Friday, September 13, 2013

Back When We Were Beautiful

JMGB writes: 
Some people need no introduction. Jack Rudd is one of those people. 
If you've had even a passing acquaintance with English chess at any point over the last I don't know how many years you know who Jack is. If you haven't, well it's enough to say that we're very happy that he agreed to join us here at the S&BCB.
Here's his first post ....

Cast your mind back to April 2007. I was feeling on top of the world; I was about to wrap up my first IM norm in the 4NCL, my FIDE rating had reached its new peak of 2385, and I managed to delight the crowds with this little gem:

Six and a half years later, it has all gone horribly wrong. That rating of 2385 was as good as it got (although I did sneak over 2400 for just long enough for me to gain the IM title), and I have now tumbled to 2230, my worst rating in over a decade. I'm still producing the occasional gem like the above, but I'm also producing a lot of stuff like this, where I struggle to beat a 1500-strength player with white:

So what explains this collapse? Well, I can think of three factors. One is the lack of a target: while I was trying to become an IM, that was an important goal to focus on; now that I've got it, there is no logical next step - I'm far too far away from GM strength for that to be a remotely serious goal at the moment. Another is chronic deflation in the FIDE rating system over that time period, which is probably a subject worthy of a blog post in itself. And the third, which I'm focusing on in this post, is my general health.

Anyone who talks to me for any length of time will soon discover that I have Asperger's Syndrome. This is no doubt also something worthy of a blog post in itself, but as it's a lifelong condition, I don't think I can attribute my decline to it - indeed, it's arguable that it may help as much as it hinders. Nevertheless, it's important to mention it, as I believe studies have shown people on the autistic spectrum have higher than average rates of the other two conditions I shall talk about.

I have also, since my late teens, suffered on and off with clinical depression. I would expand more on this, but Phil Makepeace's earlier blog post did it so well, I don't feel I can add much to it. Suffice to say, that would be plenty to be going on with on its own.

It's not on its own.

Some time in 2007, I contracted epilepsy. I do not know how, and I do not know what form. But I do know that it's a really annoying thing to have as a chess player. Every so often, while thinking about a critical move, I'll suddenly get a huge electrical impulse surging through my brain and disrupting my concentration, and I'm left all shaken up. It's like trying to play chess and fight a blue dragon at the same time.

Sometimes, the dragon hits to such an extent that I'm missing simple ideas: take the game against Dow. I don't know how I could have missed 18...d5; that's such a thematically obvious move for black in that position, and if he plays 22...f5 at the end of the line, I'm a pawn down for very little. Not always, and not to that extent, but I am noticing myself miss things I should easily spot more and more.

So where do I go from here? Well, keep taking the tablets, I guess. But apart from that? What do I do if my condition doesn't get better? I can carry on as I am, doing whatever the chess equivalent is of spoiling the memory and ending up at a Conference club. Or I can move the other side of the desk to a greater extent than I already do; turning up to big tournaments as an arbiter, rather than as a player.

It's a choice I'm glad I have. But it's not a choice I want to have to be making, nor is it one I would have envisaged, back in April 2007, having to make now.


ejh said...

Leaving aside for the moment the questions of Apserger's, depression and epilepsy (I know something about thr first two and nothing about the third, or for that matter about Blue Dragons) my advice for the short-term would be that if you are not enjoying something, stop doing it for a while. As far as possible don't play, not OTB, not online.

I say "as far as possible" because I'm sure it's not that simple and I'm sure you have club obligations and suchlike. But really, don't play if you are reasonably able not to. And find some other things to do in the time when you would have been playing, some not-chess and not-resembling-chess things if at all pssible.

That way you maybe get to find out how much you really want to play chess. if you end up playing less as a result, quite likely so much the better. You're liable to enjoy it more, and worry about it less.

John Cox said...

What is this rating deflation in English chess of which JR speaks? I certainly haven't noticed it. On the contrary, I thought everyone was exercising themselves about rating inflation. Indeed, given that my own rating has remained roughly constant while, like Jack, noticing that I play worse and worse, I assumed only the latter was keeping my rating afloat. Perhaps it's rather that I don't actually play worse moves; I just notice more often how bad they are. That would be more encouraging.

