I loved Sasha Chapin’s All the Wrong Moves. It’s one of the best novels of incompetence I’ve read. This is the truth about chess: you’re bad at it. Almost everyone is. Even the best player you know is bad at it. Even if you played seriously for a year or two, you’d still be bad at it.
You must accept that you’re bad before you can become good:
But as Finegold told me in one of my first lessons, almost nobody engages in this self-acceptance. “Everyone thinks they’re better than they are. Everyone thinks they’re underrated. Every game, they think they played badly because they were just in a bad mood, or their opponent got lucky and picked the right move. But it’s not true. If your rating is 1200, that’s probably where you belong. And you’ll improve only when you stop making excuses. If your mood is really the problem, then it’s not a good excuse—it just means you need to improve your mood. When you realize how bad a player you are, you can focus on the real problems in how you’re playing. Being a winner starts when you realize what a loser you are.”
Style cannot emerge until you have a basis of skill:
That’s how I wanted to play, I’d decide, for a day or two. I wanted to be complicated and idiosyncratic. But soon I’d completely reverse that decision, assuring myself that I should adopt a resolute, defensive style, a shift that would then last a couple of days until I changed my ways once again. Now, looking back, this inconstancy seems impossibly silly. I was like a child who couldn’t draw a house with crayons deciding whether to be more like Jackson Pollock or Francis Bacon. But that’s where I was at—wheeling around wildly, gaining little.
This is an interesting pairing with that Ira Glass business about your taste developing faster than your skills. You might like, as a consumer, the attacking bravado of Tal. But your own style must come later, as an outgrowth of skill development. What you are good at playing, and what you like watching, might be different.
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