The Power Of Willpower In Chess
Willpower is an underrated aspect of chess.

The Power Of Willpower In Chess

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One of the most important things in chess is willpower (a branch of chess psychology). 

Most players glance at a possibility, shrug it off as too risky or just plain bad or boring, and toss out some generic move instead. This, of course, is just plain wrong.

So what should you do when you see something interesting or red hot if it works, but fear that it might lead you to destruction? Well, you certainly should not just do it. No, no, no; you need to calmly look at its pluses and negatives and, if you can’t see a refutation, go for it!

go for it

In fact, if you think you see a refutation, take some extra time to see if you can refute the so-called refutation!

Of course, if something like this is beyond your skill level, keep it in mind, play the generic and safe choice, and after the game use an engine to see if you saved yourself or missed out on the brilliancy prize. And if it is in your skill level, that’s when willpower comes in, making something “blah” into something wonderful.


Some of these are quite advanced. Do your best (ganbatte!), and then click the little question mark and look at the notes. Or if you can’t find any of the moves, just look at it as “question mark time” and enjoy the analysis.

Anyway, whether you’re a master or a 1500 player, everyone should (after trying to solve the puzzle) click that question mark!


Black just played 20...b5. Where should you move the c4-rook?


Though it’s Black’s turn, and though Black has an extra piece (White has two extra pawns), it looks grim for Black. The threat is Rg3 followed by Rg8 mate, but if Black moves his knight then Rh7 is mate. After looking at this seemingly mating disaster, Black resigned. Is it really that bad?

Black had plenty of time, so you need to sit down, take a deep breath, and find a way to survive. After all, if you were about to be killed by some rabid dog, would you just roll on the ground and wait for its teeth?

rabid dog

No, you wouldn’t. You would fight to the bitter end. You need to have that same “I won’t give up” mentality in chess. Of course, this is a tough one and I doubt if many will solve it. But whether you solve it or fail, I expect you to fight to the best of your ability.


A lot of people see a good move and quickly make it. After all, why waste time when the move is obvious? However, quick moves have led to many players falling on their face. If you find yourself doing that, train yourself (willpower!) to stop and look at the position carefully. After all, one tiny miscue is enough to ruin the whole game.


The game is only eight moves long and already Black’s a pawn down and the position is extremely complicated. How would you play Black’s side?

Positions like this call for study before you play them!

However, my over-the-board career would soon be over and memorizing openings was, at that point, rare. In that case, if you find yourself in a sharp situation that you didn’t look at earlier, you need to take a long think and embrace a good dose of courage. In this particular position you might think that things are going White’s way, but it’s too late to start the game over. So you need to toss away those kinds of thoughts and insist that Black has something that will give him interesting play.

Black has two “musts”: he needs to put all his energy to take White’s e5-pawn, and he needs to try and cripple White’s queenside pawns in some manner. Even if White’s queenside holds, the distraction should allow Black to chop off e5.





Black’s in serious trouble. White might decide that his king would be great on c4, taking aim at the c5-pawn, but when? Or White can play Be3 and then Kd3-c4. Also notice that Black’s king can’t go to the center (...K-g7-Kf8 heading for e7) due to Bxh6+. If you still want to go to ...Kg7-f8-e7 you might try ...h5, but then Bg5 is game over. As I said, Black’s in serious trouble!

The big guns don’t HOPE for something good to happen, they MAKE something good to happen! Give it a try.

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