Recently I read the book Chess for Life by GM Matthew Sadler and Natasha Regan. I was attracted to the book because of my own personal situation, entering a phase in my life where, for various reasons, I cannot play as much as before and at an age where I feel I should re-think my approach to chess.
The book is structured as an analysis of several players who have managed to be successful for many years, long after their peak. The authors interviewed them and GM Sadler analyzed their games. Special attention was given to the repertoire of these players and a thorough analysis of their approach to the opening was made.
There were several ideas in the book that resonated with me. Here I would like to talk about the idea of a player’s playing style. For example, I liked GM John Nunn’s understanding that you should always stick to your natural style and instincts, even though as time passes, your calculation skills are bound to weaken. But he was talking about playing in senior events where everybody else is suffering from the same decline in calculation skills!
A similar idea was GM Keith Arkell’s motto to stick to the playing style you like. So what’s the whole thing about style? Well, I actually have a problem with that!
I grew up reading a lot of Russian books on chess where it was stressed that you should define your weaknesses, and then you work on them until they are no more. So that’s what I did. And being a conscientious student, I now think I overdid it.
By concentrating too much on my weaknesses, I never developed my strengths. I still don’t know what I do best at chess. I do many things reasonably well, but I cannot determine what my characteristics are or, even better, what my style is. If you take a look at almost any player, you can rather easily determine what his strength is, what he likes to do, what he doesn’t like to do. But I cannot do that for myself!
Being reasonably good at many things doesn’t make you excellent. I didn’t know of the concept of maximizing your strengths and concentrating on those until very late in life, by which time it was too late. I read GM Dreev says something similar, that he never really got rid of his weaknesses, no matter how hard he worked on them. Yes, he improved, he made them less weak, but he achieved his success by concentrating on his strong points, by doing what he does best.
While it’s impossible to make up for the lost time, the book gives a ray of hope. I realized every player is in control of what will happen in the future—knowing your problems, you can try to constructively do something about them. You can lay down the groundwork of your future self now, with the experience and knowledge you have accumulated along the way. You can sit down and quietly figure out what you like, what you don’t like, and start from there. Perhaps construct a new repertoire. Think about the way you would like to conduct the game. Your attitude toward the game, your psychological state. The habits during the game.
As in all things in life, awareness is everything. The more aware you are, the better decision you can make. It will be a long process, but you should be looking forward to it. After all, constructing your own future is an exciting prospect!