What Can Chess Players Learn from Mindfulness?


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Today we have a new guest post by Jessi Shakarian.

This one is a sequel to Jessi’s previous post on mindfulness, as she asks: what can chess players learn from mindfulness?

Mindfulness Dandelion Clock
Photo by Aleksandr Ledogorov on Unsplash

It’s the middle game, and you’re up material. Maybe you can even see some potential path to winning! Emotions are running high, maybe a little arrogance creeps in – I got this! I’m gonna win! Then, something goes wrong somewhere, and you realize the control of the board has shifted. The next thing you know, you’re losing, and you feel like you can’t save the game. It’s a wide range of emotions from anger to embarrassment to anxiety (that clock is running out of time!).

We’ve all been there – one little moment of unchecked emotions opens up a whole slew of new problems that could have been mitigated if we had just taken a moment to calm down and regroup. It’s the downside to the thrill of the game that keeps us all as chess players coming back to the board. Some of you might be thinking that’s an occupational hazard of playing chess, but I don’t think it needs to happen as often as it might for some folks. I am certainly one of those people, I make impulsive plays that don’t help me in the long run. It can be mitigated by utilizing mindfulness.

Mindfulness and Water
Photo by Levi XU on Unsplash

What is Mindfulness?

I’ve talked a little bit here about how mindfulness has been important for me to help with my focus. The thing I love about mindfulness (something I thought I’d never say just a few months ago), it’s so helpful for chess. My online correspondence games I play on an app have become a mental oasis from my work because I use mindfulness to play chess. Mindfulness has a lot of benefits outside of the game, but we’re going to focus on how it can help us be better players.

Mindfulness is a way to focus our awareness on the present moment. It’s more about accepting the feelings and thoughts without judging ourselves – simply acknowledging that the thought is there, and moving on. When we play chess, there’s a lot of thoughts kept in our head – what is my opponent going to do next? What would I do after their next move? This is a form of divergent thinking (looking at something from many different ways). In some aspects, mindfulness is built in as chess players.

What Can Chess Players Learn from Mindfulness?

Chess is all about using the rules of the game and being calculated enough to know when to break those rules to your advantage. I would call that a form of creative problem solving. Mindfulness can be helpful for divergent thinking, and it encourages creative problem solving. Rather than approaching anything already clouded by our emotions, or making an impulsive move that hinders us, mindfulness allows us to look at the board with the intentions of seeing more possibilities.

The other big thing that mindfulness can be helpful for is reducing overall stress, and building our resiliency in stressful situations. This is especially useful when we show up to the board, for tournaments and other competitive spaces. The ratings system as your self-worth as a player is a really easy aspect to get swept up in, for better or worse. A simple mindfulness exercise is just focusing on your breath, as it comes in, as it leaves. It can be done anywhere, at any time, relatively quickly without a lot of mental setup. So if you are under the stress of the time controls when a game is on the line, this is a quick exercise that can be done to help focus on the moment.


The most important aspect of mindfulness is understanding what’s happening in the moment, and rather than responding to that emotion or feeling, you are only reacting to the fact that it exists, and choosing to accept it or move on. It is your choice. In that way, mindfulness is very similar to playing chess. Do you respond to your opponent’s move? Though emotions and feelings seem more complicated than that, it can be dealt with at that same level. Rather than letting your impulsive thoughts control the board, or any other aspect of life, it can be more important to take a beat and recollect yourself. Focus on the moment, focus on your breath. Then, make your move.

Feedback Welcomed

Jessi Shakarian

All thoughts on this post should be directed to Jessi on Twitter!

We hope to have another guest post from Jessi in then near future. Meanwhile, please visit Jessi’s excellent blog, which is essential reading.

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