Shortcomings of Standard Chess Instruction:
1. Chess knowledge is not the same as chess ability.
• When I was researching chess coaches, one comment I heard again and again from students was: “I have been studying openings, endgames, middlegames, weak squares, knight outposts, etc. and feel that my understanding of the game has improved greatly.” I would always follow these statements with the question: “So, how much has your rating improved?” Time and again, students told me that their ratings had not improved in the three months, six months, or year since they had started their coaching. Why did these students’ ratings fail to improve? Class players who spend their time on openings, middlegame strategy, and endgames are doing an excellent job of increasing their chess knowledge, but they are not increasing their chess ability. For a class player to study openings, middlegame strategy, and endgames as a way of increasing chess ability (as opposed to chess knowledge) is the equivalent of fixing a car that doesn’t have an engine by polishing the exterior: the car looks better, but it still doesn’t go. A Class-player’s chess ability is limited first and foremost by a lack of tactical ability. As GM Jonathan Levitt wrote, in a recent KasparovChess.com article, “At lower levels of play...tactical awareness (or a lack of it) usually decides the outcome of the game.” [Nathan: This is making me wonder if spending time reading books about entrepreneurship may actually be holding me back from making more progress, because I could be spending my time in much more effective ways.]
• You can perform an experiment with any chess-playing program: create two personalities, one without any positional knowledge (no opening book, no understanding of pawn structure, etc.) and with the maximum tactical knowledge and the other with the maximum positional knowledge but no tactical knowledge. When these two personalities play against each other, the tactical personality will win every game.You can refine this experiment further by creating two personalities, one that can see three moves ahead but has no positional knowledge and the other that can see two moves ahead and has complete positional knowledge. The tactical personality, which can see three moves ahead, will win the vast majority of the games. This is a key lesson: all of the positional knowledge in the world is worth less than the ability to see one move [further ahead than your opponent].
2. GM instruction is sub-optimal at the class level.
• GM’s, however, have two characteristics that make it difficult for them to communicate effectively with adult class players.
• First, almost all GMs were master-level players by the time they became adults. A corollary to this fact is that virtually no GM has experienced rapid chess development as an adult player.
• Second, GM’s are so far removed in playing strength from class players that their advice is often misguided. For the same reason that a university mathematics professor will probably not be able to teach addition as well as a first grade teacher, a GM will probably not be able to teach the basics of chess as effectively as a pedagogically inclined player who is much weaker.
3. Quick fixes work at the class level.
• Strong chess players like to talk about the many years of dedication and hard work that are required to become a master-level player. Unfortunately, they often confuse this hard and time-consuming path with the relatively small amount of work that most class players need to do to experience significant improvement in their playing ability.
The Study Plan
Once I understood the importance of studying tactics, I created a three-step plan for improving my tactical ability. If you are an adult class player and you follow this plan, I believe that you will experience an improvement in your rating similar to the one I experienced. The first step of the study plan involves exercises that pound very simple tactical notions into your brain. The second step, which I call Seven Circles, is to go through a set of about 1,000 tactical problems seven times over the course of 127 days. The third component is to learn how to integrate your newfound tactical ability into your OTB play. All three components require dedication. You should study every day even if you are sick, are traveling, or are playing in a tournament.
I did two types of tactics training. The first was “Chess Vision” and “Knight Sight” exercises, as described in this article. They may sound stupid, but they work. I did these exercises every day for two weeks initially, and then would do them the day of a tournament and once in a while as a refresher.
My primary method of tactics training was using Chess Tactics for Beginners, which is absolutely fantastic. If you only buy one thing to help your chess game, this should be it. I did 50 puzzles per day, every day, and once I finished the entire CD I repeated the process six more times.Online tactics sites usually don’t cut it, because they aren’t structured so that you learn based off previous ideas and many don’t incorporate the pedagogical features of Chess Tactics for Beginners. Trust me, paying for CTB is worth it.
