Chess: the Drosophila of Cognitive Science

What I’ve learnt about myself as a learner from chess in 2021

I properly began playing in May

I joined chess.com exactly a year ago, and today (with a lot of effort) I finally achieved a rating of 600. That puts my just in the bottom third of all players on chess.com – or about the six millionth in their world ranking. For perspective, an average chess club player has a rating of about 1500. (I joined a club briefly in October – the players there were lovely and encouraging, but i decided to practise some more before returning).

The chart above shows my rating as it gradually increased from May onwards (before May I wasn’t playing rapid chess, so best to ignore that data). Chess.com has so many players at one time that you can be paired with a player with a similar rating any time of day, in seconds. Since May, it seems I’ve played 800 games (they are rapid games – I don’t have that much spare time! Still it’s probably a couple of hundred hours).

800 games since May – winning slightly more than I’ve lost.

If I’d been serious about improving, I should not have played so many games. I should have practised with intention. I like chess puzzles, but I don’t so them intentionally – I just go at them, usually on the platform waiting for a train. I make one move at a time to see where it gets me – the classic problem-solving technique for novices (and hopelessly inefficient). I also like going through my games and trying to find better moves than the ones I actually played (chess.com is good at this). That’s a bit more intentional. At the end of each game, the system recommends specific training videos and problems to solve. I don’t do them much.

I am motivated to get better – it just seems that the lure of a quick game is always stronger.

Another thing I’ve noticed from my stats is that I get winning streaks and losing streaks. When I’m on a losing streak (Nov/Dec this year I dropped a massive 100 points in my rating), I still think I’m as good as when I’m on a winning streak. I can’t tell before I play how good I’ll be. I don’t have an effective sense of how clearly I’m thinking. Perhaps I shouldn’t make important decisions without playing a couple of games first to check my brain is working well.

Summary

  • Knowing how to get better and wanting to get better still isn’t enough.
  • I can’t tell when I’m making good decisions.
  • I like playing chess.

Interesting Reading

Kramaley: Chess and Psychology: Why Chess is like a fruit fly

Kasparov: Chess, a Drosophila of reasoning

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