Highs and lows in chess are common. Like artists, we have have streaks of brilliance and misery. Simply look at my 5-minute rating changes in the last three years – it is like a stockmarket. It is how a person deals with these fluctuations, especially in periods of constant bad results, that determines whether he will become a strong player. In my experience, there are two types of chess players, with one type being significantly more productive in the long term. Perhaps the formal terms for these players should be entity theorists and incremental theorists respectively (Dr Carol Dweck). However, let’s keep it simple:
1. The ‘losing is bad’ player – this person is a perfectionist who sees every loss as some sort of permanent failure rather than a lesson to be learned from. He or she is the kind of player who storms out of the playing hall and comes close to quitting chess after losing a big game, and often they do. Even worse is the authoritarian parent with this mindset, who scolds their child because they lose a game. These parents see winning or losing as black and white, and often force their children to quit the game if they are underperforming (to search for another field where they can ‘win’). In reality, their kids probably start the game with great results, like a bull period in the stockmarket, and as soon as a bear period (a temporary drop in performance) hits, the parents force their children out of the game. True investors such as Warren Buffett, who is in my opinion the world’s greatest investor, know that they should enter the stockmarket for the long term.
2. The ‘every loss is a learning opportunity’ player – this player knows that learning from one’s mistakes is the most powerful way to learn. Obviously they still feel disappointed when they lose; everyone does, and they lose rating points too, but these people deal with their losses with a positive and productive frame of mind, and study their losses to find out where they went wrong. They understand that sometimes, good luck cannot be ensured and bad luck cannot be avoided. Their ratings will improve steadily in the long run.
Winning feels good. Winning feels really, really good, but losing is what makes us better. It’s very important for you, as a player, to take yourself on when you lose, to study the games that you lose. – International Master and former US Junior Champion Joshua Waitzkin
Common sense dictates that the second method of approaching chess will be the more successful one, not to mention the more stress-free one. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule so do not feel that these are black and white guidelines. However, if you recognise that you have the mentality of the first type of player, I challenge you to change your style of thinking and study your losses thoroughly. Remember that whatever does not kill you makes you stronger, which is true both in chess and in life.
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