Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Body language

Poker face

Well, let's get the psychology right - by immediately saying "play the board, not the person" and "No fear!". Get your attitude right - as well as that all-important body language.

Did you think that body language is only important because of the effect it has on others? Not so, it affects the way that YOU behave, think and feel, not just the other person. Of course we all have a duty to present a confident and happy demeanor to the world on the grounds that, by so doing, we are helping other people to walk tall and get the most out of life. But if you yourself adopt a confident pose (stand tall and look the world stright in the eye) this inevitably affects your thought processes - to your own benefit. And you'll play better chess.

In a similar way there is nothing worse than saying something like "Oh, hi, I hope I can at least give you a decent game" etc etc. As it says in the Desiderata prayer "You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here". The English way is to apologise for existing - which of course inhibits all that we are and all that we are prepared to do.

Best to develop a poker face. Obviously if your body language reveals your shock that you have just made a blunder, then your opponent will look carefully to see what it is (whereas otherwise he may well have missed it). And it will help you to avoid looking foolish if you can somehow prevent the look on your face changing from triumph to consternation as you realise that the brilliant move you just made was, in fact, a blunder.

We are social beings and so it is hardly surprising that we can give away critical information non-verbally (see also my post entitled "Consciousness / Religion / Blitz chess"). It is easy to fall into the habit of studying a particular part of the board, the part "where the action is". It's not simply that our opponent will then know where we are making future plans - but also that our eye movements can reveal the individual piece movements that we are thinking about - and hence the combinations that we are considering. It's not even cheating, it is a natural human instinct to observe others - and processing the data thus gained is carried out at the subconscious level. You will perhaps know the feeling when you suddenly "know" what the opponent is thinking, as if telepathic ("Me? I don't get telepathic - just experience "déjà vu" as I realise I'm once again in that same miserable losing position I've seen so many times before!").


You will probably be aware of the "touch and move" (or simply,"touch move") convention. This incorporates two notions. One is the rule that, if you touch a piece, then that must be the piece you move. Secondly, once you have moved a piece to a new square and then let go of it - there it must stay. Of course it is possible, even abiding by the rule of "touch move", to make a nuisance of yourself - as Polly experienced in her game described in my post "A Chess Journey".

For example, waving pieces in the air for a while, before allowing the piece to land on a square, is naturally distracting for the opponent and, worse, prevents them from their natural right to have the (complete) position in front of them, no matter whose turn to play it is. It's not against the rule of "touch move" - but it's against sporting etiquette, by any standard. And if you cannot win the game in a sporting fashion, then you haven't really won the game at all.


So who are these people who send messages like "Warning! Dumb ass move!" or some such - during an internet game, whenever their opponent makes what they consider to be a bad move? One imagines they have some notion that "winning is all" and if they can get a win by foul play, then it's OK. As has been theorised many times, blitz games on the net attract a great number of young, testosterone-driven, males. Fortunately, there is the facility to prevent messages being sent during play.

To tell the truth, I don't actually use this 'blocking' feature, having got to the stage where I don't really care what they do all that much. If they do happen to send something in an emboldened strong colour I might scroll the message out of sight if it's distracting me and that's about it. But I WILL put them on my 'NoPlay' list as being unworthy of playing against on any future occasion.

Once I even responded with some jokey remarks, just for the fun of it - because I was in the mood, I guess. Funny how our reactions turn on a knife edge depending on small, immeasurable events and whether we happened to get out of bed the right side that morning! It's all down to chance, to live, die, play chess ... whatever! So it's probably best to be as philosophical as possible and try not to let the irritations put you off the game.

As Keith Richards says - "It's great to be here. It's great to be anywhere.".

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