Friday, August 31, 2007

A Good Letter

Every month, I look forward to Bruce Pandolfini's column at ChessCafe. I find that I can identify with many posters with respect to their questions and concerns.

This month's ChessCafe's Q&A Session with Bruce Pandolfini article ends with a letter that struck a chord in me. I thought the post was very insightful and encouraging and I would like to share it with everyone. Taken from ChessCafe:

R. Surf (England) writes: I recently started up chess as a way to fill some time while I was doing a sabbatical traveling around the world, which turned into a never going back to the International Banking World in New York/London. I write now, but not nearly well enough to pay the bills like my previous job. In 2002, IM Malcolm Pein gave me the book: Tactics for Advanced Players, by Averbakh, with the not too subtle caveat, “You know everything about nothing. Learn tactics!”

As a very well paid London banker I did not take this personally, because, heck, he was a just a chess player depending on the patronage of terrible players with large checkbooks like me. But in 2005, I decided to play chess again after a fifteen year hiatus. Oh, and I actually read the Averbakh book cover to cover, I set up almost every position in the book and repeated this process several times. I then put his exercises into a database that I call Tactical Destruction. I added further exercises from Edward Lasker’s Modern Chess Strategy and Vukovic’s Art of Attack, and along the way I added all my terrible blunders and occasional successes from online games. Together with exercises from various other sources, I now have over 535 cards that I know.

But this has been a chess journey of over two years. In those years I can only give the following to justify my work: the FMs in a chess club that I occasionally visit (one of whom said to me in annoyance “You play like Morphy!”) are no longer willing to play for money at even odds and try to avoid playing me. But the best part of this experience, the other players say, with the hope I will share the secret, “They are scared of you.” Everyone thinks that I was faking my 1900+ rating. I take it with a smile and realize that I know nothing, except 535 positions better than anyone else in this club. As Malcolm said, “You know everything about nothing. Learn tactics!”

I know Malcolm Pein does not even know who I am and probably will never remember this incident, but if you happen to have contact with him at the higher levels of chess Nirvana, then please tell him “thank you” from a once well-to-do banker and now a poor but happy writer. In the meantime, I will continue building and refining my database, because I realize that until you can see the basics, all those books, from My System to Dvoretsky, are simply meaningless if you cannot see the tactics that are beneath the surface.

Regarding Blitz, it is unlikely unless you are some child prodigy or an adult who has played chess his entire life that you will ever be any good at it. I sincerely believe that it is the worst thing in the world for chess. But in fairness, I have no clue how to play this game. Still, I will venture the following thought to my detractors, that no other sport in the world turns their game from a contest of one hour to eighty-five minutes into a five minute debacle of who can move pieces faster than the other player. To paraphrase former World Champion Dr. Lasker, from his Manual of Chess, “Speed Chess will be the death of Chess.” (BP – I couldn’t have said it any better.)

© 2007 Bruce Pandolfini. All Rights Reserved.

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