If you want a quick match and need a way to put off your opponent early on, what sort of tactics can i use to mess with their head? I am specifically interested in the opening and middlegame, however answers regarding the endgame would also be appreciated.

I'm thinking about tactics such as alternating extreme attack and defense; making confusing moves to put off your opponent; playing with them and forcing them to move pieces to areas they do not want them in; disrupting their pawn chains and other defenses to make for an easier middlegame; piling up attackers on one square in particular, when in fact you are indirectly preparing for a strong attack on the opposite side (or even simply retreating and creating a stronghold around your king). I am also interested in direct body language such as making eye contact; showing a lack of emotion; and trying not to look like you are thinking hard, either to make the opponent think you are likely to make mistakes or to trick them into thinking you are completely confident with your position.

Answers may include:

  • Addressing the strengths/weaknesses of a tactic, and how to perform it.
  • Specific examples of any of these tactics in GM games
  • Reviews on the use of such tactics and whether they are likely to work
  • General rules of thumb in how to force moves or disrupt defenses
  • Any tournament rules regarding mind tricks outside the game (either across the table or between games)
  • Suggesting tactics not mentioned in the question above and giving reasons and uses
  • 1
    To quote Bobby Fischer: I don't believe in psychology, I believe in good moves. Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 14:50
  • @BlindKungFuMaster so you are saying that mind games are not effective? In which case, why? I'm not expecting any jedi stuff, just ways to unsettle the opposition.
    – Aric
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 14:51
  • Two of the things you name - forcing your opponent to move their pieces to bad squares and disrupting their defences - are not mind games at all but valid goals in a chess game. If you can achieve that you don't need to resort to mind games.
    – 11684
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 15:57
  • @11684 true, i'm not sure why i included them now...
    – Aric
    Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 7:59

4 Answers 4


Nigel Davies has a Fritz trainer DVD "chess for scoundrels" which works on this topic exactly. He shows some games and tells some anecdotes about how you can use mind games, to support your game (and he says that at GM level this is completely normal).

Examples by Davies: there was a Geller-Fisher game where Geller went for a drawing line with white, and offered a draw at move 7. Fisher laughed at his face (which is not so ethical imho) and then win in ~70 moves in a dead draw endgame, because Geller blundered. Bronstein in a draw or little worse position saw a trap, but was fairly sure his opponent would see it, he offered draw, suspecting his opponent will not take it (and it was fine for him), and went for the trap. His opponent declined, was searching for a win, and didn't notice the trap. I highly recomend buying the DVD, it's an amazing source in this topic.

People who were/are very good at this are for example Lasker, Tal, Fisher, Karpov, Kramnik. For examples read about the WC games Fisher vs Spassky, and Karpov vs Korchnoi with all the off board activities.

There was also a Benko book on psychology, but I didn't read it.

  • Yeah lasker indeed is on that list of trickers. It is mentioned at the beggining (first 30 minutes) of kasparov masterclass. Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 20:10

I recommend you to stick to the principles and don't hurry! Chess is naturally a slow game. It's better to go slowly but surely win.

Maybe you can try some opening traps, or prepared tactics, but if your opponent knows what to do, the counter-attack can annihilate you! Also, normaly traps don't have a 'plan b' if something goes wrong.

For example: Your idea of alternating between agressive/defensive only to mess with opponents mind may work sometimes, but there are no guaranties. If you are attacking, you put most (all?) your pieces in one side of the board, then stop the attack with no good reason and start to defend, your opponent probably WILL take the advantage and start his attack! And is much harder to be on the defender side! From that point on, he will start to put pressure as much as he can, and soon or later brake your defenses...

Also, I strongly recommend that you try your ideas against a good Engine. It will not forgive you, and will show every mistake you make and how your opponent can take advantage of it (and there is no psychology involved)!

Psychological tricks work better in poker than chess, but they can be useful. A tip that I heard from GM Igor Smirnov is: "You don't have to make 'the best move possible', but the one that create as much problems to your opponent to solve as you can find." I think this is a more realistic approach.

  • 1
    "A tip that I heard from GM Igor Smirnov is: "You don't have to make 'the best move possible', but the one that create as much problems to your opponent to solve as you can find." I think this is a more realistic approach." - I would add that this is not psychology, but a good approach to chess.
    – Priyome
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 21:44

Psychology may play a part in high-level chess (top 100) when your opponents are known to you when you enter a tournament. For your Joe-Club player or week-ender tourney dude, it has no effect. Playing that game will surely lose fore you because you have decided to play sub-optimal moves for the position based on non-chess principles. That is just stupid chess.


Emanuel Lasker was famous for his psychological approach to the game. You may find some of his games in literature in which some of his moves are considered (were considered even at the time) inferior but his way of playing was indeed effective (search for his games against Capablanca to get an idea). However, as Rafael Borges pointed out, if your opponent plays very precise is very difficult to surprise him. Today with all the theory we have from the past, plus chess Engines (that are killing this "creative" approach to the game these days in my opinion) every little inaccuracy can turn out a complete disaster if your opponent is prepared (and most chess players today are able to play 30 moves of theory without doing any mistake).

  • so, are you suggesting that they used to work, but recently the style of chess has altered slightly?
    – Aric
    Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 8:02
  • Well, the "modernization" is an hot topic of chess these days :) extreme mind games as you described were never really played at high levels (Rafael's answer is very precise about that), but if you watch some games of 1850-1950 world champion's and then you analyze them with a chess engine you can see how games were far from being "perfect" in terms of theory and "precision" of moves, but there were more exciting and surprising moves(like the crazy sacrifices of Tal, go check for some of his games).
    – doze
    Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 17:41

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