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

[pgn height=625 initialHalfmove=0 autoplayMode=none]

[Event “Monte Carlo”]
[Site “Monte Carlo”]
[Date “1903.03.06”]
[Round “18”]
[White “Pillsbury, Harry Nelson”]
[Black “Tarrasch, Siegbert”]
[Result “0-1”]
[ECO “C63”]
[PlyCount “166”]
[EventDate “1903.02.10”]
[EventType “tourn”]
[EventRounds “26”]
[EventCountry “MNC”]
[Source “ChessBase”]
[SourceDate “1999.07.01”]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 f5 3. Bb5 Nc6 4. Nc3 Nf6 5. exf5 e4 6. Qe2 Qe7 7. Bxc6 bxc6 8.
Nh4 d5 9. d4 a5 10. Bg5 Ba6 11. Bxf6 Qxf6 12. Qh5+ Kd7 13. Ng6 Qxd4 14. Nxh8
Bc5 15. Qh4 Rxh8 16. Rd1 Qb4 17. Qg4 Kd8 18. Qxg7 Re8 19. Qf6+ Kd7 20. a3 Qb6
21. Rd2 e3 22. fxe3 Bxe3 23. Nxd5 Bxd2+ 24. Kxd2 Qf2+ 25. Kd1 Qe2+ 26. Kc1 cxd5
27. Rd1 c6 28. Qh4 Qxg2 29. Qxh7+ Re7 30. Qh4 Qe4 31. Qh8 Qxf5 32. Qa8 Bc8 33.
Qa7+ Ke8 34. Qxa5 Qf4+ 35. Kb1 Qxh2 36. Qc5 Bb7 37. b4 Qe2 38. Rh1 Rf7 39. Rh8+
Kd7 40. Rh6 Rf1+ 41. Kb2 Qe7 42. Qd4 Re1 43. Rh5 Kc7 44. Qf4+ Kb6 45. Qd4+ c5
46. bxc5+ Qxc5 47. Rh6+ Bc6 48. Qf6 Qb5+ 49. Kc3 Qc4+ 50. Kb2 Qb5+ 51. Kc3 Qc4+
52. Kb2 Qb5+ 53. Kc3 Re3+ 54. Kd2 Re2+ 55. Kd1 Re8 56. Kd2 Qe2+ 57. Kc1 Qe1+
58. Kb2 Qe5+ 59. Qxe5 Rxe5 60. Rh4 Re4 61. Rh8 Kc5 62. Rc8 Re8 63. Rc7 Kd6 64.
Rh7 Bb5 65. Kc3 Ba4 66. Rh2 Re4 67. Rg2 Kc5 68. Rh2 Re3+ 69. Kb2 Bb5 70. Rh8
Re2 71. Rc8+ Kd4 72. Kb3 Bc4+ 73. Kb2 Bd3 74. Kb3 Bf5 75. Rc7 Re8 76. c3+ Kd3
77. Rc5 Rb8+ 78. Ka4 Be4 79. Rc7 Kc2 80. Rc6 Bd3 81. Rc5 Bc4 82. Ka5 Kxc3 83.
a4 Ra8+ 0-1


