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Doing something difficult

December 13th, 2016 9 comments

I put this on Facebook before realising that it also belongs here.

When you are trying to do something really difficult, it is important to use all of the resources and techniques you have available. Here are a few:
 
1) Have a plan to follow. It does not have to be too tight, for most people it is better if it is not. But something that tells you what the next step is at all possible moments. A simple daily or weekly routine is ideal.
 
2) Allow it to take the time it takes. As long as you are following your plan, you are succeeding. Putting an arbitrary deadline on your goal will make you a failure until you make it and be dispiriting when you get there.
 
3) Keep a track of your progress. Where there is a way, there is will. Once you see progress happening, you will get energized.
 
4) Find ways to improve your habits; use substitutions to change them. If you are fighting yourself, you will have much less time and energy to overcome the challenge of your goal.
 
5) Make things easy. Find whatever pattern and technique you can to make things easier.
 
6) You will lose your way. Get back on track quickly. Smokers on average try 8 times before they manage to quit. Overcoming your own bad habits will be hard.
 
7) Make yourself accountable for others. Ideally, get into a situation where others will gain from your success and lose out in case of your failure. An intelligent bet can solve this.
 
8) Don’t go it alone. Find someone who can support you. A gently push when you are losing momentum can be the difference between success and failure. Knowing that someone cares is often everyone.
 
9) Almost forgot. This is probably the most important. When you are working on your goal, you need to work on it with focus and attention. Too many times we watch the clock and think of when we have “done enough”. It is important that you work hard when you work; you can always play hard afterwards. Work before play, baby.
 
I am 51% of the way to my goal. More than half way. I am very determined. I have a strong routine. I follow it, thus succeeding on a daily basis. I track everything and can see the progress clearly. I have changed a lot of bad habits, not always at the speed I wanted, and not all of them yet, but enough for it to make a difference. I found easy ways to commit and have made it hard to cancel. I don’t stop for a moment when I go in the wrong direction. I turn around and keep focus. I never get disappointed with myself; I know all big achievements come hard. I have found people to help me and as I progress, I tell more and more people about my goal. I have found a World class bet. One I cannot get out of with any dignity without winning it. And someone saw that I was trying hard and took me under the wing. All I had to do was accept the help offered.
 
The most important point is that it took me six-seven months to get through the first 25% of the goal and six weeks to get through the next 25%. As the routine is getting stronger, as the faith is growing, I am now on a path that will likely lead to success. And beyond.
 
When I am done, I shall gladly tell you all about it.
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Boris Gelfand Lecture at XtraCon Open

August 8th, 2016 11 comments

During XtraCon Open in Helsingor, Boris and I enjoyed a bit too much of the free buffet food (gosh I look fat; luckily the diet has already begun) and a two hour lecture about the writing of Positional Decision Making in Chess. No spoilers from the book though… All of it was original material.

The Boris Gelfand Q&A – The Answers

August 8th, 2016 22 comments

During XtraCon Open in Helsingor, Denmark, I got to spend some time together with Boris Gelfand, face to face, for the first time since the Tromso Olympiad. Since then we have written two books together.

The most important thing we did was of course to get around to answer all of your questions. It took a little longer than we expected (Boris refused to be effective, wanted to be generous with his time instead), but anyway, here are the two videos.

I was not sure if I should mention people by name. I decided against it, as it gave me the freedom to rephrase the questions at time. Hope getting them answered was the main thing!

Can a normal person become a titled player, even a GM?

May 17th, 2016 50 comments

I was asked this question (rephrased) on Facebook a few days ago. I felt that the right place to offer my opinion would be here. It will be an answer with a few points.

a) First of all, the answer is probably both yes and no. John and I are nothing special. I had “talent” for about 2200 and John maybe 1800. What I mean by this is that we got to these levels after playing chess for quite a number of years, but essentially just by playing. We did not study much before we hit the ceiling. This comes at different levels. For Luke McShane it came at 2600, while others face it at 1200 or 2100.

b) If you face the ceiling at 1200, I am honestly not so optimistic about you getting the GM title. I like to play music and I spend a lot of my time trying to improve, but I am not under the illusion that I will ever reach a professional level. This does not mean that it does not have tremendous value for me, it does. I love it.

c) The main issue with my musical ability is not that I do not have the talent of Prince or the educational possibilities of Mozart (home schooled by one of the greatest musicians of the time, his father). The real problem is more to do with the ‘10,000 hours rule’, as outlined by Malcolm Gladwell. (I know this is highly controversial, but let’s at least for the moment say that the idea of 10,000 hours of deliberate practice is a good indicator of how difficult it is to learn something). I do not have five years of 2,000 hours to invest. I maybe practice 3-4 hours a week on average, 10+ hours on a good week and only 1 hour of fooling around the last few weeks. Progress is understandably slow.

