Beginner’s Challenges during a Long Chess Tournament


Allan Rufus the author of ‘The Master’s Sacred Knowledge’ once quoted, “Life is like a game of Chess. To win you have to make a move”. Reading this quote twice or thrice, what perplexed me was, which is tougher and complex, Life or Chess? Should I compare making a move in Chess with Life or Life with Chess? Speaking on the complexity and toughness of life is out of the purview of this article. So, let me focus on the challenges what a beginner, to be precise a kid who begins to play chess faces during a long chess tournament.


Making a wrong move

What would be the reactions and emotions of your kid when he/she is playing with a toy and suddenly a stranger or someone who is unfamiliar to your child snatches the toy from your child’s hands? Obviously, you know your child better. During a chess game, when the opponent captures any piece because of a mistake of your child, can the child express its emotions? No. It is really hard to suppress the emotions and still to focus on the game. Yes indeed, your child is a super hero to focus, make a comeback and win the game whilst a piece down.


Sitting for the next round after a loss

How many times you might have lost interest in an activity that didn’t yield you the results that you expected or perhaps your family expected? And how many times did you give up? During a long tournament, losing a couple of games at a stretch and yet getting over the board for the next round is an act of courage and perseverance. Dr. A.P.J Abdul Kalam once answered a 9 year old girl that inorder to become a great person, one should have a dream, should continuously acquire knowledge to conquer that dream, make progress with an act of perseverance and should be courageous. Yes indeed, your child will become great one day. Grand Master Jose R Capablanca once said, “You will have to lose hundreds of games before becoming a good player”. Now I understand Chess is a tough and complex sport. But he also said, “You may learn much more from a game you lose than from a game you win”. It may sound puzzling. But, Grand Master Muarice Ashley shared the same experience, “The biggest thing for me has always been is that losing is learning”. Grand Master Viswanathan Anand, learnt chess from his mother at his age of six. Six months later he was enrolled in a club, where he ought to play quick games against much tougher opponents. In his first tournament, he lost his first three games. He got his first point as a bye. It was at his age of 13 only, he first won all the rounds in a weekend tournament.


Facing a stronger player

Imagine you stand against a gigantic wrestler face to face on a wrestling stage and imagine that your family members expect you to win that opponent. Knowing that you are going to get hit, yet your dad would encourage you to go on stage. Your kid is really brave and strong to face a tougher opponent, someone who is taller, stronger with mustache, a rated player, someone who doesn’t even smile and someone who doesn’t shake hands when your child initiates a hand shake, across the table. Once when I was 11 years old, I faced a national U-12 champion in one of the chess tournaments. Everyone was congratulating him in advance that he would win that game easily right in front of me before the start of the game. The game started and my opponent never sat on his chair. He made all his moves in his standing position with lot of confidence in his face. All his pieces were rushing towards my castled king. Fortunately I exchanged the queens off the board. I was not professionally trained and my grandfather left me at the venue in the morning and he left for his job. He would return back only in the evening for the prize distribution. No one was there to wish me or to encourage me before the game unlike my opponent. I just casually played Re8+ (Check). My opponent’s both the eyes popped out. Looking at his facial expressions that was once so confident, I keenly studied the position and to my surprise that was a check mate. I got an opportunity to say, “How is that?” in the game of Chess too.

I have noticed in many tournaments that the expressions, gestures and attitudes of the opponent has influenced a player’s though process. This is a very big challenge that your kid will face while playing against opponents who are stronger. Grand Master Bobby Fischer once said, “Chess is war over the board. The object is to crush the opponent’s minds”. That is the reason Grand Master Viswanathan Anand in an interview advised not to focus on the opponent’s expressions & gestures and instead to focus on the 64 squares.


The last minute Push & Rush

We would have done preparation till the last minute of our examinations. Even now, I observe my students doing the same thing. Many times as a responsible mother or father, you would have advised your kid on various things about the game until he enters the chess tournament hall. My personal advice is to avoid last minute advices and not to add pressure on the kids. My experience is that many times the last minute advices keep lingering in their ears irrespective of the position on the board, leading to make a wrong decisions. Let the kid enjoy the game, enjoy different positions, enjoy different tactics and enjoy different check mates.


The focus on the Crown

I was a cricket player and have represented my district team and captained my school team as well. One common advice from my coach and even from international cricketers was to take the game ball by ball. It is better to focus on the next ball rather than focusing on the end result. The same thing applies to chess. Focusing on the championship or the result diverts the focus of a chess player from the game. Especially a beginner kid gets into a lot of pressure and even fear of losing the game. Many times you would have experienced going blank in the examination hall or on a stage. Fear, reduces the mental ability and it distracts. The best advice for a kid is to take the game move by move. Good moves will take the game to victory. Grand Master Bobby Fischer said once, “I don’t believe in psychology. I believe in good moves”. International Master and Author Israel Albert Horowitz warned by saying, “One bad move nullifies forty good moves”. Grand Master Vassily Ivanchuck once missed a simple mate in one against a hope less position of GM Viswanathan Anand and finally went on to lose the game.


Other Pressures

Kids also face lot of other pressures to name a few, arriving late for the game, the need to go to wash room with the clock ticking, making a claim and the arbiter rejects it, peer pressure, drawing conclusion from the disappointed faces of their parents, time pressure, noticing a player eating a snack during the game and the urge to eat something, distractions from other players, who at times surround their board standing, watching, gossiping etc, a word of appreciation or depreciation from some source, from some stranger or from some other player, distractions by looking at the neighboring board, confusions over opening, middle and end games, confusions over tactics and strategy, confusions over whether the opponent is really blundering or is it a master trick, thoughts on upcoming exams, projects, assignments in the school etc

Though this list is not exhaustive and by giving a thought on these challenges, by now you would appreciate the way your child man handles a long chess tournament all alone. Grand Master Vladimir Kramnik once said, “Chess is an infinitely complex game, which one can play in infinitely numerous and varied ways”. Your son or daughter is on a journey to master such an infinitely complex game. Having understood these challenges, I will be back with my next article on the role of a parent in the life of a chess beginner.

Author: Dr. Joseph Charles Tamilmaran D