Monday, August 8, 2011

Loser - 7 Rules for Dealing with Losses

Let’s establish an axiom of competition right off the bat; no one likes losing. Sure there are some people who “don’t mind” or “it doesn’t bother them” to lose. But no one likes it. That being said, if there is an emotion stronger than hate, it might begin to describe my feelings towards losing. And I do mean losing anything whether it’s chess or Hungry-Hungry Hippo.  The other day my 4-year-old beat me at Wii Bowling. I put her on restriction for 12 years.

Once I was clowning around playing my dad in a casual game of chess.  I always talk trash to him because he hasn’t beaten me in about 15 years.  He was down 2 minor pieces to me, I was easily winning. So I started watching the Three Stooges instead of paying attention to the game.

I look down and see that he hung a Rook with his last move and confidently snatched it.  My dad said, “you’re joking right?” I looked back at the board and realized I left my back rank wide open and he thundered down with a checkmate.  I about flipped the table over and then turned into the Incredible Hulk right then and there.

I tell the following stories frequently but they bear repeating.

Weaksquare’s 3 Worst Chess Losses

#3 – An Easy Win Goes Wrong

I did some home preparation against the Najdorf Sicilian as white and found some excellent attacking lines that involved a piece sacrifice. My very next game my opponent plays the Najdorf and I execute a pretty stunning piece sacrifice on move 9.  My opponent was in a completely and totally locked position and had nothing but land mines all around him. Within 6 moves I had gone from down a piece to up a piece! I was easily winning.

I played the next 15 moves or so on auto-pilot.  Every move I made was preceded with the thought, “I wish he would just resign”. A quick lapse in thinking and I dropped in entire rook. Now I was simply losing. I resigned four moves later.

Rage does not even come close to describing how I felt. I could have ripped a manhole cover in half. I left and went out and found a midget to beat up and it made me feel better.

#2 – The Four Move Wonder

I had been having an amazing tournament. I had 3.5 points out of 4, all against stronger opponents. It was round 5 and I was playing an expert and former state champion. I had psyched myself up several hours before the game telling myself that I was taking down my first expert player today. The game was on board 1, being broadcast live on the Internet!

I lost in four moves.  This time I was not sent into a frenzied rage, but it was honestly one of the most horribly embarrassing moments of my life.  I was playing black. In case you were wondering, 1.c4 e5 2. Nc3 f5 3. e4!? fxe4?? 4. Qh5+! Devastating.

#1 – Miniature from a miniature.

As awful as #2 sounds, try getting checkmated in 9 moves by a 10-year-old. See how that does your ego.   We were playing in a team tournament and I was fairly new to chess playing on board 3 for my team. I was steadily improving and playing a half-pint about 300 points below my rating.  Again, I was playing black. About 6 moves in my teammate from board 1 comes over and looks at my board.  I make eye contact with him and he starts shaking his head at me.

I looked at him with a rather puzzled look. Little did I know I was going to get mated in 3 moves, but he saw it coming.  I was so embarrassed I wanted to cry. I was so angry I wanted to punch a hole in a brick wall.

1.e4 e5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4. Bc4 Bb4+?! 5.c3 dxc3 6.bxc3 Be7? 7. Qd5! d6? 8. Qxh7+ Kd7 9. Be6#

What is the point of me sharing these stories? Each of these experiences gave me the opportunity to close up shop and quit.  Or worse yet, forget they ever happened and keep playing the way I always have.

But, I didn’t do that. Each experience gave me valuable, irreplaceable lessons about competition and the game of chess.  I took each of these losses and learned from them, greatly. After each devastating loss my rating surged forward.  Why? Because these losses conferred hard lessons that I would never forget because they hurt so badly.

Losing sucks, but failing to get the important lesson from the loss is nothing short of a tragedy. Growth can only come from failure.

I’d be willing to bet you Garry Kasparov has 100 similar stories he could share.  Did you know Babe Ruth struckout 1,330 times in his baseball career? Do you know how many times I’ve struck out in Major League games? Zero! Am I a better baseball player than Babe Ruth because I have no strikeouts? I think you get my point. Could Ruth gotten 714 home runs without striking out over 1,000 times? Not likely. Achievement is not winning 100% of the time, achievement is learning from losses to make you a tougher competitor.

Loss is to be expected. It happens. So have a plan to deal with losses in a healthy way that will contribute to your continued success.

WeakSquare's 7 Rules for Handling a Loss

1.       Go over the game with your opponent. You cannot get inside your opponents head during the game, but you sure can afterwards. Ask her what she was thinking at key moments, what her plans were, why she did or did not do something you expected at this point. Getting commentary from an equal or greater opponent is like having a free personalized lesson! Also remember that talking with your opponent, forming relationships, and being polite is within the true spirit of the game.

2.       Take some time to cool off if you need to. You need to review the game with your opponent but not while you’re foaming at the mouth with rage. Tell them you want to look at the game but ask them if they want to ride with you to a nearby coffee shop or the like to get away from the tournament hall.  The ride will probably do you some good and your casual talk will cool you down some.

3.       Making a snap decision on why you lost is usually a bad idea. Never say, “I don’t need to review my game, I know why I lost” is one of the worst things you can do.  Sure, you made a tactical error that lost your queen, yeah that’s why you lost. However, what were the conditions that led to that error?  Were you distracted? Thirsty? Hot? Tired? Winning? First 20 moves? Second time control? Being cognizant of the conditions surrounding your error will help you be aware of their presence in the future.  Also you might have been in a horrible position to begin with. Tactics may not be your problem but poor positional judgment. Think about it.

4.       Rip through the game with a computer, and then on your own. Let me qualify this by saying most coaches will tell you, “don’t use a computer for your first analysis”.  I respectfully disagree with this advice and believe it should be refined. I would say, “don’t RELY on the computer for your first analysis”. What I usually do is throw my game in a computer and just run through it in about 1 or 2 minutes paying particular attention to the evaluation changes.  I want to make sure I played a good game up to the point of my mistake.  If I see problems before my game losing mistake, I’ll notate them on my scoresheet. Once I plow through the game right quick, I close the computer down and start playing over the game with a carbon analysis (my own self!) Only after you do a thorough analysis on your own should you be free to open the computer back up and use it to help you find improvements.

5.       Keep things in perspective. As much as I hate losing, and I HATE IT, chess is a game. Life goes on. I have 2 healthy children, a freaking hot wife, a good job, good friends, a great church, good family, etc. I have a place to sleep and food to eat. If losing a game of chess is the worst thing that happens to me today, then I’m doing just fine.

6. Be polite, even when you're angry. There's no need to be rude. Even the rare occasions when your opponent is rude to you, don't sink to their level. Surprise them by reciprocating kindness, it may be the only time in their life someone is kind to them.

7. If all else fails, alcohol solves everything. Joking, joking!

Play well! But also win well, and lose well!