Psychological tips for chess players

by Dr. Shrirang Joshi
3/22/2018 – Chess is a mind game. When you sit at the board, it is just you, your thoughts and your emotions. In such a scenario having the right psychology is of utmost importance to serious tournament players. You may polish your opening knowledge, endgame skills, combinational abilities endlessly, but if you are not able to get in the right frame of mind then improving at the game is very difficult. With this in mind, Dr. Shrirang Joshi, a well-known psychiatrist and counsellor gives us three tips which can help us before, during and after the game. These are simple directives which are easy to understand, but quite difficult to implement. | Photo: Chess Directory

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“Our only limitations are those that we set up in our own minds” -Napoleon Hill

Do we want to become better chess players? Do we want to become an IM or a GM?  The answer will be yes for the majority of chess players. But what are we doing to move towards our goal? We are studying chess. Everyone will agree that an in-depth study of the game is required to grow our chess playing ability. But is that enough?  There is another equally important factor which is often overlooked; the ability to manage our thoughts and emotions. This quality separates the pros from the amateurs. So anyone having a serious goal of becoming a good chess player cannot afford to ignore this. We have to develop this ability also. 

“When the negative thoughts come — and they will; they come to all of us — it's not enough to just not dwell on it. You've got to replace it with a positive thought” -Joel Osteen

think positive

A single negative thought will act as a virus and sabotage our system. It is equally important how we respond to these negative thoughts. Do we have the ability to ignore the negative thoughts and replace it with a positive thought, or do we replay them again and again? We may question our ability during training when we are unable to solve a difficult tactical puzzle. We may be apprehensive and tense when we are facing a higher rated opponent or in a must-win situation. How should we handle our negative thoughts?

“I don't want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them” -Oscar Wilde

Emotions can give us energy. Positive emotions will give us enthusiasm and a good feeling. But negative emotions will act as a block. They will make us feel low, not allow us to concentrate, and prevent us from delivering our best. We may experience negative emotions whenever we lose a game. We have heard stories of players throwing their tennis rackets in frustration. Such players grow to their full potential only when they are able to control their emotions.

So how should we control our thoughts and emotions? Do we need to use elaborate techniques? Do we need to undergo some kind of training for that? What can be done? Most of the players won’t need to do anything complex if they follow the simple tips given here.

Only three thoughts need to be nurtured, to be active in our minds. A single-minded focus on these three thoughts will give us phenomenal results. Instead of focusing on what should not be done, these three thoughts will act as an anti-virus and prevent other negative thoughts and emotions from gaining ground in our mind. They will allow us to perform at our peak potential.

1) Before the game

The quality and quantity of training: Before the game, we should focus only on our preparation. We should increase the quality and quantity of our training. More the better. No other thought apart from this is needed.

Indian team preparing hard for the Baku Olympiad where they finished fourth!

2) During the game

Finding the best move: We may be pitted against a higher rated or a lower rated opponent, a tactical or a strategic player, IM or a GM. We may be in a must-win situation. We may be under pressure from our own expectations or that of our parents and coaches. Irrespective of all that, during any game, we should be fully focused on finding the best move at each step. Being solely focused on finding the best move is the only thing that will help us withstand all pressure.

Nihal Sarin

What's the best move in the position?! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

3) After the game

What were the mistakes: Only those players who will identify and rectify their mistakes will progress. Hence an honest and a dispassionate analysis should be done of our games to identify our mistakes. We need to identify the pattern in our mistakes and take steps accordingly to strengthen our weaknesses. This will prevent such mistakes happening again and help us in becoming a better chess player over time.

Patryk Stanisz

Analyzing your games, finding your mistakes and rectifying them is the key to success | Photo: Patryk Stanisz

What Grandmasters Don't See Vol. 1: Protected Squares

Many times when a top player blunders, it is routinely described by the esoteric term „chess blindness.“ In the series What Grandmasters Don‘t See, chess trainer and world-class commentator Maurice Ashley strips away the myth, and for the first time explains why the root of these mistakes is more often based on the psychology of human learning.
In Volume 1 of the series, Ashley coins a new term Protected Squares, and shows how many errors occur on squares that seem invulnerable because they are clearly guarded by pawns.

This story originally appeared on ChessBase India and is republished with kind permission


Dr. Joshi is a Psychiatrist and Counselor based in Mumbai. He has been conducting motivational sessions for inspiring children and teenagers for the past 25 years. He is passionate about chess and chess psychology.


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Vibov Vibov 3/23/2018 02:45
> Also noticed the picture which has the first move a black pawn!! Now I am convinced it is an April 1st prank!

No, it's can't be the first move, because the black pawn is on c4 already. Putting aside the fact that white Bishop is swapped with white Knight (Chess960?), the position is theoretically possible, if unorthodox.

1. Nf3 c5 2. Ng1 c4.

Even if it was the first move of this pawn, and if it was on c5, it would still be a possible position, because we don't see the entire chessboard.

1. Nc3 h6 (outside of the perspective of the pic) 2. Nb1 c5
Thomas Bean Thomas Bean 3/22/2018 09:53
Is everyone giving the fact that the white knight is placed between the white queen and bishop a pass?

Concerning the third photograph, this reminds me of the fire in the eyes of every six year old who has beaten my ash at chess in the last few years.
Steve Higgins Steve Higgins 3/22/2018 08:39
Think what you will about the article itself, those criticizing the illustrative photo are missing the point. It's not supposed to be true to the rules of the game - it's an illustration! The designer may have been thinking about the feeling of standing alone (black pawn) against an army (white pieces). Or perhaps the pawn is black to signify negativity holding you back. As for the article, No. 1 is silly but Nos. 2 and 3 amount to advice to stay focused on what's important, a good reminder. Jeez, it's not meant to be very deep. What do you expect for your free access to this site, genius every time?
kingfisher99 kingfisher99 3/22/2018 05:11
Hope more such joke articles will be published.
mcplayerus mcplayerus 3/22/2018 03:37
Also noticed the picture which has the first move a black pawn!! Now I am convinced it is an April 1st prank!
mcplayerus mcplayerus 3/22/2018 03:24
After a while, it stroke me!! This must be the April 1st joke published by ChessBase each year!
michelhoetmer michelhoetmer 3/22/2018 01:18
Why did you publish this crappy article? First of all when he mentions Napoleon Hill it becomes clearthat this guy is not very scientific (to put it mildy). And the so called psychological tips? I am still searching to find any in this article. By the way: there is nothing wrong with some negative thoughts: they help us being aware of danger. More games are being lost by over confidence.
aman2017 aman2017 3/22/2018 11:36
thnx for the advice i had a problem of thinking negative thoughts or thinking some other things not related to chess during the game
JackCrabb JackCrabb 3/22/2018 11:15
Quite right, mcplayerus ! And the laughable article is illustrated with a photograph made by someone lacking even the basic rules.
Dear ChessBase, a bit more diligence wouldn't go amiss.
mcplayerus mcplayerus 3/22/2018 09:54
This is hilarious! Who is this person?This looks like a guide for the under 7 chess players.
I expect Chessbase to check the articles before publishing them, this is just a joke.
malfa malfa 3/22/2018 09:44
I am not sure that trivial truisms play a significant role in improving one's chess.