Peter Zhdanov
17 November 2021

How To Overcome Your Chess Fears – Part II

In the first episode of the series, we touched upon some of the most typical fears that chess players face before and during the game. Also, we discussed how to boost one’s fighting spirit and gain confidence using the guardian method.

Let’s continue delving deeper into the topic and explore other tips that could help you become a fearless chess gladiator!

Fall back upon your moments of glory

When I was much younger, I used to check out men’s magazines and websites occasionally. One of the popular subjects there that were brought over and over again was something like “the top-10 best ideas for a first date”. The womanizer columnist would typically recommend going for something creative to impress the potential girlfriend — horse-riding, attending a dance class together, swimming, and so on. In my opinion, the cons of this lifehack may easily outweigh the pros.

For example, let’s consider shy people who have low self-esteem and regard themselves to be “boring” and “not attractive enough.” They may shoot themselves in the foot by adopting the role of macho and trying to act like someone else. They may end up finding horse-riding tedious, a dance class – embarrassing, and if they swim like a rock and are not happy about the way their bodies look, the process could also turn into torture for them. I don’t mind stepping out of one’s comfort zone now and then, but the first date is probably not the right place to do it unless you are specifically banking on this comic effect by making yourself look vulnerable.

What would my recommendation be then? Remain yourself and act naturally. This tip is especially efficient if you are interested in a long-term relationship because it would be tough for you to keep pretending and playing a role for a long time. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure! That is, it is usually easier to find someone who appreciates your true self than to try to reinvent yourself each time whenever you have a crush on someone.

When choosing a place for a date, a good idea could be to head to your “domain of power.” That is, a place where you feel like a king; where you perform better than others. Where your eyes shine, and you are genuinely happy and relaxed. When people do what they love and enjoy, they usually look attractive to others. That is, if the former are not self-obsessed and arrogant, of course.

I dislike generalizations, but chess players, on average, are more of the nerdy/shy type. I remember discussing this subject with one of my friends. Our conversation went along the following lines:

He (smiling self-skeptically): So, you are saying I should take her to a place where I enjoy myself? Let’s say I like playing blitz in the park and trash-talking my opponents. If I take her there, she will probably shake her head and leave, thinking that I am some jerk…

I: Well, the truth is that you probably don’t need ten girlfriends. Let’s say 6 out of 10 won’t go on a date if you suggest this scenario. Three more will consider you a freak and won’t like their boyfriend to be a chess player. However, the 10th one will admire the way you play and appreciate your wicked sense of humor! She will stay with you for hours…and maybe even years! So, if you are a good blitz player, it could definitely be a trump in the sleeve. And this way, you won’t have to quit chess or pretend that this side of your life doesn’t exist!

Oh, wait. This is the Play Magnus blog; I am not writing for a men’s magazine today! So, how are all these dating nuances related to a chess game? The point is, when you lack confidence and feel down, a good idea is to recall your moments of glory when you were on top of the world. Now, if you are one of those people who downplay their achievements and say, “I’ve done nothing special so far,” then I have to point out that everything in life is relative. Maybe you didn’t win the Nobel prize or an Olympic medal, but I am sure there were situations when you got your chance to shine. It could be at school, at the university, at work – anywhere! Just learn to accept compliments and praise and add those blocks to your self-esteem, making it grow.

Most of us are not professional chess players, so we have to look for these moments of glory elsewhere. For example, I am a world-class public speaker and award-winning debate expert. When I feel drained and weak, I imagine myself walking out on the stage in front of a crowd of people. This is where I am at the pinnacle of power. I can take on any opponent in the world in this state without having any fear. Energy flows throughout my entire body as I close my eyes and visualize this scene. Even though I am not nearly as good at chess as at debate, the inner confidence transfers over and helps me prepare mentally for tough games. If you think about it, you will come up with similar experiences that suit you best. If you were able to achieve all those feats in the past, you might as well perform well in your upcoming chess match! That being said, confidence alone won’t guarantee victory; you still have to play chess well to succeed!

Speaking of the domain where you feel like a king, I believe one of Magnus Carlsen’s key strengths is that he knows that he is the best chess player in the world. Basically, he doesn’t need to imagine anything. He sits at the board, and that’s where he is most dominant! A similar thing could be said about Kasparov until he caught that mystical, psychological virus about Kramnik being 12 years younger (the age difference between Karpov and Kasparov) and his potential successor. Generally speaking, quite often, legendary champions are first defeated in their own minds, and only then in reality. The “moment of glory” technique is useful for preventing that mental breakdown from happening.

Your opponents are only human too

Later in my career, I started having more success in pivotal games. Maybe this is due to realizing a simple thing: fear was besetting not only me but my opponents as well.

Mikhail Tal

If you have never heard the abovementioned quote, you will probably be surprised since Mikhail Tal has the image of a reckless and fearless berserk who used to go all out at the opponents in every game, taking huge risks. While he was young, he did play that way indeed, but you can see that at a later stage of his life, he had the courage to admit that even back then, he was still haunted by fear when the stakes were high. Therefore, you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself if you lose confidence at the board now and then.

Remember that famous line from “The Predator” (1987)? “If it bleeds, we can kill it.” The truth is, your opponents are also going through all sorts of troubles and fears. Maybe they are even more exhausted, sick, demotivated, anxious, and afraid than you are! Instead of making a mental list of why you are not in your best shape (basically, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of why exactly you are going to fail), make a similar list for your opponent. Maybe he had a cough? Did he look weary? Did he lose a terrible game, showing that he is in bad form? Did his last game continue for 60+ moves, making him spend a lot of energy and not allowing you to prepare for your match? Maybe he feels uncomfortable in this city due to not being accustomed to such temperature and food? Is he worried about missing out on a GM norm? Perhaps he has helicopter parents who keep pushing him for more, destroying his will to play. The list could go on forever. Obviously, I am not suggesting you spend the whole evening gloating over someone else’s problems. No. Just make a brief check and realize that your opponent probably has at least as many hurdles in front of him as you do. If you are not sure, you can imagine what you need! There are always more things going on behind the scenes than you ever know.

To be continued…

Are you interested in becoming as confident and fearless over the board as Magnus Carlsen? Let his magic rub off on you by downloading the Magnus Trainer and learning from the reigning World Chess Champion himself!

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