Showing posts with label Boost your career. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Boost your career. Show all posts

September 4, 2011

Is blitz harmful for your chess?

Have you ever heard the following advice: play some blitz games, it will improve your chess skills?! Me neither:) Well...actually, a few players support this idea, as long as the number of games played online will not interfere with your normal preparation hours. We know it already, whatever turns into obsession, cannot be good.
And yet, what should we understand from this? Is playing blitz a useful practice or a waste of time? What are the others saying?

July 31, 2011

The harder you try, the worse you get

Two days ago, the Dutch Open tournament from Dieren has come to an end. And, as usual, I take some time now to analyse my games, my thoughts, trying to improve the things which clearly need to be improved or to reward myself with some nice words for the things which I did well:) But there is one moment that I experienced, one game, whose understanding might be useful to many of you: my game from the 8th round against the legendary Jan Timman.

June 12, 2011

How to be a champion in chess and life

Do you ever get that feeling deep down that you should be able to accomplish much more than you are at present? 

1. Turn your ability into achievement:

Discipline is what turns your ability into achievement. Without it, your goals will always be daydreams at best. Working out two days last week, five days this week, and three days next week will prevent you from ever reaching your podium.

February 26, 2011

Chess Confidence

Self-confidence is not solely in the hands of fate, you are the person responsible for determining how confident you feel in a chess encounter.

My recent loses in the National Championship motivated me to search deeper the reasons of my poor performance and, at my husband's suggestion, I decided to write about my discoveries. In fact, you don't need to be a genius to realize what  happened to me: lack of self confidence was one of the responsible causes.
A misconception that many players have is that confidence is something which is inborn, or that if you don't have it at an early age, you will never get it. In reality, confidence is a skill, much like technical skills, that can be learned.

January 7, 2011

Goal Setting

2011! A new year, new beginning, new ideas, time to think about what we want to achieve in our chess career and make it happen.
Many people associate goal-setting with new year resolutions, and are quick to dismiss goal-setting as ineffective, since most well-intentioned, if vague, resolutions have failed before the end of January. Let's get one thing clear straight away: most such resolutions are perfect examples of how not to set goals!

Goal setting is a powerful process for thinking about your ideal future, and for motivating yourself to turn this vision of the future into reality.
Of course many of us dream about becoming world champion, but one should be aware of the fact that high and unreasonable expectations make impossible even the possible results. Also vague resolutions, unclear, unrealistic, difficult to measure, will make our task a hell.
Here is how I used to think: " would be so nice to be number one of Roumania! Qualifying for the World Championship would be a dream come true!" and so on. But how exactly to do that was a mistery for me.
I knew I had to work hard but I was inconstant in my preparation, I was taking every single game with a very high pressure and that I must win in order to achieve my other words: chaos in my head and in my results.
It became clear to me now that, while goal-setting is an easy concept to understand, its application needs more thought and planning than most people realise. One of the main problems is that not all coaches are aware of the principles of goal-setting and how to apply them effectively. So a key purpose of this article is to give coaches and chess players a better understanding of how to use goal-setting to enhance performance and avoid disappointments. But even if you are not a professional chess player, the following advices and techniques will help you to organize your time and your resources so that you can make the very most of your life.

Goal setting is a mental training technique that can be used to increase an individual's commitment towards achieving a personal goal. Having a short or long term goal can encourage an individual to work harder, to be more focused on the task and to overcome setbacks more easily.
Goal setting is a technique pioneered by Dr. Edwin Locke, not in sport but industrial psychology. According to Locke, setting goals effect performance in four ways:
  • focuses attention
  • mobilises effort in proportion to the demands of the task
  • enhances persistence
  • encourages the individual to develop strategies for achieving their goals
Reference: Dr Edwin Locke, 1968, "Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives"

Dream goals:
Dream goals inspire us and give us a target to aim for, but in order to deliver the goods they must be specific and realistic. Most new year resolutions are dream goals that will never be realised because people fail to plan realistically the day-to-day process required to make such dreams into reality.
If you only focus on your dream goal, you can easily become overwhelmed when you think about what it's going to take to achieve it. Research suggests that focusing only on long-term dream goals does not lead to enhanced performances.