Anonymous said...

There's a case that International Elo ratings are becoming deflated for some English players, at least for players below 2100 and those like Jack who play a lot of them. There are at least two forces at work. One is that losses against 1800 players now count, whereas they didn't when 1800 players didn't have ratings. The other is Juniors who improve at a faster rate than their ratings. It doesn't help that ECF grades were inflated in 2009. Average players are 20 points higher from 120 to 140, whilst IMs were broadly unchanged. It's been observed by IMs who mostly play chess only in England that while their International rating is unchanged whilst their ECF is up to 10 points higher.

Personally in the past eighteen months, my ECF grade has been at a historic 44 year high and my International Elo at a 19 year low.


Jonathan B said...

What is this rating deflation in English chess of which JR speaks?

Worthy of a post in itself. Similar to Roger, my ECF is at an all time high. My Elo is an all time low. Most of the results that have contributed to these figures were played at the same tournaments (i.e. were games that were both Elo rated and ECF graded).

When I got my first Elo rating in 2011 the conversion to ECF/vice versa came out within one point as exactly the same. Since then I've dropped about 150 Elo points and stayed the almost the same on the ECF

Anonymous said...

John, the reason you haven't been caught up in the rating deflation is because you play almost exclusively in the top division of the 4NCL. The people who are most affected are those who spend lots of time playing against these juniors who are many hundreds of points underrated. The effect is now spreading to those who play those who play these juniors. But the effect hasn't yet filtered significantly through to 4NCL Div 1.

I think it is only a matter of time...


Jonathan B said...

My issue isn't just under-rated juniors (and those who subsequently become under-rated as a result). It's also the fact that half my wins come against unrated opponents and therefore don't count. So I have a decent tournament and still my rating drops.

Jonathan Rogers said...

Basically this is right: Jack seems to put himself mainly into those competitions where players are most under-rated. (Of course this is not necessarily a silly thing to do, that depends on how much your rating actually means to you).

The rating inflation which JJC notes is mainly at the top end (above 2600) where the players are very many times removed from the incremental effects of the many very many ridiculous ratings at the bottom ratings. So they probably still get the benefit of the "natural" inflation which we seem to observe in the Elo system. It is further exaggerated for some 2700s + who only get to play each other and who don't need to play an under-rated player ever again.

an ordinary chessplayer said...

A little disappointing that 6/7 comments are about the side issue of ratings inflation....

Non-chess recommendations:
(1) For the depression, exercise a lot, just your basic aerobic exercise -- run, swim, bike, triathlon if it turns you on. Double the minimum recommended exercise dose for the average healthy person, for you say 60 minutes per day. Build up slowly of course. Another benefit will be greater endurance at the end of chess games.

(2) For the Asperger's, take Omega-3 supplements. These are not proven to help but there is some evidence they will and they are unlikely to hurt anything.

(3) For the epilepsy, try Yoga. I don't really believe it will moderate the epilepsy, but it will give you a greater body awareness. You might learn about triggers, or get an early warning about attacks so you can take some steps (offer a draw!). BTW, the blue light is part of the Yogic experience, but you have to be deep in.

Chess recommendations:
(4) Don't study openings. It's a black hole that drains your health. Of course it's necessary but right now you can't afford to spend on that credit card. Anyway your troubles don't seem to be in the opening (6...b6?!).

(5) Try to get regular OTB practice. Everyone has different needs but I found I played much better with three club nights per week versus two club nights per week. (As the organizer of one of those nights, I was only playing 50% of the time, so it was more like 2.5 games per week vs 1.5.) The body craves regularity, if you get in a rhythm then it will deal with the stress of a game better.

(6) Try not to blame your chess mistakes on specific health problems. First, your opponent is also dealing with both general and specific health issues. Most have fewer issues than you, but some have even more. Second, it's damaging to your morale. It was just on the radio yesterday that patients with back pain who try to avoid ALL pain just end up doing less and less, and still don't succeed in avoiding all pain. Patients who accept that pain is not the same as damage and stay active while managing the pain have far better outcomes BOTH in activity and in pain.