Friday, March 19, 2010

Our thinking system and pressure

At NAG, we saw some strong players crashing. This is what I think. We need to see chess as more than just the technical.

Under pressure, our thoughts naturally turn negative, anxieties and fear creep in. This fears essentially come from our thinking system. And the higher the pressure the more these fears come through.

Let me use an illustration.

It's a little like a submarine. If it is built to withstand pressure at 100 meters, it will function to that depth. Higher pressure will create leakages. So say, an IM's submarine can take pressures to 500 meters before the hull is crushed and a GM can takes pressures at depths of 1000 meters.

I believe, that at the GM level it may not be totally about technical skills anymore. If you can beat one or more GM, you already have the technical armament. But to beat enough of them in succession it is about your mental system.

In psychology, it is well known that it's the conclusions formed in childhood that is most difficult to change. This is because the child has yet to develop rational evaluation. And wrong conclusions mount into a complex mix of negative thinking over time.

Another example.

Mark first played competitive chess at 11 yrs old. He got knocked out at district level the first year. The next year he came from nowhere and became State Champ.

That year he also played his first Perak Close. On the first day, he was the front runner and there were whispers that he could be the youngest ever State Champion but he crashed on the second day. I remember that the then President Dr Yee going up to Mark and telling him that he was mentally weak.

But Mark was still under 12 Champ. At the prize giving somebody elses name was called and I objected. I was told a mistake was made but they will give him the U12 medal after the ceremony. I insisted that they give it to him during the prize giving and not after. They finally relented.

Now lets look at what conclusions a child can form if we are not careful. Mark played a number of former adult State Champions the first day and beat them but he crashed on the second day. On one hand there was me, his dad, a non chess player and new to chess saying that Dr Yee's evaluation was unfair and Mark made some notable achievements in that competition. And there was Dr Yee, the President of the Chess Association, and a person who people believe knows chess who told Mark he was mentally weak. And to compound that he was not even graciously given the age group prize he had won. Was there a seed of doubt in himself that was now planted in his young mind?

That is why I say tournaments can build or it can destroy. After every tournament, after every game, young minds form conclusions rightly or wrongly. And over time, if the wrong conclusions are not corrected, it becomes part of their mind set, their thinking system. And under pressure those words uttered so many years ago, those wrongly formed conclusions seep into the thinking system.

We have to be more careful to nurture for the sake of our young talents and I believe we will then find someone who can take the pressure at that 1000 meters to produce our first GM.

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