Wednesday, February 06, 2008

"The Inner Game of Chess" and Flow

I've been meaning to post about Robert's latest post entitled "The Inner Game of Chess"

In one sentence, he perfectly captured (at least in my mind) what flow means or feels like in a game of chess. He said, "the rest of the tournament room, and the world, sort of faded away, and all I saw was the board in front of me."

He goes on to explain that between moves 22 and 30 he begins to tire from previous calculations. Then he ties in Blunderprone's very insightful post about his 7-move loss and a quote from FM Jon Jacobs who succinctly advises a chess player to "Fire Your Coach. Hire a Shrink!"

All of this is very good stuff and it relates directly to flow.

For all the good that De la Maza did in his little theory on cramming tactics into your head, one tiny yet important fact that is overlooked in his success story is that he seemingly had a lot of time to dedicate to chess. Wouldn't we all be much better if we didn't have day jobs, families and other responsibilities taking precious time away from chess?

Despite having our time spread across multiple interests, we can still attain that intense focus required to play our best chess. This is where flow comes in.

I think the commenter on Robert's post who's identified as Howard Goldowsky made an excellent point. He said, "it's not good enough to want to have a certain mindset, one must meditate on that mindset each day, train your brain to behave the way it wants to behave. There's so little time to train on the technical side of chess, taking the time to meditate would be a big investment"

This comment reminds me of what I read recently in the popular book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The author tells his friends about a set of instructions he keeps at his home which help him improve in his field of technial writing. The set of instructions simply state, "Assembly of Japanese bicycle require great peace of mind" (see chapter 14 of the book).

Obviously the underlining statement here is, "you better have a clear head before you begin assembling this bike!" To apply this to chess and flow ... you must have "great peace of mind" going into a game of chess in order to attain flow and consequently play your best chess.

I believe that we can practice getting into that flow. Perhaps through meditation or deep breathing or listening to certain music or other pre-game rituals we attain the proper mindset going into a game or practice session (studying a book or solving tactics and positions).

Alas, I have no conclusive evidence right now ... it's just a gut feeling. But I'm willing to experiment.


  1. Thanks for your thoughtul expansion of some of my thoughts. I have an important game in a few hours and it was good to read this and be reminded to start clearing the mind now!

  2. Update, I got a draw and won the tournament, and I was inspired by your post, THANKS!

  3. one of my absolute favorite books. interestly, at my next post, i had been planning on having my own ZAMM quote.

    my copy is earworn, underlined, wrinkled, and i still have much of the book committed to memory.

    just to let you know we came by.

    best regards, david k

  4. I have not done this nearly enough, but in tournament games where I use CT-Art for 20-30 minutes less than an hour before the game I seem to play very good chess.

  5. Several people have mentioned doing some tactical problems shortly before the game helps; I've never tried it, but sounds like something worth experimenting with.

  6. Thanks for all your comments on the post.

    @DK - I just finished ZAMM ... wow! What a great book. I really didn't know anything about this book before I began to read it. So now that I've read it once and know what its general aim is, I have begun to read it again, this time more closely. There is a lot of information about the book on the web ... I plan to get into some of that too.

    @RLP - I'm glad the post inspired you! Way to go!

    @drunknknite - Amen. I usually work on tactics at CTS or chesstempo before I log into FICS. It tunes your chess vision and helps you hone your tactical prowess