Sunday, August 31, 2008

Breaking Point

The Ford Memorial 2008 has started so I thought I took the time to relook at my past games. I've so far been involved in only 2 competitions - the Ryde-Eastwood club championships and the NSW Grade Matches.

While I was busy poring through my old games, I'd notice particular annotations I made on my scoresheets. In between some of the variations were personal comments I injected to relive the mood of the game at that time.

I notice one particular oddity. Players around my level (including myself) have a propensity to collapse at the critical moments especially under sustained pressure to the verge of breaking point.

This appears to be a far more common weakness than I realise.

Be it due to time-trouble or mental fatigue, the psychological warfare being engaged in the end tends to prove too much and mistakes inevitably started to show.

I also noticed that when faced against higher rated opponents, they steel themselves a lot better in the face of an onslaught.

But why then are so few chess books being written on the psychological aspects and mental training of chess?

Perhaps all along, we've not been 100% correct in our chess education during our formative years. One should not just solely concentrate on improving the calculative and combinatorial abilities. Instead toughening your mental strength should also be a core part of a person's training.


  1. Agreed emphatically. Now I'm nowhere near your level, just a 30-something patzer who studies a few evenings a week and plays socially with friends to keep my brain from turning into goo, but my biggest problem is not my knowledge of the game, but my psychological ability to keep my head in tight spots.

  2. My problem is concentration. When i have to wait to long for the move of my opponent i get up and go look at the other games or go smoke a cigaret. When i then come back to my board i have to put my head back into the game again. It did cost me time on the clock but luckily i am not a too slow player so it didn't cost me to much points.

    But i wonder, if there a way that can teach you on staying focussed, concentrated for a few hours? If so, please tell me.

  3. I think the answer is meditation. I know that sounds simplistic but it is true. Meditation can take many many forms. One of the problems in society is that we rarely focus on one thing. We are always multi-tasking! I have used meditation and yoga for the past decade to help me stay focused for musical performances, practicing....pretty much anything I need to focus on.

    Even though I am a fledgling patzer in chess I can honestly say that I have never lost concentration in an OTB game. I have made MANY bad moves but they were errors of judgment not of fatigue.

    Again, meditation can take many forms. I also have noticed that my ability to focus on whatever I am doing has been greatly enhanced by the fact that I never have any noise going on in my house. The TV is rarely on and I never play the stereo unless I am going to listen to the music. Background noise is distracting to me anyway.

    I also remember a moment ten years ago the first time I got into chess for a short period of time. I had been playing games against a chess computer (an old radio shack model), for about two months. I had gotten all the way up to the 8th or 9th level but could NOT beat it at that level at all. One day I finished my meditation and decided to play a game against the computer. I crushed at the previously "unbeatable" level. Ever since then I make sure to do yoga and/or meditate every day!

    Have a great weekend!

  4. Sarah Clark: Thank you very much for your praise but I hardly deserve it. I'm just a lowly patzer trying to make things work in my head (sometimes they run in the opposite direction). lol!

    dk: as always, thank u.

    chesstiger: i have no solution myself, i do follow a rather simple principle. when it's my opponent's turn, i look for general plans/strategic ideas. when it's my turn, i look for specific lines and analyse variations. this was the plan advocated by Botvinnik. so far, i cannot really say if it has worked for me 100%.

    i would really like to know too!

    Tommyg: wow. i wish i can meditate but the problem therein is that everytime i try to compose myself and close my eyes, either the tension gets to me or my mind starts to drift. i'm just no good at meditation. what i do try is to cut out the background noise when i'm thinking and this involves clasping my ears with elbows on the table. it certainly helps though, not by much. :)

    cheers and thanks everyone for your comments.

  5. I have found two books by Jonathan Rowson (both published by Gambit) to be helpful as far as the psychological aspects are concerned. One is "Seven Deadly Chess Sins" and the other is "Chess for Zebras." I started with the seven deadlies and am now working through the second book. Interesting and relevant reading!

  6. Hello Greg,

    I've been reading your blog posts as well. Thanks for the advice. I have came across these books as well in the bookstore but I was still hesistant to pick them up. I'll definitely give the books a run through the next time I pass by the bookstore.

    Great to hear that you're having a swell time going through the books.

    I myself am still working on the tactics puzzles - I've no idea when I can finish them.

    cheers and take care