Friday, February 11, 2011

Chess & Stress

Well I haven’t posted for a while for two reasons. One, I haven’t played any serious chess since the Battle at the Border; and two, my life has been extremely busy and stressful over the past half year or more. My biggest stress came from a death within the family and in addition to that there was uncertainty in my employment situation and whether I would need to relocate.

Last year, the company I worked for over 10 years announced that they had decided to put my division up for sale. This was followed by months of stressful waiting until the buyer was eventually announced. Some of the other engineers I worked with transferred and moved to stay with the old employer, some others quit and found a new job before the sale was finalized, and some waited to see who the new owner would be. I waited, and was originally pleased to be able to transfer to the new company only to find out that I didn’t fit in with their plans. Whereas the old company had 15 engineers in the regional office, the new company is now reduced to 4. The long and short of is that I was out of work for a short period of time before finding and starting a brand new job. Unfortunately my new job will require extended travel away from home and thus also place stress on my family.

So what has this to do with chess? While I haven’t been playing serious chess I have played more than a 1000 speed chess games during this period and I have noticed a direct relationship between my stress level, which fluctuated greatly between periods on intense stress and relief, and my performance. While I was experiencing high stress level at work (as highlighted in red below) my performance in speed chess was horrible and my rating would drop, and when I had a period of relief (as highlighted in blue) I would play very well and get my rating back up. When I first noticed this trend and realized how direct the correlation was, I was amazed.

It shows how important a player’s mindset is when playing in a tournament and how distractions will affect performance. At the top level this can definitely change the outcome of a tournament (as Jean Herbert has stated in a chesstalk thread about winning the Canadian Closed last year) but even at lower levels being able to relax during tournament even when not playing is important. Maybe the best thing to do is not play rated chess when your under stress.

Then again, if you’re like me, you don’t have many chances to play rated games. That is why I joined the last round of a tournament when I was in Calgary last week after just the second day in my new job. I will post the game later when I have time but this time I want to do something new.

Before I would just put the game through a chess engine and post it, making note of possible continuations the engine came up with, some I might have considered and some I hadn’t. This time I will analyze the game myself without microchip help and maybe even post it before putting it through the computer squeeze. Hopefully I will learn more this way, even if I do embarrass myself with obvious errors in my analysis.