Keeping the tension

[pgn height=550 initialHalfmove=0 autoplayMode=none]
[Event “DSB-15.Kongress”]
[Site “Nuremberg”]
[Date “1906.??.??”]
[Round “6”]
[White “Duras, Oldrich”]
[Black “Chigorin, Mikhail”]
[Result “0-1”]
[ECO “C97”]
[PlyCount “114”]
[EventDate “1906.??.??”]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. c3
O-O 9. h3 Na5 10. Bc2 c5 11. d4 Qc7 12. Nbd2 Kh8 13. Nf1 Ng8 14. Ne3 Be6 15.
Nf5 Bf6 16. d5 Bd7 17. g4 g6 18. Ng3 Bg7 19. Kh2 Nc4 20. Nd2 Nb6 21. h4 Qd8 22.
Kg2 Qxh4 23. f3 Bh6 24. Rh1 Qf6 25. Rh3 Qg7 26. Kf2 Bf4 27. Ndf1 Rae8 28. Ne3
Re7 29. Qh1 f6 30. Ng2 Bg5 31. b3 Ref7 32. Be3 Ne7 33. Nh4 Bxe3+ 34. Kxe3 f5
35. gxf5 gxf5 36. exf5 Qg5+ 37. Ke2 Nbxd5 38. Ke1 Qe3+ 39. Ne2 Nf4 40. Rh2 Nxe2
41. Rxe2 Qxc3+ 42. Kf2 Qd4+ 43. Kg2 Rg7+ 44. Ng6+ Nxg6 45. fxg6 Bc6 46. Rf2
Rxf3 47. Rxf3 Bxf3+ 48. Kxf3 Qc3+ 49. Ke4 Qxc2+ 50. Kd5 Qd3+ 51. Kc6 Qxg6 52.
Kb6 d5+ 53. Kxc5 Rc7+ 54. Kxd5 Rd7+ 55. Kxe5 Qe8+ 56. Kf4 Rf7+ 57. Kg3 Qe3+ 0-1


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.

[pgn height=550 initialHalfmove=20 autoplayMode=none]
[Event “Moscow”]
[Site “Moscow”]
[Date “1935.02.22”]
[Round “6”]
[White “Capablanca, Jose Raul”]
[Black “Ragozin, Viacheslav”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ECO “E32”]
[PlyCount “97”]
[EventDate “1935.02.15”]
[EventType “tourn”]
[EventRounds “19”]
[EventCountry “URS”]
[Source “ChessBase”]
[SourceDate “1999.07.01”]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. a3 Bxc3+ 5. bxc3 d6 6. Qc2 O-O 7. e4 e5 8. Bd3
c5 9. Ne2 Nc6 10. d5 Ne7 11. f3 Nd7 12. h4 Nb6 13. g4 f6 14. Ng3 Kf7 15. g5 Ng8
16. f4 Ke8 17. f5 Qe7 18. Qg2 Kd8 19. Nh5 Kc7 20. gxf6 gxf6 21. Ng7 {
Capablanca leaves the knight on g7 for an incredible 25 moves!} Bd7 22. h5 Rac8
23. h6 Kb8 24. Rg1 Rf7 25. Rb1 Qf8 26. Be2 Ka8 27. Bh5 Re7 28. Qa2 Qd8 29. Bd2
Na4 30. Qb3 Nb6 31. a4 Rb8 32. a5 Nc8 33. Qa2 Qf8 34. Be3 b6 35. a6 Qd8 36. Kd2
Qf8 37. Rb2 Qd8 38. Qb1 b5 39. cxb5 Nb6 40. Qa2 c4 41. Qa3 Qc7 42. Kc1 Rf8 43.
Rbg2 Qb8 44. Qb4 Rd8 45. Rg3 Rf8 46. Ne6 Bxe6 47. dxe6 Rc7 48. Qxd6 Ne7 49. Rd1


Patient Build up

[pgn height=525 initialHalfmove=0 autoplayMode=none]
[Event “Dubai ol (Men)”]
[Site “Dubai”]
[Date “1986.11.18”]
[Round “4”]
[White “Karpov, Anatoly”]
[Black “Ribli, Zoltan”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ECO “A30”]
[WhiteElo “2725”]
[BlackElo “2585”]
[PlyCount “111”]
[EventDate “1986.11.15”]
[EventType “team-swiss”]
[EventRounds “14”]
[EventCountry “UAE”]
[Source “ChessBase”]
[SourceDate “1994.03.01”]
[WhiteTeam “Soviet Union”]
[BlackTeam “Hungary”]
[WhiteTeamCountry “URS”]
[BlackTeamCountry “HUN”]

