Chess and Thinking Correctly

When playing Hold’em poker or Craps, I learned there are good times to play, and there are good times not to play. It took years to understand when and why this happened. The idea was first presented in a poker conversation some years ago and I missed it completely. One player said in passing, “…if you are not winning in the first forty-five minutes of sitting down, it is time to go home for the day.”

The comment was made by a middle aged player with some years of experience behind their comment. At the time, I attributed the comment to personal superstition. I thought they were referring to luck, and deduced the comment to mean: if your day is not lucky, your luck won’t change by sitting down in a poker game.

Starting to play chess again brought clarity to their comment. At the time however, I we all went down a side path with what the comment really meant. Playing Chess brings clarity to their comment. Applying their comment to Chess is easy. Having position in Chess to discover a Knight Fork, the meaning of the comment becomes obvious.

Pretend you are playing a game against an equal or better opponent. By good planning you discover you have the opportunity to trade your Knight for a Bishop. You get excited to trade up, and make the exchange. Your opponent counters and takes your Knight and it is your turn again.

While pondering how you can reclaim the space taken by your opponent, you realize you had not only the trade of your Knight for a Bishop, but you missed the move where you could have traded the same Knight for a Queen!

These misses happen in my situation due to inexperience and being in a hurry. Other times I am not looking for better moves. I have found a verifiable third reason. These mistakes happen because for reasons unclear to me, my thinking is muddled and not as clear as it normally is. I do not see the second Knight Fork even though I am looking for other moves before taking the bishop.

Lately, I remembered the great chess matches of the “Cold War” era that never happened. There were chess matches that never took place because one of the Masters refused to play that day. I thought (in my youth) they refused to play because they did not want to suffer defeat with the world watching. They knew their opponent was going to outplay them, and they wanted to avoid the embarrassment of defeat.

Now that I am working to improve my level of chess play, I have learned more of the story about those sixties era Chess Masters. The Masters of the day being around middle age, knew their thinking was not top notch on that particular day.

The Master’s chess thinking may have only changed by a few points, perhaps one small mistake in a practice game was missed. They knew however that one small mistake would cost them the match because their opponent was their equal and most likely would not be making a game changing mistake.

For myself, mistakes I make during these times are a lot more apparent. I lose games against the computer I should have one, or at least made a better showing. My tactics solving ability takes a steep downturn. Simple ten second tactical puzzles now take me thirty seconds and I get too many wrong.

My frustration level goes up. In these poor thinking periods, I play some of my worst games. Through experience I have learned to find something else not thought intensive to do. You can guess what has happened on the Hold’em or Craps tables during these times.

Earlier or later my thinking may be as it should be, but it is too late by that time, the damage is done. This may not be an age thing, and may happen throughout all stages of our life. Perhaps it takes many years of living with ourselves before we realize it is happening.

My best advice before playing any game, money involved or not,  you are serious about winning is to make sure your thinking is as it should before hand. If you are not thinking clearly at the moment, and your frustration level is lower than normal, find something else to do.

With Chess there is generally no money on the table, and the most that is damaged is one’s ego. In other activities, there may be money or the safety of yourself or another. Carpenter’s of old seem to have been the first to implement a check or stop point for times when cloudy thinking is a possibility of incomplete thinking.

I think it is a good saying, and while not foolproof helps save me from some serious mistakes. The old Carpenters adage we all need to keep in mind, “Measure three times, cut once”.