Dejan Bojkov | December 15, 2011 15:20

Recovering from a Loss

  During my studies in the National Sports Academy we had many other subjects besides chess. Anatomy, psychology, biochemistry, sports medicine, etc. Some of them were not really related to chess, some very close to the aspect of our game. We also had many sports. And one winter day we headed towards the Vitosha mountains for a two-week ski course. I had never used skis in my life before. Nor skates nor any other sports that requires balance, and thus I was deeply worried.   The first thing that I did the first day was to fall. I was falling on every single angle, in every situation, at every occasion. People were laughing at me. But what they did not understand at this moment was that I was falling on purpose. I learned how to fall without being injured, and not to be afraid to do so. And in the remaining thirteen days I fell only one more time.   One of the first things that I now teach my students is how to fall. To attack, calculate, risk, and most of all- lose games. The earlier this fear is taken from them, the better. Those who risk will win. Draw is only half the reward, and no one remembers those games.   But that is only at the beginning. Then we start to play competitive chess, and need to face the unpleasantness of losing games. And not only to face it and to survive it, but to keep on moving after that. After all, there are still rounds to go, and one loss usually is not decisive in a tournament.   The following game was played in the penultimate round at the strong tournament in Sydney, 2010. I was leading the open with 6/7, while my opponent was half a point behind:

PGN string

Everything seemed to be irreparable. Instead of comfortably leading, now I needed to win as Black against India’s second GM (historically) D. Barua to maximally achieve shared first place, while a loss or even a draw would put me out of the prizes.   The bridges were burned, and the only good thing about the situation was that the next round was starting earlier than usual.

PGN string

 It ended well after all. Two things helped me to recover quickly from the loss. First of all, between the games there was not much time for being sorry for myself. The last round was starting early in the morning after the tough defeat, and I was busy mainly to prepare for the final game. In chess there is no if, but only tomorrow (preparation) and now (over the board). The second thing was that a draw and a loss in the final round were practically equal from a financial point of you, and I did not have doubts about whether I needed to play for a win, or for a draw. The award for the final effort was not only the gold medal, but the shared money prize. Another important case: we can also lose a game earlier in the event, and we still need to recover after. This is harder, and I can only share my own ideas for this case. First of all, do not analyse deeply the game that you lost! There is no need to discover how poorly you have played, and to feel bad about your chess. You are already shaky enough anyways. (The other possibility is that you discover how ingeniously you have played, and how stupidly, and unfairly you have lost- that is also a bad variation- in this case your mind keeps on coming back to the position in which you made the mistake, and distracts you during the future games!) You will have a lot of time to analyse your mistakes when you come back home, and you will do it in a more objective way. You need only to have a brief look at the game, as you might have lost it in the opening due to a lack of knowledge. Then the line should be repaired/learned in order not to lose in the same scenario afterwards (this might be really silly). Secondly, try to relax. Do it in your prefered way- go out for a walk, read a nice (positive!) book, see a nice (preferably comedy!) movie, or just something that will not keep you returning to the lost game: take a hot shower, a bath, meet friends and have some drinks (but do not get drunk-this is definitely not the solution- you need to be sober tomorrow), visit the gym, listen to your favourite music. You know yourself best, you will decide what will make you feel good. Third- postpone the preparation for tomorrow. You do not want to see the pieces when you are nervous, and you will have enough time tomorrow. Last, but not least- if you have lost faith in yourself and your abilities- have a look at your best games. You will see that you can play better than in the game that you have lost, and that you are still a good player, despite the msitakes that you made, make and will make in the future. After all, we are all mortals. Once your equanimity is restored, you can play in your usual way. Losses are still possible, but wins, too. What is sure is that you will give the best of yourself when you are balanced, and optimistic, and success will come. Good luck!

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Dejan Bojkov's picture
Author: Dejan Bojkov

Dejan Bojkov is a Bulgarian chess player and grandmaster.



TR's picture

Excellent article -- handling losses is one of the most important lessons from chess! When I was younger, I had much more difficulty in dealing with losses (and blunders, even when I won), and as a result played far fewer games than an improving player should. I have seen several promising juniors stop playing entirely because of their inability to cope with defeats.

IMO, an improving player should always play in tournaments/sections that are either at his estimated strength (not at his rating, which may be lower than his actual strength) or up to 100 pts higher than his strength. This should lead to a score of 40-50% (on average), which allows plenty of defeats to 1) become adept at recovering from, and 2) analyze carefully to root out playing defects! If a player plays in a lower section, the prizes may be more attainable, but playing weaker opponents is not the best way to improve. Playing up too high, while producing many "helpful" defeats, can sap one's confidence.

Of course, as a veteran player (hopefully still improving), I'm always happy to provide junior players with helpful learning experiences (i.e., defeats)... :)

ganesh.d's picture

very practical approach to tackle defeats,i liked it.

Soviet School's picture

Interesting that he says not to analyse your defeat, in my experience I have found that now we have computers it is good to quickly put the lost game into a computer and the computer almost always find a clear move which would have given you a decent position, I find that gives a sense of closure, before strong computers though one wasted a lot of emotional energy going over the game and trying to find an improvement which one might not be able to seeon one's own.

Chadwick's picture

This is all well and good for a round robin with a game day day pace. But,what about the american scene? with 4 to 5 games in a day with maybe 10 mins in between each. What then. I just finished a event today. Loss in the third round (80 moves last game to finish ,time scramble loss. Then 10 mins later another game for a trophy and just went down as if I had no consentration at all! Recovery? no chance.

Tony's picture

great article
I would categorize in two areas though. Training tournaments and 'out to win' tournaments.
For training I tend to ask my students to play in the section above their rating so they would play people 100-200 points above their current level. This makes sure they are pushed tactically and strategically instead of facing the same ideas against a player of equal rating. Past 200 ElO the differences are too pronounced IMO, The players are usually sufficiently strong all areas that even if they are playing poorly they can win.
out to win tournaments is when they are trying to win or boost their morale (very important for young players) to see how they are doing against their peers.
The training tournaments highlight any weaknesses because higher rated players do the hard work for you!
Results will come if your ability is there. I summarize it like this: beating or Losing to a 2200-2300 players you learn something in either case. Beating or losing a 1700-1600 player you learned what?

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