Are there any psychological tricks that can be used in chess to throw off an opponent regardless of rating? It also does not matter if it is the opening, middle, or end game.

By psychological, I really don't mean rude/annoying gestures to upset the opponent, but more tricks or tactics that have more to do with making psychological moves to throw an opponent off and they can be specific instances, for example, a specific move for a specific line that might make the opponent wonder "what is going on here...".

  • 2
    I suppose another way to look at this would be "How do I protect myself from dishonorable players." Otherwise I find the question repulsive.
    – Tony Ennis
    Dec 2, 2012 at 3:55
  • 3
    How do you find this question repulsive? Maybe I should have been a bit more clear. I will update my answer.
    – xaisoft
    Dec 3, 2012 at 2:16
  • Ok, now that it has been edited, it's more clear, and my answer has not much to do with it, but I simply don't think that such moves really exist, without some very specific context between the players. At any rate, taking an opponent's move for what it's worth — no more, no less — is part of one's level. @TonyEnnis, who understood the initial question just like me, yes, I think it was (a small) part of it. Repulsive, maybe, YMMV, but I don't think what's bad form should stay in the shadows just because it's not encouraged. But that quickly leads to fascinating entirely off-topic debates ^_^ Dec 3, 2012 at 3:08
  • 4
    I don't believe in psychology. I believe in good moves. - Bobby Fischer
    – Lynob
    Mar 14, 2013 at 22:44
  • This was said by a team-mate while returning by car from an away match. "I do hope I play old Frank in the return match. After our game tonight we analysed a line in the Giuoco Piano. Its good for White, in fact very good, but I was letting him win the analysis."
    – Philip Roe
    Aug 13, 2019 at 22:02

18 Answers 18


Sometimes when your opponent is in zeitnot (English: "time trouble"), it can make him nervous if you repeat moves a couple of times.

Also when your opponent is in zeitnot, it is a good idea to think on your moves thoroughly and not to try to play as fast as your opponent does. This also applies to when you're in zeitnot; you should at least try to make your opponent play as fast as you do.

I often try to learn rarely used variations to disturb my opponent and make him think with his own brain instead of mindlessly replaying moves from theory.

If I know that my opponent is rather a strategic player, I will try to play very tactical positions against him and to out-calculate him. When my opponent is better at tactics then I'll try to play more closed, maneuvering positions. In other words, when I know my opponent well, I'll try to play positions that he feels least comfortable in.

I've heard of other tricks of questionable taste, and I personally don't think they fall under "fair play" in my understanding of it.

Another thing I always do (though it is hardly psychological), is that I never inform my opponent if he forgot to press his clock. I use his time for analyzing the position, and make my move only after the opponent pressed the clock.

  • 4
    What is zeitnot? When I googled it, I found a tactics trainer.
    – xaisoft
    Nov 29, 2012 at 18:43
  • 2
    @xaisoft: Not much time remaining on the clock, time-pressure, that is. Nov 29, 2012 at 18:45
  • 2
    @xaisoft, I've heard some people like to stare to opponent continuously. To make quiet remarks and jokes, about his or her moves. To show condescending attitude to the opponent throughout the game. But as I said all those tricks not necessary work against any opponent, and what is more important they are of very questionable taste when they are done intentionally. Nov 29, 2012 at 18:51
  • 2
    Alex, on the matter of an English term for zeitnot, "time trouble" is another very common expression for it.
    – ETD
    Nov 29, 2012 at 20:50
  • 4
    @AlexPetrov: Not means distress, trouble, hardship in German. It does not mean no.
    – user3243
    Sep 19, 2014 at 12:01

This episode from a game in the 1961 Botvinnik - Tal match does not directly answer the question, but I believe is interesting enough to point out.

One of the comments to the game quotes Botvinnik:

"After two days of play and two sleepless nights I was thoroughly tired out, yet I did not take my usual thermos flask of coffee with me to the adjournment session - this would be the most weighty proof that I would make just a few more moves and then resign the game. It was during these few moves that Tal had to miss the stalemate". - Botvinnik.

