move game.  This game will last approximately 45 moves so I have two minutes and five seconds per move.  All right let's begin.  E4.  He plays E5.  I have two minutes to decide my move.  I am not in check.  Was his move safe? Yes.  Can I force mate? No.  If he were allowed to make another move what would he do? Eh, I don't know probably develop and try to play for control of d4.  So I can play my book move Nf3 here and he will have to defend his pawn.  Write down Nf3. Does he have any checks, threats or captures? No. Ok Move. Press clock.

He plays Nc6.  I know he's expecting me to go into the Scotch gambit.  Oh, I forgot. Write down move.  I am not in check, his move was safe.  I cannot force mate.  I'm going to play the Spanish. Bb5. Clock.

He responds a6.  That's a bit of a surprise. I pegged him for a Bc5 kind of player.  Oh I forgot again... write down move. I have 2 minutes and five seconds to decide my move.  Was his move safe? Yes. Am I in check? No.  If it were his move right now what would he do?  Well he would capture my bishop, so I have to move that... am I missing a step in this thought process here?  Oh yeah, listing all the benefits of his move, well it puts the question to my bishop while simultaneously preparing for queenside expansion with b5.  Is that all? Yeah. Oh geez a whole minute has gone by since he's played a6... aaaaand he's looking at me like I'm an idiot because I'm taking 60 seconds to play Ba4.  So, Ba4. Clock.

b5.  Ok am I in check? Eh... screw it, Bb3 clock.

Bc5, there it is.  This should enable me to play d4.  Oh that's right I forgot I can snap off his pawn on e5 with my knight then fork his knight and bishop.  Ew, I haven't played the Spanish in awhile, what happens after Nxe5 and then Bxf2?  I better castle first to be on the safe side. Ah, geez. Thought process. Ok am I in check? Was his move safe? Screw it. Castle. Push clock.

Nf6.  Reasonable. Ok I can play Nxe5 now.  Nxe5 push clock.

Nxe5, expected response.  d4, push clock.  Hrm.  Actually Nf3+ looks somewhat annoying.  Nxf3+, Qxd3 then Bxd4. Oh he can't do that he'll lose his knight on f6 after e5.

Nxe4? Wow that was a mistake. I should get a piece for a pawn after this.  dxc5 push clock.  

Yep now he sees the problem.  Qh4?? I didnt expect that, surely that's a mistake.  Ah Qd5 it sure is. Wait I can't play Qd5, because Nf3+ is really annoying, that defeats Qd5 altogether.  Qd5, Rf3+, gxf3 and now Qg5+ is disaster.  Re1 will do the trick. No I can't do that I'll get mated.  Qe2? Gosh that seems so passive for how much energy I have built up here.  I wish I could play Qd5 but that Nf3+ is a killer.  Let me look at it one more time.  Oh! Nf3+ doesn't work! I can just take, he can't play Qg5+ because my bishop guards g5... idiot.  Qd5 wins.  Move Qd5 push clock."

So as you can see, I started off strong in my thought process and it quickly descended back to my old habits.  It's obviously going to take more work and refinement.  I am determined to stick with it and make more routine moves smooth and more complex moves systematic.  In this case it was really the reverse.  My routine opening moves were probably too rigid and the moves that really mattered were too fragmented.  I have a lot of chess games coming up so I may drop some points playing with this thought process at first but I'm determined to make it work.

At the moment my thought process is just a weird intruder that had me screaming by move 4 "Get out of my Head! You're not welcome here devil!"  However I cannot kick out this bizarre guest, because what might be annoying and cumbersome now will eventually carry me to more disciplined and consistent chess down the road.

Dan Heisman's Website
Amazon Link - The Improving Chess Thinker

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