How to React to a Swing

How to React to a Swing‎

WGM Natalia_Pogonina
55 | Chess Players

Any chess game is a clash of personalities, each of whom has a unique character and chess style. Both contenders want to win. If the opponents are more or less of equal skill, the game rarely unrolls in a straightforward fashion with one of the players quickly seizing the advantage and converting it. Psychology is often to be blamed when we can’t drive home a totally winning position, or break down too easily when defending a slightly inferior one. Therefore, it is important not only to be prepared well for the game, but to be able to control your emotions during the game, no matter what is going on. The challenges can be great.

One of the tests you might face in your chess games is a quick change of the course of the game.

Let’s start by considering a simple situation from a game that I will be sharing with you today. I had a serious advantage and a dangerous attack. My impression was that the game should be over in a few moves, but at some point I suddenly realized things aren’t as bright as they seemed. I had to switch from a reckless checkmating attempt to a slower mode of building up pressure. Otherwise, there would have been a fair chance or playing something crazy. First of all, one should remain calm during the game. If you are ahead, it’s ok, just try to increase the advantage. If you are worse, then search for drawing chances. Both processes are interesting!

Another common situation that requires steel nerves: having to switch from winning to defending after making a mistake. If you stay calm, your drawing chances will be much higher. On the contrary, if you are too overexcited and upset, you will probably lose. The worst thing you can do is start blaming yourself for that blunder and daydreaming (“had I not played that, the game would have continued…”). This is a reliable way of losing. Never blame yourself during the game, and stay focused on what is happening on the board.

One more interesting case is when you have been on the defensive all game long, and then your opponent makes a mistake that offers you some winning chances. Previously, I would often be too tired to exploit the advantage and just grab the draw asap. Now I am trying to adopt the Karpovian approach – play every position from scratch, don’t let the memories of the past haunt you.

The main problem in this respect is inflexible thinking. As I have already mentioned, one should be interested in all the aspects of the game. With due motivation and interest, your chess vision would be brighter, and the chances of overlooking something – lower. We are influenced by our thoughts. If you keep whining mentally - “oh, it’s such a tough defense, while I was expecting to win quickly” – your brain will get tired and bored soon. Instead, tell yourself – “ok, not exactly what I was striving for, but I have a chance to try to make a draw or even outplay him if he offers me the chance”. Your brain will accept the challenge and start functioning as precisely as a Swiss watch.   

To sum it all up, maintain dignity and stay calm no matter what happens. Stay focused on the game, and don’t lose interest in it. This will both help you, and might make the opponent nervous (e.g. “why is he so relaxed if he should be resigning already?!”).


Before move 18 I felt that my attack should be very dangerous: my pieces were active, Black’s queen was misplaced on a6. However, the more I calculated, the more I understood that all I have is some positional advantage. After move 25 I was totally relaxed and prepared to grind out the win in a long fight. That didn’t happen though…

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