Friday, 11 July 2014

The Unexpected

by Andrew

I'm afraid I must start by bringing into contention a well-known cliche: that for greater wisdom, or grasp of reality, or success in some area, one must "expect the unexpected". It is fairly easy to recognise (not that many people would have thought of it consciously) that in order for us to survive we need expectations. Or more precisely, we need the constants or "unchangeables" (such as rock = hard) or highly probably things (such as fall = pain) that make expectations possible. If we could not ordinarily expect that when we wake up tomorrow we will still be in the same bed, in the same house, and have the same box of cereal sitting in the cupboard, for instance, the world would be unintelligible. Now consider the concept of the unexpected. For an example, if I were to expect the unexpected, it may be that I expect that my bookshelf is going to turn into a glass of orange juice. Merely keeping such an expectation in my psyche could be quite burdensome, aside from the other issues it may cause (e.g., need to buy a new bookshelf ... or alternatively the need to sell that and all other bookshelves immediately lest they suffer a similar fate). Not to belabour the point, we must expect the expected; if we couldn't do that we would be constantly on a collision course with reality. 

However, often in life we discover that in order to learn we must extend the borders of our expectations - hence "expect the unexpected" (...when not taken too literally...). This is due to the vast number of low-chance occurrences human beings encounter just about every day, in whatever area of life. These things help us to learn and grow in all kinds of ways. Ironic though it may seem, unexpected things actually happen all the time.

19-year-old Canberra tennis player Nick Kyrgios beating World No.1 Rafael Nadal 


Talking of a similar phenomenon my favourite psychologist Nathaniel Branden once said, with respect to learning and personal development: "Don't deny or disown what you see or experience merely because you can't explain it, justify it, or fit it into some familiar frame-of-reference. Allow a large space in your psyche to accommodate ambiguity and uncertainty. Don't invent explanations prematurely just so you can tell yourself you have the universe all tied up in one neat package. Keep your eyes open, keep observing, and be confident that sooner or later the truth will appear to you."

Right, you say, so where does chess come into it? 

In chess we are constantly being reminded of the possibility of surprise, and therefore the needs to learn and to check our premises. Very often one well-placed pawn will make a crucial difference to the position - or even a poorly placed one. As well as this, I believe one of the tasks of a chess player is to think "outside the box" of what is already known them, and to forever keep searching for more possibilities. I am confident that there are great many possibilities there for us, waiting to be unearthed, in chess and in pretty much everything else

In the NSW Open in June I was on the less fortunate side of one of these unexpected chess occurrences - where things were not quite as they seemed, though perhaps the reader will show more of an open mind than I did upon encountering the game position.

Melkumyan - Brown, Black to play

With very little time left I decided that rather than beat around the bush with a move such as 55...Kh5, I would force my opponent to decide what to do, by playing the threatening but perfectly safe looking 55...Rf1. As soon as I played it I realised I'd made a horrible mistake; and sure enough, my GM opponent realised this as well. Can you see how the game finished?

Rather than defend d1 or resort to a perpetual via Rg7+ my opponent played the strange looking 56.Kg2. Right, well, there's no backing out now: 56...d1=Q 57.Rg7+ and after double, triple, and quadruple checking that 57...Kh6 (or h5 or h4) 58.Rh7+ Kg5 will not in fact end in perpetual check but with 59.h4 checkmate I decided it was time to admit defeat. 

A study-like finish

For top players, the need to be aware of possibilities that are out of the ordinary is just as or perhaps more important. One player who does this very well is the young Hungarian grandmaster Richard Rapport. While at 18 years of age he is ranked inside the top 50 in the world, his play differs from many of his rivals in the amount of creativity he brings to the game, evident from his unusual but highly successful opening repertoire, his impressive tactical ability, his hairstyle, and so forth. Recently one of Richard's games featured a prime example of what I am talking about.

Rapport - Idani, Reykjavik 2014

Black has just played the seemingly innocuous 41...Nf6. Rapport replied 42.Qxf6+!! Kxf6 43.Ne8#

While there are numerous examples to convey the theme of surprise in chess - in fact virtually all good puzzles have some element of surprise to them - I have chosen this study to conclude because of the "Wow!" moment I remember getting from solving it, at seeing what's it's like when all the pieces are working to their full potential.

White to play and win - Kubbel 1922

1.Nc6! Kxc6 2.Bf6 Kd5 3.d3!! a2 4.c4+ Kc5 5.Kb7 a1=Q Be7#

So, should you expect the unexpected? If it means keeping a curious and open mind, I would say yes. If it means somehow losing your grounding in reality, I would say no. If it means dismissing your normal expectations in favour of new ones, well, I suppose it depends on the context...

In any case, I can say for sure that you can expect The Unexpected - Part 2 - next week.

NB: Figjam has some surprise posts coming very soon. Keep watch! :)

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