The only way to progress as a chess player (and as a person)

Whenever I see our readers’ comments, I can’t help but think: we have the best chess community on Earth! This is in stark contrast to the majority of internet forums, where a typical conversation would look like this:

Original poster: “Are apples good in XYZ grocery store?”

Person A: “Apples? Are you kidding? Buy pears, they are better for your health!

Person B: “Don’t shop at XYZ grocery store, Walmart is better!” “

Then there would be a thread of over 100 posts where people are wondering if pears are better than apples and Walmart is cheaper than grocery store XYZ. Meanwhile, all the original poster needed was a short response like, “The apples in XYZ grocery store are sweet and pretty cheap at $ 0.99 a pound.”

Fortunately, our Chess.com community is quite mature and helpful. I can attest that I have learned a lot here and strongly recommend that you use the collective intelligence of millions of our members.

The Chess.com forums are a great place to learn from our users.

You see, there are two categories of people: those who have their opinions set in stone and those who are always ready to evolve and progress.. A good example of this phenomenon are two prominent chess personalities from St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad).

A famous chess trainer, Vladimir Zak, was known for his strong opinions and the general attitude of “my way or the highway”. In his awesome book The road to improving chess, CEO Alex Yermolinsky describes Zak quite well:

“Zak religiously believed in the dogma of the classical school. […] Any new idea (which would be anything after 1947) was ignored or vehemently opposed when brought up by the students themselves; even openings other than 1.e4 e5 or 1.d4 d5 were frowned upon. “

the only way to evolve in chess
Yermolinsky in 2003. Photo: © James Perry, CC.

Yermolinsky told me about an episode that was engraved in his memory. He won his first match against a master and was about to show it off to other members of his chess club. Note that at this time, beating a master was an extraordinary event – just imagine beating GM Hikaru Nakamura, even if it was just a simulation.

So the kids went around the board and the proud Yermolinsky made his first move in this game which turned out to be 1.g3. Once Zak saw this “indecent” move, he immediately walked away saying, “from this point on, the game is no longer interesting to me.” Yermolinsky was a tough kid who grew up in a neighborhood where street fighting was a daily routine. And yet, after such a disappointment from his trainer, he had tears in his eyes. Therefore, Yermolinsky’s conclusion should come as no surprise:

“We had a joke: Anyone who survives the ‘training method’ is guaranteed a bright future! The important thing was to leave Zak before the frustration set in and you decide to stop chess. GMs Valery Salov and Gata Kamsky left early and became stars in their teens. “

Another Zak student, GM Viktor Korchnoi, had the exact opposite attitude: he questioned everything and therefore constantly evolved.

the only way to grow as a chess player
Korchnoï in 1993. Photo: Stefan64, CC.

I remember a conversation I had with Korchnoi in the 1990s when he told me that after winning his second Soviet championship in 1962, he analyzed his games and realized that he “didn’t really know how to play chess.” I was shocked to hear that! In order to learn new ideas, he constantly invited young players to his training sessions. As a result, he evolved his whole life while enthusiastically embracing new trends in chess.

Watch the following match of a 78-year-old Korchnoi against a very strong opponent who was almost four times younger:

So if you want to progress as a person and as a chess player, here are two things I would recommend:

1) Listen to others and be prepared to accept their point of view even if it is different from yours!

This is where our beautiful Chess.com community of over 60 million members can come in handy. Talk to our members and listen to what they say. Any of the following three things can happen:

a) You will change your point of view.

This has indeed happened to me more than once. A recent example occurred after This article where I casually mentioned bitcoin. One of the readers disputed my opinion and after some research I agree with him. I’ve always viewed bitcoin as a shady commodity and wondered why regulators don’t step in to prevent people from losing their money.

the only way to progress as a chess player
My view of bitcoin has changed. Image: Onov3056, CC.

Listening to the reader’s advice, I learned that bitcoin was invented by an unknown group of people in January 2009 and it all became clear to me. Bitcoin was invented almost immediately after the start of quantitative easing during the Great Financial Crisis. Bitcoin is therefore like a money trap. Money will flow into it (instead of pushing up consumer prices and inflation) and never go (especially since already around $ 140 billion worth of bitcoins are trapped in wallets due to passwords. lost).

So what I thought was a scam turned out to be brilliant financial engineering that will allow us to imprint our path to prosperity without the danger of hyperinflation! Yes, it is not directly related to chess, but it shows how much you can learn from our colleagues.

b) You always keep your opinion but find that other opinions on the subject are as valid as yours.

In one of my articles I showed the following famous game:

I wrote that the pawn sacrificed 15.g4! It’s obvious – to me it’s the ABCs of chess. Yet one of the readers wrote that 15.g4 is not a “simple” move and while it is certainly possible, there are other options. Again, I agree with the reader. You can read my article on this subject here. This is the case where my opinion is still valid, but it is not the only correct point of view.

c) The opinions of others only strengthen your own opinion.

In my previous article, I called the recent “game” between GM Magnus Carlsen and Nakamura with 1.e4 e5 2.Ke2 Ke7 pure chess. I’ve had the opportunity to hear opinions that this is a “meme opening” and a joke showing a good sense of humor on chess etc. With all due respect, I will stand by my original opinion.

See, there are some movies that you can watch on some pay TV channels that are aimed at a certain mature audience and that’s good. Just don’t show these movies on major prime-time TV networks. If Carlsen and Nakamura were playing their “game” in a friendly blitz session, that would suit me just fine, but they were playing it on a bigger stage with lots of viewers.

2) Challenge your opinions!

Ask yourself, “What if it was exactly the opposite?” In some cases, you might be surprised!

Take for example the old axiom: “Do not bring your queen into the game too early.” After some research, you might find that unpopular openings like 1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Qxd4 aren’t that bad. You can try it out in a few friendly games here on Chess.com and who knows, maybe you’ll create shards like these:

In conclusion, I can only repeat the wise words of Heraclitus that he spoke 2,500 years ago: “The only constant in life is change!


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