Thursday, May 17, 2012

Chess Master at Any Age by Rolf Wetzell

         A much debated question is whether old folks can accomplish a significant rating jump.  Wetzell did it and this book is about his rise through the ranks to achieve his life-long ambition of becoming a master when he was over fifty years old. The general consensus of opinion in any field is if you haven't made it while you are still young then you never will. And it seems these days, in chess anyway, that if you aren’t a master by the time you are in your early teens, you will never make it. The general belief is that getting older inevitably results in an inflexible mind and an inability to absorb new material.  The truth is that usually by age of fifty most of us are not incapable of learning anything, we are worn-out and just too tired from the trials of life to make any intense mental effort.
         Wetzell has some interesting theories on the nature of chess skill and while it may be true that age is a serious handicap in any endeavor, he proved his point. It seems this book’s audience is the 1800-1900 player who wants to make the push to master. Interestingly enough techniques of modeling excellence of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder seem to suggest there are shortcuts in chess just as in any other field.
       Wetzell devotes a lot of time expounding his theory on the components of chess ability.  He discusses things like the ability to visualize future positions in your mind, move selection and one’s attitude and he offers detailed methods of improving each factor. He does offer some rather bizarre advice at times though: If you get in time trouble one of his suggestions is to ‘fine’ yourself by tearing up money!

       Probably one of the most useful suggestions is to create index cards or flash cards to reinforce certain points, to learn openings and help you improve your mental images.  Since the book was written this idea is made much easier with the use of computers and chess programs. A major part of his program is to study your own games by creating exercises, puzzles and positions like ‘What's the Best Move' then make flashcards with mnemonic phrases to convert concepts into a "durable image."  Wetzell also points out some good suggestions including the need for physical fitness.
        Wetzell is very systematic in his approach and he shows how to identify bad thinking habits and how to eradicate them.

        Personally, I’m not much into actually studying chess these days, being content just to play for fun, but if you want to reach the master level, Wetzell’s approach seems to have some merit.  After all, it did work for him, so what’s to lose?!

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