Thursday, November 24, 2016

Fear

How somebody reacts after a loss depends very much of the person and the circumstances. Some have not the slightest problem to forget about it. Others can be for a long time demoralized. Well known are Fischers 6-0 victories in the candidate matches against Taimanov and Larsen. After that both slowly disappeared from the highest echelons. Fischer wanted not only to win at the board but also tried to break the opponent psychologically.

We also see this behavior in youth tournaments. Some children leave their board after a loss with a smile and start to play football as nothing bad happened. Others can't hide their emotions and even cry. Naturally chess is not for everybody as much important. As a consequence the more ambitious players quickly take the lead. Players having more troubles to cope with a loss are averagely much more eager to learn something and make quicker progress than their more relaxed peers.

On the other hand emotions are not only a positive catalyst but can also often work paralyzing. A loss can be so detrimental each time that a fear is developed. A logical defense-mechanism is avoiding losses at all costs which can lead to some extreme cases. A few months ago I witnessed my son proposing a draw after only 1 move played in the tournament for debutants at Wetteren because he thought it would consolidate his first position. It became a tough lesson as not only there was a wrinkle in the rules which only gave him second place but he also had to listen to my reaction how disappointed I was in his behavior. I haven't seen him proposing any draws anymore since then.

I use the example of my son but in Belgium fear for losing is a very wide spread phenomenon. Maybe this is due to the great modesty of which Belgians are famous for which is why we are often satisfied with setting lower goals. In Belgium a draw against a higher rated player is considered as a big success. Seldom somebody will wonder if there wasn't more possible. I already encountered several inexplicable drawing offers of my opponents in my career. One example was already shown in my article Lars Schandorff. A second example below is from the Open Leuven played last year.
White proposed a draw while he has 10 minutes extra and the position should normally not be holdable for black 
Of course I know the expression that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. However the final position gives white 1000 better chances to win than the start position. Why would you want to play a game if you are not interested to win it?

Emotions often let us do crazy things. I won't deny the fact that even today I still have to fight against my fear of losing. Last couple of years my fear certainly decreased (something which I already explained in my article sofia rules) but it never completely disappeared. In the last round of Open Leuven this year I could again not resist to the draw-offer of my opponent Hans Renette while I knew that likely I had the slightly better position.
White proposed a draw. I wanted to play the correct b6 and black is a bit better as he can try to win by playing later e5.
I had a bit more than a half hour left for 21 moves. Last time I squandered a bigger advantage against Hans. I have after all black. I had chosen in my preparation to play the same drawing line as I did in Open Gent see Avrukh part 2 so my plan was to play a draw. With the draw I was certain of a nice prize (380 euro). It are all excuses to hide that I was afraid of losing. Arno Bomans showed more guts by declining the draw proposal of the top-favorite Stefan Docx (see his witty commentary) although we are here a bit comparing apples to oranges.

Fear may be something typical for the Belgian players but it also pops up elsewhere. Even some very strong players suffer from it. The congenial Australian grandmaster David Smerdon told us after his game against Carlsen that he would never have forced the draw against any player below 2700 elo with the advantage he had on the board see chess.com.

Respect is important but not exploiting fully your own chances is just fear. Currently I am reading the book Ivan's Chess Journey in which there are a few nice anecdotes. One of them is Ivan talking about the grandmaster Bojan Kurajica from Bosnia-Herzegovina. Bojan was a great talent but never achieved his full potential because he was afraid to lose. However in 1994 he shined due to a concurrence of events. The war in Bosnia created for him a lot of practical problems but as if this wasn't enough his wife in the same period also gave him the divorcing papers. It was an enormous shock for Bojan as this really filled his glass of misery. He felt as a man having nothing to lose anymore. A man with a talent, without fear to lose anything is a formidable opponent. He became the hero at the 34th Olympiad in Moscow with not less than 6 victories. In the same year he also defeated the 200 points higher rated Karpov in a rapid tie-break.

Players need to try to overcome their fear of failure if they want to achieve the maximum out of themselves. The best players are fearless fighting-machines, gladiators fighting till the death. It is up to the coaches, parents, the entourage of our (youth-) players to make this mental switch and convince them to always go for it. Then again today at home we have a cute nice teddy bear hopping around. Do we really want to transform him into a a big dangerous grizzly-bear?

Brabo

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