THE CALIFORNIA CHESS REPORTER
(Vol. IV, No. 6) February 1955
THE SEVEN C's OF TOURNAMENT SUCCESS by Phil D. Smith
Success in tournament chess, played with the onerous clock ticking on and on, comes from a number of essential factors beside the obvious requisites of chessic knowledge and experience, ability to visualize, and general all-around playing strength.
These additional requirements for an outstanding accomplishment in serious chess contested under a time limit all start with the same letter that the name of the game itself does - with a "c." And of the seven c's of tournament success, only one is inflexibly or directly associated with one's knowledge of chess; it is competence or knowledge of openings, middle games, and end games, which may come from a combination of experience, study, ability to remember, and aptitude for quantitative and qualitative reasoning and geometric calculations.
As a matter of fact, it is not surprising six of the seven c's are intangibles not concerned with basic "know-how", for it is a truism that nearly all masters know as much chess as almost every other master and approximately all experienced players of non-master rank are usually as well acquainted with opening theory, end game technique and middle game strategy as any other veteran player. However, the results in tournaments and matches of masters and non-masters of about equal experience and chess knowledge are often vastly different.
The reason for such divergent success is that the prime necessities for victory at clock chess include these intangibles which are usually not learned from books nor necessarily from a lifetime of experience in the school of trial and error. What are they? The other six c's are confidence, courage, carefulness, concentration, composure, and canniness.
It is paradoxical that expert players who have studied the intricacies of the struggle for years and who have played hundreds if not thousands of tournament games should often have uneven results and often poorer scores than those of young players of only a few years experience. But if the reader will ponder over some of the tournament or match games he has lost, he may realize that some of his habits during tourney play were directly responsible for his defeats rather than his knowledge of chess.
Of course, most serious players have realized that temperament and personality have much to do with success in chess, as they do in any endeavor or, for that matter, in life itself, but such intangibles are usually too vague for a player who wants to overcome his shortcomings. The components of chessic triumph need to be explained more distinctly.
The first of the six c's besides competence is confidence, which might be stated - as a desirable attitude for a player to have - as "I'm just as good or better at chess as my opponent is, whoever he may be!" Lack of confidence in one's own playing strength will lead players to offer draws when they have the advantages, to reject bold, aggressive lines in favor of passive, "safe" but really losing variations, and to avoid strong openings because they may be double edged. Too many tournament players compete with the basic idea: "I must not lose, so a draw is satisfactory," rather than the more successful theory: "I shall play for a win from the first move; chess is a struggle in which the victory goes to the valiant; a draw is to be spurned except when one is losing!"
Closely related to confidence is courage as an essential for chessic success. Perhaps, except for its alliterative shortcomings, the latter should have been defined as aggression. Many of the world's most famous players have become among the globe's best by being aggressive in the opening, middle game and end game. Psychologically, such a policy often leads the opponent to make more errors, even when the aggression is somewhat unsound, than against a "keep a draw in hand" type of player. Admittedly, the Capablanca-Flohr sort of contestant is often a hard opponent to beat, but this type is likely to draw with all the strong players, beating only the weaker ones, while the aggressive player often defeats players who are rated stronger than he!
Nevertheless, confidence and courage have to be tempered with the next c, carefulness. The aggression and the confidence must not become unsound coffeehouse tactics and cocksure flamboyance. The aggressive player must be cool, competent, and careful, but he must avoid fear, overly defensive strategy, and overly cautious tactics. The best way to be careful is perhaps by practicing the next c, concentration.
Concentration may be defined as the ability to watch your own game, to think not only when your clock is ticking but also when your opponent's is (instead of romantically roaming around the room to see the other games), to shut out anything that does not relate to the position on the board in front of you, and to be so disinterested in the other games that you will leave the playing hall as soon as your game is over. The last point could well be an eighth c - condition. In the famous 1946 Groningen tournament it is significant that the only three players to leave as soon as their games were over were the first three prize winners, Botvinnik, Euwe and Smyslov; the others stayed to analyze and talk.
Very similar to concentration is composure, the next c, a prime requisite for success. When positions get complicated, when the clock shows very little time left, when the opponent threatens to win outright or pulls an unexpected resource, composure can be stated as the ability to think: "This too will pass. I shall succeed, He can't beat me!" And this composure will usually succeed if it is accompanied with confidence, courage carefulness, concentration, competence and, lastly, canniness, which is used her in its connotation "clever."
Pedagogically, it might be true that all six of the seven c's already described can be acquired, although if competence includes the ability to visualize, perhaps it is not an "acquired characteristic." The seventh, canniness, may be one which one needs to be born with! Success at chess takes brains, or, more correctly, the ability and the atmosphere with which to use them. One must be canny or clever.
For those of us who were less endowed by the Creator with intelligence than other chess players, perhaps we can be comforted by the fact that experience, study, visualization and the other six c's will be excellent compensations for a somewhat lower brain power.
Next time you enter a tournament for match, try the seven c's!