Surviving the Chess Brawl

Surviving the Chess Brawl

Jun 10, 2014, 8:54 AM |

The chess of amateur players is often not as elegant and flowing as those of our professional chess playing counterparts. That's probably why we get so much pleasure when we create a "clean" positional victory or a flowing attack. However, those games are sometimes few and far between.

Instead, our games often resemble a brawl or a streetfight. Both sides get bloody and often the player with more endurance and fighting spirit comes out on top. Although as we progress we want to reduce our blunders and have more beautiful play, often times we end up having a mess like I did in a recent game I played.

Admittedly, this game was pretty ugly. I played bad moves, my opponent failed to take advantage, he played some bad moves, but eventually, I outlasted and played a few decent moves to win. Perhaps you can relate with some of your games.

I think many times, we might just throw this game in the virtual garbage bin and move on. However, these are the type of games that are often the most instructive for us.

Another one of my passions is martial arts. Having done my share of fighting and sparring in my younger days, I can apply some of the things I have learned from those disciplines to the chess brawl:

  1. You have to keep thinking on your feet. Often times in a fight (physical or chess), our adrenaline is pumping. Fortunately, for long time control chess, we can engage our mind and don't have to react to the fight or flight reflexes our biology is sending to us.
  2. We have to keep our emotions in check. In my recent interview with FM NFork, he discusses the importance of controlling our emotions during our games so we can be more objective. In the game above, I realized I was losing, and I kept trying to play moves that would cause him problems to solve, hoping to seize on any mistake.
  3. Be ready to spring to action when opportunity arises. Often, after your opponent blows a winning position (as my opponent does), he is often emotionally dejected and plays several inferior moves (I've done this many times myself). You need to be ready for this. It is similar to jiu jitsu, when grappling with an opponent, you continue to put pressure or counter your opponent's pressure, and the moment of opportunity is very brief! You need to be ready. This is where you tactical eye comes in as well as points #1 and #2.
  4. Endurance is important. Many of us try to improve our chess knowledge, but also having physical and mental endurance is important. It is easy to give up (again, I've done it many times) when faced with a worse position. As long as there are some complications on the board and you are not facing Magnus Carlsen, there is always a chance. In one of my martial arts training drills, my trainer literally puts my back against the wall and attacks me. There is a timer, and the drill doesn't stop until the timer goes off (usually 3 minutes). He then attacks me with punches and kicks and I can only defend. It teaches me to stay alert and there is no "tapping out." If I get hit, the drill continues (don't worry, it's not so draconian that if I got seriously injured the drill would continue). However, I learned through the drill that there are situations where you have to keep going.

Some of these points are somewhat conceptual in nature. However, recognizing that many of your games will be brawls (and not an elegant demonstration of technique) what can you do to prepare for them? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Analyze your "tough" positions. Look for positions in your games where you are losing or even and try to find the best moves you can make. How can you make things as tough onĀ  your opponent as possible? This is probably the hardest thing to do out of this list, but may be the most beneficial.
  2. Keep up the tactical training. Everyone should be doing this anyway, but never hurts to be reminded. You need a sharp tactical eye to be ready for opportunities.
  3. Practice self-awareness during your game. During the game above, I kept asking myself questions, "Are you in the game?" and telling myself encouraging comments, "You can do this!" and "He's on the ropes!" I did this in my kickboxing matches and it works here too!
  4. Keep physically fit. I was impressed when I learned that Super-GM Vladamir Kramnik trained with the Russian basketball team's trainers preparing for his championship match with Kasparov in 2000. However, I shouldn't have been surprised. Physical fitness at elite-level chess has been around since the days of Euwe and Botvinnik (and perhaps earlier). The stronger your heart, the more oxygen goes to your brain. Similarly, strength in the core of your body helps your posture and comfort during those long matches.

I hope you found this post helpful and enjoyable. Show me some of your chess brawls in the comments and maybe I'll use it to expand on this topic on my chess site