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Self-help blog

John has been referring to some of my recent blogs as “self-help” posts. He always has this nice biting irony that you only find warm if you have known him for 20 years… Well, when I say warm, I actually don’t really mean it, but never mind. Anyway, it is nice sometimes to talk about human traits, as they are so influential on our decisions at the board.

In a conversation with friends over dental practices, beauty salons and other businesses they are involved in, I incidentally thought about our imperfections. We all have them. I, for example, hoard things. I have about 1000 unread books in my flat. I do read a lot, but I cannot keep up with the number of books I buy. I used to feel that I should be able to control myself better – or that this was a serious character flaw. But I have known for about 20 years that I will never spend more money than I have – partly because of the laws of physics – and I accept now that some of this is outright squandered on books I will never read.

So what? Publishing is a business under threat and my support for it is a good thing. Even if it is given for reasons that can best be explained by evolutionary psychology.

Actually I believe that this approach is the right way. Some “flaws” are not as much flaws as a part of an imperfect construction, called “a human”. We should learn to accept that they are what we are. We are our strengths and we are our weaknesses. Some things do not need explaining or understanding, all we need to do is to accept that they are the way they are. There is nothing more to it.

To assist with this Sam Shankland kindly provided a blitz game he played recently in a tournament in the San Francisco area.  Sam was White.

White to play

Here he wanted to play 1.Ne7+, which is mate in 19 according to Komodo 8. Instead he played 1.Ne3, which loses more or less on the spot.

These things are not explainable in chess terms. I am not sure any explanation given will ever satisfy us, whether right or wrong. All I know is that it would be useless. The game is lost and there is nothing to learn from this I fear.

After this game Sam and his opponent were in a shared lead. But as it was double round, Sam got another chance. He won with Black and took first prize. Because this is also a part of what Sam is – a champion who plays on, even after having entered the twilight zone…

Accept yourself for the good and the bad is today’s message. And change as much of the bad as seems possible – and the way to do this is to crowd it out with good stuff.

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  1. Dan Andrews
    March 15th, 2015 at 00:18 | #1

    “Some things do not need explaining or understanding, all we need to do is to accept that they are the way they are. There is nothing more to it.”

    I would disagree. There are many things about me I won’t accept. I don’t like to travel, I don’t like new things, I don’t meeting or talking to people. In fact, they stress me out. However, I refuse to accept that. So I took on a job that requires me to travel, to meet new people, to be thrown into new situations all the time, to give public talks. And, as it turns out, I’m good at it…actually quite good.

    I still feel sick to my stomach before travelling, but I know once I get where I’m going, I’ll be quite happy (and then won’t want to travel back).

    It is the part of me that pushes against limitations….if there’s something I see as a drawback (e.g. spending money on books I don’t read…yes, I do that too….I then change that behaviour). If I’m scared to do something, I resent my brain for making me scared, so I then push against it, and go ahead and do it.

    Because I have just accepted these things and figured fatalistically there’s nothing I can do about it, I have expanded my world immensely. It is scary, it can be stressful, but the rewards are so much greater than I ever anticipated.

    To say there’s nothing one can do about it is the easy way out, is it not?

  2. Jacob Aagaard
    March 15th, 2015 at 21:21 | #2

    @Dan Andrews
    When I say some things, it does not mean everything. Actually, it means the opposite. It implies that there are things that do not addressing. Working out the difference is quite important, I think. I hope that clarifies my point?

  3. TonyRo
    March 16th, 2015 at 05:05 | #3

    There are some dangerous possibilities for infinite loops here. Trying to replace the bad (my girlfriend thinks I play too much chess) with the good (which for me is more chess) – we’re at a standstill.

