We all know that water will follow the path of least resistance if its runs down a hill. Unless our house is at the bottom of the hill and there is quite a lot of water coming, this will not disturb us much in our daily lives. But if we look at how we calculate variations at the chess board, we will quickly come to the conclusion that if we do not take full control, our calculation will take the path of least resistance as well.
How can this manifest itself? Here are a few possible scenarios:
• A variation is complicated and offers us resistance. We choose to go with a vague evaluation or guess, rather than going deeper.
• We see a promising variation and choose to go for it without seriously looking for pitfalls.
• We see a problem with our promising variation and we reject it and look for our move elsewhere.
All of them come to the same thing. In the face of resistance, we choose a different path: the path of least resistance.
In real life, the path of least resistance leads to physical, financial and emotional ruin. We call this mediocrity because so many of us choose this path rather than overcoming our weaknesses as human beings. (Personally I live in the fattest country in Europe and do little to improve the statistics).
In chess the path of least resistance leads to mediocre decisions. The only comfort we can find there is that most of our opponent’s decisions will be mediocre as well. The ability to consistently overcome the obstacles we are faced with, overcoming our own limitations, is truly a terrifying ability.
I have little time these days to train individuals, but I do work with a few young people who fascinate me. With the two strongest guys I work with at the moment, the main focus we have is learning to overcome resistance. We do this a lot through exercises. It is not always possible for me to anticipate where they will have problems, but it tends to be in the same places. Maybe we think more similarly than we expect.
A very useful part of the training is to talk through the exercises, to close in on what kind of mistake they were committing. I will not be able to offer this to all of you, but I can offer you one of the exercise sheets I give them for preparation, with a focus on overcoming resistance. The exercises sheet can be downloaded here. The solutions can be downloaded here.
Please look at the solving of these six exercises as a competitive sport. Use 60 minutes if your rating is over 2400 and 90 minutes if your rating is less. The aim of the game is to score as many points as possible in that time frame. The points are rewarded based on which points you saw in the timeframe. Please give your score here as well as your rating to allow others something to compare with. Do not be disappointed if you are scoring far from maximum points. The exercises are hard, so even one point might be an achievement!!
Postscript: John and I have a favourite book called The War of Art by novelist Steven Pressfield. In this he describes a phenomenon called Resistance with a Capital R. I like my description in this article, but I would be dishonest not to recognise where some of the language comes from. In this way many great ideas are extensions of similar ideas in other fields, like Jonathan Rowson’s brilliant quote, “Improvement comes at the end of your comfort zone.”