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Blunderov
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RE: virus: Josh Waitzkin Chess Tutorial Excerpt
« on: 2006-02-11 04:10:41 »
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[Blunderov]    Josh Waitzkin was famous even before he became such a strong
chess player; his father wrote a book "Searching for Bobby Fischer" which
was about Josh and his early development.

I bought Chessplayer10 because of the tutorials. I was not disappointed.
This excerpt is a valuable reflection on the nature not only of chess, but
of striving in general.

It is to be regretted, I think, that the professional attitude of "win at
all costs" has so influenced amateur sport and in particular school sport.

It is often forgotten who the real opponent is; "we have seen the enemy and
he is us".

Best Regards.

"I hope that I succeeded in conveying the importance of maintaining the
tension in the game I played against Gregory Kaidanov. The stakes were quite
high given that it was a crucial round of the US Championship, and the
position was painfully difficult to play--we were both burning to do
something drastic, but we also knew that the correct way of handling the
position was to let all the complications hang in the air. The question that
naturally arises is how do different players feel when engaged in such
positions? Do we all shudder from the pressure, or do some of us keep cooler
than others? I think that the answer to this question may lie in one's basic
philosophical approach to the chess experience. Have you ever asked
yourself, after spending years at some job or hobby or pursuit: what am I in
this for anyway? Do I play chess or the guitar or do I write or read to
bolster my ego or to grow as a human being? Am I in this for glory or
wisdom? Is it the process or the result that I value most?

    Developmental psychologists have done extensive research on this
question and on the effect of a student's attitude on his or her ability to
learn and ultimately master material. Dr. Carol Dweck, a leading researcher
in the field of developmental psychology, and a woman who I have enjoyed
studying with at Columbia University, makes the distinction between entity
and learning theories of intelligence. Children who are "entity theorists"
are prone to use language like "I am smart at this" and to attribute their
success or failure to an ingrained and unalterable level of ability at a
particular task or of intelligence altogether. "Learning theorists" are more
prone to describe their results with sentences like "I got it because I
worked very hard at it" or "I should have tried harder." While this research
is very extensive, and I can't begin to explain it in a few paragraphs,
suffice it to say that when challenged by difficult material, learning
theorists are far more likely to rise to the level of the game, while entity
theorists are more brittle and prone to quit.

    I have long preferred the question to the answer. In fact, I don't
really believe in answers in the unequivocal sense in which they are usually
referred to, because they always open the mind to larger enigmas. I see the
journey as a passage from one question to the next, and hopefully we will
continue to ask better and better ones. Maybe we can approach the truth, but
I believe there is a dangerous degree of hubris in the very notion of
certainty. In the words of the great ancient Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu,
"The mind stops with recognition." When we attach some static value on our
object or issue of focus, we immediately lose presence to ever-evolving
nuances. In a chess game, the second we think we've got it wrapped up, the
position changes character and our stiff state of mind can't adjust.
Similarly, the art of chess holds infinitely more value to me as a medium
for my growth as a human being than as a path to glory. The hollow external
accolades pale in comparison to the deeply rewarding sense of internal
nourishment that I experience after an intense day of study. Maybe these
values were imbedded in me from a young age because of the strong
unmaterialistic, and artistically vibrant influence of my family, or maybe I
just learned from childhood competitions that external success is hollow
because there is always someone--be it a rival or time itself--ready to tear
you down from the lonely pinnacle of success.

    In any case, I believe that performers are consistently undone by
materialism. When I have begun to smell the win, and my imagination drifted
to the feeling of victory and the post-tournament celebration, I have
inevitably blown the position. Similarly, when students of mine have said
during analysis of one of their games "Now I knew I was winning," they have
inevitably made errors that let the opponent back into the struggle. Also,
when players tell themselves "now I am busted" or "this position is
completely lost" they shut their minds off to the rest of the struggle and
miss countless chances to get back into the game.

    Thinking about the result of the game takes us out of the
moment--your consciousness is like a kite soaring with the wind that smashes
headlong into a tree. Suddenly your creativity stops. Flow is gone. But the
wind blows right along, only now it is without you. Imagine two timelines
running parallel to one another--one is your awareness (the kite) and the
other is the immediate situation on the chess board (the wind). When you
start to drift towards materialistic thoughts your timeline stops and the
chess position continues right along. The resulting layer of detachment is
very dangerous and playing through it has the feeling of staring into thick
fog. Interestingly, I have observed that the first things to go when this
detachment sets in are the sense of danger and alertness to slightly unusual
possibilities.

