The 9-day challenge

The 9-day challenge

For those who've been following the blog regularly, you'll remember this week I've been working on a 9-day challenge to improve my chess game.

My initial goal was to memorize the 1999 game between Garry Kasparov and Veselin Topalov, studying the beginning, middle, and end-game over nine days. Well it didn't quite pan out as I thought.

I spent two days memorizing the entire 44-move game as black and white. Then I spent 2 more days, repeatedly playing the game as I tried to identify the intent behind each move. I learned a lot about chess through the process:

  • Sometimes you have to sacrifice a valuable piece for better positioning.

  • Always think twice before someone presents you with an easy capture.

  • If you don't have a clear line of attack, you can often force a piece into a more vulnerable position.

After the first four days, I've spent the remaining five memorizing and playing another game, Alexander Beliavsky vs John Nunn, 1985. I memorized the moves for both black and white in a day - the game only lasts about 27 moves - and spent the rest of the time replaying it. Again, I was trying to dissect the intent behind each move and where the game went wrong for the losing player.

Needless to say, my game has improved but I also found myself going down a rabbit hole of obsessive study. I not only studied the game, but I went to the library and got halfway through Garry Kasparov's How Live Imitates Chess - I recommend everyone check it out. Since I started the challenge, I've played nearly 30 games - not including the ones I studied.

In addition to the chess lessons, I also picked up a few lessons on intentional study:

  • It's important to combine actual practice with study to reify concepts and lessons.

  • Setting concrete and measurable short-term and long-term goals improves motivation.

  • Memorizing a chess game is more about identifying tactics (a series of moves) than individual moves.

  • It's important to study the game from the perspective of both black and white to understand the full range of mistakes and opportunities.

After these 9-days, I've noticed that my work has suffered a bit but my work ethic has improved. I haven't gotten as much writing done as I anticipated but I've forced myself to complete daily tasks before I can do anything chess related. Thus I have constant incentive to push through work as efficiently as possible.

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