The bravery of a coward, the importance of fear.

The famous mountaineer Ueli Speck died today, and I noticed an interview he did within the last couple of years (I don’t see a publication date) which gives really good advice for games players.

You can see it here in German.  I reprint it below in English from google translate. It is very readable – German translates well with machine translation.


THE RED BULLETIN: Mr. Steck, I do not want to talk to you today about the mountaineers . But over fear. For example, whether you need the anxiety in your job, as tickling, whether you are looking for it or if you are afraid of the fear. How to overcome fear or whether to overcome fear at all. Whether fear takes energy or gives energy. Whether anxiety is important for survival or the joy of life stands in the way. But before we begin, would someone who is a profession in whom every minute mistake can lead to death, would like to talk about fear at all?

UELI STECK: Sure. Because no one believes me, but I am an extreme fear bunny.

Because you are now flirting. If you were really a fear bunny, you would die of fear if you climbed unsecured through a hundreds of meters high wall.

On the contrary. Fear is the reason why I am still alive. Fear is something fundamental. Who does not fear, underestimates his task and exaggerates. If you are not afraid, do not prepare yourself well enough for a task. I am very grateful for my fear.

They now say: Fear is an extremely cunning nature warning device. I say that fear is at least as much emotional ballast. He who is afraid can not be happy at the same time.

Let’s go analytically, then it becomes quite simple. What are we afraid of? Before a situation that we do not feel like. Something strange that we can not classify. On which we have no influence. If we’re not prepared for a task well enough. And that’s where my system starts: I’m looking for the unknown. I am looking for this challenge, which scares me, that has something extremely fascinating, that challenges me. And then I begin to deal with the triggers of anxiety. But completely rational. My fear shows me the problems I need to find solutions for. It becomes a question of logic, and thereby the intangible becomes tangible. In the end, when I have done everything right, the fear is gone. Then I am well prepared. Then I’m ready. Then I know:

And if not?

Then I do not. Then I know: It is too much, it overcomes me, and in such a situation I would not want to go.

We live in a world where heroism is associated with daredevils and courage, Mr Steck. Especially in your profession, right?

I am neither daring nor courageous. Of course you could overcome the fear of a tour , especially courageous. But that would be stupid. For what happens then? Then fear comes on the road. And that is quite bad. The main task is to show you gaps. You can close before the tour starts. But on the road? Very bad. This is no longer possible. Fatal. Fear during a project is quite, very bad. This shows that you made a mistake in the preparation. Then you have given yourself up to something that overpowers you.

The best remedy for anxiety is control, correct?

Completely correct.

But you can not tell me that projects like yours always keep to plans. Since everything can not be controlled. 

A good plan is not limited to Plan A. He also has Plan B, Plan C and so on. If this or that happens, I have to be prepared for it.

Plan C, Plan D, Plan E, you can continue it for so long, there will always be a residual risk. You are not a Nordic Walker, you are one of the most extreme mountaineers in the world! 

Residual risk we have everywhere in life. And believe me, I only accept the absolute minimum. I am a scary hare, do not forget! It is clear to me that you can die while climbing. The risk of an accident is there, just as it is when driving or skiing . I have to accept that there is a rest to which I have no access. I can minimize that very much, but I can never get it anywhere. But why not drive a car , do not ski, do not climb? That would be wrong. So: accept or finger away.

Have you been scared on the mountain yet?


I would now like three examples, please.

The first and largest: 2013, on Mount Everest, an escalated conflict with Sherpas . The attacked us, for a completely void reason, it was incomprehensible, violence, a completely arbitrary situation, irrational, completely unaffected for me. They attacked us with stones, screaming that they would kill us. That someone can get so frightened, that shook me.

So much so that you have really thought about hanging out your mountaineering career. With all respect: Was not that a little overreacted?

No. My whole picture of the world was shattered, I had not thought such a thing possible! It took me months to get back half-way with the world and myself. I had to sort everything again. This experience has changed my system. Today, I approach people differently, more suspicious, more critical.

Do you have a second anxiety situation?

In 2014 with my wife in Peru, on the descent I overlooked that the wind had blown snow. A snowboard broke loose, I was spilled, my mouth full of snow, but fortunately my wife saw my backpack, could pull me out. That was really tight, because it was about seconds. I thought now it’s done with me. My wife saved my life. I was particularly annoyed in this situation, because I have brought us both into such a situation through a few minutes of carelessness. I could only thank my wife and apologize. So it was mainly anger.

I would have a few suggestions on situations that would be appropriate for fear. In 2007, for example, the Annapurna south wall, you crashed 200 meters.

