Chess Mind Games

I don’t believe in psychology. I believe in good moves. -Bobby Fischer

   Recently there was an amusing thread on reddit.com entitled, Asking r/chess: what are some mind games you play with your opponent, that was kind of fun.

    I don’t advocate trying to play “mind games”, but I posted a list of things that I have seen over the years that I have seen other players do, and things that have annoyed me, or other players in the past. 

   I got a couple comments that my list was funny, so I thought I would repost it here for your enjoyment.

   Possible “Mind games” I have seen other people do (Some might just be poor sportsmanship, or being odd):

  • Complain about the pieces or board before the game
  • Eating at the Table (I have seen people eating full meals, not just snacks)
  • Constantly offering Draws (Kids love to do this)
  • Wearing sunglasses at the table
  • Making comments before the game to psych out the opponent
  • Wearing unusual or distracting clothing (cleavage for women)
  • arguing about stuff like the clock, use of a Monroi, etc
  • Not keeping score, or other rules violations, requiring a TD interaction
  • constantly moving around, sniffing, coughing, making noise
  • slamming the person’s clock/slamming pieces
  • setting up your board, even if you have the white pieces.
  • Setting up your board, even if boards are already provided
  • Writing question marks after a person’s move on your scoresheet
  • Having an attractive woman watch your game
  • Walking behind your opponent, and looking at the board over their shoulder
  • playing really slow on obvious moves/forced recaptures, etc
  • poor personal hygiene
  • constantly “adjusting” pieces
  • Playing with a non standard, or overly fancy board
  • Bringing a pet to the tournament
  • Having small children running around
  • Hovering chess parents

   One person noted that most of these are actually illegal according to the rules. Any distraction (most of the unsportsmanlike behavior of your opponent can result in the referee warning them and if such behavior continues he will disqualify them). 

   I had one kid (prob 12 years old) stand right behind me, hover and bend over and peer over my shoulder as I was making my move. Like we were posing for a picture or something.  Was very distracting, and I told him to get out of my personal space. I don’t think he was doing “mind games”, but it certainly was annoying. Of course, just looking at the board from a reasonable distance is legal, and acceptable :-)

   As far as Hygiene, there is one guy my friend Pete calls “Stinky Bob”, who plays at a lot of the major tournaments – National Open, World Open, etc. He smells and looks like he just came out of a dumpster. I probably would not be able to play a 6 hour game against him without getting sick from the smell.

   Even if the “mind games” are illegal, it is still a hassle to go and get a TD involved, stop the clock, etc. It can screw up your train of thought, and most of the time the penalty will not be very severe (just a warning).

   My best advice is just to ignore them as best as possible, and don’t be afraid to get the TD involved if needed.  That is why they are there, and the experienced ones have seen it all.

   Wearing ear plugs can help with some of the distractions if you are sensitive to noises.  I know several players that do this (although you may miss draw offers if they shut out all the noise!)

   What are some of the mind games that you have seen?  Leave any good ones in the comments below!






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One thought on “Chess Mind Games

  1. I’ll try again:

    This clown I played in Dallas was reading a book when the game started…when his position started to deteriorate, he seemed to lose interest in the book. He lacked the class to resign in a position so bad that even I could win, he simply packed up his book and other things and left without a word. I wanted to ask him what in the world was the point of such behavior, as he was rated much higher. I think his focus on trying to shake me up ruined his effort.

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