The Illusion of Control
I was asked recently by a friend about how to avoid/limit time pressure. Rather than answering him personally, I thought I would answer him in greater detail; but share it with you guys.
From my perspective, time trouble is to a great extent a philosophical problem.
A common problem is that we try to calculate as far as possible or in other ways aim to be in control. We do this because we do not fully understand the nature of the problem we are trying to solve. If we try to keep control, to look for certainty, we will certainly over-think, over-calculate and so on.
On the other hand, if we understand that we need to solve a particular type of problem in a limited amount of time, we are better off.
In STRATEGIC PLAY I divide chess into four different types of decisions:
1) Automatic decisions – can be played within seconds
2) Simple decisions (Positional Play) – decisions that do not need calculation, but might still require some deep thinking to determine positional factors
3) Critical Moments – Positions where accurate calculation is needed and positional considerations are of limited value (often there are not too many of these in a game)
4) Complex decisions – what we also refer to as strategy. Where deep positional and tactical considerations intertwine.
I was talking to a famous grandmaster about his battles with the clock and he immediately recognized his problem as being in Category 4. This is where he spent too much time.
His problem was simply that he hesitated in making decisions.
For my friend, I think he was looking too much for control. I think he is calculating too much; trying to put lines on positional questions, where we instead have to trust our feeling, make our moves and save time for making more complex decisions later on.
I have played a few games in my life that were perfect; but obviously I made the right decisions for the wrong reasons along the way. There is no way we can solve all the problems we face during a tough fight at the chess board.
Calculating too much is a control issue – basically we seek to control things we cannot. And as a result we have too little time to calculate the critical moments that tend to come later in the game; and, ironically, then we cannot control the controllable either – because we have wasted our time…