    But how can we fight the natural tendency to think about winning
when we are competing and the obvious goal is to win? This is a difficult
question, and one that should not be tackled glibly. First of all, I would
recommend a relationship to chess which has more to do with the process than
with results. This is not to say that we don't want to win--I am an
incredibly competitive guy and when I play I play to win--but there can be a
broader perspective that focuses on the larger growth process and the long
term ramifications of every moment. For example, when I was 8-years-old I
lost a huge game in the last round of my first national championships. Of
course I was devastated in the moment, but in retrospect that was the best
thing that ever could have happened to me because I worked the whole next
year and won the next championship. I learned that you have to sweat to win,
and I gained a respect for hard work. In contrast, I have seen many young
players who had so much easy early success that they never associated work
with victory, and when the going inevitably got rough they quit because they
were not prepared to buckle down.

    Whether you fool around with chess for a few weeks, delve into it
for a few years, or spend a lifetime enjoying its ever-expanding mysteries,
the art will teach you about yourself. If you open to the learning process
the experience will be intensely rewarding on many levels. So don't worry if
you lose a game, but learn from your errors; and don't become over-inflated
when you win, but maintain the humility of a true learner. Chess is not
about perfection. If it were, the game would lose much of its mystery and
artistry, and would quickly be dominated by computers. Human beings can
access and create the music of chess because the game is a channel for our
creative spirits. But our creativity is blunted by thoughts that take us out
of the struggle."


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RE: virus: Josh Waitzkin Chess Tutorial Excerpt
« Reply #1 on: 2006-02-13 02:53:39 »
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Thanks for the work. Stimulating. Challenging even. Think on the meta-implications of:
  • I'm winning. I get careless. I lose.
  • I'm losing. I may as well give up. I lose.
If either emotional position leads to losing, does this suggest that the unemotional realist is much more likely to win when playing either optimists or pessimists? In which case, how likely are the emotional to reach the upper echelons of any sport - particularly competitive cognitive events such as chess? Against this surmise, consider that chess, at least at the grandmaster level, tends to be dominated by prima donnas. Which possibly - but not absolutely necessarily - mitigates against the seed assertion.

Kind Regards

Hermit

The pessimist looks up at the clouds - and does not see the silver linings.
The philosopher looks up at the clouds - and shrugs.
The realist looks up at the clouds - and takes an umbrella.
The optimist does not even see the clouds - he's walking on them.

Contra: The pessimist is merely an optimist with computer experience.
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With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. - Steven Weinberg, 1999
Blunderov
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RE: virus: Josh Waitzkin Chess Tutorial Excerpt
« Reply #2 on: 2006-02-15 02:30:39 »
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[Blunderov] Glad you found it of interest. Once again it seems the questions are more important than the answers

A psychologist name of De Groote (IMS) did research, admittedly quite long ago, on the subject of the psychological characteristics of successful chess players. The conclusion to which he came was that an ability to tolerate frustration was paramount. More important than native intelligence, knowledge or calculating ability.

The worst possible way to cope with chess frustration is to fool oneself  into believing that everything is really better than it is.

Tartakower once remarked, in connection with a game that he drew with Capablanca, that one of the characteristics of the very strong player is the ability to recognise sufficiently early that the position is serious and then to undertake immediate remedial action. Everyone makes mistakes. The better players admit the fact immediately. Weaker players often persist in fond delusion to the point of no return.

At the Super GM level I imagine that matters are a bit different. You do not get into this class unless you have near perfect technique. You do not get into this class by self delusion about the state of your game. Something more is required to be very successful at this level. For the most part, opening preparation is where it is at for these players. A slight chink in a forthcoming  opponent's repertoire may be sufficient for a point, that point may be sufficient to win the tournament.

