The Fear of Losing: How It Can and Does Stunt Your Chess

What's up Two blogs in two days is very rare for me but I thought it was worth making a follow up to my last one: The League of Unremarkable Gentlemen. Today we will look deeper into the issue of chessplayers and their sometimes fragile egos. Because frankly, there's nothing funnier - erm worse... (funnier) than a guy whining about losing a chessgame. Whining in general is a pretty bad thing for any guy to do but that's way off topic... Today I will hopefully quell those fears and give you the reader a whole new world to explore.

Confronting The Problem









Before you can fix a problem you need to confront it. I imagine it can be a scary one to realize but the longer you put it off, the bigger and scarier it will get. Before you know it you'll end up denying that you have the problem when it's obvious that you do. Humans can hide their emotions but body language tends to give you away. Often times when people are confronted by friends about a problem they will often roll their eyes, fake a sigh or even give a hostile look while they deny it. They often have no idea that they're broadcasting their emotions for all to see. It's better to just fix the problem and be happy instead of living with that monkey on your back - a monkey that speaks English and tells us when you're lying.

The reasons why people can be afraid of losing are many - most of which tend to develop in early childhood. Maybe it was from losing at dodgeball or maybe not getting picked to play dodgeball. Regardless of the origin, the reasons are frivilous and are often brought on by the unknown rather than one simple thing. What does that mean? Fear of losing itself isn't really a literal term. When someone is "afraid of losing" they aren't really afraid to lose. They are trying to avoid some stigma that often gets thrown into competitive games such as "not being good enough or smart enough."

This is often why the problem is hard to diagnose. Losing is not the problem. The problem is the emotions brought on by losing. This would explain why there is no actual term for this phobia. The phobia in question actually does not exist! It is merely a shield we use so that we don't really have to face our true problems. Do you hate losing, or does losing make you feel worse about yourself? Why is this? Where did this issue come form? When did it occur? This is only one example of confronting the true problem. The real reason that people hate losing is because of the stigmas that are attached to it.

How Big Is This Problem?


Very; Well actually it depends on the person and if it goes unchecked it can and will grow and manifest in many ways. Sometimes the problems created by the first can be even more dangerous than initial one. But fear of losing can create many issues with our chess game:

  • It casues you to play timidly, miss opportunities and even give them to your opponent.
  • Your chess will not develop quickly because you only play familiar positions
  • You will not make the best moves simply because they may allow aggression from your opponent. Instead you will play subpar moves and become a subpar player - if you're lucky.
  • Your game will become stale and predictable. A timid opponent is easily demolished by tactics, aggressive play and innovations in the opening
  • You won't learn anything
  • You will lose more often (Oh the irony....)

This is best seen in a game of chess.


If it happens to a GM then it can certainly happen to you. But where else does it point to? Your opening choices for one; How many people play the Colle because they enjoy the attacking possibilities. That's great. Ok, now how many people play the Colle to avoid tactics. Yeah, that's what I thought - lots of hands went up there. Cool Well when we avoid something it's usually because we can't deal with it. Something to think about... Who likes to play the Latvian gambit? Ok, who doesn't play it because it's bad? Interesting. Now how many people have used the Latvian just to experiment and actually understand why many players don't like it? *crickets* Yeah that's what I thought.
With the timid mindset you gain from being afraid to lose you're condemed to play one opening for the rest of your life and you won't learn much about chess in the process. Every opening you play is designed to avoid your weaknesses. Due to this you will be forever weak in these areas and your opponents will continually exploit these weaknesses when they have the chance. It is impossible to truely avoid them because chess requires versatility and many situations can arise that you have never seen before. You become a one-trick-pony as they say.
When you are afraid to lose, you create situations in which losing is more possible. I'll bet that you never thought about that.
Getting Rid of The Stigmas

