Is success in chess, or any other domain, mostly psychology?

“My strength consists of a fighting spirit, a great desire to win, and a stubborn defense whenever in trouble. I rarely become discouraged in an inferior situation, and I fear no one.” — Sammy Reshevsky

“It’s difficult to overestimate the significance of psychology in chess, for it is not only knowledge, but also character, attention, will and, on occasion, the player’s mood which determines the outcome of a game and its artistic value. And such occurrences as time-trouble, mistakes and blunders! Don’t they happen in almost every game? And yet very little has been said about their nature and how to avoid them.” — Boris Spassky

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Undeniably the power of the unconscious of mind has a decisive role in any human enterprise. Your successes and failures don’t depend on your talent, knowledge and skills exclusively. It’s your character and personality traits that make you successful. Achievement is accomplished when these qualities are active and strong.

Anything we do in life is characterized by the interaction of habitual patterns of behavior, temperament and emotion, on one hand, and abilities and skills acquired through training and experience, on the other. Traditionally, the latter is usually more emphasized than character traits we possess. As the power of the unconscious primitive brain is difficult to grasp and impossible to quantify, we tend to neglect and sometimes totally exclude them from the equation. As a matter of fact, the power of the mind has a greater part and influence on the nature and outcome of all our undertakings and battles in life (chess including, of course) than skills and knowledge.

Now the question is in what proportion the two ingredients are mixed up?

In martial arts, success seem to be 85% mental attitude, fighting spirit and psychological preparation, and only 15% matter of technique, force, or physical endurance [1]. So it looks that in chess, the martial art of mind, this proportion may also hold true.

Not everyone was born a fighter. If the character is weak, no martial art technique, skills or weapons can help. As Dr. Tarrasch said, it is not enough to be a good player, you must also play well.

The power of self-confidence

Here are some essential personality traits of successful people that make you a winner:

Positive thinking. The capacity to stay optimistic and positive. “Championship thinking” is #1 quality for success in your personal and professional life

Enthusiasm. The possession of intense and keen interest in a subject or cause

Goal focus. The ability to have clarity on the objectives you strive for in your life and career

Positive self-image. Self-esteem, self-confidence and the firm belief in your abilities is the fundamental basis for success and satisfaction in any area of your life; it often brings about with it two important feelings of independence and competency

Self-Awareness. Understanding of who you are including your character, behavior and skills, good and bad

Self-Discipline. The ability to control and restrain impulsive behavior

Persistence. The ability to endure in the face of adversity, patient and unrelenting effort to achieve the goal despite difficulties

Stress management. The ability to hold up under pressure, take charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your environment, and the way you deal with problems, in order to better meet challenges head on.

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All these mental powers of the “primitive” mind is something we need to become aware of and let it unleash to make all the difference in life. The mind has an incredible amount of power more than you’ve ever imagined. You can tap into this power and positively change your life. It’s called into being by discipline and routine. We need to control the formation and development of these qualities. Upbringing, teaching and learning in any field, chess including, must take them into account early in the process to be a success.

Chess is a powerful tool to program oneself to become a better fighter. It’s a way of building and harmonizing your character. It strengthens all of the above character traits you need to be successful. Stick to this model of behavior in life as well to change the way your subconscious mind works. Use it to your advantage.

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There are different forms of struggle going on the chess board, and in our lives in general. It looks the biggest win is to win over yourself!

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1. Pozharsky, Victor (2007). School of chess. Fenix, Rostov-on-Don. ISBN 978-5-222-10630-3 (cited from Anatoly Taras’ Combat machine, a short course on self-defense)

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