Winning Online with Sneaky Psychology

Winning Online with Sneaky Psychology

Aug 20, 2010, 9:02 AM |

One of the great joys of my Caissic life is the application of psychological strategies to win online games. I've written in other blog postings about the Jack O' Lantern Attack and its use as a psychological weapon par excellence, as well as the value of lesser-known "refuted" openings that cause opponents to waste valuable time, such as Albin Counter Gambit, or the Blackmar-Diemer. Since I've said much in this regard, let me just offer that playing a so-called refuted opening causes a degree of apprehension in one's opponent, because if he or she know's it's "refuted" he feels obligated to find flaws in it and is under greater pressure to win so he won't look like a total idiot by losing to a lesser opening. But let's look at some other psychological tools we can use to put completely legal but nasty pressure on our online opponents. In this blog, I will address the following:  

1. Unwarranted Praise

2. Apparent Surprise

3. Feigned Blunders

4. Bizarre Comments

5. Peculiar Questions

Unwarranted Praise is very powerful, but should not be overdone, or it will appear to be sarcasm, which is poor sportmanship. Basically, when my opponent makes an innocuous move in a fairly complex position, I'll comment:


This will typically cause him to waste about 30 seconds on his clock (a long time in a 10 minute game) as he tries to figure out what he just did that was so clever. Apparent Surprise is the corollary, and acts essentially the same way. After a mundane or jejune move by my opponent, I will comment something like:


Escalating the psychological attack is accomplished by the Feigned Blunder. Again, this psychological gambit is most powerful when applied in a complex position. If the board is crowded with ideas, a la Alekhine, it signals the right time to apply the Feigned Blunder. You simply make the best move you can and immediately comment:






What was I thinking????

It becomes incumbent upon the opponent to find the blunder you made that will enable him to win quickly. Since there is no mistake, his clock runs relentlessly, constantly increasing the pressure on him. The power of resorting to the Feigned Blunder as a psy-ops gambit should not be underestimated. If your opponent has a minute left on his clock and you have two, a Feigned Blunder can cost him the game by plunging him into ego questioning self-doubt.

One of the most subtle but powerful means of seizing a win is the Bizarre Comment. The key to this technique is the absolute irrelevance of the comment offered, to the actual game position. Some of the gems I've offered in Live games include:

  • Just like Paul Keres! 
  • The Black Freighter...
  • That move reminds me of Schindler's List...

and the brilliant:

When we seek perfection, we miss Beauty and find Truth... 

The last comment is really effective when delivered in the opponent's native language. I keep Google Translator open and if playing a Finn (for example) will suddenly interject:

Kun etsimme täydellisyyttä, kaipaamme kauneutta ja löytämään totuuden ...

The result is usually a time-wasting but hilarious pause in the game as my opponent tries to get his head around this inane and inappropriate comment. Sometimes I'll prepare the phrase in Google early in the game and paste it in at the opportune moment. One opponent commented "That just doesn't make sense!" I replied:

Neither does this...

More seconds ticked away as I collapsed in near-helpless laughter, imagining the confusion I was causing, 8,000 miles away as I continued to build my King side pawn storm. The flip-side to the Bizarre Comment is the Peculiar Question. Once again, the key is to be absolutely context free. There must be no connection whatsoever between the question and the game position itself. If your opponent castles queenside, you might ask:

What was that Star Wars thing?

If he asks what you mean, you can simply ignore the question,  repeat it, or follow with another one:

Who was at the end? What's the name of the guy with Ian?

The key is to never ask a yes/no question, but one that requires analysis, causing the opponent to draw valuable neurons away from positional evaluation, as he processes or attempts to process what you're asking. If all this seems stupid, I agree with you entirely. It's ludicrous, but it does work, and if you play against me, I'll take every legal advantage I can. If it seems unfair, don't forget that my opponent is free to turn off the chat or simply ignore me. And remember: It's just a game. But on the other hand...

The forest fears fire, but the wise man weeps for water...

or as the Albanians put it:

Frikën e pyjeve nga zjarri, por qan mençur njeriu për ujë ...

 - Dr. Mike