I don’t remember when I started playing chess. A friend of my dad taught me the rules. Not too well, I think, because there were rules I discovered only years later.
As a child I never seriously thought of joining any kind of club. I played chess with one or two neighbourhood friends. Most of the time I won. Once when I was 16 or so I was asked to play chess against an ex classmate who beat me a couple times when we were 12 years old. To my surprise I beat him. I didn’t play chess again for years. I suppose I assumed I was good at chess. I didn’t play the game for maybe 8 years or so. I discovered I was not a great player and not a terrible one either. I never studied chess, I just dabbled a bit. Then internet came along and I started playing against computer programmes. I lost 99 percent of the games I played if the computer was average. Obviously I was not a natural talent or taking to this as a savant. Sometimes a total amateur would beat me, sometimes I would beat a player I considered to be better than me.
I checked out what grandmasters do to become grandmasters. They solved thousands of chess puzzle as a kid. I looked at a couple of puzzles. Decided that my brain simply doesn’t work that way. Sacrificing a rook to checkmate the opponent in the next two moves? Nope, I don’t see it.
According to Malcolm Gladwell it takes 10,000 hours with feedback to become world class at something. The crucial thing here is ‘feedback’, the effort to learn from the experiences. Mindlessly playing game after game and not analyzing games doesn’t really count. Therefore, at 37, I can’t even boast 5,000 hours of learning how to become better at chess.
The chances of me becoming exceptionally good at chess are slim. Very slim. It would require the investment of a lot of time. I would have to pay a teacher. I would have to read books about chess. I have tried, but I don’t enjoy reading about chess. Puzzles get on my nerves because the solution is always something counterintuitive and I end up feeling dumb. That’s really where I decided I was never going to be great at this.
In the simplest terms: I do not wish to go through the inevitable pain to get better. There are a few other considerations as well. Like the fact it will not get me any money, won’t help me in my career and I already have enough things to be depressed about.
Some day I will teach the basics to my son, if he’s interested, but chess is not for me.
You could say: just play it for fun. It is a game after all. This is what I advice to anyone sane. Unfortunately I am cursed with the conviction that if I can’t be great at something, then it’s a pointless waste of time.
My only fear is that I have this attitude towards absolutely everything in life. And when I can’t be world class at something life even becomes not worth living anymore.
The thought that there is nothing I excel at, is a very depressing one indeed.
There are things I keep trying to improve at, but not chess.
The joy I get from it is eclipsed by the pain it leaves me with. When it comes to chess am simply not excited about it enough to finds ways to overcome that pain.
I guess that this is the formula for deciding whether to continue with something. How much pain can you take for it?
I think it was Gary Vaynerchuck who said something like: If you’ve been working hard at something for five years without much result then it’s ok to invest your efforts into something else.
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