1. c4 c5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nc3 e6 4. g3 b6 5. Bg2 Bb7 6. O-O d6 7. d4 cxd4 8. Qxd4
a6 9. Rd1 Be7 10. b3 Nbd7 11. e4 Qc8 12. Bb2 O-O 13. Nd2 Qc7 14. Rac1 Rac8 15.
h3 Rfe8 16. a3 Qb8 17. b4 Red8 18. Qe3 Ba8 19. Qe2 Ne8 20. Nf1 Bb7 21. Kh2 Nef6
22. Nd2 Ne8 23. Re1 Ba8 24. Nb3 Bg5 25. Rc2 Rc7 26. f4 Bf6 27. Rec1 Rdc8 28.
Nd1 Bb7 29. Qd3 Bxb2 30. Nxb2 Qa8 31. Nd1 a5 32. Nd4 Rd8 33. Nb5 Rcc8 34. Ndc3
Qb8 35. Rd1 Ndf6 36. Rcd2 h6 37. Qe2 Ba8 38. Kg1 Bc6 39. Kh2 e5 40. f5 Qa8 41.
g4 Qb8 42. h4 Qb7 43. Bf3 Qe7 44. Kg3 axb4 45. axb4 d5 46. cxd5 Bxb5 47. Nxb5
Qxb4 48. g5 hxg5 49. hxg5 Nh7 50. d6 Rc5 51. Rb2 Qc4 52. Qh2 Rxb5 53. Qxh7+
Kxh7 54. Rh2+ Kg8 55. Rdh1 f6 56. Rh8+ 1-0


Don’t Hurry When You Are Winning

[pgn height=600 initialHalfmove=0 autoplayMode=none]

[Event “Karlsbad”]
[Site “Karlsbad”]
[Date “1923.05.15”]
[Round “14”]
[White “Alekhine, Alexander”]
[Black “Chajes, Oscar”]
[Result “1-0”]
[ECO “D64”]
[PlyCount “127”]
[EventDate “1923.04.??”]
[EventType “tourn”]
[EventRounds “17”]
[EventCountry “CSR”]
[Source “ChessBase”]
[SourceDate “1999.07.01”]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 Nbd7 5. Bg5 Be7 6. e3 O-O 7. Rc1 c6 8. Qc2
a6 9. a3 Re8 10. h3 b5 11. c5 Nh5 12. Bf4 Nxf4 13. exf4 a5 14. Bd3 g6 15. h4
Bf6 16. h5 Nf8 17. g3 Ra7 18. Nd1 Bg7 19. Ne3 f5 20. Qe2 a4 21. Nc2 Rae7 22.
Kf1 Bf6 23. Ne5 Bxe5 24. Qxe5 Qc7 25. Qf6 Rf7 26. Qh4 Qe7 27. hxg6 Nxg6 28. Qh5
Qf6 29. Be2 Rg7 30. Qf3 Nf8 31. Qe3 Ree7 32. Nb4 Bd7 33. Bh5 Ng6 34. Nd3 Be8
35. Ke2 Kf8 36. Kd2 Rb7 37. Bf3 Ke7 38. Rhe1 Nf8 39. Nb4 Kd8 40. Kd3 Rge7 41.
Qd2 Ra7 42. Rh1 Rec7 43. Rh2 Bg6 44. Qe3 Kc8 45. Rch1 Kb7 46. Kd2 Re7 47. Nd3
Nd7 48. Bh5 Ra8 49. Bxg6 hxg6 50. Rh7 Rae8 51. Ne5 Nf8 52. Rh8 Rg7 53. Nf3 Rb8
54. Ng5 Re7 55. Qe5 Qxe5 56. fxe5 Ra8 57. Rg8 b4 58. Rhh8 Ree8 59. axb4 Ka7 60.
Kc3 Ka6 61. Nf7 Rec8 62. Nd6 Rd8 63. Rh1 Rd7 64. Ra1 1-0


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


chessbuzz has written 54 articles

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