Monday, December 31, 2012

Memories of a 3500 Player (for New Year's Eve)

(Yes, this post has nothing to do with Jews -- but I am allowed one such post a year, am I not?)

First, I would like to apologize for the lack of updating of this blog for a while, for personal reasons. I hope to get better soon at it.

Second, I am the 3500+ player in question. Well, not really. My rating is, let us say, significantly below 2000. But, if all the chess books I have had fulfilled their promise -- "will raise your rating by 50 / 100 / 200 points" -- then, put together, they should have made me at least a 3500, if not a 5000, player. It is a mystery to me as to why this is not the case.

There really ought to be a law about books that promise such rating increase. It almost never happens. But what is more, it completely misses the point. Suppose there was some simple trick -- say, a sure-fire way to make sure you never ever hang a piece or a pawn -- that made it possible for you to beat all mediocre players, and thus make you by default a "master" player. Would this make you a good player? Certainly not! You would win a lot of rating points, sure -- by waiting for your mediocre opponents to blunder. But you would not really know chess any better.

It is simply absurd that amateur players are so concerned about their meaningless rating. What difference did it ever make for an amateur to be rated, say, 1400 instead of 1800? I challenge anybody to give me one instance where it made any difference, apart for one's ego.

If it were up to me, I would simply cancel the rating system for anybody below FM strength. The advantage -- easier to fit people with similar skill -- seems to me to be far outweighed by the disadvantages, namely, that most amateurs consider actually playing the game to be a bother, a necessary distraction on the way towards the REAL goal, raising one's rating from 1625 to 1677.

Is this not absurd? Would it not be much better if amateur players simply played the game -- and get a lot stronger -- than "protect" their (meaningless) rating? What's more, rating stops improvement. Instead of players trying to learn, say, new openings, or trying to play in ways they are weak in so as to eliminate their weaknesses (say, positional players deliberately going for tactical complications and vise versa), they prefer to settle for the same-old, same-old, so as not to risk losing games and "hurt their rating" -- damning them to never, ever improve significantly... not to mention, never actually enjoying the richness of the game.

After all, the vast majority of us will never play as well as the top players. But surely the whole point is to sample the richness of the game of chess -- even if we risk losing? It is one thing if, say, Bobby Fischer has a "secret weapon" in the Sicialin Najdorf to unleash against other top GMs, or for Petrosian to prefer a prophylactic, positional style. We say they played like that because they could play any sort of position very well, only they preferred specific styles when possible. It is something completely different than for an amateur to be deathly afraid to play the Sicilian (for example) because he simply had no idea about tactics, and thus is afraid to lose rating points!

This is not a player who has a "positional style" -- this is a player who doesn't know how to play chess, period.  Had he learned to play tactically, as well, and then found out that he prefers positional play, even on a lower lever than the top players (of course), that is one thing. But saying your style is "positional" because you don't know tactics, or to claim your style is "aggressive" because you do not know the simplest rook endings and therefore must do or die with sacrificial attacks, is meaningless. It's fooling yourself -- because you are afraid to lose games when you try to improve. And why do you fear to lose games? Because, oh heaven, you might lose rating points.

My new year's wish? Elimination of the rating system for all but the world's top 1%, or 0.1%.

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