I don’t know how many of my blog readers play chess with any frequency, but I’m confident most of you are familiar with the game.
One way that people will improve is by trying to solve chess problems, arranged situations with some kind of prompt like “black checkmates white in five moves” or something. What do you do when you’re given that problem? You start looking for ways to set up a checkmate. Duh. Even if it doesn’t look like you can checkmate them right away, if the person is interested in solving the puzzle they will say, “oh so I guess you do something weird to make it happen.” So they keep checking, start exploring weird options, strange gambits, sacrifices. They just try things that look stupid on the surface, if only because they exhausted the “smart” options already.
The reason they do this is because they know that an answer exists. But if they had been playing in a regular game, they might have just played on without looking.
This is interesting to me. It’s interesting because a solution exists whether you believe it’s there or not; however, you are significantly more likely to find them when you believe they exist. Because somebody stops you for two seconds and says, “by the way, you have a winning position, eight moves,” and it makes you go, “wait, what? Really?” Then you look, actually look, and see that it's true. Please remember that phrase. Actually look. It's important.
The inverse of this, the trap, is the pig prank. Where you catch three pigs, and paint them with the numbers 1, 2, and 4, then release them in a building somewhere. Then once people have caught the pigs, you watch them spend hours looking for the one with the number 3 on it.
Assumptions dictate behavior. The assumption that you can improve, succeed, and find solutions in almost any scenario is extremely powerful. It’s what causes you to actually look.
The thing is, we are often waiting for somebody to come by and tell us “you can checkmate the other guy in five moves.” That’s what it takes for us to start looking. Somebody has to sit us down and say, “this matchup is winnable, if you focus more on this aspect of it.” Or, “if you use this move right, you can outprioritize this move of his,” before we even start looking for ways to make it come true.
It’s ironic that I’m writing this post. For the short period I played Brawl, I just kind of messed around and didn’t take the game very seriously. I picked Wario, because I thought he was silly and fun, and I just messed around and lost a lot. Then I decided to look at a tier list, and saw that (at the time) he was rated 3rd best. So I thought, “oh, I’m supposed to be winning,” and then I just started playing better. I started assuming that my character had tools to cope and win, and then I started finding and using those tools. Go figure that I had to wait for a list to tell me it was possible before I believed it.
The opposite happens with many people, where they think “oh it’s because my character is low-tier that I lost here,” yet there are handfuls of people destroying other high level players in that same matchup with the low-tier character! That person is too busy looking for explanations as to why they failed in a way that excuses the failure. Instead, they could be focusing on improving, or making things work, or finding new tools to win.
One piece of advice that Forward used to give people, when they asked him about SSBM, was “get better.” And this really seems like an asshole thing to say--and it kind of is--but at the same time, it’s indicative of a certain mindset. Which is, “don’t wait for somebody to tell you that you can win, and don’t wait for them to tell you how.” Up until you’re one of the best in the world, and you need to pay a coach or analyst to study all your matches and figure out exactly what you must improve on, you can probably find something worth practicing by closing your eyes, spinning around, and throwing a rock, then chasing it.
That’s another way of saying pick anything. If you’re not near the top, you’re not good enough to worry about being given an outline. Pick stuff. Get better. You still can. There are probably a billion ways to do it. Take one and run with it.
Sometimes people say “you just have to believe in yourself.” That isn’t quite true. There is also a lot of hard work and sometimes a crapton of heartbreak too. But it does start with a belief that there’s an answer and a solution and a way to make things work. That you’ll be able to find that answer, that solution, if you actually look.
Thanks for reading.