Sunday, April 13, 2008

Damn it feels good to be a patzer

Sure, there are downsides to being a patzer. Like....well, sucking at chess. But there are a lot of perks that come along with sucking at chess. In no particular order:

1. You get to be a reckless gunslinger.
All that subtle opening advice meant for GMs? Fuck it. It's not meant for me. I can blithely play unsound gambits such as the Englund, and it is not a problem. Indeed it seems to actually be a good thing because it helps me get better at tactics (see #2) and throws my opponents off guard. Yes, playing unsound gambits is said to be a stage, but it sure is a fun stage, and also a helpful stage. If I were better, I'd have to settle into openings my grandma used to play. So, beginners, go ahead and play gambits. You won't be able to forever, so take advantage (and see #2).

2. Tactics is everything.
Sure, I learn other stuff to be well-rounded and all that, to gain an aesthetic appreciation for the game. But in practice 90% of my games are decided by simple tactics, and even more in blitz play. This was true even before I started playing gambits. So there isn't a lot of subtlety about what I need to work on, how I can improve. Until the pieces stop dropping, there is nothing else as important to work on. (Note as my rating approached 1500 at ICC, I noticed this percentage started to drop off significantly, and it seems to continue to drop off as you improve, until games are won by boredom--but by then you will think winning a game because someone dropped a piece to a two-move tactic is boring, so you will be fine).

3. Pretty much no matter what you do, you will improve.
When the temperature is absolute zero, the only way to go is up. Yeah, we bicker about methods for chess improvement here. I am a broken record about the importance of chess coaches, some like to write subtle treatises on motor control and implicit memory and 'knowledge transfer.' But when you suck, none of it really matters. You will improve when following either trendy or old-fashioned study methods, as long as you do something to improve.

4. The learning curve is very steep.
When starting out, you learn a lot of really cool things really fast. The better you get, the more slowly you improve, the less often you have mind-blowing insights into the mechanics of the game. It is the exact same way in any science. When I started out in my neuroscience training, there were these orgiastic insights nearly daily as I gobbled up all the basic facts I could about the brain. Now, even though I monitor all the journals, the rate of such major insights is much lower, very few things surprise me. As a beginner, you get an intellectual feast from the most elementary sources.

Those are the most obvious cool things about being a total patzer. So, fellow patzers of the world, enjoy it! If you can think of any others, let us know. Of course, the list would be much longer if the topic were 'Why being a patzer sucks.' But the up sides shouldn't be ignored. It makes me want to stay a patzer the rest of my life. Yeah, I'm a patzer because I want to be! That's it.

Pic above from one of the best movies of all time, Office Space (click for some scenes).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, beginners, go ahead and play gambits. You won't be able to forever

Yes you are. But it takes balls. And it certainly makes chess a helluva lot more exciting. True, some gambits really seem to be unsound at a certain level but there are also gambits that hold their own even at GM level. Take a look at Short vs Lámi or Short vs Sargissian. Remember, your gambit gets better as you get better.

4/14/2008 12:00:00 AM  
Blogger wang said...

Great points! I almost don't feel bad about sucking now. Thanks for that.

4/14/2008 04:31:00 AM  
Blogger takchess said...

I think your post points to some of the WHY of playing chess.

I've been thinking this lately: If I knew that it was impossible to improve at chess would I continue to study it ? If I knew that it was impossible to get any better would I continue to play chess ? My answer to both of these is yes.

Another question: would I play a line that I knew won more but wasn't as much fun to play ? I would play the line I enjoyed.

4/14/2008 07:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

YES! After all, if you don't have to make a living out of chess, you can actually enjoy it. It is probably much harder to enjoy a good game if you need the price money. I never tried gambits myself but I do love questionable sacs ;-)

Have fun!

4/14/2008 10:10:00 AM  
Blogger Polly said...

Damn! Look at all the fun I've been missing by having a respectable rating, and thinking I'm not a total screw up. Maybe I should tell them to let my floor drop so I can have a sucky rating and begin to enjoy chess again. Then maybe what I should really do is tudy some of this junk, and see if I get some cheap wins from it, and get off my lame floor.

Though seriously I think at times it's better to take the screw it, have fun and don't sweat the small or big stuff attitude.

4/14/2008 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Edwin: That is awesome, some great games and good reminder. That not all gambits are unsound, even at the GM level.

Wang: Don't mention it.

Tak: Great points. You have asked wonderful questions there, perhaps the key questions any chess enthusiast should ask himself. For me the answer is now yes.

Scirius: I have also become a fan of the questionable sacrifice. In my games, they usually end up with a ?. But when they do work out, boy howdy it is fun.

Polly: That's the ticket: you should envy me because I suck! Buahahaha. Now, of course I would rather be better, but I'm just saying there are some cool things about having a lot to learn. It's like being a child mentally, in a good way.

4/14/2008 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

some like to write subtle treatises on motor control and implicit memory and 'knowledge transfer.' But when you suck, none of it really matters. You will improve when following either trendy or old-fashioned study methods, as long as you do something to improve.

Sometimes I feel that you miss the real faith:)

You clearly explained why sucking is enjoyable. But when you stop improving no matter what you do, then it is good to have other options that are enjoyable too. For me, writing treatises is such option. Besides that, I hopefully will break the 1800 mark soon since I a'm having a very good season. Dropping my gambits for positional play has cured my biggest problem: time trouble. The Polar Bear is hard to beat in serious play.

4/14/2008 02:46:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Tempo: I think you are way past the target audience of this post. I am still in the thick of sucking, so at least have these small things to enjoy. Well, and the occasional win.

Overall, I buy the theoretical bits that argue for the importance of nondeclarative memory. That's why I did the Circles!

4/14/2008 02:51:00 PM  
Blogger Chessaholic said...

One more thing that's sort of implied in your post already: Being a patzer can be fun because there is a chance that you are much better than your actual USCF rating, and people in OTB tournaments underestimate you. My USCF rating sucks balls and fellow club members tell me that my skills have outgrown my rating, I just haven't played enough rated games for the rating to keep up. It's fun to see your OTB opponent start sweating when he realizes that you suck, but don't suck as bad as your rating suggests :)

4/14/2008 05:29:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

chessaholic: lol that is awesome. Maybe in a couple of years I'll crawl out of the shadows a butterfly...i.e., sandbagger. :)

4/14/2008 08:25:00 PM  
Blogger tanch said...

i wish i can remain a patzer but after my current competition ends, i'm gonna be plastered with a rating.

last night, i popped by my brother-in-law's club and decided to play in a friendly game competition.

the organiser asked me what my rating was and i told him i was unrated. and instead of putting the default 1200, he gave me a wink and put in 1500 and added,"i know you. you're also definitely better than this rating."

Awww... dang!

4/14/2008 08:36:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

happyhippo--say goodbye to the crazy world of U1200 players....

4/14/2008 09:52:00 PM  
Blogger Temposchlucker said...

The reason I felt adressed is because that sucking feeling seems to be omnipresent and universal, not limited to the lower rated. Besides that, there aren't too many fellow bloggers who write treatises about motorskills:)

4/15/2008 05:51:00 AM  
Blogger Glenn Wilson said...

"2. Tactics is everything."

There is hope for you yet. :)

4/15/2008 07:01:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Tempo: yes, yes, that was a reference to you, but clearly you are past the patzer stage as I've defined it. Grieve your childhood...

Tacticus: lol. I will never go to the dark side!

4/15/2008 09:53:00 AM  

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