Short-term goals - the key to success:
Top Grandmasters like Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand have understood that although dream goals, such as  becoming World Champion, are important in helping to direct our efforts, it is the day-to-day 'short-term' goals that provide the key to success. I like to classify goals into three types:

  • Dream goals are the ones that seem a long way off and difficult to achieve. In time terms, they may be anything from six months to several years away;
  • Intermediate goals are markers of where you want to be at a specific time. For example, if your dream goal was to lower your 400m PB by one second over 10 months, an intermediate goal could be a half second improvement after five months;
  • Short-term or daily goals are the most important because they provide a focus for our training in each and every session. Past research on Olympic athletes found that setting daily training goals was one factor that distinguished successful performers from their less successful counterparts.

For every week and each training session you should decide what you need to do in order to take another small step towards the next intermediate goal, and ultimately towards your dream goal. Don't just set goals for competition: we all spend more time practising and training, so set targets for these periods too.

Goal-setting is a smart move for the chess players who want to develop their self-confidence, increase their levels of motivation and achieve higher standards of performance. Remember that time spent in preparation is worth it and can prevent disappointments. To help remember the key principles of goal-setting you need to think SMARTER. That is, your goals should be:

Indicate precisely what is to be done. Avoid vague alternatives;
You should be able to quantify your goal;
Goals must be accepted as worthwhile, realistic and attainable;
Write your goals down. This is the basis of a contract with yourself;
Set specific time-limits;
Monitor your progress regularly;
In the event of injury, or failure to achieve over-difficult goals, reset your goals accordingly.

In the planning stages of a goal-setting programme, you should think carefully about factors that may hinder your progress. For example, most people set goals that are too difficult rather than too easy, which commonly leads to the rejection of those goals. Once rejected, the goals no longer direct our efforts or our focus. It is also important to avoid setting too many goals. Instead, focus on one dream goal, perhaps two or three intermediate targets and two short-term goals for today’s session. That’s enough to start with, but be sure to give your short-term goals the highest priority. Through achieving these you will naturally progress towards the intermediate targets.

Goal Setting Advices:
The following broad guidelines will help you to set effective goals:

  • State each goal as a positive statement: Express your goals positively – 'Check this line well enough' is a much better goal than 'Don't make this stupid mistake.'
  • Be precise: Set a precise goal, putting in dates, times and amounts so that you can measure achievement. If you do this, you will know exactly when you have achieved the goal, and can take complete satisfaction from having achieved it.

  • Set priorities: When you have several goals, give each a priority. This helps you to avoid feeling overwhelmed by having too many goals, and helps to direct your attention to the most important ones.

  • Write goals down: This crystallizes them and gives them more force.

  • Keep operational goals small: Keep the low-level goals you are working towards small and achievable. If a goal is too large, then it can seem that you are not making progress towards it. Keeping goals small and incremental gives more opportunities for reward.
  • Set performance goals, rather than outcome goals: You should take care to set goals over which you have as much control as possible. It can be quite dispiriting to fail to achieve a personal goal for reasons beyond your control! In chess, these reasons could include poor judging, bad playing conditions, injury, or just plain bad luck. If you base your goals on personal performance, then you can keep control over the achievement of your goals and draw satisfaction from them.
  • Set realistic goals: It is important to set goals that you can achieve. All sorts of people (employers, parents, media, society) can set unrealistic goals for you. They will often do this in ignorance of your own desires and ambitions. Alternatively you may set goals that are too high, because you may not appreciate either the obstacles in the way or understand quite how much skill you need to develop to achieve a particular level of performance.
Goal setting is not just about identifying what you want to achieve but also how you will achieve it (process goals) and measure that achievement (performance goals). Goals must be set according to the age, stage of development, confidence, ability and motivation of the individual. Beginners require very short term, easily achieved goals to boost their self-confidence, whereas the experienced individual need more challenging, yet realistic goals.

If you don't already set goals, do so, starting now. As you make this technique part of your life, you'll find your career accelerating, and you'll wonder how you did without it!

For the Dutch version of this article, visit! 