[FEN ""]
[Event "match"]
[Site "Ch World , Moscow (Russia) (20)"]
[Date "1961.05.08"]
[EventDate "?"]
[Round "20"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[White "Mikhail Tal"]
[Black "Mikhail Botvinnik"]
[ECO "B12"]
[WhiteElo "?"]
[BlackElo "?"]
[PlyCount "242"]

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.h4 h6 5.Ne2 e6 6.Ng3 Ne7 7.Nc3 Nd7
8.Be3 Bh7 9.Bd3 Bxd3 10.cxd3 h5 11.Nce2 g6 12.Qd2 Ng8 13.O-O-O
Bh6 14.Kb1 Bxe3 15.fxe3 Nh6 16.e4 Qe7 17.exd5 exd5 18.Qa5 Nf8
19.Rdf1 Ne6 20.Rf3 Qd8 21.Qa4 Qb6 22.Rc1 Ng4 23.Nf1 O-O 24.Ne3
f5 25.g3 Nh2 26.Rf4 Ng4 27.Ng2 Rae8 28.Qa3 Rf7 29.Rc3 a6
30.Rb3 Qa7 31.Qd6 Qb8 32.Qxb8 Rxb8 33.Rf1 Nh2 34.Rc1 Re8
35.Ngf4 Nxf4 36.gxf4 Ng4 37.Rb6 Kg7 38.Rh1 Nh6 39.Nc3 Rc7
40.Na4 Nf7 41.Kc2 Nd8 42.Kd2 Ne6 43.Ke3 Rd7 44.b4 Kf7 45.Nc5
Nxc5 46.bxc5 Ra8 47.Kd2 Ke6 48.Rg1 Rg7 49.Kc3 Ra7 50.Kb4 a5
51.Ka4 Ra8 52.Rgb1 Ra7 53.R1b5 Rg8 54.a3 Re8 55.Rxa5 Rea8
56.Rxa7 Rxa7+ 57.Kb4 g5 58.hxg5 h4 59.a4 h3 60.Ka3 h2 61.Rb1
Ra8 62.g6 Rg8 63.Rh1 Rxg6 64.Rxh2 Rg3 65.Rh6+ Kd7 66.Rh7+ Kc8
67.e6 Rxd3+ 68.Kb2 Re3 69.e7 Kd7 70.e8=Q+ Kxe8 71.Rxb7 Kd8
72.a5 Re2+ 73.Kb3 Re1 74.Kc2 Re2+ 75.Kc3 Ra2 76.Rb6 Kc7 77.a6
Ra1 78.Kb2 Ra4 79.Kb3 Ra1 80.Rb7+ Kc8 81.Rb6 Kc7 82.Rb7+ Kc8
83.Ra7 Rb1+ 84.Kc3 Ra1 85.Ra8+ Kc7 86.Kb3 Rb1+ 87.Kc3 Ra1
88.Kb3 Rb1+ 89.Ka2 Rb5 90.a7 Ra5+ 91.Kb3 Kb7 92.Rf8 Rb5+
93.Ka4 Kxa7 94.Rxf5 Rb1 95.Rf6 Kb7 96.f5 Ra1+ 97.Kb4 Rb1+
98.Kc3 Rc1+ 99.Kd2 Rf1 100.Ke3 Kc7 101.Rf7+ Kd8 102.Ke2 Rf4
103.Kd3 Rf3+ 104.Kd2 Kc8 105.Ke2 Rf4 106.Ke3 Rf1 107.Rf8+ Kd7
108.Rf6 Kc7 109.Rf7+ Kd8 110.Ke2 Rf4 111.Kd3 Rf3+ 112.Kc2 Kc8
113.f6 Kd8 114.Rf8+ Kc7 115.Kd2 Kb7 116.Ke2 Rf4 117.Ke3 Rf1
118.Rf7+ Kc8 119.Kd2 Rf3 120.Kc2 Kd8 121.Rf8+ Kc7 1/2-1/2
  • Is “tiring your opponent into forgetting about his coffee” the trick ? (… what stalemate ?) Dec 2, 2012 at 2:43
  • 8
    At that time after 40 moves the game would be suspended and would be continued in a couple of days. Position of that game was hopeless for Botvinnik, but there was a slight chance for stalemate. Not taking flask to the game was supposed to make Tal think that Botvinnik didn't think that the game would last long and was about to resign. Tal did notice the absence of the flask and played carelessly, and Botvinnik made it to the stalemate. Dec 2, 2012 at 22:18
  • 1
    @AlexPetrov: Ah, I get it now, I misunderstood “yet”. Thanks ! Dec 3, 2012 at 2:56
  • 1
    Where is the stalemate?
    – justhalf
    Jul 1, 2019 at 23:11

Draw offers are useful for psychological reasons, provided of course that you don't particularly mind getting a draw as a result of your offer now and then.

