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24. März 2003

Some thoughts about a statement made by Gilles Deleuze

"The concepts of importance, necessity and interest are a thousand times more crucial than the concept of truth."
Gilles Deleuze

The French philosopher Gilles Deleuze is known for his striking statements. One of them states:

"In sports and in habits, movements are changing. For a long time we have lived with an energetic conception of movement: there is a starting point, or one is the source of a movement: running, shot-put etc; this is effort, resistance, with a starting point, a lever. However it can be seen today how movement is defined less and less through the involvement of the crucial point. All new sports – surfing, windsurfing, gliding – are of the type: insertion into a wave, which is already moving. Here one no longer begins at the beginning, but from a path which one arrives at. How one can allow oneself to be taken in by the movement of a great wave, by an increasing air stream, how one can arrive ‘between’ (them), instead of being the beginning of an effort, is fundamental” [1].

In two of the most interesting new publications of the past years, this idea is used. Both authors break new ground, departing from the worn-out paths of chess didactics and metaphysics. Jeremy Silman published "The Amateur's Mind” in 1999, and tries, in this unusual book, not to present the quasi-perfect thinking of professional chess players, such as those of Kotow, Bouwmeester, Nunn [2] and others do, but rather to reveal the thought process of the complete amateur. Silman writes right at the beginning:

"A player can’t do anything he wishes to do. For example, if you love to attack, you can’t go after the enemy King in any and all situations. Instead, you have to learn to read the board and obey its dictate. If the board wants you to attack the King, then attack it. If the board wants you to play in a quiet positional vein, then you must follow the advice to the letter” [3].

Jonathan Rowson goes even further in his sensational and certainly not undisputed work "The Seven Deadly Chess Sins”. The first and principal sin in chess consists, according to him - in thinking! That is an extraordinary thought in the realms of discourse about a thinking game. Thinking means in Rowson´s book, "to think against the flow”, "effort, resistance, with a starting point, a lever”, but above all, means "will”. The will as a starting point is nearly always wrong but one must rather give up one’s will and thought, and endorse the "will of the situation”, uniting oneself with it and making it one’s own.

"You just have to accept that the position will transform from one thing into another" [4].

Of course, that requires the correct assessment of the situation. (No world-class player proves this principle better than Alexei Shirov: the fact that it is his often inflexible, because permanently over-aggressive style, which blocks his way to great success, is only half the truth, his actual handicap is his greatest virtue; the will to impose his own thoughts on the board instead of allowing himself to be led by it.)

"My real aim is to try to explain and explore the idea that all chess thinking is evaluative. I have come to the opinion that evaluation is not a separate thought-process which we suddenly switch into when deemed important, but integral one which is the pilot of our thoughts, and not just the pilot, but the co-pilot, stewardess, meal, and view out the window [5].

Through this all the old hat about intuition, which has been droned out again and again for decades, finally acquires an understandable meaning for Joe Average; it is coupled with the concept of emotional intelligence by Rowson. Until now the platitude was nearly always practically without meaning for the average chess player, as the intuition of the master also requires the experience, knowledge, ability and determination of one, and if the master recommends intuitive decisions to the amateur, then it would merely become clear, how little they are now able to put themselves in the position of the amateur. Rowson cites Julian Hodgson, whose chess-playing style is living proof of the applicability of this thought:

"...that chess at the higher levels is ‚like a river‘ in which you ‚go with the flow‘[6].

But to ride the wave means to be plunged into it a thousand times beforehand. The relative value of the statement therefore remains: riding waves has to be learnt with hard work.

[1] Gilles Deleuze: Unterhandlungen 1972 – 1990 (Pourparlers 1972 – 1990). Frankfurt 1993,175. (translation from German)
[2] Alexander Kotow: Think like a Grandmaster/ Bouwmeester: Schachtrainig mit den Großmeistern/ John Nunn: Secrets of practical chess.
[3] Jeremy Silman: The Amateur’s Mind. Turning chess misconceptions into chess mastery. Los Angeles 1999.
[4] Jonathan Rowson: The seven deadly chess sins. London 2000, 59
[5] Rowson, 39
[6] Ibid.


Copyright © 2002 by Christian Hörr