  1. Singer, R, Hausenblas, H, & Janelle, C (Eds), Handbook of Sport Psychology, Wiley, New York, 2001
  2. The Sport Psychologist, vol 15, 2001
  3. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, vol 17, 1995
  4. The Sport Psychologist, vol 2, 1988
  5. Orlick, T, In Pursuit of Excellence, 4th edition, Human Kinetics, USA, 2000
  6. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, vol 11, 1999

December 19, 2010

Motivated by fear of failure?

Before I proceed with today's post, I have to share one thing: just joined the team on Schaaksite! You can read my articles in Dutch language, which wouldn't have been possible without their tremendous help. Thank you!
My first article in Dutch for can be found here! The English version is presented below:

Another competition has finished for me: International Benidorm Women Tournament, which started on 7th December and ended on 12th. After an hesitating start, I managed to come back and finish shared second. The final standings can be found on Chess-Results.

As I already told my family and friends, after my loss in round 3, against the young Nicolas Zapata Irene, much lower rated than me at that time, I did learn something new. I finally dared to ask myself: why do I lose against the so called "weaker" opponents?!
Some might argue that I underestimated me, it was not the case. I lost before against lower rated players and I learned my lesson: to approach the game with a professional attitude. Or as Akiba Rubinstein said (when asked: Who is your opponent tonight?): "Tonight I am playing against the Black pieces" - lesson number one: to be objective!

Ok, why did I lose than?!:) Well...this is what caused me a full point: Fear of failure, today's theme. 

The following thoughts sound familiar to you? 
1. I have to win today, he/she has such a low elo, it will be horrible to lose.
2. I really shouldn't make even a draw with this guy!
3. I am between the strongest players in this tournament, if I fail everyone will start commenting on my poor performance.
4. I have to win at all costs! I cannot let my team down, they won't take me again next season.

What is fear? Fear comes in many forms - fear of failure, fear of success, fear of embarrassment, and so on.
More than any other fear, fear of failure limits chess players from performing their best and can cause them to give up their dreams in sports. Many people would rather be odd, hostile, overworked or many other "terrible" things than be seen as a failure. With the tremendous stress we place on success, this isn't surprising. After all, successful people are winners aren't they?

People feel sorry for losers and no one wants to be pitied. At the same time, we are constantly bombarded with truisms to make us feel better after an apparent failure. These are phrases like, "We learn from our mistakes, you can't win them all, everybody's wrong sometimes" — but these don't really help.
The Myth of Positive Thinking
People tend to use the phrase, "Think positive" as not thinking at all about what can go wrong. This kind of attitude usually leads to more failures, because people are lulled into a sense of security and fail to see the pitfalls in front of them.
People need to learn how to fail
Failing Well
How many Grandmasters can lose an important game and say, "That was great. I learned something from it and am better for it." Unless we can say it - and really mean it - we probably weren't learning that much from the experience. One might even say that a key to success is learning to fail well.

Do you feel like you are constantly banging your head against an imaginary wall because you work harder and harder to perform your best, but only become more frustrated with a lack of improvement or results?

For many chess players, it is far easier to work harder and harder than to address their internal demons that hold them back. Most chess players (including myself) will make a change in strategy or technique to improve performance way before they attempt to look inside at self- sabotaging beliefs.

One of the biggest downsides of fear of failure is having an intense avoidance mindset. Players with an avoidance mindset strive to avoid pain instead of striving for success. These chess players' minds are conditioned to avoid making mistakes and emotional pain at all costs.

The first place to start in order to stop fear of failure is to identify what type of fear causes you to bang your head against the imaginary wall of worry. Keep in mind that most of these fears are born out of an intense desire to succeed or to avoid negative social scrutiny.

The next step or change you must make to breakthrough the wall of worry is to focus your mind on striving for success instead of avoiding failure. When you focus your mind on obtaining success, you will come closer to obtaining it.

Here are some ideas to help you look at failure from a different perspective and stop being held back by it.