This went too fast for fear. At first I was unconscious. And when I came to the glacier, it was clear what was to be done: first, check whether something was broken. And then implement a plan, as I rauskomme there. Completely rational.

2008, again Annapurna south wall: The Spaniard Iñaki Ochoa collapsed, They tried to save him, he died before your eyes.

No second fear. Mourning, yes. And trouble that he did not have a dexamethasone, a medicine for altitude sickness. He had not taken it for ethical reasons. If he had, he would still be alive.

If on 7000 meters in the icy wind someone dies in my arms, I would indeed take it with me.

I can turn emotions off very well in extreme situations. How is the situation? What is the next step? Whining does not help. Think about it, that helps. If I climb without rope, for example, I could think: Uh, under me 500 meters nothing, now just do not make a shit. That would be wrong. Or there is the possibility to think of the next handle. That’s right.


One of your most spectacular projects was the solo climb of the Annapurna South Wall in 28 hours. They were celebrated world-wide, great Heldenstory. Afterwards, you said that the decision to go completely up was spontaneous, the dynamics of the situation had taken possession of you, you spoke of a risk, so great that it would not be possible for a second time. That does not suit you! Was not that terribly unreasonable?

In fact, you’re right. I had really gone too far. In an area I do not want to push forward. That was a mistake! The fact that such a mistake happened to me, rightly thrown me out of the way.

But you were a hero.

It does not matter if it is good whether I am celebrated for it. An error remains an error. I really had to think for myself: How do I manage this? How can I make sure that I never act the same way, really: never let myself be seduced again into something I had not planned? Because that is what really scares me. It was a brutal process to get out again. It goes deep into themes such as ego, such as ambition.

They are not a fan of our heroic concept, it seems. 

The more daring, the better, that’s how it works, but that’s swindling! For me, a perfect mountain tour is the opposite of it! It is perfect when you end up saying: It was easy. Perfect is to have everything under control, because the preparation was perfect. Everything else is not worthwhile for me; all these oh so heroic ascents, as Reinhold Messner has done so many times, has so often been lucky! I do not want that! Perfection needs no luck!

I understand what you mean, but when I go to my chief editor with a headline like ” Bergtour problem-free “, he will offer me his help in professional reorientation.

I also want to move borders, test my own limits, make new ones possible. But not by diligence in the implementation, but by special quality of the preparation. I am convinced that alone with perfect preparation, you can move borders without leaving your comfort zone. A record is always the result of a perfect process, and it is the process that interests me, not the result. You are also much happier in life, if you are processor-oriented, not result-oriented. Success is not measured by the result but by the quality of the process.

You now think less theoretically than it sounds.

I’ll tell you. 2011, Mount Everest, my first attempt without oxygen. I was at 8700 meters, there was still a ridiculous hour on the summit. But I had no feeling in my toes, and I knew: Everest without oxygen, the biggest problem is the cold. So I had a look, shoes pulled out, my feet were white as the snow, felt like wood. Then I knew it was too cold, now I have to go down. An hour before peak! They all trudged past me, even the weekend mountaineers, who could be carried over there. Only the professional mountaineer Ueli Steck, who turns to 8700 meters. And that was a success! That I have implemented my own plan. I have not been pressured.

Mr. Steck, you are a professional. And no sponsor will be happy if you wear his products and say: With this or that mountain shoe I managed to turn around in time before the summit.

Exactly what you appeal to is the art. Do not let anybody else influence my comfort zone. I am going to Nepal soon, and months before I withdraw from all communication. That’s why. Do not answer any e-mails, no matter who wants me. This is part of my preparation and responsibility.

My last question is now about mountaineering. From 2007 to 2015 the marathon world record was improved from 2:04:26 to 2:02:57, one and a half minutes. In 2007 they set the record for the ascent of the Eiger North Face, 3:54 hours. In 2015, you screwed it to 2:22, an hour and a half less! How are these jumps in a serious sport still possible? 

Because mountaineering as a sport is still in the children’s shoes. As a performance sport it comes only in the aisles, very slowly. I know I’m not making friends now, but when you look at the Himalayan mountaineering, even with the boys, that still has the level of the 1980s. Do not get me wrong, I love the mountains, they are far more than just a sports device, but the sporty, the performance-oriented approach, with a targeted, professional training , we can still learn a lot from the marathoners. Everyone can keep it as he wants, but if you ask me, we are still too much in this adventurer mentality.


May 1, 2017 at 4:13 am Leave a comment

Iran, head-covering, chess.

