14 April 2012

Getting Angry

My performance on any given day can vary. One day I easily clobber 1800 players on Chess.com Live Chess, but the next I lose to 1400s. Similar differences in ability manifest themselves in training sessions, as with Chess Tempo. One day I'm solving most of the problems set before me, and steadily climbing to the point where I get to try harder problems. The next day, I'm missing things that are so obvious that I am punished with lower rated problems that hardly merit consideration as training. I must again prove myself capable of elementary skills in order to gain access to problems requiring calculation.

During failures, it can be helpful to get angry. Frustration with myself provokes better concentration, focus, motivation. But, unchecked anger can blind as well. It is important to cultivate moderate anger, but not let it become controlling. Too much anger, and the performance gets even worse.

This morning's tactics session began in failure. First I erred in an elementary rook endgame. Then I missed five of the first ten tactics problems. My rating dropped below a certain point. I became determined to cross back over that line, and push the rating fifty points higher. I solved a few problems successfully, then missed one and Chess Tempo crashed (or my browser did). Ten minutes later, I was able to resume with the previous problem. I missed four of ten, then three of ten. I made progress, then another crash. Again I missed three of ten, as I was getting within fifteen points of my target.

Then I missed five of ten, and followed that with six of ten, and my tactics rating was back where it had been at the start of the day. After ninety problems, the best I had done was seven correct in ten, and five correct in a row. Four crashes aggravated my efforts to cultivate useful anger.

Graph of Today's Performance
I took some time out to do some household chores, returned with determination, solved five of ten, then seven of ten. My rating climbed to a new peak, but still eight short of the goal. Then the fifth crash. Then eight wrong out of twelve. The anger is winning.

I can do this! I will end the day above my target. I have been as close as six points below--that's two correct problems from the objective.


  1. That's crazy I've never had CT crash on me when I solved there. I blew past 2000 on there and haven't been back since in standard! I don't think any emotion suits me well in chess. Better to just look at board objectively for best move. Otherwise I start to think what opponent's face will look like after I crush the sh** out of him, lol. Chess has enough distractions as it is.

    1. It might be Google Chrome that is causing the problem. It never happened before today, but I've been using CT only for about two weeks.

  2. I'm not going to bore you with my philosophical ideas, but I do think that emotional energy can either be a driving force or a complete shame, in the case that it is not harnessed and canalized as a driving force. For probably the 4th or 5th straight tournament on Thursday night, I missed 1800 by one move. I think the situation would be pretty bad for most people, but having spectrum disorder meant not being able to sleep, being in the throes of tears while trying to hold it in, and having impetuous anger outbursts. My wife, who specializes in spectrum disorder care, said that I could either follow my first impulse, and swing a sledgehammer into the outfield of a baseball field until exhausted, or follow the second impulse (yes, the emotional breakdowns are hyper-irration... why that form of release, I don't know), which was to stay up all night doing tactics, going through master games, watching chess videos, and reading chess books. One would be a waste, the other a boon to success. It's hard to reason with me when I'm in that state, but the sentiments stuck with me. I usually behave in this productive way, but there was something to having her bring it to the fore of consciousness. It was a sleepless night, but a productive one, because I controlled my emotions, not vice versa.

    Another great blog post, James. I cam across it at just the right time for it to be therapeutic. I empathize.

  3. Thanks David. My point was the motivating power of anger. I'm glad that you saw that and found it helpful.