More on frienemies

by admin on November 20, 2007

Matt posted an interesting comment on my post “The best of frienemies,” where he says that he has never actually hated an opponent. I totally agree. Maybe I’ve lived a charmed life, but I don’t think I have ever actually hated anyone, over a chessboard or otherwise. I don’t think that such feelings would be very productive, anyway — I think they would make the game a lot more stressful.

There’s a recent post on Chessbase that touches on this issue. Teimour Radjabov, one of the youngest grandmasters in history (he is still only 20), gave an interview to a Russian sports newspaper in which he discussed a match between the Azerbaijani team and the Armenians. Here is a quote from Radjabov: “Regardless of where we meet, the enemy is the enemy. We all have feelings of hate toward them. But you must suppress those feelings and not let them interfere. Chess must be played with a sober head.”

Radjabov’s remarks touched off a controversy, of course. Farther down the page you can read a clarification that he sent to ChessBase, which is something less than a 100 percent retraction. Radjabov concludes, “we all sincerely believe that common sense will prevail at the end and the conflict between our countries will be resolved peacefully and within international law.”

Let’s hope that Radjabov is right. For the time being, I think it’s a good sign that the Azerbaijan-Armenia chess match was actually played. The Azerbaijani and Armenian soccer teams recently were given a double forfeit in a world soccer tournament because they could not agree on a place to play. There’s no way to become “frienemies” if you can’t even agree to face each other.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Carina J. November 21, 2007 at 1:46 am

Psychological aggression over the chessboard is a very doubleedged thing, in my opinion. When I was a kid I was only scared to lose; I didn’t understand or think about resenting the opponent. Now I’m no longer afraid of losing (I don’t believe in monsters under the bed anymore, either 😛 phew) but suddenly, I have a lot of ego involved as soon as my opponent is of a provocative type. For example, there are a lot of stupid men who comment that my opponents shouldn’t lose to a woman, and other men who are incredibly slimy just to try and have a date or something. I have a game against such a person tomorrow, and I’ve been dreading it for the last many weeks, and I can’t say I don’t hate the guy a little bit for tainting the chess atmosphere at the club with these things. But anger is a challenge in adult chess life that I think most people will experience (you’re lucky if you haven’t :)), and learning to deal with it is a must to improve play. Tomorrow, I will be focusing a lot on either supressing any distracting “you suck” thoughts about my opponent, or else working to channel the extra energy into my play, in an attempt to concentrate deeper and hope to find ideas that’d otherwise be above my level.

In the future, I’ll be making sure to stay detached enough from the social side to chess, to never get angry with people again: worst case scenario it distracts incredibly much during a game and it is only beneficial when you’re psyche is so evolved it can magic anger into improved performance (although that’d be a reward worth suffering for, I think :D).


admin November 21, 2007 at 8:48 am

Carina, let us know how it turns out, okay?

Although I don’t think I have ever hated an opponent, it’s true that I have played some annoying people. I definitely have to control my emotions when playing against such people.

The one who immediately comes to mind is a guy here in Santa Cruz, whom I won’t name (but Matt probably knows him). This person has a very inflated opinion of himself. He brags about his “sandbagging” (losing games on purpose to keep his rating low), which I object to whether it’s true or false. If he does sandbag, I consider it unsportsmanlike and unethical. If he doesn’t sandbag, then he’s just in denial, trying to make excuses for his losses — which is another form of poor sportsmanship. This person also uses all known forms of table talk. My favorite is that when he sets a trap, he’ll groan as if he just made a blunder (hoping to sucker you into his trap). He also snickers and makes other sarcastic comments during the game. If he wins the game, of course, he is insufferable. If he loses, well, he was winning all the way until he made that one mistake.

If you’ve read Paul Hoffman’s book or my post about it, October 19, you can describe this player’s personality in one word: he’s a Grobster.

So how do I deal with this person? I turn the annoying behavior into something positive, by viewing it as a form of theater or performance art. I enjoy the antics as part of the experience of playing this person, and I would be a little bit disappointed if we got through an entire game without them. As for my own behavior, I concentrate on good sportsmanship. I congratulate him if he wins, and I don’t gloat if I win. If he says he lost because of one stupid mistake, I’m delighted. Let him go on thinking that. It just means he will never learn, and I will continue to beat him.

