Moneyball and Chess Tactics

Last night I watched the movie “Moneyball” starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.

I had previously listened to the book that it was based on.

I enjoyed both versions of the story very much.

Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland A’s, was able to figure out, and take advantage of, the things in baseball that were most important to winning games, which other teams did not fully appreciate at the time.

It turned out these things were

  • Getting on base (high on base percentage)
  • Scoring runs

Pretty much nothing else mattered.

The scouts who were recruiting players were using their “intuition” and “experience” to determine which prospects would make good baseball players.

They looked at all kinds of information such as

  • the players defensive ability
  • ability to steal bases
  • how confident the player was
  • if he had the “look” of a baseball player

Billy Bean didn’t care about any of these.  He didn’t care if the player was old, fat, couldn’t play defense, had no confidence, etc as long as he could get on base.

He threw the conventional wisdom out the window, and focused on what worked based on the numbers and the statistics.

Most of the older coaches, managers and scouts did not like this idea.  They did not like the idea that baseball could be boiled down to just one or two things that are really important, and that the rest of it really isn’t that important.

I think a similar idea exists in the chess world – and that idea is study chess tactics to raise your rating, and win more games.

Chess tactics are the “on base percentage” to baseball.

It is the one thing that is the most important in determining who the winner is in a game between two class players.

Chess openings, endgames, strategy and positional play are similar to a baseball player’s defensive skills, confidence, and base stealing ability – nice to have but probably overvalued, and ultimately not what will win or lose games for you in the long run.

So take a lesson from Moneyball – look closely to see what the most important factors are in determining winning or losing, and focus on those to exclusion of everything else!

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