1.  Failures are just steppingstones
"There is no failure. Only feedback.” –Robert Allen
We give too much importance to failure, don't we? We overemphasize it,
seeing failure as the final result — as an undesired outcome of something we fought hard for. We miss the point, though, that failure is just part of a larger process — the process of learning and growing.
2.  We can never be a failure 
"Failure is an event, never a person." – William D. Brown
3.  Failing is part and parcel of innovation
"I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work." –Thomas Edison
4. Failing is usually not as bad as we picture it
"Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes" —Oscar Wilde
OK, failure may not be so bad after all, but would I be going too far in saying that you can actually enjoy a lost game?! 
Seriously, there were times when I was so afraid to lose that when I lost — as expected — I felt immense relief. My biggest threat had been left behind as there was nothing to fear anymore: my mind was clear again. Failing can definitely set you free.
Have you failed before? Was it as terrible as you had anticipated? Well, here you are reading this article, so it seems you survived all right. Truth is, failure is almost never as bad as we imagine. Fear of failure is usually much worse than failure itself.
5.  Everybody is afraid — everybody! Even Kramnik and Anand:)
"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear."–Ambrose Redmoon
Let me tell you a secret: the next guy is as scared as you are. We're all afraid of failing. Yes, that includes even the most prolific geniuses you can think of — In fact, they seem to be the ones who agonize more about failing.
There's nothing wrong about it. Your fear is perfectly normal: if what you're doing is at least minimally worth it, fear of failure will always be part of the process. It will never go away completely.
Achievers succeed not because they're not afraid, but because they overcome fear. Every day. Over and over again.

"He who fears being conquered is sure of defeat". Napoleon Bonaparte
In the following video, the chess player from the right side has lost the psychological battle even before making his first move!

Final Thoughts
I first compiled the ideas in this article for my own reference. Although most of them may not be new, this is the kind of stuff I keep forgetting at the times I need them the most — and that's why I decided to share them here. I hope you find them useful.

Keep in mind that:

Our greatest glory consist not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
Oliver Goldsmith

Experience teaches slowly, and at the cost of mistakes.
James A. Froude

Failure teaches success.
Japanese Saying

December 3, 2010

Improve your memory!

Memory Improvement Techniques
Avoid frustrating memory loss. Retain and recall more information.

It's a classic situation - you meet someone new, and then moments later you've forgotten their name! Names, passwords, pin and telephone numbers... the list is endless - with so much to memorize is it really possible to improve how much you can remember?
The good news is "yes"! Just like every muscle in your body, the adage "use it or lose it" applies, so the more you exercise your brain, the more you will remember.
Great! That means we can remember our opening lines as well?! I think every single one of us experienced the following thoughts:"Damn it! If I could just remember what I prepared here! - Was it Nh4 or Qb3 or Rd1 or...hmmm, I should better think with a fresh mind...but I should remember, was it...?! - My head is completely empty! How can I forget my moves when I just repeated them yesterday?!" - let's take a look on the techniques presented below, we will soon have a weapon against this type of situations.


"Mnemonic" is another word for memory tool. Mnemonics are techniques for remembering information that is otherwise quite difficult to recall. Essential Amino Acids: If you are studying biology or chemistry, how could you use mnemonics to remember the essential amino acids? You can use the name Pvt. Tim Hall (Private Tim Hall - as in the military) to help you recall the amino acids. How? Because each letter in Pvt. Tim Hall corresponds to one of the essential amino acids - Phenylanine, Valine, Threonine, Tryptophan, Isolucine,Methionine,Histidine, Arginine, Leucine, Lysine. The name Pvt. Tim Hall is obviously much easier to remember than the amino acids on their own. 

The idea behind using mnemonics is to encode difficult-to-remember information in a way that is much easier to remember.

How can we remember than our "so difficult to recall openings"?

Using Your Whole Mind to Remember:

You can do the following things to make your mnemonics more memorable:
  • Use positive, pleasant images. Your brain often blocks out unpleasant ones. (What a genius I am to find such a wonderful resource!)
  • Use vivid, colorful, sense-laden images – these are easier to remember than drab ones. 
  • Use all your senses to code information or dress up an image. Remember that your mnemonic can contain sounds, smells, tastes, touch, movements and feelings as well as pictures.
  • Give your image three dimensions, movement and space to make it more vivid. You can use movement either to maintain the flow of association, or to help you to remember actions. (Remember the car drive, going back to your hotel room, when that GM told you some interesting line...)
  • Exaggerate the size of important parts of the image.(With this line I can beat even Kramnik himself!)
  • Use Humour! Funny or peculiar things are easier to remember than normal ones.(How stupid the Black bishop looks in this position; you can associate the bishop with someone's face:))
  • Similarly, rude rhymes are very difficult to forget! (1,2,3,4 and the queen goes to d4:))
  • Symbols (red traffic lights, pointing fingers, road signs, etc.) can code quite complex messages quickly and effectively.

