Monday 23 December 2013

Doing Nothing Will Make You More Creative & Make You Rich

Yesterday I read a Quora blog post titled, 6 Ways Where Doing Nothing Will Make You More Productive by James Altucher on The Altucher Confidential. What a great life-hack! Old memories sparked in my mind and I remembered vividly, the spectacular failure of our funded start up, Sharkius Games. From raking in $100,000 per month to dust. It turns out, doing nothing, perhaps really is one of the keys to success. We didn't do nothing enough.

The fact that we stopped "doing nothing" was a key on the downfall of our beloved startup. We were busy all the time. We were so absorbed and involved, that almost all creativity and invention came to a complete halt. Sounds familiar? Probably so, it's a hallmark of the modern human to be busy. We have our gadgets with us all of the time, we don't know how to switch off.

Have you noticed, how the best and most commercially successful games and products have proven to be small strokes of genius, rather than feature rich products? Minecraft anyone? Few exceptions come to mind, and indeed, at the birth of Sharkius Games, our success came massively from products that we released in just a week of development! A few weeks of doing nothing and only one week of work, that's all it took to generate over a million dollars in a year. Of course, to stay rich, you then have to spend the million dollars the right way*. Sharkius, lost it all through business.

Most ideas come to me when I'm doing nothing. When my mind is clear and at peace. When I have no worries or expectations. No stress and no anxiety. It is in these moments that something will click via a process in the subconscious and you get that moment of enlightenment where you go "Aha! That's it!". I'm sure that most, if not all of my good ideas have been born this way. It is during this "down time", where creativity flows.

Granted, people are all different, and perhaps it is not so for others, but having talked to many creative individuals I've come to notice a similar pattern is ingrained in most of them. I recently watched a documentary about Coldplay. Chris Martin says "all of our best songs have appeared in 3 or 4 minutes, that's always the way but they don't come about as often as you'd like them to. You just sit like a fisherman and wait... and wait, and eventually something appears really quickly, and they are always the best songs.

Chris Martin's method echoes exactly how all of my own best ideas have come about. The period of waiting like a fisherman will be different depending on your profession, but generally this involves achieving basically nothing for hours on end, or simply put, doing nothing. You don't exactly have to be doing completely nothing, but your brain must be at rest, no anxiety, no stress, no to do lists and deadlines, no upcoming meetings, no pressure (ok, maybe a little pressure?).

To do nothing. you could be relaxing at the beach or you could be hiking up a mountain. Of course, we don't all have this kind of downtime often, so more realistically you could do nothing while exercising your profession (if your to do list is empty!). For example, as a musician, you could be sat with a guitar for hours without much success. Repeating some odd chords that you know or playing old favourites. As a game designer, you could be browsing the net without much purpose, perhaps reading web comics, when the idea will hit you. You could be playing a video game that doesn't suck much of your attention away. Perhaps you could be enjoying an easy to read book when your mind will wander off.

It's true, if you do nothing, and your subconscious knows what you want**, the best ideas will eventually come. Doing nothing will really make you more creative, and more productive. Go on. Try it. It worked for me, it will work for you.

How have your best ideas come about? Let me know!

PS.- While I hate to admit it, I've even had some moments of inspiration while on the loo seat!
PPS.- This month and January I'm doing nothing (and a few small chores). I'm hoping to get back to my chess career sometime mid February.

* Books that would have helped in hindsight are: The Richest Man in Babylon & Rich Dad Poor Dad.
** Read more on how to program your subconscious to get you what you want by reading a book like "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill.

Saturday 30 November 2013

How I made $30,000 this month, by not playing chess.

I failed the goal I set myself for November. It was simple, just do chess tactics daily for at least 1 hour. I didn't keep to it. Why? The first week of November I got an incredible urge to solve my current financial situation. I realised that if I remained inactive work wise, I would probably run out of savings by February and have to get a job somewhere (ugh!?!). I completely stopped playing chess and started brainstorming how to solve my situation and earn some money.

It wasn't just a matter of having money to survive, HMRC has been chasing me for a £20,000 debt for a few years now. Since my last start up started making losses, I never had any extra money to pay towards this. I've been hovering below $5,000 in cash the whole time. I knew I had to pay this debt off soon or they would get incredibly pissed off. The last 6 months of working at Sharkius I didn't get paid anything, the year before that I got minimal amounts. I even considered bankruptcy at one point but chose not to. Playing with the tax man is not fun.