I don’t know if any of this will help you deal with your nemesis, but perhaps it could be a helpful coping strategy.


Dribbling November 21, 2007 at 10:34 am

Carina, I would like to give advice but I don’t feel qualified. However, I would love it if at the end of the game, win or lose, you were to hit this guy over the head with a chair, I mean you only live once.

I know, I understand, this is not possible. Still, one can dream.

Very often bullies are cowards who back off when encountering stiff resistance. A story of the Spanish civil war in very poor taste illustrates.

The Republicans took over the village and raped all the nuns in the convent excet Sor María. Then Franco’s moors dislodged the republicans and raped all the nuns in the convent except Sor María. The alternation goes on until somebody finally asks the storyteller why Sor María was never raped, to which the storyteller replies that she refused, she said no.

Good luck. Don’t let the bastard get you down.


Matt Hayes November 21, 2007 at 10:43 am

I’m not sure if I know who you are talking about Dana as it’s been a few years since I played chess in Santa Cruz. But I’m sure it’s somebody I would recognize if I saw his face!

This brings to mind something interesting. It’s possible that this person really does believe what he is saying, how he was totally winning until one bad blunder, etc. A couple of months ago I played a lower rated player in Arcadia (at the time I think I was about 1950 and he was in the 1500’s) and I found the post mortem to be very revealing. He felt he was completely winning until he made one bad mistake, however I believed this assessment to be incorrect. I can see why he thought what he did: my king was in the center, his queen was quite active, and so on. But in reality he had no good way to get at my king and his king ended up being far more exposed than mine did. HIs threats were really just illusions and, when the dust had settled and the threats were nullified, he just stood worse. I found this interesting… I suspect that my assessment was more correct partly because of my higher rating but I also believe that HE thought he was attacking me throughout the game (even though the attacks were an illusion) and so he just thought that he MUST have had the better position. It’s funny how we can be blinded sometimes and how this hinders us from making an objective assessment of a position.

In terms of bad sportsmanship, I haven’t had many encounters with these types of players. There is one guy at my club that always gives away tell tale signs when he has a bad position. He gets embarassed and can’t stand other people to pass by and look at the game. He will try to block people’s views of the game by resting his head in his hand and leaning on his elbow, and shifting to the left and right to obscure people’s view of it. I find it very amusing! But I guess he isn’t being a bad sport a such… it’s just a quirk he has.

Actually, one of the best examples I can think of came in this year’s Amatuer Team West. Our team won the U2000 prize and we caused a couple of upsets along the way. Our biggest upset came against a team that outrated us by at least 100 pts on every board. We won 3-1 with no losses. Our top board was playing a NM and his opponent’s flag fell. Naturally my teammate claimed the win on time and that’s where the trouble started. His opponent claimed the clock was defective and that the flag fell when clearly there 10 or 15 seconds remaining. So we all marched off to the TD’s office (I was involved as I was the team captain) and it got rather heated. The TD ruled in our favor and said that in his opinion the clock was not defective and, even if the guy was given 10 seconds, he still had about a dozen moves to make the time control (I think his position was dubious at the time too). The guy kept protesting and protesting and my teammate was going to just try to settle for a draw. I told him no way would we take the draw, that it was clearly a win for our team. Anyway, the TD got rather irritated and starting yelling at my teammate’s opponent. At the end they took a LONG time to sign the scoresheets… unfortunately the guy whose flag fell was also their team captain and both captains have to sign the overall scoresheet at the end of the match. He kept going on and on about his game, about the injustice of it all, blah blah blah. Finally he did sign the scoresheet, with a rather shaky hand I might add. I thought it was bad sportsmanship by him and not the kind of thing you like to see in a team tournament (it hardly sets a good example for the rest of the team when the captain behaves that way).


