Chess with Attitude


Phil Adams

"Games like this [Penrose-Botvinnik] (and there were plenty in this tournament) impressed on me that 'wanting to win' was perhaps more important than 'playing good moves'."
-- KEENE, 'Becoming a Grandmaster'.
"At that age (ten), the odd piece here or there often makes little difference. Rather, ingenuity and the will to win may prove decisive."
-- ZAK, Improve your chess results.

1) Draw?

Success in chess, as in all sports, requires not only skill but other qualities such as determination and a positive mental attitude. I thoroughly recommend Simon Webb's book Chess for Tigers for help in developing the best attitudes for competitive success.

  For many years, British players were regarded as a "soft-touch" by foreign masters because they lacked stamina and determination and were too eager to accept draws. Obviously, if a draw is all you need to win the tournament, then it would be silly to play all-out for a win, but in general, if you want to succeed in chess you need to get into the habit of always playing to win and always being prepared, mentally and physically, to play long, hard games. Some quotations to inspire you:

  IM Simon Webb in Chess for Tigers: "A game of chess is never drawn until it's drawn. (...) All too frequently players agree draws in level positions, without realising that there are ways of winning these positions against a careless opponent."

  American GM Andrew Soltis in Confessions of a Grandmaster: "A few years ago, John Fedorowicz was described as having become 'one of the deepest strategic thinkers in American chess'. When I told 'the Fed' about that, he replied, 'Yeah? Well, my new strategy is just to stop taking draws.'"

  Soltis again, referring to the advice of American IM Norman Weinstein: "'You can't expect to go through a tournament without losing. Losing is part of the game, like hitting your clock and writing down the moves. And you can't expect to do well just by offering draws when you think you're in trouble or in an unknown position.' I realized that I had become more concerned with not losing than with winning. I decided to stop worrying about norms and ratings and the gnawing feeling you get when you lose, and see what happened. It worked."

  Canadian IM Lawrence Day writing recently in the top American magazine Inside Chess: "Imagine two guys, one who always draws and the other who alternates winning six and losing six. After a year, they have the same number of points and the same ratings. The difference is that the risk player has a big pile of money, while the drawmaster made nothing."

2) The will to win

From a discussion on the internet, plus some ideas gleaned from Ariel Mengarini:

  Many people love chess but somehow when they sit down to play a match or tournament game, they find it difficult to produce their best effort. Somehow they find it difficult to stay focused and to summon up the necessary concentration. It is as if the will to win has drained away.

  Do this every time. Before you start play, think of these 3 things:

1) How much time and effort and money you have already spent on chess.
I'd better win, otherwise that was all pretty stupid of me
2) All the other things that you could be doing instead.
I'd better win, otherwise I am stupid right now for wasting my time
3) How bad it feels to lose.
I'd better win, because I hate the feeling I get when I lose!


OK, you've decided to give it your best shot, you've worked on building up your will to win. The problem is, you now feel nervous and jittery, and now that is affecting your concentration! What should you do?

  You have to be able to come to terms with an important paradox:


a) you have decided to devote some hours of your life every week to chess; your time is valuable, therefore it is worth giving it your very best, so concentrate!

  b) yet, you must admit, in the "great scheme of things", in the "big picture", the result of one game of chess is utterly trivial, so RELAX!

So, the ideal is relaxed concentration.

Fear of losing

Everybody hates losing, but for good results it is important during the game to play without any FEAR of losing. Negative emotions affect your motivation and depress your level of brain efficiency. A game of chess is a fight; you must learn to love the fight itself, and play fearlessly.

  Best Wishes,
Phil Adams
Three Cs, Oldham, (=Children's Chess Club)

Penrose Jonathan (ENG) - Botvinnik [A42] Hastings (9), 1967

1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.c4 d6 4.Nc3 c6 5.Nf3 a6 6.Be2 b5 7.a3 Bb7 8.0-0 Nd7 9. Be3 e6? 10.d5! [winning] exd5 11.exd5 c5 12.cxb5 Ne7 13.bxa6 [13.Bf4!+-] 13...Bxa6 14. Bxa6 Rxa6 15.Qe2 Rb6 16.Bg5? h6 [16...f6? 17.Bh4 g5 18.Bg3 f5 19.Bxd6 Rxd6 20.Nb5 Nb6 21.Nxd6+ Qxd6 22.Rfe1 Nbxd5 23.Rad1 Kf7 24.Qc4 Rd8 25.b3? Bf6 26.Re2 g4 27.Ne1 Nc6 28.Red2 Nd4 29.b4 Qe6 30.bxc5 Nc3 0-1 Penrose Jonathan (ENG)-Botvinnik/Hastings 1966-67 is an alternative version given on a database] 17.Bh4 g5 18.Bg3 f5 19.Bxd6? Rxd6 20.Nb5 Nb6 21.Nxd6+ Qxd6 22.Rfe1 Nbxd5 23.Rad1 Kf7 24.Qc4 Rd8 25.g3 Bf6 26.Re2 g4 27.Ne1 Nc6 28.Red2 Nd4 29.b4 Qe6 30.bxc5 Nc3 0-1 [even now 30... Nc3 31.Qxc3 Ne2+ 32.Rxe2 Bxc3 33.Rxe6 Rxd1 34.Rxh6! is not completely lost]