Saturday, December 15, 2007

A simple recipe for chess mastery

To avoid mistakes is the beginning, as it is the end, of mastery in chess. If you make no mistakes you can be certain of never losing a game, and very constantly you will win it.
                Znosko-Borovsky (How not to play chess)
Now isn't that easy? And all this time I've been trying to make mistakes. I thought I was doing really well, as I was making them every game.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

If both players make no mistakes the game would always end in a draw and there should be no fun in playing the game anymore.

Please try to make mistakes

12/15/2007 08:34:00 AM  
Blogger Ryan said...

My local free newspaper, the Metro, has a regular item called 'No s**t Sherlock' and Znosko-Borovsky's quote would fit right in.

12/15/2007 11:09:00 AM  
Blogger Polly said...

Or as that really annoying car ad goes.....


12/15/2007 12:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doesn't he have a point, though? If you set your knowledge of DO's in chess against your knowledge of DONT's, which one's the more useful? And as Kasparov says, focusing on DO's (on successful plans, that is) carries the risk of becoming complacent.

So I'd say this quote has at least an inkling of wisdom in it. Unlike Pandolfini's comment on exchaning pieces, which I quoted elsewhere:

"If you capture an enemy rook with a rook of your own and your opponent takes your rook in turn, you have exchanged rooks. If you capture the enemy queen and your opponent captures your queen, you have exchanged queens. If you give up a bishop and gain one back, you have exchanged bishops. If you lose a knight and win an enemy knight, you have exchanged knights."

12/15/2007 02:26:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Christian: you are, of course, right.

At first I was going to print this quote alone, but I decided to put a humorous spin on it.

I'm not sure I see Kasparov's point. Any negative habit can be turned around into a positive habit (e.g., I don't think enough in sharp positions becomes I need to think longer in sharp positions).

Eliminating negatives is half the battle, if not more :)

12/15/2007 03:36:00 PM  
Blogger chessboozer said...

I worked out that when I have white at the start of the game I have a forced win in 327 moves. However I have yet to play a game without making a mistake, its very difficult to remember all the variations. Has anyone else had a similar experience?

12/15/2007 07:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there,

The quote is trivial, but its still worth considering. After all, one can only win if the opponent destroys him- or herself. In a way chess is a "negative game"- only mistakes can be made (the good/great moves are only considered good/great because we had difficulties in finding them. Beauty in chess imho comes from doing the unexpected and complicated, this is a huge difference to other sports (of course there can be beauty in consequence and simplicity as well and in other sports unexpected actions are part of the thrill)). When looking upon forced variations this is pretty obvious. I guess the whole game has forced variations (or might be one huge tree of "forced" variations), they are simply too complex for us. But if that is the case then the role of mistakes has to be the same as in tactics. If someone puts a rook where I can simply take it and then I take it, what characterized this event: Me taking the rook or rather him putting it there? I think, rather the last thing. The mistake is characteristic, not so much the exploitation. Does this change, when we change the situation to an allowed fork? No. To a fork after a deflection? No. So it goes on towards more and more complexity and the only thing happening each time are mistakes on one side and correct play on the other. There are great moves in chess- but they are "great" only in as much as we are "stupid" ;)

kind regards,

12/15/2007 07:34:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

svensp: interesting points. It would be all draws with no mistakes, so clearly someone has to really screw up for someone to lose. No mistakes and the game ends as it began...around 0.34 evaluation, not enough for a win :)

12/15/2007 10:03:00 PM  
Blogger Glenn Wilson said...

Mistakes can be thought of in a relative sense.

There are moves that a GM would consider a mistake that I am unable to fathom as such, Or, a move that a Rybka or a Fritz says is a mistake but exceeds my ability to calculate is a mistake in an absolute sense but is not a "mistake" for me -- it is still a bad move but it was beyond my ability.

So, without playing perfectly, if I just play without making mistakes that I should avoid my results would improve.

IOW, if one plays their best on every move, one's results would improve. Of course, that is not the meaning of the Z-B quote.

12/16/2007 04:15:00 AM  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

It does say something of the main goal you should strive for with your moves: maintain the balance.

Until your opponent disturbs the balance by making a mistake. Then you go for his throat.

This sounds very unambitious in the ears of a gambiteer. Yet this is exactly what Nimzowitsch said.

12/16/2007 05:21:00 AM  
Blogger BlunderProne said...

Have you looked at teh reviews of this little morsel of a book?

It sounds like a book filled with more than trite oneliners. It soudns like its geared for us patzers.

Just trying to balance things out... mind you, the book is in descriptive notation... but then again... it's not in Old english notation like hte link to Howard Staunton's book, The Chess Player's Handbook is. ( I have posted about this on my blog just recently)

I am revisting " this old book" lately and discovering new ideas ( for me) becuase they aren't clouded with the all the over analysis and hypertheorhetical clutter of some of the new books.

Clarity comes in simpler writings. A simple message like " Don't make bad moves" may seem too simple. But it opens my eyes to what else this simpleton can explain.

I'm a caveman... I like simple

12/16/2007 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

BP: It's a perfectly reasonable quote from a book I have never read.

12/16/2007 05:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The one thing required to become a good chessplayer is the ability to learn from your mistakes.

I was reading a GM-annotated game between two GMs. The annotator praised the player who deliberately opened a file against his own castled position ( to inflict his opponent with the dreaded "doubled pawns", got hammered with doubled rooks, queen and bishops, but miraculously defended against a myriad of dangerous mating variations.

So the next day I did the same thing and, of course got mated since 1) I am a patzer, not a GM and 2) quick-time play favors the attacker all the more.

Next time I listen to my good old common sense. I will learn from my mistake. (;-)

12/17/2007 10:55:00 AM  
Blogger Robert Pearson said...

A lot of good points in comments here but I don't know if anyone has really penetrated to what I feel is the heart of the quote; from my own experience I can say that for many, many years I always tried to do something in most every position, always going forward if possible, attacking something, threatening something, always trying to be "forceful," in a word.

Well, this is often called for, but lately I've had some pretty good success with just "being" (as J. Rowson calls it), waiting for the opponent's mistake before doing something forceful to take advantage of it. I just try to play a healthy opening, not a sharp one, and build up my position while limiting the other person's options and opportunities. This isn't "negative" chess, and I'm no Petrosian, but it does cut down on mistakes from my side.

Of course, sometimes the opponent plays sharply right from the opening and one has to meet that, but I feel confident that if I haven't made a "mistake" his aggression can be met without disadvantage.

To sum up, unless one is playing a 2600 GM you don't have to make a lot of "great" moves, just avoid serious mistakes and there will almost certainly be an opportunity placed in your lap by the opponent; and if he plays well, he can get a draw. This is not a method, more of a chess philosophy; in practice, of course, we will be making our mistakes as well, but this approach seems to work well for me when actually at the board considering what to do next.

12/17/2007 12:50:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Wahrheit: that's the strategy I took in tournaments against people with really low ratings. It worked. It felt like cheating though :)

12/17/2007 12:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think, there is a lot of truth in what you are saying. Against stronger opponents when I lose it happens more by getting "squeezed" and consequently not finding any good moves (at least, that's where the trouble starts, in the end there is almost always a tactic), which I regard as a hint that this is indeed a method of stronger players.


Did you try that strategy against stronger opponents too?

kind regadrs,

12/17/2007 02:49:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

svensp: no, I play more agressively with stronger opponents (and nowadays I play more agressively generally, especially against weaker players).

12/17/2007 03:07:00 PM  

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