The question of talent

We have debated this from time to time here on the blog. It seems clear that talent exists and Read more…

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The stress of moving house

April 22nd, 2016 10 comments

An adult has a resting heart rate between 60 and 80 usually. This is the normal range. If you are unfit, your heart rate is often higher. If you are very physically active, you get a lower rate. Below 57 is called “athlete” in some graphics I have seen, which I think is too optimistic. Let’s call it physically active.

Anyway, moving house is supposed to be stressful, up there with divorce and death in the family. I recently had the easiest house move in history. I moved from a flat to a town house in the same building. Actually, when I moved in, the van was parked further away from the flat than the house is. On top of this I had good time, 10 days to do it in, and full understanding from my employer. I had friends that helped carrying stuff across and my mother came to visit, helping packing everything down and most of the stuff out again.

It was very stress-free, compared to other house moves I have been involved in. Still, there is a markedly change in my resting heart rate over the period, peaking on the last day of moving house. As I wear a Fitbit Surge, I have been able to track it clearly. It was something of an eye-opener.

Strees from moving

 

Only today I am getting back to exercise, so the reason for the heart rate not getting below 60 again is easy to explain. But the leap was rather excessive. Yes, the last 66 was the last day of moving…

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Working with the Grandmaster Preparation books

November 27th, 2015 40 comments

There is a conversation I have once a week, sometimes once a fortnight. It is with a player or the parent of a talented youngster, who would like to have private tuition, either short term or continuously. At the moment this is not something I am ready to do for the payment people are willing to pay. There are just too many projects I need to bring to completion.

But this article is not supposed to be about whining, but a longer reply to the last person who asked me to help her daughter make decisions better and faster. It is, in short, a guide to using my books.

The first point I want to make is the most fundamental one, and thus also the one that is most far reaching and most difficult to implement.

In order to improve your chess abilities, you will have to think in a different way.

There are other ways to improve in chess: physical form (not greatly effective, but it does a lot for your health!), openings (they go out of date and you forget them, still a good position is easier to play), memorising theoretical endings (worthwhile doing, but this needs updating too), calculating faster (similar to sprint training for physical athletes, something you lose if you don’t maintain it) and others.

All of these are worth doing and if you are ambitious, you are probably doing some of them and aware that you should be doing the others as well!

But if you can improve the way you think chess, you will really get ahead.

Read more…

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Nigel Short Seminar Update – Unlock a discount for everyone!

September 22nd, 2015 10 comments

Setting a price for a seminar is difficult. I hope to not lose too much money while organising them, while at the same time I hope to have big attendance, which is the reason I organise them in the first place.

This week we will have a visit from Nigel Short. I set the price at £150 for four days, thinking it is good value and I would not lose too much. While the second part is true, the attendance is lower than I had hoped. For this reason I will reduce the price with £10 per extra participant registering from now on for all participants, of course. It will not go under £100, which is what I have charged for other seminars. But if 5 more people decides to attend, the price will be down to £100…

Jacob Aagaard

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Goal setting – or setting yourself up for failure

May 27th, 2015 25 comments

This blog post is inspired by IM Lawrence Trent’s public announcement that he is retiring from competitive chess, but is by no means meant as advice to Lawrence or a comment on his very personal decision. But it is a small note on goal setting and the way you can set yourself up for failure.

I have personally aimed at the IM title and the GM title at various times in my life. I achieved both rather quickly at the time when I was ready for them, getting all the norms in less than 12 months. It took me an additional three years to surpass 2500 in rating and it is only from this that I learned some quite valuable lessons; what had worked for me and what did not.

First of all, no matter how much I desired the grandmaster title, the desire did not give me an inch of competitive advantage. Rather the contrary – the overload of importance my decision making was suffering from meant that I struggled to work things out that should have been achievable for me. Every defeat was a heartbreak and caused immense emotional suffering. I have since then had to hold my ill child in a scanner for 20 minutes while she was crying and begging me to let her go, so I have definitely experienced worse, but where that was probably 9/10, losing to a 2100 in Cappelle in 2005 was about a 7/10. If I had not been entirely demolished, it might have felt worse.

The way I got past it was actually simple. I allowed myself to fail. I decided that as long as I was trying my best, it was OK. If that was enough, then it was enough. And if not, then it was not.

In 2006 I lost a blitz play-off game at the Danish Championship where I was apparently winning. I went from 1st to 6th place in less than 30 seconds. I knew already then that I would probably never win the championship of my birth country, as I had already changed affiliation to Scotland. Still, there was no pain, no regret, no remorse. I had tried.

In 2007 I became British Champion and surpassed 2500 on the way.

What I recommend to students facing such tasks is to play it move by move. If you are close to GM-level, but constantly failing (as is happening with one guy I am helping at the moment), maybe the thing to do is to improve your chess skills and knowledge? To do the work required to be more than 2500 once; to become a GM for life, if indeed this is your wish. Because if you do not like chess, the whole thing seems rather pointless to me anyway…

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