Nomothetical vs. Idiographic Ideas in Chess: Part One of Two

“Nomothetical” is an adjective used to describe an approach given to the formation of universal laws. “Idiographic” is its antonym, that is an approach revolving around individual cases. Related to chess you might ask, “Why am I losing so often?” or, more narrowly, “What caused me to lose this last game? What do you suppose are the pros and cons of these diametrical approaches? I’ll analyze the following game from both points of view. It’s not very deep, or very well played, but presents an opportunity for metacognition. I am black in a Game 30. My opponent is a 1480 and I am a 1560 on this particular server

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e5 3. dxe5 d4 4. Nf3 Nc6 5. e4 Nge7 6. Bd3 Ng6 7. O-O Ngxe5 8.
Nxe5 Nxe5 9. f4 Nxd3 10. Qxd3 Bc5 11. Nd2 O-O 12. f5 Bd6 13. Nf3 c5 14. e5 Bc7
15. f6 gxf6 16. exf6 Qxf6 17. Ng5 Qg7 18. Bd2 Qg6 19. Qf3 Be6 20. Qxb7 Bd6 21.
b3 f5 22. Qc6 Bxc4 23. Qf3 Bxf1 24. Rxf1 Kh8 25. Qd5 Rf6 26. Qxa8+ 1-0

The Opening

Nomothetical: I play this opening although it’s not very highly regarded. The road to equality is very difficult. Although I know the Cambridge Springs Defense to the Queen’s Gambit Declined I often refuse to play it, so annoyed am I by the QG Exchange that takes me far afield. As a law I play openings that I enjoy; perhaps I have a good game with them once in a while and that’s what I remember.

Idiographic: I can’t blame the opening. I equalized on move five and was better shortly thereafter. White’s Bd3 was an early inaccuracy, no doubt caused by his unfamiliarity with my offbeat try.

Nomothetical: I can’t presume they’ll make an opening error. In this case white picked the e4 thrust, but it’s regarded as a non-threatening idea. Also by playing the Albin, which I won’t play in a longer time control, I’m being extremely inefficient with my play. Games should reinforce my study and vice versa.

Before Black’s Seventh Move

Nomothetical approach: I didn’t realize I was ready for a very good game. I knew I should be okay, but didn’t pause to figure out how. I do this a lot. I will know an opening’s principles and then “forget” to look for better responses after my opponent deviates. I need to start a) looking for great moves instead of good moves and b) ensuring that all forced moves are calculated c) ensure that I understand who is better or worse in a given position. I can assume that when playing a sideline to a sideline the player should be worse, objectively.

Idiographic: I’m not sure if the last thing can bear the stamp of law. I don’t have a comprehensive understanding of openings so it’s hard to say. In some examples like this one, it could have benefited me. In other cases I may be chasing a chimera and trying too hard to refute something beyond my ken. I may stray, or waste valuable time. In this game my time trouble caused me to blunder. I certainly would not have found 7…Be7 no matter what. I should have seen that the variation with the knight exchange is relatively equal (a passed pawn and a bishop pair versus a slight lead in development), and been happy. That’s what I did. Time saved for later will allow me to make moves that truly matter.

In part two I’ll evaluate the rest of the game, as well as the right approach to wins and losses.


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