Last weekend I played in the USCF rated side event to the Colorado vs. New Mexico team challenge in Fountain, Colorado.
The team event was a great idea where each state had a team of players, one from each class. Then each class played 2 games against each other, one with each color.
Congrats to the New Mexico, team who won by a full point. You can see the tournament results here.
During the event I had lunch with a chess friend of mine, that I have known for several years now. My friend, who is very intelligent, and in his mid-30s, told me a story that is unfortunately very common in the chess world.
My friend told me that an expert that lives near him was bugging him to take chess lessons from him. After a while, my friend told me that he accepted the expert’s offer. My friend was interested in improving his chess, and money was not an issue, so he decided to take the lessons.
The expert, who had a very different playing style, taught my friend how to convert subtle advantages in endgames, new strategies that my friend never knew about, and various positional elements. He recommended books such as “How to Reassess Your Chess”, which my friend spent a lot of time and energy reading.
As you would expect, all of learning and this hard work payed off for my friend, and he felt as if he knew more about chess than ever before…
He spent a lot of time, energy and money on the lessons…
AND HIS CHESS RATING FELL 150 POINTS!
I don’t want to give my friend’s name, because I don’t want to embarrass anyone, especially the chess teacher.
So how can this happen? How can you take lessons from a better player, read and learn about chess from popular books by famous International masters, and have your rating go down?
Just about any activity that I have tried, and taken lessons or classes or coaching, I got better as a result.
I have taken golf lessons, and they improved my golf score.
I have taken technical computer courses, and learned valuable skills that I later applied.
I have studied public speaking, and became better at it.
So why is my friend’s story so common, and counter intuitive?
It is because Chess KNOWLEDGE is not the same as Chess ABILITY.
It reminds me of this scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark:
In the scene Indiana Jones comes across some sort of ninja warrior with amazing skills with the sword. The ninja tosses his knife back and forth, and dances around displaying his abilities.
This ninja probably spent his entire life to become the best sword fighter in his country. He probably spent years meditating, building his physical strength, honing his hand-eye coordination. Years practicing various skills using the sword in both a defensive and offensive manner. A lifetime of learning.
Then Indiana Jones pulls out a gun and shoots him!
The scene is brilliant. You expect Indiana Jones to get into some sort of typical movie fight, with all sorts of fancy tricks, but he just does the practical thing, and shoots the ninja.
This scene reminds me of chess, and how games are being won and lost at the class level.
This teacher was showing my friends all of the advances techniques that Grandmasters use to exploit microscopic advantages. Then my friend would show up at a chess tournament, and get crushed.
My friend was bringing a knife to a gun fight!
Games at the class level are decided by TACTICS. Just about NOTHING else. While my friend was learning all these interesting things, he was NOT studying chess tactics.
His focused changed from “Hey is my piece safe here” to “What is a good outpost square for my knight”.
His focuses changed from “What pieces are loose” to “Whose pawn structure is more favorable in the endgame”.
As a result his rating tanked.
That is why I don’t focus on chess KNOWLEDGE, but chess ABILITY.
It is no good to learn anything unless it causes you to win more games.
Don’t be the ninja with a ton of useless knowledge – be Indiana Jones who wins in the most efficient manner!