I will give you an example to see how this strategy works:
During a psychology test, to check the memory, a guy is been given a long series of numbers, with absolutely no logic way to connect them to each other. The expected result was that at some point the poor man will not be able to remember the next numbers on the list. But...surprise surprise! He remembered them all:) The secret he used you already know it: mnemonics. 
He recalled the street image where he was living (thus a familiar place) and placed each number on a house door: 24 goes to the Browns, 135 goes to l'Ami-s, 59 is just right after corner and so on. 
This strategy helps you remember more details and to transfer information from the short term memory to the long term one. This is the most important part for us, to remember our lines after 2, 3 months or one year, since the last time we saw them on the board. Fantastic, isn't it?!
If for this man, random numbers were possible to memorize, our chess lines, which we are familiar with, which we saw several times and which are very logic, should be a lot more easier.

Location: gives you two things: a coherent context into which you can place information so that it hangs together, and a way of separating one mnemonic from another. By setting one mnemonic in a particular town, I can separate it from a similar mnemonic set in a city. For example, by setting one in Iasi (my hometown) and another similar mnemonic with images of Woerden (my parents in law city), we can separate them with no danger of confusion. You can build the flavors and atmosphere of these places into your mnemonics to strengthen the feeling of location. No more confusion between 1.d4 and 1.e4 anymore:)

I cannot offer you the perfect way to remember your lines, first of all because people are different. What works for me: visual images, might not work for X, who prefers to use his sense of hearing (songs, rhymes, repeating his lines out loud). You have to discover yourself what is the best strategy for you and than never forget to use it! Make your life easier!

November 24, 2010

A critical mental skill: CONCENTRATION

Unfortunately, the field of "psychology" still carries a negative stigma because many people perceive sports psychology as dealing with abnormal individuals. thus, I am gonna use the term: "mental training"; I think that chess players can relate to this title better than "sports psychology".
Unlike a psychotherapist or psychologist, here you will not see couches, pills prescriptions or work with your daily life problems. This is about sports performance enhancement and not personal challenges (such as divorce, grief counseling) or different problematic fields from your life.
This have been said, I hope my future posts will be helpful to your chess career. For a  more personal approach, go and ask professional advices; don't worry about others labeling you as a "head case", they are not mature enough.
One more thing: start practicing today, don't use the strategies I'll present you only as the last resort, after you have tried several other methods.
My goal is to develop a mindset for success, so that you can get the most out of your abilities everytime you sit down on your board. 
Many of my examples are depicted from my own experiences, but if you have a personal mental barrier or any other question on how to improve your mental skills, don't hesitate to contact me. I want to bring you the most effective mental game strategies possible, so write me if you want a specific topic to be discussed.

Psychology is extremely pertinent in sports! This is made clear when seeing a footballer, for example, lose his concentration and lose or concede a match unnecessarily. How could he miss that shot?! He is an extremely good sportsman, how could this happen?!
Let's come back to chess: he is so much stronger than his opponent and he had such a winning position! He didn't make even a draw, incredible!!
Without mental toughness and the ability to concentrate on the task, you can become distracted in no time, which can lead to making serious errors in your game.

So, how well can you concentrate?

Kasparov in a tipical posture,
extremely focused.
Start by assesing your current ability to focus; think back over your most recent games and ask yourself:
1. Did you start the game in a focused state of mind or did it take you a while to get dialed in?
2. Were you thinking ahead to things that might go wrong and worrying about them?
3. Were you thinking about how important the game was to you, or wondering how well your opponent had prepared?
4. Did your mind wander to completely unrelated things, for example, remembering to buy some chocolate, on the way back to your hotel room?

You must be aware of your own distractions, otherwise you run the risk of letting them turn into repeated mental errors.

Handling external distractions during a game: 

Recall your last  competition and, specifically, how you dealt with distractions. This type of distractions can come from outside, from the environment - such as: the airco blows exactly in your head's direction, it's too cold/too hot in the playing hall and so on - , or from other people - your opponent or spectators: they speak too loud, they stare at you etc.

