Tilt. We all know that feeling. Losing game after game, fuming inside, and wasting our time. We somehow cannot stop ourselves from playing just one more game. This usually drags on until we either are too desperate to try again, wasted all of our precious free time, or destroyed the mouse or screen in an act of anger at ourselves and the whole world.
Luckily, online chess does not have to be like that.
With a few guidelines and tricks, you can avoid tilt.
You might apply all of them or just the ones that fit the best. I offer you a buffet of solutions. But, they only work if you really apply them. But before I get to the solutions, I want to explore why tilt happens and why we are basically unable to stop the bleeding once it starts.
If you are in a hurry, here are my tips in a nutshell:
- Only play Online Chess if you can fully focus.
- Only open A single tab: your Chess game.
- Never play when you feel emotionally overwhelmed.
- Set yourself a limit of games BEFORE you start playing.
- Play for fun and learning. Stop thinking about your Online Rating.
Let’s get back to the cause of tilt.
Why do you tilt?
Usually, tilt happens in the following scheme:
You lose one very unfortunate game, blundering a queen in a totally winning position, or losing on time one move before giving checkmate. Then, instead of taking a small breather, you want to get revenge and overwrite this horrible feeling with a win. Obviously, this hardly ever works. But even if it does, you will soon realize the win does not recompensate the bad feeling of that terrible loss in any adequate way.
Inevitably, you will end up losing more games and get deeper into the funk. The more upset you get, the worse your chess gets. Playing good chess is only possible when you are in a calm state of mind. Emotions generally do not help. The last part is the most self-destructive one. You realize that you completely spoilt your mood and rating, so you start kicking yourself for it.
While mentally telling yourself you are an idiot, you somehow click on the play button once more. And here we are in a nearly endless vicious cycle.
Now, some of you might hope that I present the perfect thing to do while tilting, so you can stop it immediately and be happy! Sadly, this is too good to be true.
Sunk Cost Fallacy
A thing called the ‘sunk cost fallacy’ does make escaping the tilt nearly impossible. The theory says: whenever we invest time, energy, or rating in the past, we get influenced by it in the present. We cannot stop playing when things are going bad, because then the previous time would look like ‘wasted time’. So we try to keep going until we get our rating back.
Due to this, our previous actions would look sensible. This process is nearly fully unconscious and hard to realize. The phenomenon of the ‘sunk cost fallacy’ is also widely known in economics or gambling. People keep investing in their doomed start-ups because they already invested many years and a lot of money in them.
They do not want to admit to having made a mistake in the past, so they continue to do mistakes in the present.
I guess most of you have been in a casino and experienced the ‘sunk cost fallacy’. Instead of writing off your loss, you continue to pour money into the slot machines or on the roulette table.
This is one of the big reasons why casinos actually work so fantastically well.
If coming out of the tilt is so hard, we only have one solution: do not tilt. This sounds obvious and impossible at the same time, but with my guidance, I am sure you can prevent most if not all cases.
1. Only Play Online Chess if you can fully focus
Although the point seems obvious, I’m sure most of us struggle with it. Playing Online is easier than ever before. Just a few clicks on your phone or computer and you can play a game at any point. By playing in moments or under circumstances in which you cannot fully focus, you set yourself up for failure and tilt. I know you are busy. But is it really worth it to use the in-between time to set yourself up for failure?
What you want is Quality, not Quantity.
It is incredible what a difference this can make in your level of play.
Do you need some proof? Here you go:
My rating on chess.com at the moment of writing is 2568. Yes, you read correctly.
For a GM with a classical Rating of 2579, this is absolutely catastrophic (online Ratings are usually 200-400 points higher than OTB). But if you check my Titled Tuesday results, there are some really good performances.
At times I had 8.5/11, even finished above Hikaru once or twice. Why this difference? Whenever I play Titled Tuesday I will be very focused on the games. Nothing else is planned at this time.
No phone next to me. My girlfriend knows she should not enter the room. Everything is set up for me to focus on my games. For complete disclosure: you will also find some bad performances of me in Titled Tuesdays. Guess what happened then? In some ways, I was not completely free to focus only on my games.
Some To-Do’s and Don’ts for playing Online Chess:
- Play at a silent, comfortable place
- Put your phone away while playing (or mute it!)
- Do NOT play from your phone
- Get rid of any possible distraction in addition to the phone
- Let people know you would like to be uninterrupted
- Do NOT play in order to push some important task away
- Do NOT play at work or at any time you know you should do something different
The only thing I am indecisive about is listening to music. For me personally, it is a distraction as well. I play best in total silence. But it seems some people really thrive when listening to music. If this fits you, do it! There are two more points that fit into the part of the focus. But as they are so important, I will list them as separate points.
