On Intangibles. Carpe Jugulum.
Often the general managers, the coaches and the players talk about "intangible values". Sometimes it's about the "locker room contributions". Sometimes it's about "passion". In my opinion, these two are actually negligible and in certain cases even harmful. I remember such references, especially the latter one, made about Israeli soccer players, and that usually meant that the player doesn't have a lot of talent to go along, but contributes a lot of passion into the game. While a passionate play can indeed ignite the play and carry the team along, more often it indicated dumb physical low-talent execution that actually harmed the team.
However, there is one intangible that I take my hat off in front. It's the one that I always admired, and myself did not have enough in my chess career. It's the ability to go for the throat of the opposition at even momentary display of weakness by it, or as Terry Pratchett put it one of its books, 'Carpe Jugulum1'.
So what is it, in my understanding? It is the situation when your opponent puts itself into an inferior position in a volatile situation (for example, in a close score), such as by a penalty, or by an icing at the end of a long shift, or by allowing an odd-man rush, and you are able to capitalize on it, yanking any remains the carpet of security from under the feet of the opposition. And then, you continue to hammer the blows on the opposition until it collapses completely. Some also call it the 'killer instinct'. This blog (and this article too) sins with abundance of examples from chess, so let me plant one from tennis... Before the match between Lleyton Hewitt and Taylor Dent at the New York Open, 2005, the latter one complained: 'He displays a poor sportsmanship: taking joy in double errors at the opponent services as well as in unforced errors.' 'I don't care what Dent thinks about it', parried Hewitt, 'I always go for a win, and on the way to it many things are allowed.'
Machiavelli advised the rulers and the politicians, 'Don't be kind'. Winston Churchill also knew something about achieving the goals when he was recommending: 'If you want to get to your goal, don't be delicate or kind. Be rough. Hit the target immediately. Come back and hit again. Then hit again with the strongest swing you can...'
All the chess champions had it, the extremes going to Alexander Alekhine, Robert J. Fischer and Garry Kasparov. Many wonderful players that never got the title complained that they couldn't commit themselves to going for the throat of the opponent time after time.
These qualities were elevated to perfection by the two best teams of the first half of 2010s, by the Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks that split between themselves five cups out of six from 2010 to 2015. Even when both teams seem to be struggling and wobbling, they seemed to be able to instill some kind of uncertainty into their opponents - and certainty into the spectators that these teams are going to be able to make a fist out of themselves that is going to hammer their opponents once they display any kind, and minimal level of weakness. That capability was championed by their leaders, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter for the Kings, and Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith for the Hawks. When the playoffs series between the Blackhawks and their opponents were tied 3-3, Chicago has always been the favorite to win the game 7 because of their Carpe Jugulum reputation. The Kings gained even more notoriety, first by burying their sword to the hilt into each and every opponent in 2012 en route from the #8 seed to their first Stanley Cup, and then from the reverse sweep they managed against the Sharks that started their 2014 Cup run - which included two more comings from behind, 2-3 and 1-3. And even in 2016, down 1-3 to the Sharks in the first round of the playoffs somehow fans around the league were not ready to commit to the Sharks as the favorites to win the series, because the Kings were a hair away from the Sharks' throat in game 4, from 0-3 to 2-3 in the 3rd period, and then in game 5, they indeed were able to erase the 0-3 deficit into a 3-3 tie.
Well, that tie didn't hold, the Sharks broke the stranglehold and got a boost that carried them all the way to their own first even Stanley Cup Finals, and that outcome got the Kings' reputation as the Carpe Jugulum team damaged to a degree. So did the Blackhawks' one, losing their game 7 to a team that - along with the Sharks and, for instance, the Washington Capitals - had a reputation of a somewhat nonplussed one - the St. Louis Blues.
It would be entertaining to see whether the Carpe Jugulum landscape changes this year in the league, and whether the teams who were able to overcome their "benign" reputation will be able to go all the way to the Cup Finals - through their opponents' throats.
Chess Grandmaster Gennady Sosonko wrote, 'A real professional, having thought about the situation on the board, acts most decisively. He knows, that during the game, there should be no place either for doubt, nor for compassion, because a thought which is not converted into action, isn't worth much, and an action that does not come from a thought isn't worth anything at all.'
And it's important to remember, Carpe Jugulum is a necessary key to success in a competitive environment only. Albert Einstein used to say that chess "are foreign to me due to their suppression of intellect and the spirit of rivalry."
1Carpe Jugulum (lat.) - seize the throat