What distractions broke your concentration? Most likely, you have your own specific distractions, which differ from another person. Some chess players have a low tolerance for noise, others are highly sensitive to physical factors, such as the room temperature: I can successfully subscribe here, I hate to be cold:)

Advice: Make a list of the top external distractions that affect you most and rate them on a scale from 1 to 10, how distracting each of these interruptions are. Know your enemy!
Remember Botvinnik: he is known to have worked in chess with the radio on, so that he won't be distracted during a game by some unusual and annoying noise. - he was simulating the possible distractions that might appear during his game, so that his brain will learn an efficient way to respond.
Advice: simulate the situation by scheduling your practice to coincide with the starting time of your game. Do that especially if your game is being played at an odd hour: early morning or late at night.
During the game: Unplug for a while, go to toilet or take a walk around the other boards. Than calmly come back, sit down and calculate your lines with a refreshed mind.

Handling the distractions that come from inside you:

You can also be distracted by your own thoughts that flow freely into your mind, unbidden, when you least need them! Be present here and now, any self-judgements you make like: My elo is much higher than this patzer, or much lower than the genius I am facing... or: Damn it! I should have checked this line more! - are certainly not helpful during the game!

Advice: Make a list of the internal distractions that you think have interrupted your focus over the past few months. Again rate them from 1 to 10. Combat the negative thoughts with positive responses to each of them! When a negative thought will appear next time, you'll have a weapon against it.

Very important: your ability to re-focus!

Finally, assess how well you are able to regain control of your concentration when it breaks down. If something disturbs you, does this continue to affect you for the rest of the game? Or only for a few minutes? Top Grandmasters are able to re-focus within seconds! You too can learn how to do this!

People are different, so of course we have different strategies to achieve a focus zone:
1. Some players find that music is a great way to get into the right frame of mind, so they are humming their favourite song. Others find this extremely annoying and they prefer:
2. Pre-game and during the game routines: go over the lines you have prepared; if they don't appear on the board don't panick, many times it happens that you will find the right moves because your brain subcounsciounsly remembers them! Take your time and drink a coffee or a cup of tea: it will help your mind relax and slowly get ready for the game.
3. Mental images: some players might recall from memory a particular game they won, thus creating the premises of this situation to appear again in today's game.
4. Sit back and relax...remember a game when you were completely and totally focused. Try to remember the images, thoughts, sensations that you had back then. Work with them at home, so that your body and brain will know how to respond when distraction's stimuli will appear.

OK, you learned how to deal with your internal distractions...but what can you do with the external ones, the ones which you cannot control? Yes, true, you cannot control the external distractions, but what you CAN do is your reaction to them! Recognize the distraction and regain your focus quickly and efficiently!

How to do this? It is an interactive process of "observing" your own mind. Simply being aware of your own internal desire to be focused, rather than taking it for granted, will help you to develop the habit of recognizing when your mind has gone off track.

Once you are able to recognize you have lost focus, you can learn how to regain it.

The three "R"-s for Refocusing:

1. Recognize: the first and vital step!
2. Regroup: you now need to break free from the distraction
3. Refocus: the ability to make a mental adjustment and get back to your game.

How do you react when you get distracted and how fast you are back on track?  Example: you were completely winning before, but now the position has changed, but are playing for a win! - Wrong! Stay objective!

A simple strategy is to have a verbal trigger that you can use to tell yourself to let go of the distraction:
1. "STOP - Get your mind in the present!"
2. "Let it GO!"
3. "Delete that thought!" - you can visualize a delete button on a keyboard as you say it. 

As you have probably realized, your mind works better when you attach some images to your words. Your all senses will cooperate in your goal of staying focused and play a good game. SUCCESS!

Keep in mind that changing your mental game skills takes time and does not happen overnight. Stay patient with the process of change, you will be rewarded later on!

A. Schmid & E. Peper: "Training Strategies for Concentration." From J.M. Williams (Ed.), Applied Sport Psychology: Personal Growth to Peak Performance. Mountain View, CA: Mayview. 1993, Dr.Cohn, from