Let's say you have a more or less equal position, where both players have to play pretty cautiously, neither can really attack at the moment. Then you offer a draw, and your opponent declines. Now he will a) feel morally obligated to play for the win, and b) believe you are only playing for a draw! This leads to excessive risk taking by your opponent.

Another way to use them is to be just slightly obnoxious, when you know he isn't going to accept. Let's say you know he's traveled two hours to get here, he outrates you and you offer a draw after 8 moves. Irritated people have trouble staying objective and he's more likely to take excessive risks, again. Although I don't actually do this as I think it's over the line.

Another thing I do is when I'm walking around while my opponent is thinking, and he is really using too much time for this move and seems unable to make up his mind, then I will continue walking around. The moment you sit down is often the moment they take a decision and make a move, I want to make them waste as much time as possible in those situations.

Of course, when I'm walking around, notice I've actually made a blunder but he may not have seen the combination yet, then I will sit down immediately hoping he'll promptly move... If he doesn't, just get up again.

  • I like the "walking around" idea. I had noticed that my opponent often moves soon after I sit down, but never thought of exploiting it!
    – itub
    May 3, 2019 at 12:17

TL;DR: When your opponent has an extremely cramped position, sometimes they can "crack" and make bad moves (if you don't help them out of it, and give them time).

The Chessmaster series of games had an (IMHO) excellent set of instructional videos by Josh Waitzkin. Although probably nothing revolutionary, he had one regarding the psychology of chess, which I've found to be very interesting.

One of the concepts involved games where your opponent found themselves in a cramped (but otherwise balanced / drawish) position. Here, if you are able to bide your time (in such a way that you don't give up tempo), you can often cause your opponent to attempt to break out of the cramped position without sufficient preparation. In the video, Josh played quiet moves to bide his time, and without any obvious forced defensive moves to play, his opponent had to try come up with something new. Unfortunately for the opponent, there were no "excellent" moves present; he really had no way to break the position open in a way that was beneficial (but neither did the other player). Objectively, the position was equal, but one player felt that pressure was building up. Eventually, Josh's opponent decided to open the game up, and ended up losing very quickly.

I guess this would be the chess equivalent of "give somebody enough rope (to hang themselves)", and it's also a pretty good example of legitimate psychological tricks in chess. I'm not sure how this would apply at high levels of play, but it's certainly applicable up to low-level tournament play, in my opinion. If you do decide to try this, just make sure you're not giving your opponent the free tempos they need to win the game (this is the hard part).

  • I have watched that video and it indeed very excellent along with all the other videos.
    – xaisoft
    Jan 29, 2013 at 14:34

As mentioned in comments, staring at your opponent might off-balance some of them, just as behaving abnormally in anyway — constantly replacing pieces, or smiling as if there was a reason comes to mind.

As I mention elsewhere, you can try the long-shot trick of not pressing your clock to distract them. Probably not achieving much though.

Obviously nothing of that belongs to fair play, but I guess that's not much of this question's issue.

What actually happened to me in the last game of a 15-minutes tournament, as I had not much time remaining¹ was my opponent² — in an obviously losing position — play very fast, misplacing many pieces on the way, and, as I played my move and replaced some pieces on their squares, play his, and pretend I had touched the piece I was replacing, therefore had to play it³.

As I made the move I wanted, he would move the piece back and press his clock again, repeatedly, muttering some foreign words⁴ about “having to play”. In the end, he would keep his finger pressed on the mechanical clock, preventing me from stopping it. I lost most of my time to all of that, and wouldn't have had enough to mate would he have played till the end after the referee finally came and let me play the bishop. Hopefully, he just went self-righteous against the referee, so I won by “that”.

Not very psychological, will definitely get you a bad reputation, and unlikely to achieve anything in major events, but definitely throws-off your opponent, probably also for the next game. Rank pressure helps, especially after a tense game, etc.

¹ Like 4 minutes : well enough to win the endgame-with-a-bishop-advantage the combination we where playing lead to, but not enough to deal with nasty clock tricks.
² Ranked ~150 better than I did, he was playing for a prize, I was playing for 4th place and to enhance a friend's prize.
³ Hence faking a trebuchet zugzwang where I was about to move the said bishop.
⁴ It sounded like engrish, but in a French town that'll definitely catch off-guards your usual chess player.

