Do you find chess stressful?

Do you find chess stressful?

Jul 19, 2017, 5:29 PM |

In a 1972 interview with Bobby Fischer the following famous exchange took place:

WALLACE: Winning for winning's sake is important, but do you like to beat another man?

FISCHER: Yes, I like to beat another man.

WALLACE: You smile about it. Do you like to crush another man's ego?

FISCHER: Uh-huh, so when they go home that night, they can't kid themselves that they're so hot.

I think a watered down version of that mentality drives many chess players. It generates a lot of stress which can make you feel really good when you win, really bad when you lose but more importantly it disturbs the calm thinking you need to find the best move and win.

It is a very Western way of thinking and behaving. A more Eastern approach where you enter something like a Zen state, calmly looking for the "truth" in the position, searching objectively for the best moves for you and your opponent, is likely to produce better results by reducing the errors that arise from over-strong emotions and reduce the stress levels.

Of course that stress high may be what some players play the game for. Bungee jumping levels of adrenaline without leaving your seat.

You will often see very strong players sit and think for several minutes before making their first move. Of course it could just be that they are trying to remember their opening computer preparation. I prefer to think that they feel they haven't arrived at the board in the optimum calm state of mind and are composing themselves, trying to enter the necessary Zen state :-)

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This (or variations thereof) is a common graph from performance psychology. As you can see, some level of arousal is good, but too much can be a problem. Too much stress is certainly a common problem (as is the opposite, too little arousal leading to lack of focus or energy). If you find yourself too far to the right side of the graph, there are many techniques to reduce your arousal. One very helpful idea is to learn some breathing exercises. For example, inhale deeply, count to three, then exhale slowly. This can be surprisingly effective for calming down.