Nothing depressed him more than the moments in which he contrasted his current mental powers with what he had formerly possessed. Every day he declined in sagacity and vigour.
- Philip K Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
I'm stopping for a bit.
After changing my mind every thirty minutes or so, over a period of several weeks, I finally decided not to enter the Huesca Provincial championship this year. A particular shame, since I won it last year, and I would have liked to defend that title for all sorts of reasons. But chess has been getting to me, and I decided it was better to stop for a bit. So while I haven't played my last game of chess, I've probably played my last game of chess this year.
To stop for a bit, and then, perhaps, when I start again, to pick up in a different place, and in a different way, from where I left off.
When I say "chess has been getting to me" I mean of course that losing at chess has been getting to me, since I've been losing a lot, to the extent that I've slung away something in the region of eighty Elo points in a couple of years. The Elo points don't matter in themselves, of course, not that I would say so if I'd been gaining rather than losing them, and it seems only recently that I was fantasising about getting close to 2200 rather than wondering if I'd ever see 2100 again. (Losing the game described here might have marked the end of that particular mirage.)
But it's how and why the points have been lost, rather than the fact of losing them, that matters, and it seems to me that over the past three or fours years, but increasingly so more recently, two patterns have become prominent in my chess which were not at all prominent beforehand. One is losing games to players a couple of classes of strength, or more, weaker than me. The other is a pronounced tendency to lose games after holding a large advantage early on.
Sure, everybody loses games to weaker players, even much weaker players, from time to time. I used to do so occasionally. Now it's regularly. Everybody loses games from positions where they're winning. But they also do the opposite, which I do but rarely - while the trajectory of my games is so often like that, we might as well depict it on a graph and title it My Typical Game. (I've not titled the axes: I'm sure it's self-explanatory.)
It's a hard way to lose, I think, and familiarity makes it no easier: rather the contrary. It's a lot harder to accept as a pattern than it is as an occasional hazard.
Why this has happened to my chess, over this period, I don't precisely know, and you can be sure that I don't have the time, nor do I have the inclination, to carry out the sort of exhaustive self-analysis that would likely be required, nor the extensive course of improvement that would likely have to follow. No thank you: I am forty-six years old and my future in chess is mostly behind me, and there are many better things to which I could devote my time.
Of course, being in my forties, I also recognise that Anno Domini is friend to no chessplayer, and I notice little things, outside chess, that indicate a tiny loss of focus: lapses of memory, confusion of words, a difficulty in processing and understanding statistics, a problem in grasping the logic of an argument with which I am not already familiar. In truth, I've always been better at generalities than specifics, and if the mental machinery is not working quite as well as it used to, then that tendency can, only be accentuated. And it's a fatal tendency when it comes to the point of the game at which exact calculation is required.
Presumably tiredness plays its part, too, exacerbated by working round the country and sometimes travelling for hundreds of kilometres on the day of a game, or the evening before: maybe the mind, in those circumstances, can only maintain proper levels of concentration for so long, and that length of time time not quite enough to win a hard-fought game of chess. Maybe. Maybe it plays a role. But probably not the major one.
Whatever the causes, all this leads to stress, from which I've suffered, to one degree or another, for quite a long time, presumably much longer than I really know, since there must have been symptoms of stress long before I knew them for what they were. Anyway, that stress has gradually whittled away my capacity to play, and cope with, chess.
About a decade ago, I found myself unable to complete a British weekend tournament. Instead of playing five rounds, or six, I would habitually find myself missing at least the Saturday afternoon, and the final, Sunday afternoon round. Maybe more than those: a particularly difficult-to-take defeat would normally send me home earlier than that. I've entirely cut out rapidplay, blitz, lightning: I've also cut out correspondence chess (far less enjoyable than it used to be, anyway). As for internet chess, I never took to it in the first place.
Now I'm taking a rest from club and tournament play, too: as it stands, chess isn't good for me. Better to give it a rest until such time as I know I'm missing it- and when I start playing again, to play a little less. So that I am less tried when I play. But more importantly, so that when I lose, it matters less. And so that when I play, I'm looking forward to it.
I look forward to that, at any rate. I like chess, in principle. I don't think this is where I stop playing chess competitively. But I think it might be where I stop playing regularly. To play chess less, to appreciate it more.
[Dinky graph: National Centre For Education Services Create A Graph]