In October I wrote about the World Women’s Championship being played in Iran, with female competitors being forced to wear head coverings. Some women boycotted the tournament. There is always an argument made at such times that women should agree to play, it doesn’t really mean anything, so why not? Obviously, however, it does mean a lot and to make that point, the Iranian player  Dorsa Derakhshani has been banned from the National Team for not wearing a hijab during the Gibraltar Open earlier this year. Details here.

Ironically, she was quoted in December saying

I’m definitely not conservative in this issue but I think we shouldn’t make such a big deal out of it. Those who really oppose these measures for political reasons are free to stay away. This really doesn’t help anybody and would truly be a pity for the event itself! Full interview here.

Many would disagree with her on this. And it’s all very well to say that women can stay away and some did, but at large professional/financial cost. It’s the world championship they were forced to boycott, not a tournament of no significance.

Overall, the point must be made: how has it helped anybody in Iran, chess players or others, for women from other countries to have aided in legitimising this method of subjugating women?




March 27, 2017 at 5:31 am 4 comments

Applications of Chess Theory Geller

Written in 2010.

This happens to be by my bed at the moment.

Geller’s career spans decades and he is one of those players more than capable of beating world champions – he has a plus score against most he has played – but I’m guessing could never become a world champion because he did not excel at match play. He had more than one terrible trouncing at this form of the game.

But I think we can say of chess more than of any sport, that there is no room at the top. To become world champion at chess is so hard! At the moment we are watching this fabulous tussle between Anand and Topalov. Geller’s description of his ongoing duel with Gligoric brings to mind the role of the Catalan in this match:

Quite often the chess world witnesses some curious creative duels which sometimes last for several years. They proceed according to the following typical scheme. Two players have played a game. On meeting each other again, they choose the same variation, without any prior agreement, of course, thus adding a psychological struggle to the purely chess struggle. Over each of them, like a sword of Damocles, hangs the anxious thought: why is the opponent repeating the previous game? On what move has he prepared a surprise, and has he in fact prepared one? Should I wait for the unpleasant surprise, or should I be the first to deviate from the familiar path? And if I deviate, then when and how?

One can add that the mere kibitzer shares in this anxious excitement. Is Anand going to play the Catalan yet again? Has Topalov a new response? Tomorrow there is another game. Anand has just lost with black so will he retreat to the Catalan? The comfort of something he has a plus score with so far – 2.5/3 – would have to be tempting him. He bounced back from such a situation in game two employing it. I’m guessing he’s going to try it again….

March 24, 2017 at 12:55 am Leave a comment

Bad chess in the movies

Atlas Obscura has an article with good detail on badly done chess in movies, you can see it here.

It includes a link to a video of 101 checkmate scenes in movies.

I would question, however, the comment that

Real players also don’t make a big thing out of winning: “Chess players almost never reveal any emotions,” says Zaragatski. “Being cool is key.”

Seriously? Does that mean Kasparov and Carlsen are not real players? They both carry on like pork chops when they are done over.

March 23, 2017 at 6:49 pm Leave a comment

Play With an Expert Pairs SABA January 2017 Part I

While we were waiting for play to start in the Play with an Expert Pairs, in which all the experts sit either South or North, one of the South players at another table called over to us that we were sitting in the wrong seats, that my partner Judy Zollo should be sitting South, and even when she demurred, this player continued to insist that we were wrong.

So, although I don’t often blow my own trumpet…My name is Cathy Chua, you will see in the SABA clubs rooms my name on various boards including an Open Interstate Team. I have played on Open Interstate teams for Victoria and NSW as well, winning for both States. I’ve also won the GNOT. My best in the ANOT, the VCC and the NOT is second in all of them. For some years I played high stakes rubber bridge full time. I have taught bridge on a one to one basis, and have also done a lot of writing: bulletins at national and international level, books, articles for magazines around the world and, from time to time the blog you are reading.

To cut the story short, although Judy is no novice (no doubt giving us an advantage on the day), she will forgive my saying that of the two of us, she is closer to that category than am I!

A few things came up during the Pairs which are worth talking about. In this post I want to mention a play and the idea behind it. You are playing in 4H:


s —
h1 J10862
d1 KJ832
c A62

1st in hand RHO has opened 1NT. LHO begins with the C10. When you get to the diamond suit, which you want to play for no loser, you play the ace, and then on the next round, RHO plays the ten. What now?

Board 7
Dlr South
Vul All









I opened 1NT on account of having a balanced 12-14 – add a point for the potential of the spade suit. Angela Norris overcalled a practical 2H which her partner Jan raised to four. Judy began with a club, though it makes no difference what she starts with. When declarer turned her attention to diamonds, I was feeling really good about my choice of opening – diamond ace and then diamond towards hand. Surely she will finesse my queen of diamonds and partner will win it and we’ll get a top and really, isn’t bridge just too easy.

