Last night, something surreal happened to me, and it reminded me of Josh Waitzkin’s lecture in the Chessmaster series where his opponent moved a rook to threaten his queen, and Josh thought for something like 35 minutes about where to move her. Trouble was, the rook was unguarded and completely hanging! Finally, Josh actually moved his queen to another square, and did not realize that he’d missed a rook for the entire game. I thought to myself, Wow, haha, not a chance! What was he thinking? Well, it happened to me and let me tell you, it was weird.
I was playing on World Chess Live (www.worldchesslive.com), competing in their nightly Titanium King Challenge (TKC) tournament, a 4-round 25/0 that sometimes has a pretty strong field. I had done some tactical exercises and watched a video lecture, so I felt ready to go. I managed to beat my arch-rival on the site, a player rated almost exactly what I am, and then got pitted against a 2124, a rating I have yet to achieve. Just play the game, I thought, forget about the rating. Focus.
And focus I did. So much, in fact, that by move ten I had lost a piece and had no clue whatsoever that I had done so! I thought we were even material and my weak tactical maneuver had actually worked. What really happened is I ended up getting both his center pawns for a knight. Had I realized what I’d done I would likely have freaked-out a little and blundered further, sending my game into oblivion.
As it happens, I went on to smoothly and methodically win the game, never realizing at any time that I was down a whole piece. After the game, my opponent told me, “When I played g5 you just hung a piece. Why?” I was baffled, and hadn’t a clue what he was saying. We reviewed the game together, and I had more than a good laugh.
The point? Chess is not only learning, memory, strategy and calculating. It is also attitude. In fact, a big part of it is attitude. I remained “in the zone” after I dropped a piece and played as hard as I could because I didn’t know any better. Mentally and emotionally, I was still in the game, whereas if I’d realized my blunder I might quickly have lost focus. What Josh Waitzkin says in those Chessmaster lectures is absolutely true: Get in the moment. Sink into the position. Try to win, with every move. After all, sometimes the only loser is the one who stops fighting.