Over the board shakes?

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Over the board shakes?

Post by jpettit » Mon Feb 27, 2006 11:23 pm

For the first time in my chess life, I've been playing serious chess OTB (which is why I'm not moving very quickly here. Sorry). And I'm discovered a hidden dimension of chess: stress.

I'm never experienced this before. I'm sitting in my chair, hand resting on my chin as the game nears the middlegame, and suddenly adrenaline fills my system! I can't sit still. My whole body literally begins to shake. Moves that I would make in a split second on Net-Chess now take minutes of concentration; and as the game becomes more complicated and nears the critical position, I'm focused more on the thousands of butterflies in my stomach than the board. And I thought I had nerves of steel!

So this question is directed to all those who play OTB chess. How do you deal with the physical part? Does it go away with experience, or is it something that is always there, something that must be overcome?

Any tips, advice or anecdotes on dealing with OTB stress would be greatly appreciated. It's an awful feeling, losing games not from lack of skill but from a physical inability to remain in the game. I don't want to experience that again!

Thanks everyone,
-- Jonathan Pettit

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Don´t worry about those butterflies, they are your friends

Post by slowblunder » Tue Feb 28, 2006 1:19 am

When I sit and think and move in quite a calm way I should worry! From years of own experience I know that I will probably lose - no matter if the opponent is stronger or not.

I am happy when I feel the adrenaline in a position which I estimate to be decisive - without this great stuff I couldn´t finish my game at the level I want to. Of course, it is important to use that for the sake of my own concentration and not to listen to the "butterflies in the stomach" - although they do help, they shouldn´t be allowed to distract you.

I learnt that I have influence to those butterflies coming or not: if I play the opening quickly they will hide, if I play it slowly (even in a well-known line) I get more and more familiar with the current game and its possible lines: "Hi butterflies, how are you? I am fine as well, and now please start doing your job!"

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I love that feeling.

Post by phishhead » Wed Mar 01, 2006 4:35 pm

It is one of the best feelings to me. I have this issue of shaking my leg. kinda like someone would bounce a child on their leg, but only a thousand times faster. ONly once have i been asked to stop, cuz i was distracting the other person. It is hard on here to feel that true excitment. cuz you can screw up, and take a couple days to think about it. but OTB you screw up, and you don't have that time to think and be calm.

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Post by spud » Mon Mar 06, 2006 9:58 am

I find a couple of beers first help

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Post by jpettit » Tue Mar 07, 2006 12:02 pm

I'd like to thank you all for replying. Yet, I'm surprised that people ENJOY and LIKE this feeling. I hate it! How do you play chess when your entire body is focused on anything but the game?

I find this especially annoying because I have a blackbelt in karate and have spent most of my life controlling my body and harnessing my emotions. So I can break a stack of boards in half no problem; but when I sit in front of the board, I completely crack up! Life's funny that way.

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Post by davidswhite » Tue Mar 07, 2006 5:11 pm

Jonathan, I know the feeling and it's one of the reasons I gradually allowed myself to be dissuaded from continuing my OTB ambitions...that,along with a wife and 3 children and a business that
persisted in demanding my undivided attention(Lol!).
I'm going back some 30 years but,nonetheless,can assure you that
the shakes will lessen gradually but never completely.
It's critical that you never forget that,unless you're badly overmatched,
your opponent is experiencing precisely the same butterflies that you are.
Furthermore,in as much as you're moving from correspondence-type
to OTB,your adjustment period will naturally be harder than if you were
going in the reverse direction.For the player who cut his teeth on OTB
chess,correspondence chess is a natural and even pleasurable progression.Conversely,going as you are from correspondence to OTB
is unnatural and,accordingly,naturally more stressful.

So,don't worry,it'll eventually all work itself out for you.Still,it wouldn't
hurt if you applied some of the discipline you exercised in mastering
karate to acquiring some of the body control available to anyone
with a rudimentary foundation in Zen(I'm only half-kidding).

Good luck to you and hope you find this even a little bit helpful.
Your friend,

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Post by gregorgysi » Mon Mar 13, 2006 1:43 pm


I've been playing OTB (club chess) since I was 12 years old.

I had those nervous ticks all the time. Shacking my fingers and legs, moving around on my chair, just like a hyperactive kid.

In my first match against a really bad player, I was so nervous, I lost a rook in the 10 move (sic!) but got back and won the game!!