  • 3
    If your opponent displaces pieces, he must reinstate the correct position on the board while his clock is running. If he presses his clock before he does so, you can stop the clocks, get a Tournament Director, and claim that he has violated the rules, The normal penalty is that you will get 2 minutes added to your clock. If your opponent hovers his hand over the clock or prevents you from pressing your clock, he is breaking another rule, and you may also claim a penalty. If he repeats either of these offences, or commits a different one, the TD can declare the game in your favor.
    – jaxter
    Sep 17, 2016 at 7:45
  • Yes indeed, at some point he prevented me from stopping the clock and from there, it quickly escalated into a TD-decided win. Before that though, the pieces were merely very far from the center of the squares, something I wouldn't usually stop the clock for, in a tense blitz ("that happens under pressure, just play"). Also, thinking about possible penalties when you have under 2 minutes to play an endgame would be quite distracting. Sep 18, 2016 at 21:21

If your opponent is low on time, try to keep the position complicated. Avoid making moves that have an obvious answer (e.g., captures and checks), and try to keep tension on the board, so that he has lots of options to consider every move.


One suggestion I read, and really liked -- is that your opponent is more likely to miss a tactic if it looks like an ordinary developing move.


Here's another trick it's worth knowing about. It's not one I've ever managed to pull but I've fallen for it a few times and lately I've managed to spot it and avoid it. Sadly I didn't learn the trick by analyzing what was going on in my games rather I spotted it when watching friends fall for it.

It's funny how your rating drops 200 points when you sit down to play and rises 200 points when you stand up and go and watch someone else's game ;-)

The setup: a 400+ rating difference and the game is heading for a draw! In fact it is dead drawn. So dead drawn that as long as the weaker player steadfastly sticks to his ambition to draw it is going to be a draw.

With such a large rating difference the stronger player really can't afford a draw. The tactical draw offer isn't likely to work. The stronger player can't accept the draw. So, what is he going to do? What he needs is a sucker punch.

My club runs a regular Monday night 9 round Swiss standard FIDE rated competition with large enough prizes that 3 or 4 grandmasters will usually turn up to hoover up the prize money. Nevertheless for us low life players we occasionally get the chance for a shot at glory against one of these chess demi-gods. Usually it ends quickly and ignominiously, fortunately before any of our friends' games have finished so they don't witness our humiliation.

But once or twice a year you'll get up from the finish of your game, look up to see how Joe is getting on against the GM and, lo and behold! the pair of them are still sitting at the table. Maybe he's in there with a chance?

About a year or so ago I got up in that situation and saw that a regular sparring partner was in that exact position. Not only that, the game looked to be a dead draw. 2 rooks and a few pawns each, a couple of weaknesses each, no real chance to mount a serious attack against any of the weaknesses. All Joe had to do was hold his nerve and glory (at least from his peers) was guaranteed.

They must have just recently reached the position because Joe made the regulation draw offer and without blinking or hesitating the GM made his move and pressed his clock. What followed was some fairly meaningless looking maneuvering by the GM. Joe didn't move from his bunker. Then the GM made a weak looking move. Joe could move one of his rooks into the GM's position and make a couple of threats. They were easy enough to parry but there was no danger. If the threats didn't come off Joe could always move his rook back into the bunker.

The GM parried the threats but did so clumsily. Joe could, if he wanted penetrate even deeper and it looked like he could win a pawn. However with my extra 200 ratings courtesy of supporting my weight on my feet rather than backside I could see that once that pawn was won the rook would take a while to get back into play and in the meantime his remaining bunkered rook and king wouldn't be able to handle the threats from the GM's two rooks and king.

"Don't do it!" I wanted to shout, but it wouldn't have made any difference, apart from getting me thrown out. Joe was seeing through red mist, he thought he'd won the lottery. He wasn't just going to draw with the GM, he was going to win! The GM landed his sucker punch and Joe was the sucker.

Losing a dead drawn game to one of your peers hurts a bit but doing so against a much, much stronger really hurts. It hurts so much that the pain spreads to the spectators. Everybody loves an underdog and an upset and you nearly did it.

