mosaic (masochistically) wrote,

john - Albany Preamble, Part 1

My attitude toward Scrabble hit an all-time low in the weeks prior to Albany (New Year's). I was heard to say, "I shouldn't play this game," "I wonder if they'd let me play down," and "no way am I expert material." And this just months after coming in third in the BAT expert division (officially Division 2, after the Premier).

How did this come about, and how did I attempt to fix it?

First, a credit: at the nadir, I wasn't even sure I wanted to fix it. I felt utterly hopeless, all my efforts at excellence futile. It is Marsh who stayed by my side, even though in retrospect my agonies sound pitiful and hollow. It is she who reminded me perhaps a half dozen times that it is possible to play a perfect game and lose (not that I was or am in danger of playing a perfect game); and she constantly breathed life into our ongoing dialogue about the game: discovering new words, formulating strategies, lurking on cgp, anatomizing ISC -- and in a masterstroke, reinventing Mosaic to provide an arena for us to consult and learn from each other, and thereby buffer each other's discouragement. Thank you, Marsh.

Ultimately what follows is a story of realignment to 'true north,' after a magnetic disturbance that had my poles whirling wildly, and my game values and ego inverted.

During this period I played very few live games -- a handful of tournaments after BAT, two of which were disastrous. The last one before Albany, I went 2-5 in a club tournament and my rating slipped to 1738, almost 100 less than my career high in April.

My attendance at club slipped, too, for various reasons; and meanwhile I played hundreds of games online. It is partly out of this experience that we are writing the series here on the differences between real life and online play.

In the few private sessions I played over the months -- mostly with Marsh -- she maintained an overwhelming winning percentage. Did the fact that a woman, an up-and-comer, a fiance seemed so clearly superior dampen my spirits more than is right? We are exploring this question. Certainly I celebrate her progress -- but something was awry when I began to apply the dreaded zero-sum formula: if she is great, I must suck.

I was, and am, sane enough to know that much (all?) of my thinking was illogical. But this sense of failure would overtake my emotions. Several times Marsh asked, "should we just not do Albany? We don't have to, you know." And I would weakly gibe that she should go anyway, and dominate Division 1, while I crocheted in the corner and cheered her on.

What were some of the other factors that I allowed to drive my spirit into the ground?
  • losing to lower rated players on ISC
  • losing to obvious cheaters on ISC
  • maintaining an overwhelming losing record against a couple of players I considered myself about equal to
  • missing 'obvious' plays and bingos
  • mischallenging good words
  • having phoneys challenged off
  • playing phoneys that stay!
  • losing by a narrow margin
  • losing in a blowout
  • winning due to amazing luck
  • seeing my ISC rating reach 1450
  • seeing my ISC rating reach 1800, but only being able to keep it there for a game or two at most.

It got to the point where just about anything that happened in a game was proof in my mind that I was increasingly mediocre, and destined for perpetual blue-hair-dom in the lower divisions.

I even looked back on my relative success at BAT and discounted it, noting that I'd had some lucky draws.

Footnote to adherents of Kenjimatsumotoism:

Just because I was struggling to overcome a conviction that I sucked, doesn't mean I don't suck, in the sense of the very highest levels of the game. I'm aware of my weaknesses, and I don't pretend to be an 'elite' player, much less one of those very few elite players who can truly be said to be grandmasters. If to fall short of that standard is to suck, then so be it.

But I'm good enough to have glimpsed that level of excellence from time to time. In fact, therein lay part of the problem: when you've seen Nirvana, Main Street kind of palls. I wanted every game to attain these heights (or at least insofar as I was capable of them); and I fell on my face 30 times a day.

It is one thing to understand that you blundered your way to a win; that your vocabulary is spotty, your tactics shallow, and your analysis slow -- by comparison to PERFECTION. But some of us suffer more than others when the standard is perfection. We take it personally. And when some part of your brain is locked in the chant, 'you suck, you suck,'... well, you're playing with a significant handicap. And this began to resemble a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Next: The Cure
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