Nerves, Endurance, And Love Of The Game

Nerves, Endurance, And Love Of The Game

| 43 | Fun & Trivia


MagicLian asked: “I am 11 years old (rated 1416) and get very nervous at tournaments. How can I get over it?”

JS: Believe it or not, this is the first time anyone has asked this! I really enjoy new or rarely-asked questions! Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to your question (I think most interesting questions have no definitive answers). Some people experience a lot of nerves during a serious chess tournament while others don’t. Some eventually get rid of those nerves, and others never do.

I clearly remember being freaked out during my initial tournaments. However, after a few years, I noticed that the “shakes” had gone.

But there is another level of nerves, and that’s when you are playing a very important game (for example, playing for first place!). Even grandmasters occasionally get all jittery when everything comes down to one do-or-die game (Carlsen, Kramnik… everyone!).

In the amateur ranks, players tend to get weak in the knees when they are paired against a much higher-rated opponent. That’s unfortunate since you are already facing a guy that’s better than you, and now terror makes it even worse! I faced this all the time as a young teen, and then one day I couldn’t stand it anymore. (I think I was 15.)

Since I lived in San Diego but occasionally played in Los Angeles, I didn’t know one player from another when going north. Thus when I was paired, I made a point of not looking at my opponent’s rating. The first time I tried this was a turning point in my chess psychology: I clearly remember winning a game and thinking, “Well, nothing to be proud of since this guy is clearly rated 1400 or 1500.” Then I looked at his rating and was stunned to see that he was rated 2150! After that, my nerves started to fade away, and my fear of higher rated players eventually vanished.

MagicLian, it’s normal to be nervous when you’re starting out. And for many, it’s normal to always be nervous. However, I would guess that after you play for another year or so (and start to deeply concentrate during play), those shaky moments will vanish because all that you’ll think of is the position and its secrets.

People are screaming that a tidal wave is coming—Who cares? All that matters is the position. Godzilla is heading your way? It’s just a lizard, so ignore that and figure out what’s happening on the board!


Mya2070 asked: “I am a 1900-rated player, and I recently played in a tournament against 2200+ players. In my games, I usually found myself playing well until a certain point when I was not able to focus anymore at the board (this usually happened after 4 hours). I would then make simple blunders as a result. Do you have any advice in order to increase mental endurance at the board”

JS: I’m on a role! This is another question that’s rarely asked. Of course, I’m not a doctor (“I’m a chess player, not a doctor!”—a gift to Star Trek fans), so if we have one in the comments section, feel free to chime in and set me straight.

Diagnoses: I would guess (note that I said, “guess.” You should see a doctor, if you want to be sure) that you’re experiencing low blood-sugar (a condition that occurs when the body’s blood-sugar decreases and is too low). Symptoms (related to your chess problem) include feeling tired and weak and evincing muddied/slow/unclear thinking. 

Many players (from amateurs to grandmasters) have experienced this during play. The late grandmaster Walter Browne went so far as to say that he would happily buy his opponent a huge steak dinner before the game since, ultimately, it would wreak havoc on his opponent’s blood-sugar.

So, what can you do about it?

Cure: As the game goes on, everyone uses up a lot of energy. You need to replenish that energy in a way that suits your body. The legendary Svetozar Gligoric ate chocolate during a game to keep his blood-sugar plodding along. I occasionally tried that over the years (wouldn’t it bewonderful if chocolate cured all diseases?), and it would always turn me into a vegetable. Fischer drank juices to keep his brain zipping along, and I think many players do the same thing. Personally, nothing worked, and I had many meltdowns during play in which I literally hung everything. I finally gave high-quality ginseng a try, and it worked perfectly for me! I would suck on ginseng throughout the game, and it kept my mind calmly chugging along.

I recommend that you try various things (a bit of protein, a piece of fruit, juice, chocolate, etc.) until you find what’s right for you. It’s very important to do so!

Love Of The Game

Wangipapa asked: “After reading your recent article on BeekeeperBob’s question, I felt as if I played with exactly the same weaknesses as BeekeeperBob. However, I constantly feel as if I just shouldn’t play chess because I am just so much worse than his playing level. (I make worse moves.)

"I just wanted to ask whether I should still play or just give up on chess, as I feel that I am just hopeless at it. I would be eternally grateful if you could perhaps send me a tip on how to improve?”

JS: So many people keep asking me to tell them how to improve. Each think that their weaknesses are their’s alone. But that’s not true. I see the same problems over and over. So please look at the various responses I wrote to many members, study books, and/or simply enjoy the game by playing and (slowly but surely) picking ideas up as you go. 

Chess is supposed to be fun and exciting. You don’t need to be good to experience the joy of the game. Lots of people love bowling with their friends. They know they will toss out a gutter ball more often than they would prefer. Nonetheless, as long as they’re having fun, they are a winner.

Again: If you want more from chess (or any sport or game) than mere fun, just play lots of games (it’s a rush!) and ponder the various articles (free and instructive!) on You WILL get better over time. If you want to be really good, then you’ll have to embrace that cold, evil, scary thing called HARD WORK.

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