It’s been a week or two since I updated you about my progress improving my chess game.
The lessons available for paid users of the Chess.com app are excellent. Sadly, with the free version you can only do one a week, but because I shelled out for a year’s subscription, I’m able to do as many as I wish each day, and play online as well.
The lessons are excellent. If you’d like to know more, find the app in the Android or Apple app stores and give the free version a go (I’m not getting a commission to write this…)
What’s chess got to do with learning Italian?
If nothing else, I’m learning a lot about learning, which is never a bad thing for a teacher. Nor for anyone who likes to learn things.
Wanna know the one thing that has really stood out for me?
Loads of my online opponents, arguably nearly everyone I play, are better than me at the beginning of the game. They tie me up in knots, they surprise me, I lose key pieces, and am generally harried and harassed. It isn’t a lot of fun.
Sometimes I’ll make silly mistakes, like giving away my queen for no reason (sometimes it’s not for no reason, but because they’re playing way better than I am.)
When the game goes on long enough, though, once we’re past the ‘opening’ phase of the game where the more diligent players have memorized many of the possible moves, both theirs and mine, THEN things tend to even up a little.
I might be down pieces and trapped in an uncomfortable position, but the rhythm tends to slow, the game becomes more unpredictable, and each move needs to be thought through before it’s played, rather than just being the next step in a winning sequence.
At which point, my opponents begin to mess up too! Which is very gratifying, I can assure you. My shouts of ‘You moron!’ take on a different tone.
“You haven’t thrown your queen away AGAIN?” my wife will enquire, looking up from her Netflix and knitting (known as Knitflixing, apparently).
“No, HE did!” I’ll exclaim, with the nearest thing to joy I’ve experienced since the start of the epidemic.
Things have evened up, a little at least, and my prospects suddenly look less dark. And OMG!!! He’s made another blunder! Bet he’ll be kicking himself over there in Russia, or Pakistan, or wherever.
It wasn’t anything I did particularly well (or at least, I don’t think so…) It was just an error. I make them all the time, and now my opponent has too. So, give or take a couple of low value pawns, we’re even! Now concentrate, Daniel!
He resigned. Which means I win.
What a shame! I was quite enjoying that, now that we got past the harrying and harassing phase. And he was still likely to have beaten me, if he’d stuck it out.
But you know what?
This happens all the time, in language-learning as well as chess.
People are doing so well, then they experience a setback, and respond by quitting.
Which means the weaker players/language learners are quietly notching up points, improving their ‘global rank’ (I’m now in the top two point five million players on this particular app), through sheer persistence.
Even the best language schools in the world will tell you that of all the beginners who take courses, fewer sign up for the next level, and virtually no one makes it all the way through from zero to super-proficient.
Resigning in chess, as in learning Italian, as in life, means ‘Game over!’, so unless you’re unbearably fed up (even I get this way occasionally), it’s not likely to help. Play the game for what it is, take the hits, try an enjoy the process!
Oh, and there’s another thing I learnt, this time about the ‘endgame’ (the final stage, when my opponent has most of the pieces and he’s chasing me around the board blowing the remaining bits off with his heavy weaponry.)
People are rubbish at it!
Modesty won’t prevent me from mentioning that, over the decades of playing chess terribly badly, I got rather good at running away in terror, hiding behind my opponents pawns so as to protect my King’s tender parts from a good kicking, and other such evasive manoeuvres.
Even with most of the pieces and masses of time on the clock, sometimes the smart kids don’t manage to beat me, which I put down to their sheer lack of practice at the end game, at losing/winning (the same tactics apply whether you’re using them or having them used against you.)
As a result, oftentimes I can force a stale mate (a draw, I don’t lose any points, even though I was clearly losing up until now.)
Or even snatch victory from the bloody jaws of defeat, as my stressed opponent (he knows he really should be winning this easily and is beating himself up about it) makes yet another silly move.
See the connection? If you resign early, you may not get to develop the endgame skills that you are very, very likely to need.
Here endeth today’s metaphor. For anyone who was struggling with it, think about it like this: learning Italian is not just what you are doing now, but what, if things go well, you will be doing for many years into the future.
You may, or may not, be rubbish at it. But quitting won’t help, for who knows, maybe one day you’ll get to the point when you find something you really excel at, or better still, enjoy so much that it just carries you along while you’re learning subconsciously and with no apparent effort.
Think the kids around the world who learnt English because the seven, weighty volumes of the Harry Potter series hadn’t been translated into their language yet, and they weren’t able to resist reading it in English, to see what happened next.
You’ll never know how things would have worked out, how well you could have done, what progress you could have made, and how, if you don’t stick with it.
That’s not to say that you should keep flogging a dead horse, of course. If one thing isn’t working for you, try another approach.
I’m loving the chess app’s lessons, so have no need to switch right now. But at some point, I’ll have done all the lessons, or they’ll have got too advanced for me to learn comfortably from them, so I’ll need to find another approach.
Fortunately, on the app, as in life, there are plenty of other options.
Saturday’s FREE bulletin of ‘easy’ Italian news is here. And if you haven’t already done so (more than eight thousand people have…) you can subscribe, which is also FREE, and so get each new bulletin sent directly to your email inbox, each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Subscribe here.
Don’t forget, either, that there are loads of materials to study/practice Italian (for FREE) on the club website.
And/or pick out something to buy, why not, from the Catalog page of our online shop, revenues from which support everything else we do. There are free sample chapters to download for almost everything. And next week, we’ll be having a FREE Trial Online Lesson offer, for new students! Watch this space for more info.