The ancient writer Horace said, “Adversity reveals the genius of a general; good fortune conceals it.” This is true beyond just warfare. It’s easy to do well when everything goes your way. Sometimes the best possible outcomes happen without you needing to even lift a finger. This certainly feels nice, and I doubt anyone will ever complain about a string of good luck, but it doesn’t tell you anything about you.
I first heard this quote thanks to the excellent game Rome: Total War.
Sometimes, of course, the exact opposite situation happens. Everything that can go wrong does. Everything is chaos, and perhaps the easiest thing to do is give up. Some people do just that. Others, though, take it on the chin and do everything in their power to overcome these obstacles. There is no better feeling that emerging triumphant from such a challenge, for there is no doubt that you earned it, not even the tiniest possibility of doubt. It is a great feeling, pure triumph … but it requires a lot to go wrong before you can revel in this afterglow.
For me, personally, I’m still trying to decide whether I’m giving up or powering through my obstacles. Continue reading
It has become standard fare for most competitions to promise a reward for every competitor. Everybody gets a participation ribbon. I have no idea why we do this, because nobody likes it. Maybe the absolute youngest, the four- and five-year olds, gain some satisfaction from clutching that nondescript ribbon, but no one else does. Really, the participation ribbon is just failure, and everyone knows it.
Never had finishing last looked so stylish.
I competed in martial arts tournaments for a long time, and I earned my fair share of ribbons. I didn’t keep one. I didn’t care about them. I likely threw them out before I even got home. There was only one thing I wanted, the only thing anyone wants: that trophy. Sure, getting a third-place medal would be nice, and much better than a ribbon, but it’s all about the trophy. That was the main prize, what we all worked so hard for.
And I find that funny, because that trophy doesn’t mean much a week later, let alone a few years. I’ve discovered this first-hand. Continue reading
Ahh, endgames. Perhaps the least understood and least studied part about chess among amateur players. It’s seen as something both mysterious and boring. Mysterious, because it has fewer pieces but if anything is even harder to calculate, and boring, because there are no attacks, sacrifices or tactics available. Games come down to winning weak pawns. Yawn.
Nonetheless, playing the endgame well really separates the good players from the average ones. Personally, I got fed up with winning a pawn or a piece in the middlegame only to struggle mightily converting it into a win in the endgame. I began to study the endgame, and though I remained (and still remain!) weak, I’m stronger than most of my opponents, which lets me win more games.
Let me tell you, studying endgames isn’t very fun, but getting that first win solely because of endgame play makes those hours of study feel worthwhile. In what follows are examples of how I’ve won via endgames. These are my games, and thus they are not perfect, but they show the basic idea in action. Continue reading
Sometimes chess games get messy. Instead of calm logic the board is set aflame in chaos, and you can’t tell heads from tails. You have no idea what the heck is going on. There are so many hanging pieces and potential tactics that only a computer can calculate it all. All you can do is keep your head above the water and try to out-steer your opponent in the tactical mayhem.
In general, such games fall under two types. First, both sides attack the enemy King. This is especially common in opposite-side castling, like the Sicilian Dragon. Very complicated. Second, there can be a sacrifice for unclear compensation. Giving up a pawn or a piece for attack is the prime example.
Here are two examples from my own games that show both examples. Continue reading
Strictly speaking, it wasn’t my first victory. I had played schoolmates and won, but that didn’t count. Those were exhibition matches, Little League, forgotten before the last move touches down. From very early on I had one goal, one overriding mission: defeat my grandfather.
My grandfather was the Chuck Norris of chess.
Some chess teachers let their students win every once in awhile. Not my grandfather. When he first taught me how to play he went easier on me, but by about our third game it was 100% every move, every game. I swear he once stared at a mate in four for several minutes trying to turn it into a mate in three. There’s a rite of passage for most boys, when they start beating their fathers at sports. I would have gladly accepted losing every sport forever if it meant just one win against my grandfather.