In chess there are three situations one must manage. Broadly speaking, one looks after affairs of the board, the mind of the person in the opposite chair, and one’s own mental terra firma – I hesitate to call this counter-psychology since life itself, rather than the skulduggery of a particular opponent, often supplies the enervating influences that weaken play.
The majority of chess time involves board management, e.g, attempts to reduce weaknesses, limit unprotected pieces, and secure the castled position. Without such routine behaviors the game virtually cannot be won. Raw calculation takes place almost entirely within this sphere.
The second category is one to which many developing players pay heed. I know that against one particular opponent I will get a French or a Black Knight’s Tango as white, if I play normally. I don’t favor the long theoretical lines in either and I play 1. e3 for my first move. It’s a bit amateurish, but I know I can get the black side of the Scotch out of the deal. A tiny bit of awareness then helps improve my attentiveness during these encounters, all while building useful repertoire knowledge for the future.
The preceding is not to be taken to absurd measures of course, such as displaying unwarranted aggression or watching Nigel Davies’ forgettable ChessBase psychology video. The second group is far less effective when isolated from the other jobs of a chess player. Even Svengali, Mesmer, and Stanley Milgram would need elementary principles.
Thirdly, keep track of oneself. This begins away from the set and is a continuous process. Stop all disrespect as early as possible. I’m starting to think that ignoring mean-spirited criticism is not the heart of good interpersonal communication, as I once thought. It’s actually a cop-out. Let me be candid: There has to be some cognitive dissonance if I protect my own king, that is indeed the incarnate “me” on the chessboard – I suppose it must be if I’m willing to look after his needs above so few others for hours on end – more than I protect myself from verbal condemnation by strangers.
One absolutely cannot be a punching bag and play chess well. The option to let others infringe upon your self-respect can poison your life and not just cloud your chess thinking. Here is an example. I went for a run tonight and some people decided they were going to hassle a lone white guy for not wearing a shirt.
I am not trying to start a dialogue on racism because it’s a chess blog, but I get this type of thing a lot. I finished my run, showered, and then went back to talk to them. After getting up in the dude’s grill we enjoyed some cognac together. Nice people actually.
We eventually settled into discussing why exactly you should consider the context of what you say to a minority. I am one in my area and people don’t hesitate to let me know it! Everyone made themselves heard. I overreacted, they were racially insensitive etc. The truth was allowed to emerge about the man I am versus their perception of me. By asserting myself I believe I made self-respect easier the next time, shared a new viewpoint, and improved my ability to win chess games for the foreseeable future. Please feel free to write any positive feedback you might have on what I’ve said. Or negative feedback, because I’m that damn cold right now. I’ve got no shirt and nothing to lose, so do something!