This is an important step. What ever you think about losing is likely crap made up by idiots with nothing better to do with their time and for some reason you bought it.  What does it mean to lose a chess game? Well obviously you made a mistake somewhere in the game and your opponent exploited it. Or perhaps your opponent was able to amass many small advantages that led to a won game. THAT'S ALL IT MEANS. Anyone that says otherwise holds a board game on too high a pedestal and you really don't need to hang around them anyway.
Losing says absolutely nothing about a person. It only describes that the direction of a game did not go in their favor. How is that something to feel bad about? Of course everyone wants to win but everyone must lose at times. GMs probably draw more than they lose (LOL) but even they lose games and on occasion to lower rated players. When you lose you simply must understand that there are holes in your game that need to be fixed and that you should reflect on them when you get the time. We learn from our mistakes when we lose and we must take a loss as an opportunity to make sure that we don't repeat these mistakes. If your opponent isn't one of the douchebags I have described then maybe they will do a post-mortem with you. Then you will both learn together! Even GMs do it!!
The bad feelings from losing often come from experiences with other people that are ravenously insecure about themselves. Why should you let people like that bother you? They're probably rediculously screwed up and can't find a proper way to vent their feelings. People like that I pity because they will never enjoy the game the way I do no matter how proficient they become. They may play better than I do but they will always be plagued by their own negative feelings about themselves. Now they can be annoying but they are just trying to make themselves feel better. The means in which they do it are questionable and now you know why they do it. A sore loser is often a sore winner as well. Perhaps they have the same problem you do and are struggling to get over it. They say that it's being competitive but insulting your opponent is not being competitive - it's being a douche. Don't forget that these people will always have excuses for their actions - even their positive ones! You don't want to be that person and you don't have to be that person. 
When you are playing a game you should not be thinking about losing. That's a good way to make yourself do something stupid and lose anyway. When you play a chess game, your aim is to make the most accurate moves possible and to keep the game as favorable to you as possible. That's all that you need to think about. You can think about the outcome of the game when it's over. You just need to steer the game in a direction that prevents you from getting a bad position or at least go for a draw. If you think about losing then you will lose. You'll miss a knight fork or get pinned or something. It always happens that way. Just think of all the perpetuals you could miss as well.
Don't forget that in this mindset winning is farthest from your thoughts. You didn't even give yourself a chance to hang in there. When you are afraid to lose, you create situations in which losing is more possible.
Cleaning Up
It's likely that you've made many decisions with your playstyle (and I use the term very loosely) out of fear alone. You probably play openings to avoid certain situations or you may even have some issue with trading pieces. Whatever they are you need to weed them out. No playing the London to avoid tactics and no playing the king's gambit to avoid positional play. Your opening choices should be based on preference and not what you're afraid to face. Just imagine all the times you've lied to yourself about what you really want out of fear.  
What I did to get myself out of my old ways was to play openings that I didn't know. I played 1.Nc3, 1.b3, 1.f4 and all sorts of weird things with White and 1...a6, 1...e5(!!), 1...Nc6 in all sorts of situations. Playing in this way forces you to play from move 1. You no longer have the chains of fear holding you back and you're well on your way to jumping to new heights! I still do it and what's funny is that people think that I'm some booked up chess expert. But I'm not that at all. I'm just not afraid to play something new like they are. Often times it is envy. They'll wish they had the courage to play like you do. But all you've done is changed your perspective on the game.  
Share The Wealth
There are a lot of people with this problem. It is an epidemic at this point and it's not only a problem in chess. I meet at least one person with the issue everytime I play a game of chess otb but in lots of other games as well. This is really important for the kids to understand. I've seen many kids cry at a chess tournaments and it's sad. It's pretty much one of those awkward moments when you look at the guys around you and you're like: "yeah...." People shouldn't be afraid to lose but many are so if you know someone like this (I know you do) perhaps you should gently give them the advice. Don't be like Major Payne because that doesn't work unless you're really funny. Now some people don't want the help and there's nothing that you can do in that case, but as long as you try then that's ok.
Well that's about it for this series about chess. Now go out there and really play.


  • 4 years ago


    dude, thanks for raising this much needed and sensitive issue! the point about fear of losing is actually fear of the emotions that come with it is excellent. the fear of the loss triggers subconscious memories of the experiences that first created these stressful and sometimes overwhelming emotions. fear of losing is caused less by fear of stigma (fear of the opinions of others - which is actually a textbook definition of co-dependence) and more by actual psychological and/or physical trauma. their are very effective techniques such as rebirthing and regression therapy to discover and release the cause of the suffering. .. Smile

  • 6 years ago


    Yes, recently I have started to have a more mature approach to the game, objectively looking at my moves, and seeing moves that were better. If I made a bad move, then I should just admit it! There is always an excuse, but that doesn't make a bad move good, so the "excuse" is more like the reason why it happened, but only by looking at this stuff honestly can the fundamental problems start to go away. Now all I care about is finding the truth of a position, and using that knowledge as a possible reference in the back of my head for future games.

    I used to not want to computer analyze my stuff; guess why, it found the blunders and mistakes I didn't, found opportunities I hadn't even known I missed prior. But by playing through and understanding the often wild lines the computer plays through introduces you to lots of dynamic, concrete ideas, and, well, makes your game more computer like! That's what grandmasters try to be: computers that can plan.

  • 6 years ago


    great blog man, you really helped me end my fear! Smile Anyway, there is a group called Latvian Gambit Players and I'm in it.

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