Some of the greatest chess players in history have become better players through their heavy exploration of openings and endgames. However, a key factor of the game that many players often discredit is the state of the player in the game. The key that separates Magnus Carlsen from the other top players is not his superior pre-game preparation, but rather his superior in game presence. Mainly, his incredible nerves of steel.
At any level, developing nerves of steel will advance you to the next level. This is because nerves of steel will allow you to further detach yourself from the emotional aspect of the game. Often times, the last tactic, the strategic mistake, or simply the missed opportunity comes more from heightened nervousness rather than an insufficient ability to calculate. There is a series of steps that will enable you to develop better nerves of steel, and thus outplay opponents you normally struggle against.
1. You don’t have to win right now. Chess often rewards those who are patient in their endeavors. There may be times when squash-buckling attacks will decide the game. But often times it is the player who seeks to slowly expand on his strategic advantage who will claim the victory. In your game be patient, let your opponent throw himself at you by trying to force things, and then redirect his impatience and claim your own victory.
2. Being nervous won’t change anything. Often times, when players approach the end of the game, they begin to shake and allow their nervousness to cloud their decision-making skills. Don’t let your nervousness beat you. You will be surprised at the number of wins you can get if you toss those emotions aside, and let your opponent beat himself with his own emotions.
3. Study the Classics. This is more for your own reassurance. Chances are, if you follow a plan that has successfully worked in the past, you will be less likely to be nervous about it over the board, and will not make as many mistakes.
4. You can’t change the past. Later in the game, players often burden themselves with their previous mistakes and how their position is inherently lost. Guess what? If your position is lost, you can’t change that until your opponent makes a mistake. Just make the best possible moves you can, and see if you can turn your position around. People in the past have turned around lost position, why can’t you?
Having nerves of steel is often underrated. People believe studying openings and endgames is all that is important to elevate their game to the next level. Preparation is important, but when the game is being played, all that is important is how you play that game. And nerves of steel play a major role in how well you will play any game. So follow Carlsen’s lead, and develop nerves of steel.