Today I went to the post office to pick up the two boxes of chess books which reflected the rest of the eBay massive purchase I made a short while back. I got 88 books in all, with the intention of keeping roughly half that total, and auctioning back off the ones I don't really want. The plan appears sound, as the books I thought I'd want proved delightful, while the books I don't want seem quite sale-able. I thought, too, how many delightful books interest me so little.
Mikhail Tal was one of the truly great world champions, whose gifts for attacking resulted in move combinations so elaborate and wonderful that it's hard to believe that one could play them with two hands. Instead, they had that six-handed player piano quality. Yet the amiable Tal's "Life and Games" interests me almost not at all.
I'm intrigued that pyrotechnics are not what I love about chess, though I do love the flaring-nostril-adrenaline of a tactical situation. I'll glance at a few games, but in the short run auction the book off.
One book I bought is called "Rapid Chess Improvement--a study plan for the adult player", by Michael de la Maza. Mr. de la Maza was an adult D player (that is, rated about median) who managed to improve his chess rating 400 points (or roughly 2 rating classes, roughly in the top 15th percentile of rated players) in a mere 12 months.
The book is fascinating and comforting.
Mr. de la Maza proposes a course of study based upon cultivating tactics and the ability to see opportunities and consequences--to "see ahead". His method involved study of problems and the squares of the chess board to acquire "chess vision" to see threats and potentials for attack.
I took great heart from being reminded of one truth. He pointed out that for players, like myself, below the expert rating category, a great deal of the game is not about elaborate strategy or intense book variations of openings, but instead just about not committing egregious errors during play.
I felt a burden lift from my shoulders on this point. I have for some years played very substandard blitz chess at the Internet Chess Club and now the Free Internet Chess Server. Although my "real" rating is "B" class, I hover between C and D in internet blitz. I kept hunting for solutions and formulae to gain my "rightful place" in the B classes, but failed.
I sat down today at the Free Internet Chess Server, armed with this simple-minded insight, and added fifty points to my blitz rating in half an hour by the simple expedient of just watching to make sure I did not make horrible blunders. When I completed the nine-game winning streak I am on, I understood that what had made me get a higher rating in "regular" chess was not any brilliance, but just a single-minded search to avoid adverse consequences and seek out safe opportunities. I managed to import this attitude to three minute blitz chess.
I think of this idea often in other areas of my life and my work. I call it "touch the bases". It's a baseball term. When one is in Little League, the coach must remind the players to make sure, while running the base paths, to touch the bases. Failure to do so can result in being declared "out" if the other side is astute. I find that in many fields of endeavor, touching the bases is a big part of the game. I meet people who waste potential because they "know" that they are immensely talented, but they can't be bothered to do the things that talented people do to find success.
I think that one "touches the bases" at home, at work, and at play. It's so important to appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of one's position, and to focus on the avoidance of horrible blunders. So many chess players, including myself, worry that they just need the fool-proof strategy or the right opening break and everything will fall into place. Yet so many times I meet people whose success is less in hitting the long ball than in swinging a vigorous bat and touching the bases.
I remember when I was a boy, an incarnation of the Los Angeles Dodgers featured incredible pitchers like Don Drysdale, coupled with inadequate ability to produce offense--that is, to hit the ball. This particular Dodger team competed for championships, though, despite being weak in hitting. They did a lot of "smart baseball" things to touch the bases. They advanced runners from base to base with sacrifice fly balls and clever bunts. In the long run, they acored just enough runs to win. I take inspiration for a team whose offensive talent was inadequate, but who won games by using strategy to get runs in.
Today I mailed off the CD and chess poem booklet I sold on eBay this week. I marveled that it was so easy to do it, with the new post office automatic machines, though I alno noticed that the mailing labels must be intended for elephant mailings rather than small package mailings. I wondered why I waited until Saturday to get this done. I thought of other things I need to do that are not much more difficult--phone calls and letters and errands. I resolved to round the base path on more of these.
I noticed that Allen has a new cafe coming called "Sabine's Rockin' Cafe". I do not know about you, my readers, but let me go on record right now as saying that by defintion I will always eat at any small frame house festooned with the sign "Sabine's Rockin' Cafe". I'm sad to say that it was not yet open, though. I hope they get the bases all touched on that one. The cafe sign said "Live music, Thursday and Friday nights at 9:30", which was more welcome to me than the entire 1/3 of a 54 million dollar elegant concert hall our local town is helping to build.
