No Regrets


Originally posted on Chesstalk

by Kevin Spraggett, February, 2000

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No regrets,... well maybe one !

Chess has always been part of my family life, as I have mentioned several times on this web site. What ever I would have found myself doing (today),had I not turned out to be a professional player, would not have found me excluding tournament chess, for instance.

As to your, I don't regret it! (honestly) Besides, engineering wasn't really 'me'...of course, being a chessplayer doesn't carry the 'security' that being an engineer does! No doubts about that. But that is a completely different issue...

I believe life is about choices, and the choices that we make. Or don't make. My decision to be a professional chess player led me to meeting my wife, led me to living in Europe, learn other languages, travel the world, and 'see' Canada (and especially Quebec) from a perspective that, I think, few Canadians (who don't leave Canada for an extended period) can.

I have changed a great deal in the last decade...I am not the 'same' person I was, for instance, in 1988. I remember a few years back when I was in Montreal seeing some 'old friends'. I realized just how much I had changed. My 'old friends' sensed that something was 'different' but they couldn't quite place was a little humourous because they kept trying to 'remember' who I was instead of just 'seeing' that I was no longer 'that person' from the past.

Of course, that is quite normal. We all is just a question of degree...and acceptance.

Today, even though I am still very active in chess, I am developing other 'professional' interests: the stock market is attracting my attention, for instance. Probably in a few years time I will be spending 50% of my time in chess, and the other 50% in some aspect of the market.

I do have one regret in chess, though; not having taken the 'leap' earlier and going to europe to play chess professionally in my 20's. I am not really certain why I waited until I did, (lack of money-while a BIG factor-is just a cop out reason) but I now understand (having developed into quite a knowledgeable trainer) that anyone who wants to play as a professional has to take the 'leap' almost immediately. Delaying can harm the development of the player.

Of course, in Montreal-- in those days-- what the chess world was 'really' like was something people only 'knew' from magazines. The chess world was something very far a fairy tale (Once upon a time, in a land far away...). Case in point is when Montreal organized the '79 super tournament -- the fact that no Quebecer participated meant that there was no 'yard stick' with which we could measure that which was fiction and that which was reality.

Even today this 'romanticism' exists in Montreal to some extent (quite surprisingly, I would think -- both Alex and I becoming GMs in the years since) and many people in the chess community there have an inaccurate view of world chess.

I became an IM at 20, but the lack of opportunities (especially in Quebec) meant that the progress I made over the years was slow, expensive (the first time I saw a nickle of Quebec sponsorship, I was already in the Candidates!), and very much based on a 'trial and error' system.

While in some sports such a 'difficult' beginning can be of some use in making the 'athlete' tougher, in chess it is very detrimental to a really important aspect of a player's formation: the development of a chess master's style. I think that the lack of tough, consistent opposition in my 20's prevented my style from fully forming.

Two players of equal strength,one with a fully developed style and the other with a less developed style, given the same opportunities, end up with different results. The player with his style better formed ALWAYS outperforms the other (In the long run). The difference is not due to any lack of technical skill, talent, or even ability to take advantage of opportunities that occur during the game, but has to do with MAKING the opportunities happen during the game.

The simplest way for me to demonstrate exactly what I mean is to refer you to Tartakower's remarks concerning Alekhine's great successes: he said, in seeking to describe the main difference between himself and Alekhine, that he (Tartakower) could also do the same beautiful combinations as the world champion, BUT, that he(Tartakower) did not have Alekhine's 'magical ability' to actually bring about the positions where these combinations are possible! Well, of course, this 'magical ability' is the 'style' that I am referring to. Style has a lot to do with the ability of the chess master to impose his 'chess character' on the game, influencing the types of positions that occur. Of course, Tartakower was being too modest, for this great player had developed his style almost as fully as Alekhine's---but his style was not as combinative as Alekhine's.

I think that had I gone to Europe earlier I could have developed my 'style' more fully than I did, spending far too much time playing endless numbers of weekend Swiss' tournaments (developing bad habits to boot!)

It is nice to see that Alex Lesiege has been able to play internationally in the last decade (he has done really well !), and I have noticed that he has been able to start to develop a fine style of his own. I am not certain how to describe it (semi-positional/semi-tactical !?), but it is coming along. That being said, however, I believe that Alex's 'future' in chess very much depends on him completing the job! There is still much work to do...

As I have mentioned in an earlier contribution, I've had numerous conversations with him.
I've explained to him what I consider for him to be the best, most pragmatic course: go over to Europe (with a nap-sack) for a year or two and play chess 12 months a year, getting as much experience as he can against as many strong players as he can meet---'toughing' himself up and developing his 'style'. He seems to be reluctant to do this for financial reasons: the 'nap-sack' approach is not the easiest ! (But certainly not impossible) Although I don't doubt for a moment that he was studying everyday, Alex -at the age of 24-doesn't have more than 5 years left for him to develop his style before he will be past what many experts believe to be the peak age for a GM : 28-29 years.