Overcoming Disappointment, Part Two: All In

I’ve had a rough six weeks when it comes to chess. On the one hand, yes, I got my rating to its highest ever. On the other hand, I’ve lost more games in the last few weeks than the last few months. All of them have been caused by gross blunders, and one of them still stings six weeks later.

I then wrote last week about trying to overcome that disappointment. I went from a stratospheric high, on the verge of beating a titled player in a regular game, to a subterranean low, blowing everything in one move. This game questioned my resolve, my fortitude, and early on I barely limped on. I even thought about quitting chess, just because I’ll never live it down and life would be better without feeling such pain.

But it’s hard….

I wavered between the two choices, either continuing my study or giving up entirely, and I told myself I need to make a choice. This week. No more waffling around, wallowing in self-pity. Go big or go home, and I have decided definitely to go big.

First off, what does this mean? It means I’m studying and playing chess again. A lot. It is what I spend most of my time on. My days are filled with chess things; on my free days I do everything and on my more busy days I only hit one or two. Regardless, lots of chess, and I’m loving it again. I’ll add all the details in a later post. Today, I want to focus on how I came to this decision.

There were many factors, some big, some small. In all honesty, a big reason was finishing my recent chess project. I went through every single game in my personal database, nearly 1,600 in total, and I analyzed all my wins. Not necessarily deeply, as there’s not much I can learn from games played ten years ago and nearly 1000 rating points below my current ability, but I analyzed them. Over 800 wins, some of them thrilling, some of them mundane, all of them memorable.

I couldn’t believe that at first. Here I was, looking at games played back in 2001 and 2002, and I remembered them. Not in vivid detail; I certainly didn’t have variations run through my head or anything like that, but I certainly recalled the thought process and emotions. I would play through the first ten moves and instantly recall, “Oh, this is the game where my opponent’s bishop got entombed on a7!” It came in a flash, and I was always right. I remembered playing these games.

As I went through them, I recalled my emotions, how I felt worried here or reassured there. It’s amazing, actually, especially as I look at these same positions with a much more mature chess level of understanding. My old thoughts were often completely wrong, either overconfident or worried about phantoms, but I still remembered them, vividly.

It made each game almost a story. Rather than just the moves on the screen, I saw adventures and epic battles play out. Contests of ideas waged war over the chessboard. I saw my incredible overconfidence in some positions, calmly marching towards ruin … and yet it worked time and time again. Attacks and counter-attacks, blunders and counter-blunders, they all danced before me, and I remembered every emotion, every nuance, everything.

Chess seems to lend itself to such imaginative splurges.

I never expected this, and I never thought so much emotion was packed in a chess game. Well, maybe that shouldn’t surprise me, as I was thinking about giving up chess due to the emotional devastation of losing a close game. Still, when I think chess, I think cold logic, mathematical exactitude, that type of thing. You calculate variations, not hopes or wishes.

I’m not a very emotional person. I seldom get too high or too low, generally staying pretty even keel. When other people get very emotional, either in a good or bad way, I tend to get uncomfortable, if only slightly. Emotional people don’t always make the best decisions. Indeed, when I was younger I prided myself on keeping my emotions in check … and yet here I am, looking back at my earliest games, and what I recall most are those emotions.

And the overwhelming emotion was happiness. That’s it. Looking through all these games made me happy, happy in a way I can’t feel anywhere else. As Tarrasch said, “Chess, like love, like music, has the power to make men happy.” It’s a strange type of happiness, though, different from playing a videogame or being with friends. It’s the happiness of intellectual productivity, of pure mental creativity. It’s hard to explain, but if you’ve felt it, there’s no denying its power.

The more I went through these games, the happier I got. I then realized that if chess can make me feel this way, it would be folly to give it up, unless I’m going to replace it with something else. Can anything take chess’s place? I don’t think so, unless I start engaging in pure mathematics. Even that wouldn’t be the same. No, it must be chess.

That is the main reason: I went through all my old games and I remembered all the good times chess has given me, and if I keep playing there will be even more. There are some other reasons as well. For starters, I’ve invested a lot of time and money into this game. If I were to walk away, it would all be for naught. I’m far too practical to allow that.

In particular, I have several chess books I haven’t even read yet. I have a mini-library just waiting for me peruse, and some of these books cost a pretty penny. I can’t justify such a waste of money. If I had already read these books, that would be one thing. I would have gotten some value. At it is now? No chance. I have to at least go through these books.

I can thus give up chess in approximately 60 years.

The same is true for GM Smirnov’s courses. I own all of them and I’ve studied half of them. They are some of the best chess material I have ever come across … and they are priced accordingly. Again, if I were to walk away, that’s several hundred dollars I’m leaving, wasted. I can’t allow that … and I don’t want to allow that. It feels like quitting university a month before final exams. At least stick it out to get the diploma, right? To say you did it, to have something to show for it?

You see, deep down, I really want to understand chess. I like understanding things. It’s my passion, really. I’m always learning, always putting the pieces together. Chess has always been something I enjoyed but never fully understood. I don’t think anyone truly understands chess, not in its entirety. There are always new mysteries to solve … and that’s amazing. Other fields, like medicine or physics, also have mysteries, but I’m not qualified to engage them. I don’t have the background training. With chess, though, I can engage in the same pursuit as some of the greatest minds of all time. That’s pretty cool.

And finally, there’s family. This was perhaps the tipping point. Chess connected me to my grandfather. We bonded over it. We learned about each other through it. Though we did other things together, it always came back to chess. He taught me. I am his legacy. He was my hero, and with every game I honour this bond we shared. To give up would, in many ways, be to give up on him, on the great lessons he taught me. That seems more painful than any loss I could possibly face.

So it’s decided. I will keep playing chess. I looked into the abyss, the void, and I came through. My dream of becoming a chess master will keep going.

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