I noticed in the Dallas Observer that last night, a good night filled with pizza from a place called Double Dave's, we missed a chance to see Aimee Mann. I am not a huge 'Til Tuesday or Aimee Mann devotee, but I feel that Aimee Mann is one of those talents like Dylan or Elvis Costello that one goes to see even if one is not a true devotee, because Aimee Mann is a force of nature. But we missed her, as well as, for that matter, Elvis Costello's Tuesday concert. I wonder if that's just marshaling one's energy, or if a base was actually missed. I think not, as although I love concerts, ticket prices are now so high that I wonder if one ought not just buy the CD.
Of course, in Austin, three and a half hours away, this is the week of SXSW, the huge up-and-coming-band live music festival. I've been reading about it and listening to bands on that circuit since I was a very young man and it was a very small festival. But I've never been. Another base untouched, or just focusing on the bases I have? I suppose that's sometimes the dilemma.
I went this afternoon to the Allen Premium Outlet Mall and went to the KB Toy outlet. The kind woman at the register smiled kindly when she saw me with an armful of three and five dollar kites and string. The prices for really cool kites were so low. I felt badly that I did not at first get the droll "Do you need any batteries with that?" she intoned with perfect timing. I liked, though, that snippet of kindred spirit eye contact we made. Sometimes you touch the bases in the most fleeting but satisfying ways.
I stopped by the Timberland outlet and got new hiking boots. I had put this off for far too long, but now I am among the timber-elegant. They say that when you float a boat on Caddo Lake, Texas' only natural lake, you have to have a guide or you get lost among Spanish moss and endless turns. But in these hiking boots, I could no doubt navigate without maps, using some secret language only my ankles and barkless basenji dogs understand.
I went to Brockdale Park, near semi-rural Lucas, and took a kite and a throwaway camera along as I walked Trinity Trail. The cedars stayed green, but the other trees are in the main still stark and leafless. Huge crows flitted from them. The first Spring flowers are out, and a few butterflies enjoyed the seventy degree weather. The promising breeze proved all cross-current-ish, so I contented myself with snapping pictures of sparse wild fruit trees in bloom and of myself. Perhaps it is a rule of weblogs that one is doomed to upload one's cats and one's self-inflicted photos, but I am nonetheless going to develop and have days of stark fruit flowers and kite-surrounded attorney to post.
We went to San Miguel, the wonderful Tex-Mex place in McKinney, as my wife hankered for fajitas. I had the pollo Yucatan, although at this restaurant the Yucatan is heavy on achiote sauce and light on the griddle-broiled garlic in a hip sauce wonder that is Yucatan chicken. But this restaurant always touches the bases, and we'll go back soon. They had madonna and child paintings by local artists on display on the walls.
We rented the video of Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd in "Delovely". In light of the mixed reviews it had received, I had thought it would be good but not great. But we enjoyed it thoroughly. I wish that Ashley Judd always chose vehicles which suit her as well as this one, and Kevin Kline was, as ever, superb.
The inconveniece of the alleged marriage of convenience and the inaptness of the term struck us. I like that the movie did not preted to tell "the true story", but one of many stories with the truth of a Broadway musical spilling out into song. I must confess I kept hoping to see Plum Wodehouse in the early scenes, but did not. I like that Alanis Morissette, not gifted with classic beauty or a classic singing voice, tries so hard and so gamely and wins me over almost in spite of herself, every time. I am still puzzled why I thought one actress was Bebe Neuwirth, but the credits read that it was not. I like stories about the challenges and triumphs of love.
Now I will dip again into Jacob Aagard's "The Queen's Indian Defense", a joy to read, and then perhaps post the first eBay auction. My eBay sales on my CD has not fared well this time. I decided to move the CD from "dance/DJ" (an odd appealation, but the closest thing eBay has to electronica) to "punk". In "punk", it gets far more lookers and far fewer folks who bolt over to soundclick and listen to the songs. In advertising it's not about just reaching an audience--one must touch the ultimate sales base and sell the audience.
I wonder if the twinge of weakness in my right knee lately is a muscle pull, a strain, or just old age. In my mind, I hear the song "Night and Day" playing. I want to be able to keep running the base paths.