This Week In Chess — Going All In.

A little less flailing, a little more structure.

Something resembling a schedule is starting to fall into place. It just took some time to figure out how to make it work. Also, my Sunday playing blog has a series title, “This Week In Chess”. Let’s look at this week.

The Good

  • I started the #100daysofchess on Twitter on Thursday. Actually the day I started, 100 days from then is the cut off for the early bird entry for the tournament I want to attend. I’m using this as a baseline for the other tasks I need to do, like join the Southern California Chess Federation (a requirement for tournament entry, I believe). I’m already an unrated USCF member. Tournament preparation has begun!
  • Rather than trying to juggle my coach’s study plan guidelines (50% tactics, 25% analysis, 25% playing), I decided to focus in on some aspects and building the discipline. I focused on just finding the time to do tactics puzzles every day. It was mostly online puzzles, but I’m also still working through Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess.
  • I finished week 1 of Couch to 5k on Wednesday! Even though I haven’t started week 2, I did managed to find other active things to do (light cardio with the dog, tried out a peleton, etc).

Chess has been one of the few things in my life that actually makes me energized enough to want to work out. I want to be better player more than I want to not exercise. Doing mindfulness has helped a lot with that — I think working out, getting sweaty, being sore, are all uncomfortable feelings. There’s no pleasant experience there to motivate me to keep it up initially. I don’t see the payoff of losing weight or feeling good right away. Accepting that it’s uncomfortable but I’m doing it anyways helps. Knowing that the “anyways” in this case, it’s really for chess, to play chess well.

Chess is a lot like that — there’s a lot of stuff you have to learn at the beginning, a lot of losing, that’s all uncomfortable as an initial learner. There’s no good reward when you’re just starting. There’s no luck involved when you play, it’s all skill. Because it’s all brand new, there’s no way you’re going to win. That’s a big barrier of entry. I think where it got really fun initially for me, was the pattern making. I got to use those patterns to build strategy in your head to try to get ahead.

Anyways…other good things:

Neal Bruce suggested Atomic Habits by James Clear. That’s been a book that’s recommended to me by other folks in tech as well. But now it’s permeating through chess, too! I started that this week. Mitchell and I have sort of jokingly started the “Neal Bruce Jr. club,” but Neal’s worked on his chess every day for 5 years. It’s really inspiring.

Also my second mindfulness post is up this week on Chessable! I wrote about the science of mindfulness, and what we can learn from it as chess players. You can check it out here.

Gotta love the #chesspunks crew! We’re a fun bunch.

The Stuff I Need To Work On

  • Mindfulness. I started out meaning well this week. I meant to start this week by building small moments of mindfulness into approaching the chess board. I did some small, one minute breathing at the beginning of the week before sitting down to work on tactics. By the end of the week…it got a little lost in the shuffle.
  • I got my neurology testing results, and it’s ADHD. My neurologist gave me lots of strategies for figuring out how to manage things. I’m working on trying to apply it to chess too. It’s gonna be a lot of trial and error, but the most important thing seems to be building (and maintaining) a structured schedule so I can focus on the things that matter to me. Solidifying good habits so I just do them automatically without having to spend too much mental energy on it. I passed on my learning-related results to my coach to help us both.
  • Something I’m slipping behind on is fundamentals. I haven’t been using the Magnus Trainer app as much as I used to and it’s starting to show (I know some parts of notation but I haven’t solidified all of it in my mind, for example). Definitely need to add more fundamental work into my study time.

Reading this section back, this still feels so basic. But I know that I have to put in the time to do this. I know that if I don’t have a good working relationship with mindfulness, if I don’t have good fundamental skills, it’s going to show when I start playing over the board. A good opponent will use all of these pitfalls to their advantage. The psychological aspect of the game is something I don’t have access to in a pandemic, but I’m excited to add that element in.

Playing in 3D

Speaking of playing over the board, California is reopening in a few short weeks. There’s a local club in my area, and I’m really excited about it! It’s run by a NM, and they play against other clubs. I’m curious to see what it’s going to be like? I pretty much exclusively play online, but I am a really tactile person. I’d prefer to play on a real set. I wonder how much of a learning curve there will be for the group of adult improvers who play exclusively in 2D and then have to begin to think in 3D.

I actually wonder if this is a particular issue I am having in studying. Sometimes I get tunnel vision on my options as I think through my piece —I know it can move to squares X, Y, and Z. When I’m that zone, I forget it can move to square Z, and square Z is actually the best move I can make. My coach uses the cue “angle” to remind me to open up my mental scope and see what else it out there. Playing on a screen, I can’t get up and actually view the board from a different perspective, literally.

This switch from 2D to 3D would be really interesting to explore in about a month or so when things reopen. Still no date for the first local chess club meeting, but I’m looking forward to it.

That’s all I got this week! Let me know what you think, what you’d like to see more of.

Jessi is a junior UX Designer at DIA Design Guild. She lives in Los Angeles and can be found on twitter @jessishakarian.