Carina J. November 23, 2007 at 4:46 am

I lost the game, but that was the least of it, the psychological/mental side to playing against this fellow beats everything I’ve experienced in the chess world since resuming play. It was like a nightmare you could only wake from by killing yourself. 😀

I’ve written about my experience of it in my blog here, and analyzed the game. A light warning: it’s long.


Rob November 23, 2007 at 8:25 am

Hi Dana.
I enjoy your posts and I certainly enjoy your lectures as well.

I live in a rural part of France and rarely get to play chess over the board. I do play a lot on the internet and find, in fact, that people on ICC can be just as annoying as anyone you might face off against in person.

I can understand to some degree the psychological aspects of competing with a person face to face, but I am bewildered, at times, by the fact that someone, whom I do not know, and probably will never meet, can be a source of annoyance in a game on the internet.

Often after finding myself having experienced such feelings, I examine what was it about my opponent’s actions or behavior that caused such a reaction in me. Usually I find that it is because this person has violated “my code of chess playing conduct” and I have
a hard time letting go of this “so-called” transgression.

I find if given the opportunity to play such an opponent again such behavior has a diminished effect on me.

I guess my point is that perhaps (and excepting where the behavior is clearly and blantantly offensive), it is worthwhile to examine what positions (attitudes) we hold that provokes such feelings. And perhaps it is easier to change our position than to change the behavior on another.


admin November 23, 2007 at 7:12 pm

Carina, sorry to hear that you lost the game. I was rooting for you, because a win or a draw would have helped you put this psychological demon to rest. However, losing the game may have its instructive side, too. You’ve seen the consequences of letting your opponent get to you.

I think Rob’s comment was very perceptive. You can’t control what your opponent does, but you can (to some extent) control your response to it.

It might be helpful to check out David Vigorito’s lecture, “How to Play Chess with Pneumonia.” It occurs to me that playing chess when you are mentally distracted, or unprepared, or when you haven’t had enough sleep, is a bit like playing while sick. If you *have* to play under those circumstances, try to keep the game simple.

A couple of chess comments: I think you played *well* up to move 13. The queen trade significantly eased your defensive task. But on move 13, I would have asked myself, “What do I need to do to improve my position?” There are two things that leap out at me: I need to finish developing and I need to castle. So 13. … Nd5 is in principle a wrong move because it doesn’t facilitate either of those goals.

However, there *is* one good reason for playing 13. … Nd5 — in order to set up 17. … Bf6! The thought process in that case would hve been, “What is wrong with my opponent’s position?” This is actually a more empowering question for you to ask. Again, there is one thing that sticks out like a sore thumb: that knight on h4, which is *undefended* (always a red flag) and has nowhere to go except back to f3. So if you had played 13. … Nd5 with the intention of playing 17. … Bf6, I would be jumping up and down and cheering.

After this you know what went wrong.

A painful, painful loss, but I think you will get over it, and one day you will look back and say, “How did I let this guy bother me so much?”


Dribbling November 24, 2007 at 2:39 am

Carina. I, too, am sorry that you lost to this guy.
Dana’s stress free approach to an obnoxious opponent is nice work if you can get it, but not everyone can. It is very difficult indeed to escape from the victory=ecstasy defeat=death vicious circle, whatever the character of the opponent. Chess is many different things to many different people: in addition to the classical art form-science-struggle trilogy, chess can be a hobby, a passion, a drug, a substitute for life, life itself (Bobby) and can acquire many other meanings.
Lost in translation is the fact that chess can also be – most definitely is – a game, a fact which we ignore at our expense. To a certain extent it may well be that in order to play chess well we must first be able to play chess, period.


