Controlling Emotions

GM Shankland
Aug 4, 2012, 11:21 AM |

Hey everyone,

It's been awhile since my last blog post, so today I would like to start  a new topic- one about controlling your emotions during the game. Like many chessplayers, I am very emotionally attached to the results I post, and since tournaments tend to have one game after another without a ton of delay, the result of a previous game can have a large impact on how you are feeling the next day, and then by extension, the quality of your play. I won't mention any specific names, but I can think of a few really great chess players who are very emotional, and whose results clearly show it- when they get the ball rolling there is no stopping them, and when they start losing... well, they keep losing. I used to have this problem, but nowadays I'm more able to focus on the next game than I used to be. A lot of this comes with age and maturity, but I think that there are steps you can take to improve your psychological toughness as well. One big one is exercise- I've already talked a lot about its benefits in previous posts- but I should mention it again, just because I feel it is so important. Another is to make sure you are eating well, which can be hard to do if you're angry at yourself. Oftentimes I would get so mad at how poorly I played that I wouldn't even realize I am getting hungry, and malnutrition will not do your brain activity any favors. To finish off, I'll show a horrible loss I had at the recently concluded Biel International, and then how I reacted.

This was a terrible game in so many ways- I should have been better out of the opening but instead I was worse, I misplayed the early middlegame, and then finally after defending well for hours I spoiled all that hard work with a couple disastrous moves. Moreover, I had been having a great result thus far, no losses and a +1 score against GMs averaging over 2600 FIDE, so it felt like everything was falling apart. A younger Sam might have reacted poorly and freefallen in the final 3 games, but I managed to pull myself together and focus on the next game, putting this horrible one behind me. I finished with 2.5/3 including 2 GMs and 2 black games, and still managed a very respectable result.

Oh, and one extra little tidbit, exercising  played an important role, but not all exercise is created equal- and playing soccer with the highest rated chess player in the world was a pretty cool experience, much more so than running on a treadmill.