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Friday
Oct242008

The Obsessed

Chess Player: David Janowski, The Obsessed (1868-1927)

This grandmaster was completely fixated on one aspect of the game: the two bishops.

He had little foibles about the kind of game he liked—his weakness for the two bishops was notorious—and he could follow the wrong path with more determination than any man I met! He was also something of a dandy and quite vain about his appearance.
—Frank Marshall, on his good friend David Janowski

Janowski loved the bishops and his opponents knew it. He surely developed numerous lines of play and board positions that exploited the strengths of his pet pieces. It is the fate of the player obsessed with a certain facet of a game to know that particular facet better than almost anyone—even better than the best players in the world—but to be somewhat lacking when out of his element. Janowski’s opponents learned to offer him situations that would allow him to keep his precious bishops in exchange for losing considerable other material. For many years, US players called the two bishops “the two Jans.”

Street Fighter Player: David Sirlin, The Obsessed

And now I get to talk about myself! I am known secondarily for some of the same traits as Ortiz: my patience and ability to annoy opponents. But I am primarily known for my obsession with doing the same move over and over again. I try to find moves that are 100 times harder to stop than they are for me to do. If I can find something I can do over and over and over without fear of retaliation, then I am at my happiest. When I do discover such things, it doesn’t say much for the game’s design, but that isn’t my problem as a player, and I have no obligation to anyone to play a game “as it was intended” or in an “exciting” way. Janowski caused the two bishops to be called “the two Jans,” but I have caused myself to be called “low strong” after Rose’s move in Street Fighter.

The theory is that if an opponent can’t stop a certain move, then I don’t have to bother with the sticky business of predicting what they will do next. I also don’t have to worry about them predicting what I’ll do: we all know what I’ll be doing! As long as whatever I am doing isn’t making me lose, I’m content to continue doing it and make the opponent prove that he can beat it.

I am also notoriously lacking in dexterity and “technical skill” at games. I’ve always had to make up for this with my good sense of timing (exactly when to do a move). When it comes to tournament performance, I was able to dominate the scene in a particular version of the game called Street Fighter Alpha 2. I won national tournaments, and could consistently beat any opponent in the United States, save for Valle and Choi. In other games, I have reached the upper echelons, but other players have overshadowed me.

The lesson to learn from my play style is that while it can get extremely far, obsession with a single aspect of a game just can’t go all the way. Even in my most successful showings in Alpha 2, my secret was that at the highest level of play against Valle and Choi, I had to abandon my “same move over and over” tactics in favor of using my backup characters, which I played with a much more well-rounded style. After realizing the superiority of Choi’s style, I have attempted to change my focus and “use all the buttons.”