  4. ericmittens
    March 16th, 2015 at 05:42 | #4

    “All energy flows according to the whims of the great Magnet. What a fool I was to defy him”
    -Hunter S Thompson

  5. Mark Moorman
    March 16th, 2015 at 12:34 | #5

    “John has been referring to some of my recent blogs as “self-help” posts”

    I think you simply may have strayed over a line that most (to engage in some national stereotyping) British people tend to find uncomfortable—a public confession of emotional or personal matters. These are usually reserved for private conversations between close friends—and even that can be quite rare. Of course, (this is for bob and the lurker) Americans carry psychological confession to the extreme—blurting out their life stories and innermost feelings to strangers on airplanes. I could sense GM Shaw’s discomfort—manifested in posting on other threads or silence. This is not a criticism just an opinion (perhaps flawed) on the origins of the “self-help” ribbing.

  6. Mark Moorman
    March 16th, 2015 at 12:38 | #6

    He is not the only one given to ironic ribbing—I recall your saying something close to: ‘like any book signed by John Shaw this means a lot of the work has been done by others.’ Goose and gander phenomenon.

  7. John Shaw
    March 16th, 2015 at 13:42 | #7

    Mark Moorman :
    I could sense GM Shaw’s discomfort—manifested in posting on other threads or silence. This is not a criticism just an opinion (perhaps flawed) on the origins of the “self-help” ribbing.

    Hi Mark, I do think your guess about my alleged discomfort is off. It would be weird to me to communicate with Jacob via the blog when I can and do talk to him in person.

  8. Jacob Aagaard
    March 16th, 2015 at 13:44 | #8

    @Mark Moorman
    John is of course just busy – and I enjoy teasing him on the blog :-). If it made him uncomfortable it would not happen. I like my job!

    We have for years been doing occasional books as a team. We put John’s name on those books. It has never been a secret. He has the final say, but he is spear-heading a team.

  9. The Lurker
    March 16th, 2015 at 14:40 | #9

    @Mark Moorman
    Doctor, heal thyself. I have never revealed nearly as much of myself as you yourself have on this blog, political opinions excepted. I agree that some Americans can tend to the overly confessional, but I personally find it distasteful, especially when taken to the extremes of modern Oprah-fication. The very name Lurker reflects that I normally prefer to not reveal too much of myself, and don’t, except when provoked.

    Regarding stereotypes of the British, I seem to recall that when Princess Di passed, there was much todo about the Queen’s lack of affect. So it seems the British aren’t always for tasteful restraint. Or at least a certain class of the British aren’t. I believe that many American prejudices about the British come from too much PBS.

  10. Ray
    March 16th, 2015 at 17:27 | #10

    @Jacob Aagaard
    John busy? What on earth could he be busy with I wonder 🙂

  11. Yohan
    March 16th, 2015 at 18:02 | #11

    Hi Jacob,
    What is the best way to work on conversion? Also, what is you suggestion against the Caro-Kann?

  12. Jacob Aagaard
    March 17th, 2015 at 12:14 | #12

    @Yohan
    Not surprisingly I recommend to study the games of Carlsen and Karpov. Or, this is what Boris told me to insert into his book this morning!

    I would personally go 3.e5 against the Caro-Kann, but I also like Negi’s repertoire from the first volume of his 1.e4 series.

  13. Yohan
    March 27th, 2015 at 03:13 | #13

    @Jacob Aagaard
    When you say study, how long should I be taking to look at each game? Also in your Grandmaster Preparation books, how long do I take on each puzzle?

  14. Jacob Aagaard
    March 27th, 2015 at 08:27 | #14

    @Yohan
    Such a wide question with a different answer for each person. Tell me something about yourself and I can give you a better answer. But in general, feel your way.

  15. Vassilis
    April 7th, 2015 at 14:53 | #15

    @Jacob Aagaard
    Is there any other similar book like the “Analyse to Win” (reocommended by you in “Excelling at Calculation”) that you can suggest ? By the term “similar”, I mean a book containing messy positions for calculation… (Your 2nd book for calculation seems Ok, but too difficult for me ~1800 fide elo)

  16. Jacob Aagaard
    April 8th, 2015 at 15:38 | #16

    @Vassilis
    Under 1800 I would recommend the Yusupov books without hesitation.

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