But in fact, a short consideration of the evidence by declarer led her to the right play. If my partner had began life with a singleton diamond, surely she would have led it. Therefore she had two. Therefore the king of diamonds dropping the queen was the right play.

A well-deserved 13/16 MPs for declarer or 81%.

There are three steps to deciding what to do on this hand, but I suspect a lot of people would stop after two.

First thought: all things being equal, you play the ace and then king assuming they all follow.

Second thought: things are not equal. RHO has opened 1NT. That increases the likelihood of the DQ being onside, thus making the finesse the correct choice when RHO follows low to the second diamond.

Third thought: this fits for constructing a picture of one defender’s hand, but what about the other? Does it fit that too?

My BOLS tip? Don’t just construct one of the opponents’ hands, construct both of them.

It’s all too easy to build a picture of one hand and act on it, the narrative in this case is very convincing, RHO has opened 1N, the odds are that she holds the DQ. But taking the next step, constructing the hand opposite to see if the evidence still fits the theory, is hard, maybe because it’s more work, maybe because you already have a story that seems to work.

For more details of the board, such as how each pair went on it, go here.

As for the opening bid of 1NT, which some may find alarming, more on this in my next post on Play With an Expert Pairs.

January 7, 2017 at 8:54 pm 7 comments

To boycott or not to boycott….

At the moment controversy surrounds the holding of the 2017 World Women’s Chess  Championship. It is being held in Iran and the contestants are forced to wear the hijab. Some potential contestants have announced a boycott. Human rights champions like Nasrin Sotoudeh have weighed into the debate.

It brought to mind a tournament to which I was invited in the early nineties in Indonesia – Indonesia proper that is, not Bali, which is what most Australians mean when they say they are going to Indonesia. I was forced to consider the fact that if I went, I would have to dress differently from usual. Non-bridge playing friends thought I should be refusing to go because of Indonesia’s on-going human rights issues.

I went. I went and hated being in Indonesia, partly because of the being female problem, partly because it was the first place I’d been to since a trip to Argentina in the dark days of 1978 that simply felt bad. Corrupt at best. Although in theory I believe that boycotts of sporting events do have a meaningful impact on the politics which inspire them, bridge is never going to do that. It is an exceedingly unpopular game with no media appeal whatsoever. At the same time, the tiny bridge community of Indonesia is (or at least was) Christian dominated. Christians who were around this time extremely concerned about the violence being inflicted upon them in Indonesia. To boycott the event would have been to abandon them and they were my friends and colleagues. So I went.

Nobody should be playing women’s events, they should all be boycotted. But beyond the usual reason why they should be boycotted – because to accept the existence of women’s chess/bridge is to accept inferiority – and beyond any personal sense of worth which is clearly weighing on the minds of some of these women contestants, I read that another reason for boycotting this event is the danger that it will be used as propaganda  ‘[a] tool to tell Iranian women that even non-Iranians are comfortable with wearing the compulsory hijab’.

Places to read about the issues involved:

Iran, chess, and the psychological bullying of non-hijabi defiant women here

Why An Iranian Human Rights Lawyer Just Supported The World Chess Championship Boycott In Iran here

Women’s World Chess Championship 2017 wiki page here




October 23, 2016 at 9:51 pm Leave a comment

Test Your Positional Play by Robert Bellin

The year this came out I was in London, hanging about the super GM tournaments and buying chess books. It had been seven years since I played a tournament game, but I had time on my hands and a lot of good books were being published. This one was hot of the press and really suited me. It takes a position from GM games and suggests various positional plans. You consider these and come up with an answer.

I loved this book! Not only that, at the end it grades you and I was a grandmaster – too easy!! The benefits still show. I think I’m still better in this area than the rest of my game and I’m sure it’s this book’s doing. Of course it’s hard to be tactically sharp when one doesn’t play but I never had a great love for that sort of hard analysis, the I go here and he goes there and …. As for Kotov and his goddamn trees, honest to God I would have happily started a forest fire and burned the lot of them. No amount of trying made me comfortable with this way of thinking.

Whereas looking at a board and making plans, visualising the future to me is a bit like science fiction. You are looking at an arrangement on the board and seeing some new world connected, but not the same.

Losing oneself in visualisation is for me the greatest joy of chess. Is that okay, any chess superiors reading this?

February 27, 2016 at 7:24 am Leave a comment

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