Look within yourself

by Sagar Shah
3/15/2023 – Sagar Shah has been a chess player, coach, journalist, YouTuber, entrepreneur and more. In his journey through different countries and tournaments, he has collected plenty of valuable experience to share. In his new series ‘From the CEO’s Desk’, he shares his musings and thoughts about various things — sometimes related to chess, and sometimes just life. Today, Sagar takes a closer look at the deep-rooted emotions and fears of a chess player, drawing parallels with his own life.

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Why do you feel the way you do?

“Your anger is a bit too much”, said Amruta (my wife). “You need to control it.” I sat down, thinking. What is it that in certain moments I lose my calm completely? Why am I someone that even I do not recognize? I sat down there and tried to think about it deeply. You know, deep emotions like anger, fear, joy, jealousy are often embedded in us because of certain episodes in our life. I tried to think about what was that episode which made me feel the way I did, and which makes me lose my cool when I have my arguments with Amruta.

It was somewhere in 2012, several years ago, when I was a 22-year-old boy. I had just become a chartered accountant (CA). It is supposed to be quite a decent achievement to clear it in first attempt, and I was trying to do something in chess. I was around 2300 Elo, and was playing pretty well that year.

Sagar Shah

Back in 2012, just after qualifying for the National Premier Championships

During that period, I was invited to the house of a young boy, around 16 years old, whose parents wanted to pick my brain about how I managed to keep my chess career going and at the same time didn’t compromise on my academics. I went to that boy’s house to meet his parents and we sat in the living room. The mother of the boy was the one who took charge and began asking me questions. The father sat in the background, listening to what the conversation was. I was asked one question after another — how many hours did you study, how did you manage during exams, which library did you go and study, is there a career possibility in chess? The boy’s mother was quite aggressive in her questioning.

Just as I finished with one of my answers, the father asked me a question. I was a bit taken aback because this was the first he spoke since quite a few minutes. As I was about to answer that question, the mother said to me, “You don’t need to answer that, he has the habit of asking silly questions”, I hadn’t found the question silly, but I stopped in my tracks. I looked at the father. He had retired back in his chair with a feeling of having done something wrong. I felt quite sad because the father had done nothing wrong. The mother asked me a few more questions, I replied to them and then left the house. I don’t know why, but that day made a deep impact on me as a person. I felt I never wanted to end up like the father of that boy. It felt like he was dominated in the marriage, he had absolutely no say in things.

I made a conscious decision that day to extricate myself from all the deep feelings related to that episode. It took some effort, but the first step was awareness. When you become aware of certain things, you can work on them and try to improve the way you think, the way you react and the way you make decisions.

Sagar Shah, Amruta Mokal

Two happy souls roaming across the globe with a singular vision in mind - to cover chess all around the world!

Why am I writing all of this in a ChessBase India newsletter? Am I crazy or what? Well, believe it or not, thinking the way I did above does have some implications for you in your personal — as well as chess — life. How is that, you may ask. Well, now that I stopped playing chess, I often ask myself what were some of the biggest limitations I had as a player on the chessboard. While it was not at all clear and apparent to me when I was playing, it is clear as daylight right now. Here are a few things that I did not do so well on the chessboard:

1. Whenever the pawns would be locked in the centre in a way that White had them on c4 and d4 and Black had them on c5 and d5, I would feel uncomfortable. All those captures made me feel nauseated. I would instantly try to dissolve the tension. The same would happen with pawns on e4 d4 vs e5 d5. I just felt so overwhelmed.

 

Handling pawn tensions is a very important skill for a chess player!

2. Symmetrical positions made me feel very nervous — especially in the endgame and especially against lower rated players. I used to feel a symmetrical structure would lead to a draw! And so I went out of my way to imbalance the position. The truth was that symmetrical positions are not drawn. There are so many more elements that need to be considered there. But I would hardly do that.

 

Symmetrical positions are far from a draw — there's a lot of fighting chess to be played!

3. I had lost a painful game which was quite equal in a bishop vs knight endgame when I had the bishop. That endgame had made me lose my confidence in handling the bishop in a pure bishop vs knight endgame, and whenever I had a choice I would avoid going into that sort of material imbalance. Sometimes I would even go to the extent of choosing opening lines which didn’t give me a bishop vs knight situation!

 

One of the key minor piece battles are seen in a pure bishop vs knight endgame — shying away from these positions will decline you valuable experience!

There are many more points like these that plagued my thinking as a chess player. Do you see? I have tried to deduce them at a much deeper level than just “I am not good at tactics”, or “I am not good at endgames”, or “I am not good at calculation”. These points which I enumerated were more specific. They happened because of certain incidents that made me feel uncomfortable at some point, and my mind naturally made me steer away from them. It is quite clear that if I didn’t address them, I would not be able to play according to the demands of the position. I would always take decisions which were dominated by my subconscious mind/emotions and not by the objective evaluation of the position on the board.

Sagar Shah

When things don’t go your way, you have to dig deep and keep fighting | Photo: Amruta Mokal

How could I have solved these problems? Well, once you have identified them and are aware of it, it is not too difficult, actually. You need to either find similar positions and study them carefully, or you need an experienced trainer who will help you to train dealing with those situations effectively the next time they arise. But the first step is going deep within and getting aware. I struggled to do that as a chess player and also in my normal life. I would ask you to take some time out for this.

Ask yourself, what are your demons? Go deep to the core of the issue. Why do you feel the way you do? Were there certain games or episodes that have developed those feelings within you? Be patient and try to identify them. And when you have, try to slowly address them. When I understood that a completely random episode in my twenties was impacting my marriage in my thirties, I knew I was going wrong somewhere.

I know what I have written here is easier said than done. But if you never think about it, or you will never make an attempt, you will never be able to solve it. This write-up was my small attempt to make you take out the time to look within!


This article is a part of the weekly ChessBase India Newsletter #18, which has all the top chess news of the week, articles by IM Sagar Shah, and exciting offers on the various products of our online shop! Every Saturday, you will receive the Newsletter in your Inbox.


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Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India, the biggest chess news portal in the country. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, and to date close to a billion views. ChessBase India is the sole distributor of ChessBase products in India and seven adjoining countries, where the software is available at a 60% discount. compared to International prices.
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