Play stronger players and learn from your losses
“I really feel that the more you play, the better you get. I think that everyone has to realise that you have to lose about ten thousand games before you can become a good player. I know that I became a good player when I started losing well. In other words, the games weren’t a wipeout. I was showing resistance and both my opponent and I had actually played a good game.”
“You really need to be allowed to play those stronger than yourself so you can pick up ideas and see what their motivations are at the chessboard. I would say expand your circle to meet much stronger players.”
“I don’t like to work when I’m tired. I want to come to my study period in the same way that you come from the shower, fresh. This way I’m ready to burst out and absorb information. I also need to feel physically, emotionally and mentally in shape, so for the next five hours or so I can have a good study session. My sessions are usually fairly long as I don’t absorb enough in short periods. I also like to arrange my day so that I won’t be disturbed.”
[Talking about studying with a friend of his] “We studied the Sicilian Najdorf for two weeks and we knew it inside out. We were literally boarding the plane to go when we discovered a major flaw in a crucial line and we were heartbroken. I thought we had wasted our time, but James said:” Yasser, all study is good. Even if your analysis is bad, you’re still analysing and even if that line is bad, we still learned a hell of a lot about the Sicilian Najdorf.” That’s my basic philosophy of study. I want to have the feeling I’m enjoying it.
If I’m on my own I like to study whole games, especially games that players have annotated themselves. Not because I want to have all the answers or have everything laid out on a plate for me, but because I want to know what and how they think. What I do is take an incredibly negative approach to their annotation. Specifically, I think: “You’re wrong. I don’t care who you are, you’re wrong, that annotation doesn’t make any sense at all!” Then I try to prove that I’m right and they’re wrong. Again, supporting the theory that any analysis is good.”
Your skills are like individual muscles and you have to work the right ones. I find that with calculation comes the need to do blindfold work. In other words, if you start to think about analysis and calculation, you can’t move the pieces. So what I would say to you is that we’re not going to analyse, we’re not going to play blindfold, I’m going to read out moves to you and I want you to tell me how far you can hold the position until it becomes unclear. And the point is that if you’re able to mentally picture the clarity of the game, even if it gets complicated with sacrifices, then you’re going to improve. So, I believe that being able to play blindfold chess is a very important skill.
(Check out our “Chess Vision: Checkmate Edition” book for visualisation training)
Excerpted from “Interview with a Grandmaster”, Aaron & Claire Summerscale.