So this month the urge was very intense. I had to get rid of this debt. My chess ambitions came to a standstill. The things I tried were:

  1. Making a new web site
    Unfortunately I lost interest because it was a chess thing, that is probably going to bring utility more than money. I will finish it at some point, it's really cool.
  2. Playing Poker
    I've had $5,000+ tournament wins before and I tried my luck again. I noticed an improvement in my game thanks to chess, but alas, losing with AA against KK has nothing to do with skill. $400 profit pocketed, but no more.  Next time.
  3. Brainstorming new businesses
    From tourism to technology. I realised that I'll have the same problem I had all year, lack of capital to do anything meaningful without having to raise money. I don't really want to raise money again, not just yet anyway. Most of the businesses I thought about were trying to integrate bitcoins somehow, maybe I will do one of them in 2014, who knows?
  4. Messing about with bitcoins and it's altcoins
    I already knew about bitcoin since about March 2013. I thought it had potential; however, being unfortunate enough to lose a whole $1,200 on the closure of bitcoin-24, I was unable to buy and hold any bitcoins. Thus, I did not make any profits from its huge increase to $1,200. This time, I wanted to do a bit more than arbitrage the market for the odd few hundred quid I'd make fortnightly. I studied my options.

The last try, option number 4 would end up having something significant in it. First, I used the last of my money (just a couple grand), to arbitrage the markets to the max. Having generated a healthy profit of a couple thousand, I started day trading. Initially I lost around $600 day trading. It was painful. It seemed like I could never get the decisions right. I sucked. I was about to give up.

At this point I was only day trading bitcoin, but having studied the whole crypto currency scene a bit more, I realised there is a lot of potential in other coins. Some of them are quite ingenious and who knows, maybe in 2 years they will surpass bitcoin. I picked PTS (Protoshares) for the best candidate to gain value. I made 50% gains overnight, I was ecstatic.

However, as things were going, and my rotten luck of the moment was, I managed to get my computer hacked and lost $1,500 worth of PTS... I felt really shit that day. If you are into crypto coins, be very careful. I had never ever been hacked before. I'm a techie, and its the biggest insult to get hacked. But it happened. The positive was that I managed to catch the hacker getting the coins out of my computer wallet and I rescued another $1,500 worth of my coins. To add insult to injury, PTS are worth 4 to 5 times today than what they were when I bought them!

I thought about forever quitting crypto coins, cursing them, hating them, but after waking up the next day I felt better. Instead of being mad at myself, I was now grateful I didn't lose it all. I realised that I let my guard down a little and that if I just was more careful, I should not be hacked again (I hope!!). This small capital I had leftwas enough to do something.

A couple of weeks after, things turned around and I had a bunch of HUGE swings in luck. I had moments where I was up a few thousand and moments where I missed the right moment to sell, and thus missed out on $7,000 in profit. These moments the coins would collapse back down and my profit would go from $7,000 to $0. I also had moments were I would lose over a grand in half an hour. These daytrading experiences were hard to take. Very, very painful.

Daytrading really does suck. It is so stressful. I noticed, that because I really wanted to pay off this debt so badly, losing even $10 off any profits I made was especially painful. If I didn't have any debt I thought, I would take more risks and not care if I went down a whole grand. If I didn't have any debt, I would be a better day trader. That maybe true, and we will find out, since I've now managed to make enough to pay my debt off and have a little bit left over.

Yes!!! So I managed to multiply my money nearly 10 times, great! What do I do with it? Keep day trading or play it safe and pay the debt? This question was killing me for a few hours. If I changed my bitcoins to FIAT now I could miss out on the next 2x multiplier. A 2x multiplier at this level would mean winning $20,000 in profit over the course of a day... I could do it...

After long deliberation I realised that I did not want to risk a penny of the debt money. I may end up making less profits by trading with only $1,000 rather than all my capital, but at least I will sleep well knowing that my debt is paid off. I will also have more time to get back into chess, without the debt breathing down my back.

By paying this debt I've bought myself some more time to do whatever the hell I want in life, and that's awesome. I'm not financially free as I would like to be, not just yet, but it kinda is like that for me anyway. Having a few thousand that you manage to somehow top up every now and then, is just enough. Also, it seems that as soon as I get under pressure, I will find the ways to top my balance up anyway, I've done it before, I've done it this month, and I will do it again when I need it next.

Now, to play chess, climb rock faces, conquer mountains and perhaps just a little bit more of day trading.

If anyone wants to learn more about crypto-currencies, especially alt currencies, please watch this video, I think it's great:

Eventually, one of the alt currencies will be to bitcoin, what today's Twitter is to Facebook. Unfortunately I missed the Quark boat, 1000% returns in a week, crazy. Why wasn't I there? Looks like a solid coin too.

PS.- Please don't jump into just any coin as this guy recommends, that is his only mistake in his video, some coins are scams and some coins are just too weak and will die out. Do some research first, like you would with any investment.

