During my time as a Chess Mind Coach, a key tool for my evaluations stems from this one observation: Almost all new players will display this characteristic under stress — they will second-guess and overthink simple problems… and rush into knee-jerk reactions when presented with complex problems. And the road to training the mind toward mastery lies in understanding the source of this one characteristic and finding its resolution.
Allow me to illustrate with an example. I was observing one of my National Junior players, arguably one of the most naturally talented players in Malaysia. His ability to problem-solve was truly remarkable. In one tournament, he was playing with a Grandmaster and he was winning on time with 20 minutes on the clock to the Grandmaster’s 5 minutes. And he had the Grandmaster on the ropes. A big crowd had gathered to watch the game and he had only 2 potential moves left — one would lead to a win, and the other a loss. Under normal circumstances, this would have been child’s play for him to find the winning move. Instead, he chose to let the clock run down and lose.
A side note…
While this post is not about Chess, let me give a brief overview of my training methods so I may draw some observations. In preparation for tournaments, we first do a self-evaluation of our current skill sets, strengths & weaknesses, and then we evaluate the same for our opponent. From there, we arrive at a tentative strategy. Tentative, because few plans survive beyond the first contact with ‘reality’. So we normally course-correct as the tournament progresses and new information reveals itself. But there is also another consideration. Time. Tournament formats can be Blitz, Rapid or long games — Blitz is 2-3 minutes, Rapid 30-45 minutes and long games are 1½ hours. So depending on the tournament format, we adjust our strategies to accommodate different thinking modalities for different time frames. For instance, a trick move may work in short time frames under time trouble, but will not work in long games. And having a strategy is important because it allows you to work out priorities to conserve energy under time pressure — it informs what are important considerations, and what are not.
So let’s go back to the example above. The player is a trained National player. And this training took years, many games and many tournaments to master.
I submit that the training is “thinking” and development of the mind. However, the noise, the chatter that stems from fear under pressure, cannot be considered as “thinking”. I believe it’s important to make that distinction.
Next post: Linking Mind, body and spirit — A deeper dive into the thinking of the Chess prodigy mentioned above.