How To Overcome Chess Anxiety

Imagine facing a saber-tooth tiger that hasn’t eaten in days. Your body goes into fight-or-flight mode. Your heart begins to race. And you follow your primal instincts.

Miraculously, you can run way quicker than you ever did before, and without thinking much, you somehow get into safety. You can’t explain how and why, but you made it.

Thanks to the emotion of fear. Now let’s get back to the reality.

You play a game of chess. Suddenly, find yourself in a winning position against a stronger opponent.
And your body goes into fight-or-flight mode. Why?

Because suddenly blundering, or simply not winning, becomes a threat that feels as real as that deadly saber-tooth tiger. With your heart racing, blood pumping, and brain melting, you try to put together a logical strain of thoughts but fail to do so.

You blunder and lose the game.

Fear was once a useful emotion to help our predecessors survive, nowadays it is mostly a stress and anxiety-enducing emotion that doesn’t help.

Fear Is Useless in Chess

Luckily, the first scenario is only fiction. But the second one is way too real for me.

I’ve played way too many games in my career with a fear of losing. Ironically, exactly this fear has cost me so many points. I call this fear Chess anxiety.

I can vividly remember the game when I only had to draw to achieve my Grandmaster title. Afraid to fail, I didn’t play a single logical move until I was busted on move 20 playing the White Pieces.

Then something magical happened: my chess anxiety was gone, because I thought I’d lose anyway. Suddenly, I could focus again, and somehow, I saved the game and became the youngest-ever Swiss Grandmaster.

When did you last blunder because you felt chess anxiety?

If I could change one thing in my career, it would be to live it without fear.

How To Cure Chess Anxiety

I guess we can all agree that being afraid doesn’t help our chess. So, the question is: how can we stop feeling fear during a game of chess?

I’m still not fearless, but one thing has helped me a lot when it comes to fear.

Accept that shit happens.

When you start a game of chess, losing this game is a real possibility.

You can’t avoid it. And as it is not going to harm you in any meaningful way, you don’t need to avoid it at all costs.

If I could go back, here is what I would do to limit my fear before and during chess games:

  1. Before every game, I remind myself that losing is ok and doesn’t make me a bad player or person. I will do my best; the result is out of my control. Here is a word-for-word script you can use: 

    “I’m going to enjoy this game of chess and play to the best of my abilities. The result is out of my control, so I just focus on the next move. I’m proud of myself for giving my best and will play in a relaxed state of mind, no matter what happens.”
  2. Whenever I feel fear during a game, tell my body “Thanks for helping me out, but this isn’t a real threat. No need for fight-or-flight. Let’s just focus up and do our best, nothing more we have to do.”

I can’t use it in chess anymore, but I can use a different mindset in other areas of my life.

Only Play When Losing Is OK

When I play poker, I only play at my best when I am ready to lose all the money in front of me.

Of course, I’m doing my best that this doesn’t happen. But in order to play successfully, you need to be ready to lose what you put on the table. If I’m not ready for that, I should play with less money or not play at all.

For your chess, that means you should only start a game if you feel okay with losing it. This is the only way you can play without chess anxiety. Trust me, it is so much more fun without it.

Check this out if you are feeling fear too often:
Book: Stop Worrying and start living by Dale Carnegie
Video: Fear Setting and other ways to overcome fear
Quick hack: When in a fearful state, try the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7, and breathe out for 8 seconds. This helps you relax and get back to a more normal physical and emotional state. More breathing exercises here.

Do you have any methods to stop being afraid during chess games? Let me know in the comments.

Keep improving,

Whenever you’re ready, here is how I can help you:

  • Want to know How to train chess well? Check out Next Level Training – The Chess Training Blueprint for Adult Improvers. This course taught 600+ students the How of Chess Training. Create your high-quality chess plan and learn how to study each part of Chess, from tactics to openings & endgames. Click here to learn more.
  • Check out my all-in-one Beginner Video course, Beginner Chess Mastery—Reach 1200 Online. You’ll learn all the fundamentals, from strategy to how to get the most out of your pieces, tactics, and endgames. You even get a full opening repertoire for free. Click here to learn more.

I firmly believe that

anyone can improve their chess through the right mindset and training techniques.

I’m here to guide you on your journey to chess mastery.

Related articles:

Stay Up to Date

by signing up to my e-mail newsletter

Enter your email address below to sign up for receiving all my new insights, articles, books & courses

– a very short mail, without fluff or Spam

Thousands of readers and students

have already boosted their ratings and derive greater enjoyment from the game

Each week

you will receive an update on all my new articles, books & courses A very short mail, without fluff or Spam Just a little reminder to keep improving your chess.