Chess Tips: Patience at the Chess board

“Lack of patience is probably the most common reason for losing a game, or drawing games that should have been won.” – Bent Larsen

Patience in Chess

This is the first entry in our chess tips series. Winning and losing in chess is many times a result not of what you do not know, but of your behavior over the chess board. If your improvement has stalled, many times it is due to chess psychology issues. Being impatient at the chess board is one of those chess psychology problems that need to be identified and resolved. Impatience is a behavior that leads to not fulfilling your full potential in chess. Review the games of masters and a common denominator is how they wield powerful yet patient moves whenever the opportunity arises. The virtue of patience must be acquired if you wish to cross the elusive 2000 elo threshold.

Study and practice increases your internal pattern recognition database, improves your calculation and evaluation skills and increases your knowledge of typical positions. This all adds up to making you a stronger more skilled player, but many times you continue to lose games and improvement seems slow and arduous. Your improvement does does not keep up with your investment in studying and practicing chess because of errors of chess psychology.

Chess improvement is composed of skill, knowledge and psychology. While skill and knowledge can be trained through books and coaching the psychological component is dependent on finding the weaknesses in your thought process and decision making and addressing them. Many items are not taught to chess beginners who are learning to play chess, yet it is an important component that holds many chess players back.

The Psychology of Patience

In evolutionary psychology and in cognitive neuroscience patience is studied as a decision making problem, involving the choice of either a small short-term reward or a more valuable long-term reward This is despite the often greater benefits associated with long-term rewards.

When you have a strong move available to you, yet you delay to play it and continue to build up your position while leaving the threat on the table, this adversely impacts your opponent psychologically (see Capablanca – Ragozin Moscow 1935). On every move your opponent needs to calculate variations that deal with parrying your threat, yet to their surprise after all their calculation, you play another move that leaves the threat on hold yet makes your position even stronger.

Patience in chess boils down to thinking before you move. By being patient you are able to play the best move and prevent mistakes in your play.

Patience Is Required

Impatience is the leading cause of blunders. Quick thoughtless moves lead to the weakening of your position and they lead to losing a drawn game or drawing a won game. Being impatient at the chessboard prevents you from playing the best move possible, since you are not giving the position the amount of thought it requires. Being inpatient gets in the way of improvement.

While patience is required throughout the entire game, there are critical moments during a game where it helps to remind yourself that you need to not hurry and be patient.

  • Tension filled positions (central tension or attacking)
  • Complex positions
  • Won positions
  • Positions where you have a tactic on the board. Don’t get excited, and always ask yourself if our opponent has a killer in-between move, or if it is a trap.
  • Positions where you are defending a strong attack. In these cases there is usually only one move that prevents an immediate loss.
  • Positions where exchanges are imminent.
  • Positions where the pawn structure is going to change.

“You can’t overestimate the importance of psychology in chess, and as much as some players try to downplay it, I believe that winning requires a constant and strong psychology not just at the board but in every aspect of your life.” – Garry Kasparov

Becoming a More Patient Player

  • Remind yourself to be patient throughout the game, especially in the positions described above.
  • Always ask yourself if your opponent’s last move was a mistake.
  • Always ask yourself if the move you are about to make is a mistake. Does it lose to an immediate tactic? Is it a blunder?
  • Implement Blumenfeld’s rule (see below)
  • Always apply Tarrasch’s rule – When you see a good move, look for a better one.
  • Practice mindfulness and meditation


Blumenfeld’s Rule

When you have finished your calculations, write down the move you have decided upon on the score sheet. Then examine the position for a short time ‘through the eyes of a patzer’. Ask whether you have left a mate in one on, or left a piece or a pawn to be taken. Only when you have convinced yourself that there is no immediate catastrophe for you should you make the planned move.” – Kotov

Patience in Practice : The Patience of a Master

Delaying your attack to prevent opponent counterplay

Keeping the tension

The threat is stronger than the execution

The player who has the threat has 2 advantages: the threat and the choice of when the threat will be executed. (1) Having the threat plays against your opponent’s psyche. Every move the threat exists requires your opponent to worry about it and include it in every calculation.

Patient Build up

Don’t Hurry When You Are Winning

I want to thank chess coach IM Alejandro Moreno for his invaluable feedback in writing this post.


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