But more than this, IMO, the very great are just natural born killers. Alekhine, Fischer, Kasparov. These men have/had a will to win that is very extreme. The current WC Topalov is another such. (It was once remarked of Kasparov that he would tear the leg off his own grandmother and beat her to death with it if that is what it would take to beat her at a game of checkers.) 

Getting back to objectivity, another Josh Waitkin tutorial excerpt for those who might be interested.

"One day, when I was 18 or 19 years old I was walking on 33rd street and Broadway in NYC to teach one of my chess classes to my team at PS 116. Every one who has grown up in Manhattan knows that it is important to look both ways before crossing the street--cars run lights and bicyclists often ride the wrong way down a one way street--admittedly, I have been guilty of the latter. To survive in the city one mustn't blindly leave his fate to the traffic light gods. So I was waiting for the light, thinking about the ideas that I would soon be discussing with my students, when I noticed that a woman wearing headphones had walked right into oncoming traffic and was completely oblivious to the chaotic street that she was crossing. Just then, as she looked right, a bicycle bore down on her from the left. The biker lurched away at the last second, but still gave her a harmless bump. This was a critical moment in the woman's life. She had a near miss and could easily have walked away unscathed if she had just stepped back onto the pavement--but instead she turned to the fading bicyclist and cursed his impudence. There she was, standing with her back to the traffic on 33rd and Broadway screaming at the back of a biker who just performed a miracle to avoid smashing into her. If that moment could be frozen in time it would be a terrifying image for us all to weep over and learn from. A taxi cab was the next to speed onto the scene--the woman was struck from behind and sent reeling 10 feet into the air. She smashed into a lamp post and was knocked out and bleeding badly. The ambulance and police came and eventually I walked on to PS 116 only hoping that she might survive.

   Regaining presence and clarity of mind after making a serious error is a struggle for all competitors and performers. Great stage actors often miss a line but improvise their way back on track. The audience rarely notices because of the perfect ease with which the performer glides back from troubled waters into the tranquillity of the script. What is more, the truly great ones can make the moment work for them--heightening their performance with improvisations that throb with immediacy and life. Cellists, violinists, chess players, actors, basketball players, and countless others all understand that brilliant performances are often born of small errors. The problems set in if the performer has a relationship to his or her art which has a brittle dependence on the safety of absolute perfection or duplication. Then an error shatters the glass menagerie and some clouded state of detachment haunts the decision making process. This is quite common among chess players, and the danger is that a small ripple can quickly rise into a tidal wave if the player does not regain a peace of mind with which to tackle the new situation.

   In chess, one form that the downward spiral can take is in the strange emotional attachment a player often has to a past evaluation. Say you have a much better position and then make an error that allows your opponent to equalize. There is nothing wrong with equality, but because of the transition and your resulting cloudiness, you may be prone to cling onto the past situation and in your evaluations reject variations in which you are equal because emotionally you are still much better even though there is no longer any objective justification for such an attitude. What results is a downward spiral where the foundering player at once despairs and pushes, with hollow over-confidence, for more than there is. At once too high and too low, there is a complete absence of objectivity, and when we try to squeeze more out of a position than we have a right to expect, we will inevitably make the situation progressively worse. Our vision gets cloudier as the position gets further away from us--and we make mistakes that are far beneath our level. Sometimes all a chess player needs is a bucket of cold water over the head--something to wake us from the lethargic resignation to our emotional swings. With practice and introspective attentiveness, we can learn to be our own cold water."

Posted by: Hermit   Posted on: 2006-02-13 00:53:39   
Thanks for the work. Stimulating. Challenging even. Think on the meta-implications of:
I'm winning. I get careless. I lose.

I'm losing. I may as well give up. I lose.
If either emotional position leads to losing, does this suggest that the unemotional realist is much more likely to win when playing either optimists or pessimists? In which case, how likely are the emotional to reach the upper echelons of any sport - particularly competitive cognitive events such as chess? Against this surmise, consider that chess, at least at the grandmaster level, tends to be dominated by prima donnas. Which possibly - but not absolutely necessarily - mitigates against the seed assertion.

Kind Regards

Hermit

The pessimist looks up at the clouds - and does not see the silver linings.
The philosopher looks up at the clouds - and shrugs.
The realist looks up at the clouds - and takes an umbrella.
The optimist does not even see the clouds - he's walking on them.
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