March 17, 2011

64 Squares of Pain

It does feel like that sometimes. Ah, how bittersweet our game can be!
People say that chess is a difficult game. By that, they probably mean that the complexities of the game's strategy and the vast amount of possibilities open to the players on each turn, make it difficult for the novice to master its intricacies.
True as it may be, chess is difficult also in another, subtler way: it is an emotionally difficult game.
Defeat is an unpleasant experience in everyday life - nobody likes to fail. But in chess it is extremely painful. More than a few kids break into tears after losing a game, many adults convey feelings of anger and shame, or suffer sleepless night(s), following a loss. So great can be the disappointment, and self-reproach after defeat, that a popular view regards chess as an occupation that increases the overall misery in the world. Balancing the joy of victory versus the anguish of defeat, a distinguished player says: "I have won many games that have not made me happy; and when I lose, I am also not happy. My friends ask 'so when are you happy?' That's the way chess is; you are happy only rarely; the rest is grief" (GM Ljubomir Ljubojevic).
Attempting to analyse why chess players feel so bad after they lose, we would mention numerous reasons. Some of them are not unique to the game of chess; but as a whole, the list has no parallel in other sports.

  • Chess is identified as a game of brains. Acknowledging defeat is taken as an admission of an inferior intellect: not easy to accept, in a society that puts an emphasis on IQ measures. "(Many) years ago, (Alexei Shirov) had the discourtesy to demolish me in a blitz game ... I could not accept that genetic ability, or talent, was the main differential. It was no trouble (in fact, quite a pleasure) accepting that it was talent that differentiated me from weaker players, but there had to be others reasons, reasons which did not damage my self esteem-to explain the gap between me and topdogs" (GM Jonhatan Levitt).
  • Chess is held to be based on logic, the result being decided rationally, with no interference of luck or destiny. Losing leaves the loser with no external factors (like dice, bad cards, etc) to blame. Responsibility lies fully with him alone.
  • Being an individual game, one cannot share the blame for losing with others, as players in teamsports can do. There is no goalkeeper in bad shape, no foolish decisions of a coach, to serve as scapegoat.
  • As chess takes no account of intermediate results, the final outcome is frequently unjust. One can hold an advantage during 95% of the game, yet register a zero on the scoresheet. Examining the way games unfold, their final outcome often leaves us with a feeling of randomness.
  • Involvement in a single game claims many hours' effort. Pre-game preparation, the game itself and its analytic aftermath take up a lot of time and effort. To go throgh all this, and to suffer defeat, is particularly dissatisfying.
  • The rules forbid talking or other ways of expression, while game lasts. Negative emotions like anger, depression and guilt are locked in with no let-outs, until they burst, in enhanced form, after the contest is over.
  • The game is documented by the players, and in the modern era it can be stored in a database. This means that, if you're just a 2100 player, all your mistakes and every off-day that you ever had, are carved in the eternal memory of humanity. At any point in time, a chess enthusiast from the North Pole or the Sahara Desert, may take a look at a game of yours, laughing hysterically at what a moron you are.

Pain and chess: two words which are so well connected...one cannot imagine how much a person can suffer after losing a game. Doesn't matter the strength of the chess player, we are talking about the same type of suffering. Who cares if you are 2800 or 2000? Nobody likes to lose and the zero is felt the same: like a big whole which is opening inside of you, sucking all your emotions, energy, feelings, until nothing is left. Only a large emptiness, a big void, and for some moments, nothing else is stored there, in your soul and head...if you reached this state, you are on the right track. It means what was worst is almost over. But how many levels do you have to cross until you reach this  zen attitude?! Or do you immediately jump to the conclusion that anyway you cannot change anything, so you move on and you don't remember the loss anymore?

I have lost so many games in my 20 years of playing chess...and still, the main problem is, despite my wide experience and specialty in losing games, that I just cannot stop myself going over and over and over again through the same painful vicious cicle.
Although, I must admit that lately I am dealing with it better:) At least I identified a few of my disruptive thoughts and the strategies I was using to cope with my negative vibes.
I am asking you now, in the survey presented in the top right corner, how do you cope with pain after a lost game?


Inspiration sources:
1. www.anger-management-techniques.org
2. "Practical chess psychology", by Amatzia Avni
3. www.catharsis.org.ro
4. www.articlesbase.com - "Healing deeper inner wounds"

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