Dallas 2014 Nationals

This year, after taking the CalChess “state champion” title, Daniel really wanted to have another shot at the nationals. So we flew down to Texas to attend the tournament, and had a really fun weekend.

Daniel was a bit disappointed after losing game #1 to Akira from NYC, but was able to recover and continue playing, ending with a total of 4.0 points for the tournament. I was very proud of him showing the traits of a real “athlete” that can recover from a loss (with all the emotions that come with that) and continue playing.

Congratulations to David Pan from MSJE, who played very well and ended up in the 8th place overall.

Learning to draw

Recently I realized that I lose many chess games only because I’m desperately trying to win.

“Isn’t that a good thing? Shouldn’t one always try to win?” you might ask. Well, yes, of course you should. But many chess games reach a state where winning is not possible anymore, but getting a draw is a very reasonable outcome. However, if winning is driving your thought process, you may miss good moves and strategies that achieve a draw.

Magnus Carlsen, after round 8 of the recent tournament against Anand, where he won the world championship title, said: “I didn’t particularly mind a draw, as was evident from my play. ”

“Learning to draw” is something we have to get used to. We typically get introduced to this notion when we learn about “state mate” and how to look for such opportunities in an endgame.

I find that it’s typically not our natural tendency to look for a draw. It requires focus and practice. So spend some time in your chess studies, and learn how to draw.


Working Hard

In the last few months, I’ve been working with Daniel to establish in his chess discipline the principal of: “work hard on every move”.

We know that chess is non-linear, and a wrong move, as small as it maybe, can cost you the game. A chess tournament is quite challenging, both physically and mentally, and it’s easy to think: “I’ve worked hard in the previous game. I should relax this game”.

In contrast, the “working hard” principal says: “every move of every game is equally important, and you should give it as much attention as is appropriate, regardless of previous games and effort”.

This seems to work rather well so far, and allowed Daniel to bridge some of the gap between his performance at home and at tournaments.

Chess is non-linear

Human beings are wired to think linearly about the world around them, expecting that small incremental changes can only result in small incremental outcomes.

Nature is full of non-linear phenomena. As a simple example, consider a block of ice; when you raise the temperature, it heats up but nothing seems to change; eventually it reaches the critical temperature, and then melts.

Chess is also non-linear. A very simple move can be a huge blunder and reverse the outcome of the game. This provides a unique opportunity for young chess players to   learn the possibility of non-linear results when considering choices and outcomes.

By the way, programming has some similar properties. A small coding mistake can have significant negative implications on the functionality of the code.


On making progress

Some time ago, in an Aikido class, my sensei at the time Eytan Ben Meir explained how to approach learning in Aikido.

“Consider a person in front of a very long wall, let’s say 1000 kilometers in each direction”, he said. “Somewhere in that wall there’s a very thin slit through which you may enter, but the slit is invisible to the human eye. Therefore, to find the slit, you move forward towards the wall. If you are just in front of the slit — congratulations you go through. If you hit the wall — retreat back, move a few steps sideways and try again.”

“This”, Eytan said, “is a powerful way to learn the techniques of Aikido. Do it over and over again, try different things, until you find the right path. You will know when you find it.”

“One more thing”, Eytan added: “You can learn Aikido your entire life. Every time you pass through a thin slit in the wall, you find yourself right in front of a new wall, and start over one level deeper. ”

This story has helped me through a lot of learning challenges over the year. It works very well for Aikido as well as many other areas.

In chess, people sometimes get stuck in a “plateau” around a certain level of play. It is common in this case to feel frustrated and that something is missing in your chess game and you can’t figure out what it is. Silman’s The Amateur’s Mind addresses this problem directly.

Consider applying the thin slit approach here. What you need to make progress is usually something that only you can discover, but friends, parents and coaches can help. Try this: play and analyze many games, and do this with a diverse group of people so you get a lot of different ideas and perspectives.

Eventually you will find the thin slit you are looking for.



I’ve recently got introduced to Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. In this book, Carol describes the difference between what she calls a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset”.

People with a fixed mindset consider their abilities a gift. A certain ability level they have been given, which cannot change. Consequently, they typically spend all their time trying to prove to the world, and themselves, that they do in fact have the level of ability expected of them. This in turn results in avoidance of risk, for fear of failure (which for fixed-mindset is proof they are not good enough).

People with a growth mindset believe that effort leads to growth. Every challenge is an opportunity to learn (not a test of one’s skill level). Yes, talent is important, but effort is the real driver of success.

Boris Gelfand, who challenged Anand last year for the world championship, is well known for his approach to chess matches based on hard work and deep preparation. Laszlo Polgar, the father of Susan and Judith, famously said: “Geniuses are made, not born”.

So when your child wins, praise the effort not the achievement.


In 2013, do something you love

Doing something you love doing is like magic.

You will be happier, more successful, more confident, more everything. In fact, you will say to yourself: why did I wait so long?

Make this your 2013 new year resolution: stop doing everything you don’t like doing, and focus on the things you really love. It’s best gift you can ever give yourself.

Happy new year!


Flow: the secret to happiness

First identified by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow is a kind of mental state where you perform an activity while being fully immersed and focused on it. In this Ted talk, Mihaly describes flow as the point where high skill is matched by just-the-right challenge.

Interestingly, video games are known to get people into a state of flow. So does sports, music and a variety of others.

Flow makes us feel good. As human beings, once we experience flow, we tend to look for as much of it as we can find. That’s why video games tend to be addictive.

Flow in a Chess game is quite common too, as reported by many people.

As a chess parent guiding your child in the early stage of their chess exploration, it’s  important to let them experience and enjoy flow, by making sure they play at a level that is “just right” for them. In today’s competitive chess environment, you might think that “play-up” will give your child a faster track to higher rating, and it might; but consider also that the child might lose interest in the game altogether.

And if you want some happiness too, I recommend putting yourself in their shoes.


Follow your passion

  • Do something you really enjoy.
  • Do something that really makes you feel great. All the time. Every day.
  • Figure out what you are passionate about and follow your passion.

Two examples from my personal life:

  1. Daniel is passionate about chess. That’s why he is doing well. His drive is intrinsic and second to none.
  2. Noa (my wife) is passionate about teaching Art with historical context, and decided to follow this passion of hers with Art History In Practice. Amazing things followed, like the homage to Nina Katchadourian.

Your mileage will NOT vary. I promise.