That helped a lot. I felt so strong, I could beat anybody. (In fact I just won the first game, because my opponent was drunk, as I was told years after that match)
And I was lucky, I did a very good season.

But my nervousness never left.

I tried:

1. A Walkman: Did work but is forbidden nowadays.

2. Coffee: Helps you remembering the opening in the morning but makes you shake like guck after some cups...

3. Beer (just one): Works, but see above :(

Now I got two really good tips for you:

1. Start to smoke and take adequate breaks: This will help you if you are a fast player. Won't help your health though....

2. Play bughouse: Teaches you to wait in front of a won or lost position. And to think in real trouble. Disadvantage: Won't improve your chess.

Now the good ones working for most people: The ultimate hint:

3. Play blitz-OTB tourneys!
That is the ultimate thing. Start with 20mins/match. And go on to 5
mins. You'll really be so nervous before during and after the matches,
you'll find fide time or 2:30 + 1hr games so slow you can't get nervous.

And finally
4. Take your breakes. Go eat something. Go outside. Walk a little bit around and watch other games. Really watch them. Think a little bit about what's going on there. This will deflect you mind.

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Post by ciortan » Tue Mar 14, 2006 11:20 am

A sugestion (works to me , and help alot):
During the game TALK WITH YOURSELF, yes from the first move till the final, talk with yourself , analize with words sayings in head like you just explain the position to a beginer....
Just try this

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Post by bret » Mon Mar 20, 2006 7:46 am

This doesn't happen with just OTB chess. I played in the PAL/Freestyle tournament this weekend and was very stressed on the first day. I guess because I haven't really played any "live" chess in over 10 years. As for the feeling ... I'd have to say I liked it since on the second day I was very relaxed and blundered away most my games! :shock:

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Post by phishhead » Sat Apr 01, 2006 11:21 am

I haven't played otb in 4 years. tomorrow i will be in Denver. for a tourny. i am already getting the excited shakes. Any one going to be there?

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Post by bredrook » Tue Apr 04, 2006 5:13 pm

This is what I say on this matter of nerves.
If you are in time pressure when this happens " suck it up!!
If you have time on the clock, get up from the board, Take some deep breaths, (great time for a bathroom break! There's nothing wrong with walking away from the table.) and get a grip!. If you need to get a drink.( Not alcohol, it clouds the mind) get it!. The same advice, I read in books, I apply myself.

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last sunday

Post by phishhead » Tue Apr 04, 2006 10:02 pm

Well i did not even have the shakes once i sat down. it was great. getting up and walking around is a wonderful thing

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Re: last sunday

Post by jpettit » Tue Apr 04, 2006 10:29 pm

phishhead wrote:Well i did not even have the shakes once i sat down. it was great. getting up and walking around is a wonderful thing
Was it a big hall filled with players? Having a feeling of so many chess games near me, so much intense thinking, throws me off a little bit.

And, if I may, to the person who suggested to talk to yourself: YOU'RE A GENIUS! Muttering silent little things like 'Well, Jonathan, let's see where this leads' or (more common), 'Jonathan, how'd you get into this mess?' really calm the nerves. I have no idea why, but the mind clears and thinks mostly of chess. That's great!

Sadly ... the other week, as we muddled through a strange middlegame, I was shaking so much that my opponent asked if I had Parkinson's Disease. :oops: But on the whole, I think I'm taking a step in the right direction! :D Thanks for replying, everyone. It's been great to hear your different thoughts, and to know that I'm not alone!

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Post by bschardein » Wed Apr 05, 2006 11:48 am

I know it has already been said in a couple of the earlier replies, but I feel it can be reiterated (and I have a little extra to add). (Obviously these comments refer to games with longer time controls, not blitz)

First, if you have time on you clock, get up and walk around. Stretch. Get a drink of water. Go to the restroom. Do anything to step away from the game for a minute or two.

Second, if you can't get up and walk etc., then sit back, close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing. Slow it down, try to relax your muscles. This can be done in only a few seconds and then you can try to look at the board fresh.

Finally, when you find yourself caught up in the game and you're reaching for that piece to move after only a few seconds of consideration because it's simply the "ONLY" move (this seems to happen to me more often when I'm nervous or anxious at the board). Pull your hands back for a few more seconds and make sure. If you're defending and there's only one move that's legal or keeps you in the game, you can verify that in a few more seconds and move. But if you've got options, sometimes those few extra seconds (or minutes if you've got the time on the clock) can mean the difference between a "good" move and a "great" move or sometimes even a blunder and a "great" move.

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