Carina J. November 25, 2007 at 7:29 am

The difference between winning and losing is something I’m trying to smoothen out, once winning was my only goal and the only measure of success but that is such a faulty attitude that I’ve gone over to the opposite mentality for a while (losing doesn’t matter as long as you learn something), and am only these days beginning the work of having a healthy approach to my exterior results. At the moment I haven’t succeeded, which can be seen in the fact that friends and other people care more about whether I win than I do, and at a blitz tournament yesterday my detatched attitude from Thursday’s game made itself felt again, and I only scored 1 of 4 rounds, and though a guy was rated as high as 2300, I lost two games because of sheer grumpyness translating itself to careless decisions. I’ve experienced the same thing in jiu-jitsu, where I went through a phase of winning everything in the female classes in Denmark, but it gave me no joy and I quit soon after because the pressure got too high and I was left feeling lost after tournaments, even wishing I hadn’t won so my mood would match my results. I think at the moment I’m just rebelling against old phantoms, absurdly playing by the rule “I can lose whenever I want to!”, which is very anti-competitive. 😆

I think it’s fine that I got massacred because of my own frustration, because I’ll not let this go without learning something from it and in the end I think the easy road is not worth taking.

The point that you can’t change people’s behavior, only your reactions to it, is true. However, it’s kinda like knowing you’re supposed to fight for the center as a new player in chess. It’s easy to say, but you keep forgetting it and when it comes down to it, how exactly can I conquer the center with my discoordinated pieces in this or that position? I knew very well a whole BUNCH of psychological truths as I played, and I kept flipping through them to calm myself down, but because they’re new to my thinking I failed miserably in mastering any of it and my mind reverted to old habits of reacting to lame stuff. I think it’s very fitting that I lost, how could a victory be an appropriate monument to this horrible event! 😆

About the game, I did notice the undefended nature of the Knight, which is something new for me (to pick out undefended pieces, whether or not they can be tactically exploited at the moment – go me!) I will have to look at that Bf6 plan tomorrow. I know that my mistakes started pouring in about the time I played Nd5, I remember I only did it to trade a piece and “centralize my Bishop” 😆 as well as blockade the d-Pawn, but I was so off that I couldn’t even predict the c4 push and see how much danger I would be in after d5.

I’ve seen that Pneumonia lecture, it had some really good strategic points that I’ve actually continued thinking about. I want to learn the Petrov defense now so I can draw again stronger players too, if I don’t feel up to a long fight. 😀

It’s interesting to note about my Thursday match that I wasn’t conscious about what I wanted to acheive, and I think that led to part of my confused play. Part of me wanted to resign from the beginning, another (weaker) part of me wanted to crush my opponent totally (if only to be rid of him), another part thought it didn’t matter and that I might as well offer a draw quickly, but this part was suppressed by my disgust of sharing points with a player like him. I think the suicidal mentality of just resigning dominated throughout the game, I remember very well not wanting to sit down at the board when I arrived and just wanting to be done with it, because at that point I was beyond caring about winning/losing, I just wanted it over! I also didn’t want a long match, which is why I didn’t choose the positional 1..d5, even though this might have been my best choise. And I didn’t want an interesting, evenful game, I was very disappointed when the sacrifice appeared because then, jees, it got “interesting” for him.

Well, I have a ton to work with after this match, although it’s not chessic stuff, just work with my own approach to problems.


Carina J. November 25, 2007 at 7:42 am

Oh, by the way, the mentality of wanting to crush your opponent is the only one fitting for tournament play, but it is very weak in me at the moment and will remain asleep atleast 6 months more. The reason is that I’m undergoing so much change in regards to principles and attitudes that opponents are way down on my priority list, and at the moment I don’t feel like continuing my tournament play at all, because I can see that I’ve not been focused on winning for a long time. However, I think that the games I’ve played and my nine rounds remaining are really valuable in the sense that they reveal almost every mistake I make, and in the new year I’ll take some months off to investigate this. According to plans, I’ll then start tournament play again in July (and then I’ll truly crush them! I’ll make it my singular goal). 🙂 I might continue with blitz tournaments because they’re so fun to test new openings in, and because I meet so strong opposition = fine, free lessons! At the moment I just want to lick my wounds, though. Chess is hard psycho-teraphy.


Carina J. November 25, 2007 at 7:57 am

Oh, and it was 5 rounds in that tournament, not 4. So I almost did accomplish what I used to fear: losing 5 times in a row. 😆 (the one game I won was inspired, though. I’ll probably post them in my blog at school tomorrow, unless the teachers pester me with assignements, hehe.)


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