Chess psychology can be distilled to two simple rules:
1. Don’t ever be afraid of your opponent.
2. Fight as hard as you can until the game is over.
Simply following these rules will add hundreds of points to your rating.
The tl;dr of this training plan is: play a lot, analyze your games, and primarily study tactics. Your knowledge of openings, endgame, middlegame, etc. will come from analyzing your games and going over grandmaster games. Only study one of those specific topics if it is clear you are specifically losing because of that topic.
If you play blitz, you may become more comfortable with the idea of making decisions under time pressure.
Blitz may lead you to feel less bad about making mistakes. Both you and your opponent make lots of mistakes in a scramble to try to make decisions quickly. It's exactly what Felix Dennis said: having the habit of making decisions quickly can lead to greater success than 'endless vacillation', even if it leads you to make some poor decisions.
You may learn to not focus solely on what others are prodding you about, but to also think about what other courses of action you could take that are totally unrelated to what these people are prodding you about. In other words, you may learn to not think in an overly reactive way, but to think both reactively and proactively at the same time.
Real life example: When you sit down at a dinner table with random people, the conversation tends to ramble all over the place, and most people are happy to just blab about whatever topic the group ends up on. Contrast that with the approach of thinking, "Are these people talking about something I'm interested in learning about? Should I direct the conversation onto another topic? Should I disengage from the conversation altogether?"
Beyond just getting comfortable with the idea of making decisions under time pressure, you gain a gut-level appreciation for the importance of making decisions quickly and allocating the proper amount of time to a decision based on its importance.
I found that after playing a few blitz games I was in a psychological mode of "do stuff quickly!" and was able to get other work done more quickly. It was almost like a kind of meditation.
It forces you to get comfortable accepting that you made a mistake.
Don't get cocky. Don't assume you're more insightful than others.
If you work hard you can make good progress.
Many activities in life can be broken into a "positioning" phase and an "execution" phase. Oftentimes people neglect the positioning phase.
"In all negotiations of difficulty, a man may not look to sow and reap at once; but must prepare business, and so ripen it by degrees." - Francis Bacon talking about negotiations, but it's also a huge lesson in chess.
The importance of pattern recognition.
The importance of deliberate practice.
If chess has several basic tactical patterns (the skewer, fork, pin, etc.), and the goal of new players should be to recognize when those situations are available, what would be the analog of that in the entrepreneurship / business world? And would other chess heuristics (eg castle early, control the center) be considered the same as the tactical patterns when searching for business analogies? Or would those heuristics map to a different set of behaviors in business / entrepreneurship?
If you can force your opponent to spend their time responding to things, you may be able to prevent them from getting other things done. (eg in chess the fork and skewer force the opponent to respond to a threat, preventing them from being able to defend the other piece)
Try to maximize your future options and you'll find "lucky" opportunities popping into your lap. In chess that means putting your pieces in positions where they attack as many squares as possible. In r/l that might mean saving money that you could later invest in things, or getting to know people who have bright futures, or promoting yourself
You learn to deal with the stress of a 1-on-1, zero-sum (life-or-death) situation. I've always had a lot of trouble dealing with these situations (eg I always found 1v1 Starcraft/Warcraft extremely stressful and never played it as a result)
You learn to get comfortable with the idea of paying attention to the big picture instead of getting stressed out about individual losses. When I first started to play chess I would try very hard to avoid ever losing a piece; I wanted to win without losing any pieces, or losing as few pieces as possible. Now I'm comfortable with the idea that I may lose almost all of my pieces on my way to victory.
Look for actions you can take that accomplish multiple goals simultaneously, or creates lots of opportunities / increases your options.
When Elon Musk is doing a media appearance for Tesla to advertise the product, that is also giving him additional credibility that he can use to advance SpaceX, and it's serving as advertising to potential employees for both those companies.
If you become well-known or move to the Valley and schmooze with people, you're increasing the number of options that you may have open to you in the future. You'll have more potential cofounders, etc.