Loss and Rating Points in Chess: a Stoic's Approach

The relish of good and evil depends in a great measure upon the opinion we have of them. – Michel de Montaigne

Loosing is bad, winning is good, right? No one who plays anything competitively can believe otherwise. No mater what attitude we have towards losses, having lost we all would have rather won. Having won, we’d consider a fool any person trying to convince us that losing would be better. But must we have an emotional response to losing? Must we fear losing when faced with a higher rated player? Should our heartrate go up when faced with an unexpected move that looks to be winning?

The ancient Stoics divided things into three categories: things that are under our control, things not under our control, and things that are only partly under our control. They would have placed in the second two categories anything external to us as well as our own bodies. The only thing that they believed was under our control was our mind. In the past few decades the field of Neuroscience has shown beyond any measure of doubt that the mind arises out of the interplay between our bodies and our brains. I believe, therefore, that we must consign the first category to the dustbin of time. Our minds are only partly under our control. Our thoughts and opinions are things that happen to us. Consider this story.

Random Endgame Positions from Lichess

Every few days I am going to Lichess to search for endgame positions to test my knowledge. The usual types of study techniques should be used.

  1. Analyze on your own first.

  2. Later that day or the next day, check your analysis with an engine by playing against it. Remember that productive forms of learning where you actively try to apply your own ideas and get feed back are better than passive forms.

  3. Any errors that you made need to be loaded into your personal Chessable course for further review.

Spend as little time as possible selecting your examples. The rating of the players does not matter. Just search, copy the FEN and get out. Here are today’s examples.


How to Study using Understanding Chess Move by Move and Similar Books

How to Study using Understanding Chess Move by Move

Key study methodologies: generation, elaboration, spacing

Day 1

Take a game from Understanding Chess Move by Move and go through its moves using ChessBase or some other DB program. Do not choose a game you have studied before and do not use the book. You must use your own ideas, uninfluenced by someone else’s analysis. Take some notes about what you think is going on. You do not need to do a deep analysis but you should note the plans that you see being used by each player. Ensure that you answer, at the very least, the following questions.

1.       Who won the opening battle and why?

2.       What were the key moments of the game?

3.       What large errors or blunders were made? And why?

4.       What positional errors were made?

5.       Could the pawn-structure have been profitably changed by either side?

6.       Did the losing side make any poor exchanges or miss any good ones?

Questions from Kislik, Erik. Applying Logic in Chess

Day 2

The next day study the game using the analysis in the book. Take very specific notes and any ideas that you missed, interesting variations, etc. should be added to Chessable for spaced review. You should do this the following day, don’t wait more than 2 days.

Day 5

Several days after performing the step above, perform your own analysis of the game without using your notes. This is your rough draft. Next, check and update your analysis using your notes. You must use the key concepts at the end of each game in the book (the list of “lessons”) and elaborate them. If you can, relate the ideas in this game to ideas in another game you are familiar with. If you cannot, find additional examples of the main ideas in other games and work this into your final draft.

Anything that you missed in your rough draft or did not include needs to be placed in Chessable if you have not already done so. Any item that you missed on both Day 2 and again on Day 5 (meaning it’s already in Chessable, you reviewed the ideas and still missed them in your rough draft analysis) needs to be studied in another context. If it is a strategic theme, consult another book for additional examples of the theme and add the appropriate positions to Chessable. The more examples of the idea that you can find, the better. You must find at least 3. If you missed a tactical idea, search for other examples of the tactical motifs. You should find a lot of these. I’d say at least 10 but the more the better. You don’t need to put all of these into Chessable. The most interesting or difficult ones are likely all you need.

Why is Day 1 important? Isn’t it better to first read the analysis by the author to learn the material?

Unsuccessful attempts to solve a problem encourage deep processing of the answer when it is later supplied, creating fertile ground for its encoding, in a way that simply reading the answer cannot. It’s better to solve a problem than to memorize a solution. It’s better to attempt a solution and supply the incorrect answer than not to make the attempt.

Studies showing that generation can improve retention include L. L. Jacoby, On interpreting the effects of repetition: Solving a problem versus remembering a solution, Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 17 (1978), 649– 667, and N. J. Slamecka & P. Graf, The generation effect: Delineation of a phenomenon, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory 4 (1978), 592– 604. More recently, the act of generation before a learning episode has also been shown to enhance performance; see L. E. Richland, N. Kornell, & L. S. Kao, The pretesting effect: Do unsuccessful retrieval attempts enhance learning? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied 15 (2009), 243– 257.

Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, Mark A. McDaniel, 2014

Do not fall into the trap of believing that it is unhelpful to be wrong. You must embrace errors and see them as opportunities. This is not a cheesy feel-good platitude intended to make you feel better and encourage you. It is a learning strategy that is supported by science but it is uncomfortable for people learning anything, not just chess, and it makes learning harder both psychologically and from the perspective of mental strain. We don’t like to work hard needlessly and we don’t like to be wrong. Many people think that it is bad teaching to be asked to answer a question without having first been given the information needed to answer it. But being given the solution up front provides results that are less durable than being asked to solve the problem first and possibly getting it wrong. Ask yourself this: Do you want to remember the material you are learning long enough to answer some quiz at the end of a chapter or do you want to remember it in 3 months when the idea arises in one of your games? Be wrong now so that you are more likely to be right in one of your games.