2. Only open one single Tab
This fits in the no distraction point. For me, this is really crucial, so I want to emphasize it here. In the hyperconnected world, it is nearly impossible to only focus on one single thing. We do Sports while listening to a podcast, or research something online while watching our favorite streamer play some chess.
Or we play chess while doing many other things online.
Let me tell you once and forever: multi-tasking does NOT work. Especially, not with chess. Chess requires our full focus at all points of the game. So opening only this one single Tab when playing chess is a statement to yourself. FULL focus now. No distraction. I can hear your thoughts “but I can open XYZ and only see it in between two games”.
Nice try. I thought the same. But nope, does not work.
First, you will miss your new game starting for some seconds. Then you think you are totally winning so you can afford to change the music. Soon you will have 17 tabs open, and watch 5 streams simultaneously while losing every game you play.
I recommend you to be super strict with yourself. 1 Tab is 1 Tab. No excuse. 0 Tolerance rule must be applied here.
Getting back to the music. If you listen to music, please put in a playlist that lasts till the end of your Play session. The few seconds you lose by switching to a new song might not seem crucial. But if you lose on time, you will kick yourself and be already at step 3 of Tilt mode. Not very good.
3. Never play when you feel emotionally overwhelmed
Chess can be a nice distraction itself. I do have that reflex as well. Running away from emotional things and playing some chess. But Online chess tends to make things worse, not better. When we feel emotionally unwell, it is super hard to bring out the best of ourselves. This nearly inevitably leads to tilting.
And tilt usually does not solve the problem with your boss, your wife, or fill your bank account.
So whenever things seem hard or you want to escape by playing some chess online, resist your reflex. It usually only makes it worse. Watch your favorite stream (I can recommend my Girlfriends’ stream :-)), go for a walk, or talk to a friend about your problems. After having calmed down you can enjoy chess in its full beauty.
4. Set yourself a limit of games BEFORE you start playing
In the first three points, we made sure you can play at your best. This is crucial, but not enough yet to avoid tilt altogether. Everybody has a bad day once in a while. This can happen even after following all the above suggestions. So, we need a safety net for those bad days.
That is where this cool idea by my Coach comes into play!
Before you start playing a game, you fix the total amount of games you want to play. Yes, not a time, but a number of games. but, Why?
With this approach, we can take the sting out of the “one more game” problem. One additional game should be no option. It is much easier to have 0 tolerance than adding one more and then stopping.
I do like 6 games, but up to 10 games should work. This depends a lot on the time control. If you are a Bullet Aficionado, you might even go for 20, but don’t overdo it. With time you will find your sweet spot. For me, it is 6 games of 3+0 Blitz. This does not mean that you cannot play more than 6-10 games in your free afternoon. But fix the amount before you start playing. When finished, take a breather and 5 minutes break.
Only if you feel good and enjoy yourself, then play again a block of 6-10 games.
But before you start the new block, analyze the games you played. Analyzing your own games is the single most effective way to improve your chess. Now, you made sure you are focused, and you have a limit of games to stop the ‘sunk cost fallacy’. It is finally time to get your mindset right and then you are ready to go!
5. Play for fun and learning. Do NOT play for rating gain.
I guess you have heard that already. Focusing on rating does take the fun out of things. And actually makes you perform worse. So this is a very crucial point. Even if you are fully focused and have a fixed amount of games, disaster can still happen. How? Playing for rating gains.
The reason you sit at your computer and start to play some games should not be your rating.
Don’t get me wrong, having a rating goal in your mind can actually push you. But that goal should be long-term. When you sit down you should play for fun and improvement. In this state of mind, you not only learn most but actually also play best!
It is a clear red light for me if I think “oh I have 2750 so I’ll play 10 games and hope to reach 2800”. This tells me I should either change my mindset or not start any game. When you sit down with a rating goal in mind, you will most likely not care about your boundaries.
After 6 games you have 2198 and you want to achieve 2200? Let’s just play one more game. 30 minutes later you have 2150 and wish nothing more than to have stopped after your 6 games. Do you remember my horrible rating? I actually stopped myself from playing online chess in the last 2 weeks because my only motivation would have been to increase my rating.
That is definitely not the right mindset. I hope after writing this I will be able to use my own advice to have some fun while playing. So do not obsess about your rating! Just try to enjoy the process of playing some nice games and learn from your mistakes. With this approach even a ‘bad’ session (rating-wise) can be positive: you learned a lot and had fun.
I hope this helps you avoid the most hated feeling in chess: tilt.