PPS.- None of this blog post is intended as investment advise and any positions you may open due to this post are solely your responsibility and not mine. You understand that any investment is risky and you could lose all your money. Thus, you should not invest money you cannot afford to lose.

Also at:

Friday 1 November 2013

New Concrete Goal + Progress Update

I've just realised that all my goals are very abstract. Abstract in a sense that I have to play games and achieve good results to get to my goal. This kind of goal does not help because I do not feel a sense of achievement unless I reach a particular rating (eg 98th percentile!). Instead, I should be setting goals that will improve my play whether or not I reach a particular rating. To this end, I've decided my goal for November will be to do at least 50 hours of Tactics Trainer on chess[dot]com and at least 1 hour a day for 20 consecutive days no matter what. This kind of goal can be achieved with just a little bit of determination, and I am guaranteed results whether I win games or not. Also, if I don't achieve it, I will feel ashamed because I know at least one or two of you read this and I do not want to look like an ass by not achieving my goals ;-)

As for the progress report, due to my bad goal setting, I've fallen behind quite a bit. I made a promise not to play 15|10 games until I improved, and I have kept that promise. Because of not being able to play those games though, I've lost will to study hard and I've spent my time doing other things instead such as day trading, poker and building a chess web site. The last is the most productive thing I've done, and it will definitely help me when it is finished. However, I am disappointed that I have made little progress on my chess strength.

Enough said, below is my miserable performance on Tactics Trainer for October. November shall correct this. I promise myself and the world!

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Oops. Just spent a whole day playing chess! Don't tell the boss.

Luckily there is no boss to tell. Phew. However, the gradually shrinking wallet is definitely complaining, each day a bit louder. I've played back to back 15|10 games since 9AM. It is now 9:30PM and I want to play more. So fun!

I should have it out of the system by the end of tonight. I'm sure. There is only so much losing I can do. The opposition, ranked in the 98-99th percentile of players, is proving really tough. I only win about 1 in 4 games. These games are won by playing almost completely blunder free, at least until the endgame. I am now flirting with a ranking of 97.5th percentile, which makes me feel great, yay!

I had a game against an opponent rated 2,000 (I'm rated around 1,600). I worked so hard, but in the end, the fact I was up an exchange, was only enough to get a draw from the game. I noticed in the computer analysis, that some very subtle moves, reduced my advantage from +3pts, to eventually just +1pt. This small advantage my opponent defended skilfully in the endgame. At least I didn't fall for one of this many shifty knight forks throughout the 50 or so moves in the end game.

I've concluded, that the key to my increased rating, is definitely how much theory I can remember to get out with a small advantage from the opening. The more theory I remember, the more time I have on my clock to find good moves once I do not know the theory. Most of the games that I've lost, seem to be because the opponent still has 12+ minutes on the clock while I am starting to feel the pressure with no more than 4 minutes on mine. I've almost lost a few because opponents have played rare openings, in which I'm out of theory I know by move 7. Ouch.

Don't get me wrong, I realise that I should be able to find the best move in any position, without knowing theory. I know that! But it's bloody hard work!!! It's definitely impossible to do so in blitz games, at least at my current level. I am going to have to play some more on-line "correspondence" chess, in order to build up my knowledge of theory by practice. I am also going to try what "Chess for Zebras" suggests and find interesting positions, and then practice finding the best move and do an analysis, within 20 minutes. Then compare my results with the actual GM facts. This is meant to improve my concentration and help me solve similar positions faster in the future. We'll see about that.

The TLDR; play bloody slower paced games until I learn more theory and have more practice under my belt. Playing a whole day of fast chess is not gonna get me anywhere!!! But at least it was fun.

My rating on 15|10 now is exactly 1,600. I promise to myself I won't play another 15|10 until I hit 1,850 on Correspondence Chess.

Monday 21 October 2013

Today I started on the booklet on Soviet chess secrets I bought in Moscow.

Okay, its not exactly top secret but I am hoping to get some results from it. I bought it from the most famous book shop in the whole of Moscow, so it should be solid. I hope? They had a huge chess section and this one book stood out from the others. Although to be fair, it is the very first tactics book I've ever owned.

What attracted me especially is that this compilation has been designed for players with an ELO from 1,700 to 2,100. Each problem has a difficulty rating for the different ELO ranges. That's kinda cool, no?

I am having a very easy time solving the 1,700-1,800 ELO range and I am hoping that is the case up to 2,100. Does this mean I potentially could be rated around 1,700 ELO right now? Maybe. That'd be cool. If I can keep it up to 2,100, it would be a huge confidence boost. It would help solve some of the dents in confidence, caused by the huge pessimism that revolves around the adult learning of chess.

