The Psychology of Becoming a Better Chess Player

The “7 Skills” Chess Training Model:
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It’s no secret that it takes hard work and dedication to become great at something.

Although this idea is well known to most, though, there still seems to be an idea that you also have to be very talented right out of the gate in order to truly become a master of a given craft. This logic often gets applied to chess as well, because so many of the grandmasters we look up to and aspire to play like have been geniuses of a caliber rarely seen. However, there is much more to becoming a masterful player than just being naturally brilliant or somehow naturally talented at chess.

In fact, studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between how good a player is at chess and how much time they have spent practicing. That’s the main factor – practice. Even a hyper-intelligent person needs to practice the game for hundreds, even thousands of hours before becoming truly skilled. The fanciful idea of a savant beating the greatest chess player in the world we often see in movies really only has its place on the silver screen – in the real world, it’s practice which makes us better.

However, this type of dedication does require a certain mindset. The psychology of a grandmaster is much different than that of a chess hobbyist, and the main factor here is indeed dedication. In order to become a master of this game, you will likely need to dedicate many thousands of hours to its study and its practice. You will have to practice as often as you can, and keep in mind that each such practice session makes you better and builds you toward that goal of becoming a master one day. You have to be able to keep that goal affixed in your mind and focus on it if you want to succeed. This is where many falter – sure, you may enjoy chess, but are you willing to dedicate thousands of hours of your life to it? If you want to be a master, you will probably have to.

Still, chess is a game where you get out what you put in. If your goal is simply to improve your game and enjoy playing it while you do so, you can absolutely do that at a much less taxing rate than described above. You definitely don’t have to become a master simply to enjoy chess, and you don’t have to dedicate thousands of hours just to improve your game. Nevertheless, we can all stand to benefit from applying some of the mindset of those grandmasters to our game. A little more dedication, coupled with a few basic principles can go a long way.

For starters, you should never go into a game assuming you’re going to lose. Even if you’re a novice and you are playing against a grandmaster, assuming you’re going to lose is a great way to ensure it. Instead, you should apply the principles you’ve practiced and learned and simply play the best game you can. You likely will lose many times over the course of your chess career, but being a fatalist and assuming that you will do so can only help to bring about your loss more swiftly. Fight with everything you have, even when defeat is imminent.

Likewise, you should never go into a chess match assuming you will win. This is actually a worse mistake to make than assuming you will lose, since arrogance often leads to overlooking mistakes or missing your opponent’s plan. If you fail to have some perspective on the game and instead are too full of pride to see your own mistakes, you will almost assuredly lose. Instead, you should temper your confidence with caution. Hope that you will win, and strive to do so, but don’t hand your opponent the game by failing to pay attention to what they’re doing because you are distracted by your own ability.

If the two points above are properly applied, the result is that you will treat each and every game you play as an important, pivotal battle. This is absolutely the mindset you want to nourish and keep. You should put everything you have into each game, because this is how you improve your skill set. No matter if you’ve lost to this person a hundred times or beat them the last twenty games in a row, you should never assume the outcome. Take each game as an individual, and you will be able to stay sharp and at the peak of your game no matter the situation.

Next, remember to keep your emotions in check. It is very easy to become annoyed at yourself when you make a mistake, or overly angry at your opponent when you miss something and lose a valuable piece. These types of emotions can often color your judgement, however, and can make it difficult for you to keep the bigger picture in perspective. The result here is often more mistakes or more missed opportunities, so you have to be careful. Think of yourself as your own chess psychologist and study the way you react to certain situations. This will allow you to gain valuable insight about how you think, and in turn will allow you to avoid repeating mistakes in the future.

Sun Tzu said in The Art of War “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” Now, this logic is usually applied to battle, but there are things we can learn from Sun Tzu’s words in our chess game as well. This logic fits perfectly into chess, since chess itself is modeled after battle. Remember to keep that perspective, stay away from excess confidence or pride, and most of all, to keep practicing no matter what.

Return to the lessons featured on this website often, continuing to study even those you feel you’ve already mastered so that you can keep your skills honed to a razor-sharp edge. Doing so will only help you in the long run, whether your goal is just to improve your skills and have fun while learning more about chess, or to become the next grandmaster of the game.