torsdag, december 23, 2004

Subconscious Check

Me and some of my friends consider ourselves to be players, gamers and gamblers; we'll play anything from parlour games to no-limit texas hold'em through backgammon, boardgames, and every kind of computer game.
Yet to me, chess is still the game of kings and king of games. So I was pleasantly surprised when I visited Daniel in San Francisco to discover that he's become as an enthusiastic café chess player as a backgammon one. And while I had improved my own backgammon skills to beeing a match to him and beating him for the first time ever, he'd done the same with his chess skills.
I've lost three times in a row to him, now as White as well; what bothers me is that my subconscious still seems to regard him as some rookie sucker. Like in this last game, he has an open column with a rook on it and his dame and a bishop on a diagonal aimed at my king's castle on the right flank.
Now that's an extremely delicate position, which requires some very serious defensive thinking. Against someone with skills matching yours, you're definitely the underdog.
That happens quite early in the opening play, a real mongrel bastard between a Black French and a White half-Indian Dame Gambit.
So what do i do about that? Not very much. I happily go on with building up my offensive on the left flank. Now i'm a rather aggressive player, and ideally I want every move's primary objective to be storming the enemy king; if I've got to defend, I prefer moves that have a strong secondary attack potential.
Counter-offensives that take the pressure off me and back on the other side are my bread and butter at chess, but I was deluding myself when thinking Black's underdevelopment compensated that powerful threat to my king.
However, what I find most admirable in how Dan played this game was that he won not by materializing his advantage, but by psyching me out.
My king's predicament was like a cocked and loaded pistol to your head, and so far my attacks just hindered the trigger from beeing pulled. Eventually I manoeuvered my dame into checking his king and forcing an exchange, thus putting the safety catch on the gun; removing the rook would then be akin to taking the bullet from the chamber. At the very least it would make it easier to jam the barrel by draging something on that column.
It was then he pointed out I could take the rear pawn of his pawn chain. Now taking a pawn for its own sake is worthless in itself, and one of the most common cause for defeat for many a rookie. Nevertheless, I was conned; because it made me saw the opportunity of unravelling his whole right flank in a series of forced moves, with at least a bishop, a knight and a couple of pawns as booty, as his rook was boxed in by his knight still on its starting square.
So I was distracted enough not to see that this second rook would then be free to mate me in three moves...
There's a poker saying, "poker's a people game played with cards, not a card game played by people". I was bluffed, and bluffed real good; a much more personal defeat than merely beeing outmanoeuvred on the board.
This what makes gaming more than a fun way to spend some good time with your friends; it's a way to following the socratic "know thyself" adage, as you just have to assess objectively the personal strengths and weaknesses in your play, and ultimately in yourself. Homo animal est quod ludit.