A slight confidence dent also came from Tactics Trainer on chess .com; I hadn't done it for weeks and probably only about 4 hours on total in the whole of last month. In contrast, the month before that, I did between 30 and 40 hours of TT! The result, I dropped about 200 points of rating and felt completely stupid. The lesson, keep doing TT everyday, even if its just for 15 minutes.I am gonna hold myself to that.

Ouch, look at that. Tsk tsk. Look at that :/ Okay, now, off to play some more 15|10 games vs. people much higher rated than I am. I am addicted.

Sunday 20 October 2013

Slow Week, New Goals

Yet another week that goes by without studying chess, due to catching a cold (and not making a schedule!). I'm finally shaking it off and if today's bad diet doesn't undo my recovery, then I shall be back on track starting tomorrow.

I've played quite a few 2|1 bullet and 10 min blitz games this week. I've mostly noticed that there is no way in hell I am getting above 90th percentile in 10 min blitz (and bullet).  where I feel I still have lessons to learn.I seem to have winning positions, yet lose every time. It went as far as being up a queen and losing on time, because I could not find straight forward simplifications. In hindsight, I should have traded a rook for the menacing bishop, but no matter, I am definitely not ready to make a go of 10 minute blitz games yet.

Then I started playing 15|10 games. I had stopped because I was tired of facing opposition 100-150 points below my rating. However, I found that if I can wait 2-10 minutes, I can get an opponent way above my own rating. This way, I got a few games in vs people rated from 1650-2000!!! I enjoyed these games much more, even though I only managed to win 1 out of about 5. The person I beat was rated 1714. The player rated 2000 just escaped me the first game, where it was an even fight for about 35 moves before he edged me out with just 1 pawn's advantage. I noticed these games are much harder, but they are thoroughly more enjoyable. I will get quite a few of them in this week and hopefully my win rate can start going up.

I still can't find much enjoyment from correspondence chess. It feels more like a chore than fun. Whenever I see a position I know is complicated I seem to procrastinate my move. I think I'll enjoy OTB much much more. Whenever I am in a live game it just seems more important and tons more fun. However, I will set time apart this week to practice Phillip Ochman's method in correspondence chess. I will also make sure to make a schedule this week, so that I can make some tangible progress as I did the beginning of September. I plan to finish "Chess for Zebras", do tons of tactics, study some endgame theory and play some well thought out correspondence chess.

My main new goal: Beat a player rated 1900+ in 15|10.

PS.- This week I read about a programme that takes 2 years to take you from 2,200 ELO to IM (2,400 ELO). Flipping heck... I really need to beat the norm here. It has to go quicker than that!!!

Monday 14 October 2013

Progress Report: 96.7% percentile

I'm very close to my goal of 99th percentile. My biggest problem is managing to move without thinking a move through. This happens every now and again... and again. Basically, if I've thought of a sequence of moves, I will nearly pre-move my pieces when actually I have 5-10 minutes on the clock, with time to check myself again. Obviously, GM's recommend to always double check your moves so I am failing this basic premise and it is costing me a lot of points.

It is especially painful because there seems to be few people rated 1,550+, so every time I lose against someone rated 1,450-1,500 I end up losing 10 to 12 points. Whereas when I win, I am only getting 5 points.

I've had a few games against people rated 1,575-1,600 and I've won them, so I am quite confident of reaching 1,650 to 1,700 in the coming two weeks or so. I hope, that translates to 99% so I can set a new goal.

Studying has been slow this week. I've wanted to spend a lot of time with people I care about so that left less time for studying. Then I got ill. Ugh! I am hoping to pick up the studying after this Wednesday. This will mark nearly a month without studying, aside from reading a couple of chapters of a book and doing a couple of hours of Tactics Trainer.

Moreover, if anyone cares, I attribute my incredible rating climb in the last study-less month to actually getting some games in, getting some real practice done vs real players. I got this premise from the book "Chess for Zebras", where the author argues that all the knowledge in the world is useless if you can't put it into skill. Skill comes from playing games. I haven't finished reading the book yet (as I said, I've hardly studied!), but so far I really like it. It's unconventional and I really makes sense so far.

The other thing I can definitely attribute my rating hike to is Tactics Trainer. While in the last month I hardly did any problems, the month before this I did a lot! I notice in my latest games, that I am unforgiving if my opponent blunders, whereas before, I may have missed a lot of those opportunities. As an example, I had about 10-30 seconds on my clock left, vs 5-7 minutes. My opponent played a not so obvious blunder but in under a second I had spotted it and played the right move to punish him. Game below:

White just played 39. Kf3 ?? - I have 10 seconds or so on the clock. He has over 5 minutes. It looks like the pawn on f4 is in trouble and I have to go on the defensive. However, thanks to TT I spotted the winning combination in a split second. Yay!