Improving Objectivity

Something that many people do not know about me is that I love the game of chess. Perhaps if you take a second look at my artwork you will see how this passion has permeated my work. Well, in short, I do not get to play that often, however I keep my mind sharp by reading chess books and recently I was rereading a book written by Rolf Wetzell titled “Chessmaster … at any age.” Making my way through it again, I get to page 158 and a sub section about improving objectivity. Not thinking too much about it I just kept reading.

However, this time I could not help but think how this concept does not apply to just chess but rather how this directly applies to my artwork and beyond. I’ve been thinking about this concept and this section for the last couple of weeks and decided that if I was thinking this much about it perhaps others would find it beneficial too. The following text is taken directly from Wetzell’s book. Enjoy.

Some people feel the rain, others just get wet.~Roger Miller

In Part II, we talked about the importance of objectivity in chess. To improve in chess, you must have a correct assessment of the weaknesses of your game. This correct assessment stems from your own critical review and critiques by others, like your opponent in a postmortem. It requires objectivity to assess your weaknesses correctly, and it also takes objectivity to accept criticism from fellow chessplayers at face value.

There is a “Catch-22.” Everyone thinks he’s objective, because if he perceived he were not, he would set out to correct this problem.

An article in the April 1988 issue of Chess Life by Dr. Don Ifill summarized the results of a survey of chessplayers (taken at the 1987 World Open) about reasons for winning and losing. The answers showed that chessplayers displayed a considerable lack of objectivity by attributing losses much more to blunders than to superior play by the opponent, while wins were attributed much more to superior play than to a blunder by the opponent. There is plenty of bias or lack of objectivity to go around. So please take this section seriously.

There really is a very simple reason for this. At any stage, or level, of Strength, in order to improve, a player needs to know what’s wrong with this game – in the general sense – such as incorrect assessments of a position, and so on.

To establish what’s wrong, one needs an unbiased assessment. Bias will distort this assessment and slow down, and possibly worse yet, derail, the process of improvement.

Let’s try some thoughts out. Have you ever heard anyone – a club player for example – make statements of the following nature:

1) Oh, yeah, I got into time pressure and then lost a pawn.

2) I don’t like Larry Evan’s What’s the Best Move, because sometimes I don’t agree with his answers.

3) Oh, yeah, I should have won that game. I just made one stupid blunder.

4) I guess I was satisfied with that tournament. I just lost a couple of games I should have won.

These kinds of statements show limitations which influence the rate of progress of the making any of them. In 1) above, the player is implying that it’s okay to get into Time Pressure. In 2), he’s implying that it’s okay to disagree with a grandmaster, without a careful and thorough analysis as back-up. In 3), he’s implying that making blunders is either a natural condition such as breathing, occurring invouluntarily from time to time, or an event you can’t do anything about – it happened this time, but hopefully will not happen again. In 4), he’s implying that he was ahead in material (or positionally superior), but some freak of nature intervened on his opponent’s behalf.

If you think of new information as coming through a window, objectivity is akin to the size of the window.The more objective we are, the more new pertinent information we gather during each encounter.

Improving objectivity encompasses two tasks: a) establishing whether you really are objective, and b) correcting this lack of objectivity if you determine that you’re not.

To determine whether you are objective, ask another chessplayer who knows you well. You may be fortunate to know a stronger player whom you can ask. There are two related points. First, you must ask the question in such a way that the player is comfortable with giving you either answer. Second, if, on hearing the answer, you are tempted to argue, stop yourself and admit to yourself that you’re not objective.

Testing Your Objectivity

1) Do you give vague and lame explanations to yourself, and others, when they ask you about how you player in a game, particularly if you lost or drew?

2) Do you have trouble listening to a lower-rated player?

3) Do you explain your losses by “one-of-a-kind” unusual situations which account for this result?” You might offer that you were extremely tired after some party or other event the previous day, or that you’d never seen that variation of the opening before, or that you had made a silly oversight.

4) Do you often have trouble admitting that you’re wrong in a personal, non-chess-related discussion?

Possibly by now you’re questioning your objectivity, while hopefully you agree that clearheaded objectivity is a must. Just admitting to yourself that you’re not really objective is the hard part, and gets you halfway there.

Becoming more objective starts with admitting to yourself that you don’t have all the answers, that there’s nothing wrong with admitting that you made a mistake or blunder – if not to everybody else, then at least to yourself. By admitting these things, you are opening up new vistas of improvement.

If you have a friend who plays chess, and who sees your games now and then, you may ask him to keep an eye on you. Kibitz with him, or analyze a game with him, now and again, and he can try to remember your level of objectivity.

You can make up a checklist of questions, which could contain the questions above, and “take your own pulse” maybe once a year by checking off appropriately “yes” or “no” for these questions.