The Art Of Beating Yourself

The Art Of Beating Yourself

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In chess, ego is king. Thus one often hears a player who just lost saying, “I beat myself!”

The old “I beat myself!” is often a way to convince yourself that you could have beaten your opponent if it wasn’t for this or that or the other thing.

It’s an ego-saving excuse.

Grandmasters beat themselves from time to time (everyone goes berserk now and then), but often the GM blunder/error is due to being faced with enemy pressure for so long that the defender simply crumbles. Magnus Carlsen’s games illustrate this over and over. I don’t consider this to be “beating yourself” since humans make mistakes. It’s part of the game.

Amateur chess is different. The fact is that the vast majority of games in the amateur ranks really are all about beating oneself. Self-destruction reigns supreme but, commonly, neither player is aware of it. 

However, are you really beating yourself if you simply don’t know any better? In my view, if your mistakes are part and parcel of your rating group then there’s nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, such errors are extremely important learning tools.

When you make a serious mistake that you aren’t aware is a mistake, it’s very important to avoid telling yourself that you blundered and instead say, “Interesting. I didn’t know that this kind of move is a bad idea.” Or, “I’ve never seen that tactic before. I’ll never fall for that again.”

Here’s a case that isn’t a “beat myself.” Instead it offers White two very important lessons.

For a beginner, checking the enemy king is always tempting. An experienced player will immediately know that White’s queen is blocking the f1-bishop and the check is forcing Black to make a move (6...Ne7) that he wanted to do anyway (you don’t want to force your opponents to make a good move!). White thought he saw a bit deeper though. He felt that he wasn’t blocking the bishop since he would fianchetto it via g3 followed by Bg2.

Good thinking, but does White really want his queen in e2? The answer is no since after Black places a rook on e8 the queen will feel uncomfortable. Also, what is White’s light-squared bishop doing on g2? The fact is that it’s aiming at a rock on d5.

These considerations are beyond White’s level, and so his 6.Qe2 has to be considered a serious building block. It was actually good that he played this since it will, ultimately, help his overall chess growth. 

DOH! The e3-bishop is pinned on the e-file while the other defender of the d4-pawn, the f3-knight, is pinned by the g4-bishop. This too is pure gold for the beginner. In one painful lesson he realized that leaving one’s queen on the same file as a rook might lead to something nasty. He will also give more respect to pins. Black easily won the game. 

Our next game, though, IS a case of “beating oneself.” Why? Because BB did know better. We had discussed these things many times, so by tossing aside his training he literally “beat himself.”

He knew better but, for whatever reason, he still crashed and burned (I have many cases of doing so in my games). Of course, everyone of every rating drinks from the horrible glass of “I beat myself.”

The important thing is not to think it’s an isolated problem that won’t happen again. It very likely will happen again unless you seek a reason for the crash. By figuring out the cause (and not ignoring it) you’ll have a far better chance of fixing the ills that plague you. 


The point of Bg5 is to constantly threaten to capture on f6 if the right moment arises. This was the right time to chop on f6 since it gives White control over d5 and also seems to win a pawn if Black recaptures with his queen (but even if it didn’t, White should still chop on f6): 10.Bxf6 Qxf6 (10...gxf6 11.Nh4 clamps down on the f5-hole and leaves Black is serious straights.

For example, 11...Qb6 12.0-0 Qxb2 13.Rab1 Qa3 14.Rxb7! when 14...Bxb7 15.Qb5+ leaves Black hopelessly lost) 11.Nb5 Qe7 (11...Qd8 12.0-0-0) 12.0-0-0 Rd8 13.Nxa7 and White has a lead in development and an extra pawn.

As you can see, after 10.Bxf6 gxf6 an interesting minor-piece battle will ensue. Black has two bishops while White has two knights. Usually this favors the two bishops but in this case the bishops aren’t doing much while possession of the d5- and f5-squares will prove to be very knight-friendly for White.

Since the d5 and f5 squares are of great importance, I have to point out that the maneuver Nf3-d2-c4/f1-f3 takes an iron grip on both squares.

White, with this one horrendous move, beats himself. In fact, this blunder is far worse than hanging a piece since piece hangs are often nothing more than a moment of blindness. 12.Nd5, with one move, destroys all the positional advantages of his position!

In his notes, BB wrote: “My 13.Nd5 looks to me to be a bad move; for now I help Black protect his backward d-pawn with my pawn on d5.”

It’s good that he noticed it, but his decision to play 13.Nd5 is actually far worse that. Think of things this way:



  • Black has a potentially weak pawn on d6.
  • Black has two weak squares (d5 and f5).
  • Black’s dark-squared bishop is purely defensive.


If White had moved his f3-knight to e3 (Nf3-d2-c4-e3) then Black would be suffering for a long time to come. 

AFTER 13.Nd5 Nxd5 14.exd5 Bd7

  • The d5-square is no longer a hole.
  • The f5-square is no longer a weakness (in fact, Black controls it).
  • Black’s f-pawn, which wasn’t going anywhere, is now free to (at some point) move to f5 when his pawns are rolling down the river.
  • Black’s bishops, which were not very impressive before 13.Nd5, are going to dominate White’s minor pieces (imagine Black playing ...Bg7, ...f7-f5 followed by a well-timed ...e5-e4).

In a nutshell, White’s plusses have turned to negatives and Black’s negatives have turned to plusses!



Every mistake, no matter how horrendous, should be viewed as a learning opportunity.

As I said earlier: The real way you beat yourself is to view blunders as throwaway moments instead of seeking the reason for the error.

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