Peter Zhdanov
26 October 2022

Do You Have What It Takes To Admit Your Mistakes?

The mistakes are there, waiting to be made.

Savielly Tartakower

I thought I was wrong once, but I was mistaken.

(Years ago, this used to be a quote on my ICQ profile)

Generally speaking, most "chess is a model of life" metaphors seem far-fetched to me. However, there are some significant similarities between the game and how we handle life problems. One of them is our attitude toward making mistakes.

On one side of the spectrum, we have people who have trouble admitting mistakes. They don't like reviewing their lost games and instead focus on how badly the opponents played. They always have excuses for themselves: they were unlucky, didn't sleep well, were distracted, didn't take the opponent seriously, and so on. In arguments, they typically go all out on you, trying to win the debate even if somewhere deep inside, they know they are dead wrong. Obviously, such behavior is not particularly beneficial for one's improvement as a player or a person.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have people who are too obsessed with their mistakes. They can't sleep at night due to suffering psychologically about the things they have done wrong. They have low self-esteem since they neglect their excellent moves and look through the magnifying glass at their blunders. In real-life situations, they are often shy and easily dismayed. Even when they are pretty much sure they are right, they can fall under the influence of others and act according to their will just because they dislike conflicts and have no inner confidence to stand up for their views.

Chess is similar to life in the sense that it requires a balanced, objective approach to addressing your mistakes. Let's review a few tips on how to mitigate your wrongdoings over the chessboard.

First of all, it is important to make sure that it was indeed a mistake. Sometimes you realize it by yourself. In other cases, an unexpected reply from the opponent awakens you and forces you to start frantically looking for an alternative to the line you were intending to play. Even if you have overseen your opponent's idea, which is alarming and a sign of not being in the best shape, your previous move is not necessarily a mistake by itself.

Secondly, if you are confident that you have made a mistake, remain calm and cold-bloodedly reevaluate the position. Strong players are always looking for a way to justify their previous actions. If the move you have made doesn't make sense to you, try to discover a new plan in which the move actually plays a positive role. This method works especially well if you weren't punished for your misstep, i.e., the opponent hasn't realized it was a mistake.

This reminds me of the "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" advice. Don't be too hard on yourself in chess or real life when you make a mistake. You missed the train? Go for a walk and enjoy yourself! Did you get turned down at a job interview? Consider it a sign to start your own business. You fell from your bike and broke your leg? Read the chess books you have been missing out on while you are lying in bed.

GM Marat Makarov is a well-known chess coach and author. Image courtesy of

Thirdly, sometimes the mistake is so serious that you must admit you went wrong, even if it costs you some critical tempi. I recall an amusing situation from a tournament between chess pairs. One of the teams was composed of GM Marat Makarov and his student WFM Ekaterina Pakhomova. The latter decided to win an exchange using her dark-squared bishop on g7. Marat realized that the bishop was untouchable in that position because, in its absence, the king would become too exposed. So, he didn't take the exchange and even returned with the bishop to its original location. I don't remember it for sure, but I think that eventually, Katerina found a way to win that exchange and lose the game.

Iron-willed champions such as Anatoly Karpov were known for their ability to admit their mistakes no matter how painful they felt. If Anatoly has played the knight from c3 to d5 and feels like it belongs to c3 a move later, he will spend another precious tempo to mitigate his mistake. Carlsen is of the same breed. He makes very few mistakes and keeps his objectivity most of the time, being able to admit that something went wrong and revert it.

Handling the so-called "inexplicable" blunders is tough, even for the absolute best.

Fourthly, some mistakes are too severe and can't be amended no matter how hard to try. For instance, if you blundered mate in one, or the person whom you loved passed away, there is no going back and fixing what was broken. In such cases, you move on and learn the bitter lesson, trying to become a better version of yourself in the future.

Summarizing, it is a tricky dilemma when to persist and when to admit one's mistake and return to the status quo. Being able to tell which case is which will be game-breaking for your chess and overall success in life.

Regardless of whether you are afraid to admit your chess mistakes or not, use the code HALLOWEENWEEK22 to receive an exclusive 30% discount on the Play Magnus Plus Membership. The offer is scary good, so don't miss your chance to learn from the 5-time World Chess Champion!

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