Maxwell Chess Where the plastic meets the rubber-10

Where The Plastic Meets The Rubber
Practical chess discussions for real tournament play

-by Jonathan Maxwell             

The Psychology of The Draw Offer | The Courage of Your Conviction

              knight-blue-20px-best-chess-teacher The Psychology of The Draw-Offer    

This happens to all of us: We command a superior position, our opponent offers a draw, we decline, we lose. What causes this catastrophe?

We falter here because this seemingly trivial event disturbs our psychological stability to the extent that we are neither able to think logically nor objectively. If our such vital chess abilities are impaired, it must follow that our skill level significantly lowers. Thus, we lose.

So what’s the big deal anyway? He offers a draw, we correctly decline. True, but at this moment a decisive deceptive thought enters unnoticed into our minds– We now falsely believe we have obligations both to ourselves and our opponent to fully win the game. In reality, nothing at all has changed (except for the minor fact that we now have reason to believe our opponent would currently welcome a draw.) The board position is exactly the same. The tournament standings are exactly the same. The consequences of winning, drawing, or losing are exactly the same. Do we now psychologically believe this? Not at all, and wow is that relevant and fascinating.

Firstly, when we refuse the draw offer, our psyche creates anxiety over the new possibility of a painful scenario– the refusing a valuable half-point draw, only to lose, resulting with zero points. Our psychological error here is assuming this scenario need be painful. As a matter of fact, this is the topic of an entirely different article, but I’ll state it here… Ladies and gentlemen, there is absolutely nothing wrong with us losing a chess game in which we declined a draw, because the outcome of our chess game is not under our control. Our goal as healthy competitors is to do our best– a goal always challenging and, most importantly, always under our control.

Secondly, by refusing our opponent’s draw offer our psyche assumes that we have communicated to both him and ourselves that we have voluntarily chosen road “b” (attempt to win) instead of road “a” (agree to draw), so to later turn back to road “a” reveals error and thus shame in our performance. This skewed logic proves most costly when, in a few moves, we find ourselves at at clearly drawn position. Now instead of the natural drawn result, we press for the win thereby fatally conceding our structure, resulting in a zero on our score-sheet.

We subtly yet seriously err here because our psyche believes a chess game’s progression is as fixed and known as a that of a road. It is not. A chess game’s progression is accurately compared not to a road, but to a succession of multi-way splits, such as the path of water in a cascading waterfall. Though a cascade has fixed structure, the path of its water cannot be known as there exist virtually infinite progressions; so it is this way with chess– most every move choice continues not a road but a cascade. We wouldn’t consciously deny that chess is better described as a cascade than a road, but we psychologically associate the concept “choice” to a “split in a road.”

So then, in our example regarding draw-offer psychology, our solution to remember:

1. We are never in control of the result of a chess game; we are only in control of playing our best, so we need never burden ourselves with any goals other than to play our best.

2. The refusal of the draw is no commitment to any outcome.

Now that we have maintained a healthy psyche through this relevant psychological event, we approach the rest of the game with the mental composure that has brought us this far, and let the result take care of itself.

-Jonathan Maxwell
October, 2014


             knight-blue-20px-best-chess-teacher The Courage of Your Conviction    

Effective chess method demands that…

1. One understands the strategic demands of one’s position.
2. One executes a move that contributes to fulfilling these demands.

This logic of these rules is clear, but their practical implementation often is omitted for two reasons. Obviously the fulfillment of first rule depends on one’s level of chess understanding, so the simple suggestion for improvement here is to study chess strategy.

The fulfillment of the second rule, however, is typically a test of one’s character: it depends on his emotional security to trust his analysis from the first rule. While it is illogical to feel insecure in one’s chess skill level, such insecurity is a very common hindrance to chess progress. In most effective words: One’s courage of conviction directly contributes to his ELO rating.

The most common example of this shortcoming is when a player refrains, without substantial reason, to sacrifice a piece. Though the player truly believes the sacrifice to be sound, he will not play the move because of the irrelevant emotional belief, “If I play this sacrifice then lose, my opponent and peers will think I am bad at chess.” Such thinking is both absurd and detrimental.

First of all, “bad” is an absolutely relative word. The fact is that the winner of the USCF World Open is such a “bad” player that he didn’t receive an invitation to the prestigious Linares tournament, yet the winner of my local chess club tournament was so “good” that he was recognized with a trophy. One’s chess ability is neither bad nor good– it is a neutral fact that improves with effort. The most important goal of chess is enjoyment, and that need not depend on relative skill level.

Secondly, if one’s goal is to improve at chess, then the most efficient way to improve is to play what he thinks is the correct move, so that its resulting consequences are most effectively revealed to him. If one thinks a sacrifice is correct, then growth demands he play the sacrifice. If the sacrifice proves unsuccessful, then what valuable information he has gained regarding his inaccurate assessment– he will now forever more correctly assess such situations. Behold: growth has occurred.

On the other hand, if one refrains from playing the sacrifice, win or lose, he has not learned the truth of the position. At best he will input the position into a computer engine, but this promotes lack of conviction, and its results barely penetrate the mind. Any experienced player can attest: The only lesson more effectively learned than a victory from a courageous move, is a defeat from a courageous move. In other words, lessons attained from honest play etch in memory far more profoundly than from any other method. To deprive oneself of such experiences is a pitiful disservice.

Let’s look at an example…

Maxwell – Jian, August 2015

1.Rxb2!?…axb2 2.Qxb2…Bxe3 3.Nxe3 with the idea of Ng4, Nf6.

The above position is near hopeless for White; thus, if he is to play on at all…

1. What are the strategic demands of the position? Because White has insufficient compensation for his material deficit, and because no significant dour defense can be erected, he must attempt to create desperate counterplay. Any other strategy is futile.

2. What is a move that contributes to fulfilling this demand? A valid idea is to remove Black’s bishop guarding the dark squares, and strive to post a knight at f6 where it will prove formidable. As there exists no placid sequence to attain this goal, an extremely recommended move here is 1.Rxb2!?…axb2 2.Qxb2…Bxe3 3.Nxe3 with the idea of Ng4, Nf6. Rxb2 is a move which no computer will suggest because it is motivated by an abstract appreciation of the necessities of the position– one of the many competitive qualities that computers do not possess. This move will lose to adequate technique, but all moves in this position lose to adequate technique. Indeed this move contributes to fulfilling the demand of the position– creating desperate counterplay. Is it a move that may superficially appear to be a blunder, that may cause unjustified embarrassment in an insecure player? Definitely. Is it a well-motivated move, that win or lose, the clear-minded player may play proudly? Definitely.

Testament to the correctness of this move is that it was the foundation of White finally winning this game against an opponent ranked in the 98th percentile of USCF tournament players. This move required conviction. If White didn’t believe in his assessment that demanded desperate counterplay, or if White feared that his opponent or peers would think less of him for playing a move that may look like a foolish blunder, White would have played a less-effective move, and lost the game.

Upon winning this game the player of the white pieces achieved his lifelong goal of a 2100+ rating.

-Jonathan Maxwell
September, 2015