Grandmaster tips: How to stay calm under pressure, by GM ALEX COLOVIC

By Leon Watson / On / In Chess improvement, Grandmaster Tips

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One of the most important aspects of self-control during a game of chess is the ability to stay calm under pressure.

Imagine a situation when on move 30, in a highly complex position you have a few promising options at your disposal but you have only 10 minutes to reach move 40.

To make it worse, your opponent also has a few options against each of your promising options, so things can easily get out of control and you slowly start to feel overwhelmed.

Don’t panic!

It is easy to panic in such situations. It is not so much the depth of the variations that will scare you, it is the breadth – the Kotovian variation tree branches out so quickly that you cannot seem to be able to control it.

GM Colovic is the author of The Najdorf Sicilian: Simplified

This is the exact moment when the above-mentioned self-control should kick in. The first thing is to remember it under those conditions, as it is easy to lose yourself in the variations. Stop and step back. Realize that panic is taking over and calm yourself down.

Only a calm player can navigate complications successfully. The second step is to take each option one by one. Without panic, calmly start calculating each opponent’s option one by one.

Learn self-control – it’s important!

When you finish the first, go to the second. It is not that difficult once you’ve calmed down. If there are time constraints like time-trouble you may have to cut short some of your calculations and make preliminary evaluations, but that is still better than not looking at the variation at all.

As an example, I will show you a very simple position.


Rinaldo Bianchetti was an Italian endgame composer

White moves here in the finale of Bianchetti’s study from 1924.

At first sight, you may be overwhelmed by the emptiness of the board and the many options Black has after White attacks the rook by 1 Kg7. This fear of having too many options to deal with may even paralyze you and your mind may not want to continue forward. In a self-defense mechanism, the brain may just shut down.

This is a critical moment. First, you must become aware of it happening and then you must override that subconscious self-defending mechanism by consciously making your mind continue where you want it to.

The rewards for your increased awareness and self-control may be beyond your expectation. Take another look at the position above. Calmly check every single move the rook can make and you will see what I mean. As so often in life, the goal is the closest at the moment when we consider giving up.

A final note to the Douglas Adams fans out there. It may help if you imagine Don’t Panic in large friendly letters. It helped me.

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