Yesterday, I shared my feelings on the recent cheating scandal involving WGM Miheala Sandu and the Women’s European Chess Championship. At one point in the post, I wanted to focus on the significant effect that a chess player’s mental status has on the outcome of a game. After WGM Sandu was subjected to the baseless assaults on her character, the effectiveness of her gameplay took a devastating turn for the worse. This is much the same for chess players of all skill levels and experience. Chess knowledge, experience, and preparation cannot make up for the psychological difficulties of poor concentration, stress, anxiety, and other negative effects on the human mind.
A perfect example of this in the amateur world would be the effect that work stress has had on my recent over-the-board success. On Chess.com there are several different time controls that a player can select. Among those are Bullet, Blitz, and Standard for live chess, and Standard and Chess960 for daily (or turn-based) chess. Although it is frowned upon by many chess teachers, I tend to play a lot of 5-minute blitz chess, mostly because my busy schedule rarely affords me the opportunity to sit down and play an extended series of 15-minute standard games. On May 16, 2014, I deleted my old Chess.com account and signed up for a new one using the username AmishHacker because it is something I have used extensively on other sites for decades. In any case, it was on that day that I achieved both my highest and lowest ratings in blitz chess: 1200 and 692 respectively. For what its worth, all players start out at 1200 and most of us fall down to a norm relatively quickly.
Since that time, my blitz rating has hovered between 750 and 900, but it reached a peak rating of 951 on October 26, 2014 before taking another freefall. For each of these ELO rises and falls, I am able to look back at specific life events that affected the way that I was playing.
In May of this year, my day job took a turn for the worse, which created an immense amount of stress and anxiety for me and for my family. The effects of this event are evident in the devastating ELO drop that occurred shortly thereafter. I played some of the worst chess games of my life in the span from May 20 to June 1. Simple tactical problems became monumental obstacles and no matter how much I studied games or practiced on a board at home or with Fritz, I kept coming up short. As a prime example, check out this little gem:
Sure, many people do not pay attention to their games at times and can make mistakes like this, but it had become so incredibly commonplace in that span of time that it certainly detracted from my desire to play chess, much less blog about it. Then, things started to change…
June 1 was the day that things really started turning around for me both in my professional life and on the chess board. Much of the chaos that had plagued my family’s life ended on that day and almost immediately, many of my chess games began to return to normal. Except that this time, things were going to be different. As of today, my blitz rating sits at 962, which is the highest it has been since May 26 of last year! Of course there are some games scattered across my record that are hopelessly lost positions won on time, but most of the games recently are legitimate wins that have given me a renewed sense of hope for the future. In addition, I am now only 7 games away from batting .500, which means I will have an equal number of wins and losses for the first time in my chess career.
With a starting ELO of 692 in May of 2014, an ELO in June of this year equates to a 39.8% increase over the past year! It may not seem like much to some people, but small advances like this are why I love playing chess! The work is hard, but it is thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding!
If you play regularly on Chess.com, perhaps you will take some time to hunt me down and challenge me to a game! Win or lose, every venture out onto the board is a chance to learn, explore, discover, and grow!