Changing My Approach To Chess - An Art To Study, Not A Game To Play

I don't want to play chess anymore.

Yes, that's right. As a game, I don't want to play it anymore. I don't enjoy the competitive aspect to it. I don't enjoy the feeling of losing. I don't enjoy methodically playing a game from beginning to end.

Nonetheless, chess itself captivates me. There's something special about it. I can feel there is something really complicated going on beneath the surface, something mathematical even. I want to study chess THEORY. I want to study it as an artform. I want to really get in there deep, ask the real hard questions about it and learn about the tricky, unknown secrets. I don't want to be a player anymore, I want to be a student.

So, now that I have decided I am changing my approach to one of recreational study of theory, not one where I aim to climb the rating ladder, what is the best way to do this? How do I begin learning the theory of chess? Where do I even start? What books do I read that approach chess in this same way that I am thinking of, in the sense that it is an art to be appreciated? What aspects to theory are there?

Help, anyone?

Endgame studies are more complicated, more beautiful and more scientific than problem chess.
Buy some book by a famous endgame composer.

Another possibility is correspondence chess, but there too you lose sometimes and often you have to suffer for months with a bad position.

There are good books about chess theory itself. "My System" by Aaron Nimzovich springs to mind.

It sounds like you've found the difference between "playing" chess, and "creating" chess.

The difference between "moving pieces" and "arguing fundamentals".

Good luck with your journey, Triple Zero. We hope to see you active for a very long time to come.

Many endgames are very artistic. I'm passionate about endgames because of their elegance. It is also a very "mathematical" field, because we have the proof of the validity of the moves, which is not the case in the opening and the middlegame.

My favorite book on engames is : Comprehensive chess endings of Averbakh and co.

This was a truly beautiful post, @Triple_Zero and quite consistent with my own evolution over the past year. My principle advice is immerse yourself deeply in Tactics Training, which I expand on at the bottom of this post.

The more I've become immersed in the analysis and introspection of chess, the less I have been able to enjoy it as a "game" in the traditional sense. Instead, it is far more of an exacting "language," "science," or perhaps a "religion" than it is a game. I think this is the eventual ultimate and accurate realization, especially if you're from an engineering or mathematics background (as I am).

From an analytical standpoint, it reminds me of learning about Algebra in school. After learning Algebra, you can elegantly formulate, harmonize, and solve problems in a rich way in a way you couldn't before. The traditional attitude of playing chess is like _before_ learning Algebra -- you're randomly trying numbers trying to get a non-existent equation to balance and hoping blindly it all works out. This beautiful zen moment you've had revealed that there is a deeper harmony and truth to be discovered, beyond randomly guessing (bullet and blitz).

From an emotional and ranting standpoint, I don't resonate with this game like other people or like other games. It sounds like you've already done this, but take a step back and look at what this "game" _actually_ is, as a game, in comparison to all the other true games you could play instead (tetris, tennis, etc). As a "game", chess an antisocial tightrope with an extreme ruthless rigidity (that makes higher mathematics look like finger painting) and is not the creative and expressive playground it may superficially appear. I would argue that virtually any aspect of life, including picking up miscellaneous trash off the sidewalk, is more of a game than chess is. Also 99% of chess games feel like lose/lose to me, though I'll admit there can be immensely satisfying victories (or draws) which outweigh the negatives.

With those downsides out of the way, I have had an immensely renewed appreciation for the language and art of chess by making deep investment in Tactics Training over the past year, instead of playing. I have made several forum posts about it, which are accessible from my profile, if you are interested; you will see my enthusiasm and excitement for them. The wonderful Tactics Trainer on this site reveals vast dimensions of the language (some call it a game, but I don't either) that you have likely not seen, along with perhaps the deeper satisfaction and fulfillment you are seeking. I simply can't recommend this highly enough, especially in your case.

Happy to discuss this whole topic more, feel free to get in touch!

I like the scientific part of chess. We all know that chess can be 3 different things: art, science and sport.

For example, blitz focuses on art and sport as long as it tests individual creative and psycho-biological qualities.

Science is a collective aspect and there is neither competitiveness nor creativity (as long as it is driven by rational logic).

An example of science in chess is the investigation of the best opening lines. The book "Elements of Postional Evaluation", Dan Heisman,scientifically investigates the elements of position (real and objective, leaving out subjective elements such as development or space). Many of the moves made by alphazero are supported by the Elements, such as Mobility, Flexibility and Activity of the pieces.

Just as physicists in the 19th and early 20th centuries believed in determinism, I believe there is a perfect formula for the best move. A typical "P versus NP problem"...

I'm saying this because when we like the science side of the game we also lose interest in playing. The psychological aspects of sport - win or lose - are not important to science since it is a collective activity.

In the past, science needed sport more to check hypotheses, today, with engines, this is not so necessary.

I really don't believe in books. 99% of authors write for money, and a mentor is FAR more valuable than trying to figure out what part of the book you MUST remember, what part is fluff, and what part is worthless. i think buying a book is an excuse to try to find a "quick solution," but you must play and play and play and get a mentor. and getting a good coach is an entirely new problem, since some really don't even care about chess anymore.....i would watch some streams of great players, and i think really only worry about the first 10 moves of each game. Under like 2200, so many games are over before the 11th move. i'm being a little harsh, but in other aspects of life I've "bought some books" and felt good about it. But then I found some good coaches and I really saw where the value was.....of course a coach might say, "you must study openings, so pay me to teach you all the openings and do it in a way much better than a book.....". LOL> This is a sales technique, and we need to remember many people try to make money from people looking for answers. Join a club, find a mentor, watch streams, connect with one's style......ok, rambling over.

I do not believe in coaches. A book by Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Fine, Nimzovich, Euwe , Keres, Botvinnik, Bronstein, Smyslov, Tal, Fischer, Korchnoy Kasparov, Kramnik gives you so much more than advice by a lesser player.


"Under like 2200, so many games are over before the 11th move."
I disagree completely. I have literally hundreds (if not thousands of games) where I make huge mistakes (ie dropping a queen) and come back to win. I played one the other day where I played sloppy and got my queen trapped. After a lot of tactics I managed to reach a 2 rooks vs Queen endgame and then just picked the guy apart grabbing pawn after pawn until he resigned. He was a decent player too around 1600-1700 (on another site).

I would say below 1500 NO game is over in the first 11 moves unless the loss is forced and that's almost always from a prepared
opening trap. You want to prove me wrong take these lost games and give stockfish the losing side and see how you do.

1500-1800 I would say a good player can turn a lost position into a win or at least a draw more often than not. Players in that range will usually make a major tactical mistake or two and their endgame play is typically very bad.

1800-2200: There are still fewer mistakes in this range but I still feel like Magnus could give queen odds to anyone in this range and win the majority of the games.

Openings don't matter much at all in terms of success or failure until you start approaching 2300. There's a quote from Kasparov saying essentially the same thing. As long as you have a basic understanding of opening principles and don't walk into traps the plus/minus evaluations mean next to nothing at the sub 2200 level. I have friends who have reached that level playing things like the colle, dutch and king's gambit.

As far as books, I think books are invaluable. Where else can I hear Bobby Fischer's own words? Yes, I know and have learned from people who knew Bobby personally (and played countless games against him) but to me that isn't the same. His own words trump anything I could learn second-hand. I've been lucky too. Most people will never get to sit and learn and ask questions from people who were ranked among the top players to ever play the game like I have. Most people don't have the opportunity to know a half dozen GMs like I have. Most people don't have the opportunity to sit and play blitz with IMs at a coffee house for hours like I have. Still, I like hearing what the great players of all time have to say in their own words.

Yes, it's good to have someone better than you tell you where you need to improve but people like Fischer, Kasparov, Magnus, Capa, Morphy etc understood the game on a whole other level. I think trying to figure out what Fischer knew that Spassky didn't and what Kasparov knew that Karpov didn't is what separates great players from the greatest players. Those are the things I want to know.

" FAR more valuable than trying to figure out what part of the book you MUST remember"
The great part about a book is don't have to remember any of it. You can always read it again and it will be exactly the same book the second time.

As far as hiring random teacher guy. Look I will listen to what people better than me have to say but honestly if a guy took 40 years to reach the level I reached in 2-3 years as an adult I'm not sure they have a whole lot to teach me. At the same time I can go out and get a book from the best teachers in the world for $10-20 where lessons from those same people would cost 10x that and only cover a fraction of the material.

Bottom line: I try to learn as much as I can from every source possible. I don't think narrowing yourself to one specific way is the right answer. If you want to be good at something you should seek out and learn from the very best players and teachers not some random guy just because he lives in the same town as you.