Why did it happen? If you're like me your whole game plan was aimed at the draw. Luck was on your side and you cooly managed to execute 98% of the plan. You did the hard work but at the last moment you let emotion overwhelm your rational side and fell for a cheap trick from the GM.

Remember the GM has earned his title. If he appears to do something stupid just remember who you are playing. You have two choices. The first is to trust your opponent and stick to your plan blindly. A bird in the hand and all that. Opportunities like that are scarce. The second option is to suspect that despite all the evidence your opponent has made a mistake. After all, he played badly enough to let you get the drawn position in the first place. Maybe it just isn't his day?

If you are going to do that you better have plenty of time on your clock and you better put in your maximum effort in analyzing the consequences.

If you massively outrate your opponent and you end up in very drawn position what do you do? You give him hope of even greater glory, a win! You lure him gradually down a path of getting more and more out of position with the promise of material or positional gain. Only you've seen just a little bit further. The alluring path leads to his doom.

This is an old trick and is standard procedure against computers, usually with prepared variations. Often prepared with the help of computers ;-) Lure the computer with a sacrifice who's payoff is outside the computer's calculation range and it will blindly fall into the trap.

  • Nicely written account of "give him just enough rope to hang himself". Dec 15, 2014 at 15:27

The most famous example of a psychological play is this game between Lasker and Capablanca:

[fen ""]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Bxc6 dxc6 5. d4 exd4 6. Qxd4 Qxd4 7. Nxd4 Bd6 8. Nc3 Ne7 9. O-O O-O 10. f4 Re8 11. Nb3 f6 12. f5 b6 13. Bf4 Bb7 14. Bxd6 cxd6 15. Nd4 Rad8 16. Ne6 Rd7 17. Rad1 Nc8 18. Rf2 b5 19. Rfd2 Rde7 20. b4 Kf7 21. a3 Ba8 22. Kf2 Ra7 23. g4 h6 24. Rd3 a5 25. h4 axb4 26. axb4 Rae7 27. Kf3 Rg8 28. Kf4 g6 29. Rg3 g5 30. Kf3 Nb6 31. hxg5 hxg5 32. Rh3 Rd7 33. Kg3 Ke8 34. Rdh1 Bb7 35. e5 dxe5 36. Ne4 Nd5 37. N6c5 Bc8 38. Nxd7 Bxd7 39. Rh7 Rf8 40. Ra1 Kd8 41. Ra8 Bc8 42. Nc5

This is the 1914 St. Petersburg Tournament, where the first Grand Master titles were allegedly awarded to the top five players by none other than Czar Nicholas II (they were Lasker, Alekhine, Capablanca, Tarrasch, and Marshall). It was the most important tournament at the time and Lasker as reigning World champion had a moral obligation to win, particularly since he had not played in a tournament for five years.

Unfortunately for him there was this young upstart by the name of Capablanca who had only won one major event (San Sebastian 1911), and who pulled ahead to first position. At the very end, Lasker was trailing by half a point, and a win was necessary. In the second to last round he met Capablanca, and the stage was set for an epic clash. Needing a win against an all-confident opponent, Lasker decided to play the exchange variation of the Ruy Lopez. This surprised everyone since this choice leads to the elimination of queens and drawish endgames. Needless to say, Capablanca lowered his guard and was unprepared when Lasker's real strength came to the surface. The champion outplayed the newcomer, edged ahead in the table, and won the tournament by 1/2 a point.


Reading @RemcoGerlich's answer about walking around reminded me of a situation that happened between Tal and Fishcer:

Every player has his own habit: one will first make his move and then write it down, while another will do things the other way around. Incidentally, in recent years Fischer has actively objected to this 'other way round', expressing the opinion that a scoresheet is not a black-board for writing down exercises. However, in our game Fischer first wrote down the move 22.Rae1!, without a doubt the strongest, and wrote it not in his usual English notation but in European, almost Russian! Then he not very deftly pushed the scoresheet towards me. 'He's asking for an endorsement', I thought to myself, but how was I to react? To frown was impossible, if I smiled he would suspect 'trickery', so I did the natural thing. I got up and began to calmly walk up and down the stage. I met Petrosian, made some joke to him, and he replied. The 15-year-old Fischer, who was essentially still only a large child, sat with a confused expression on his face, looking first at the front row of spectators where his second was sitting, and then at me.

Then he wrote down another move. 22.Qc6?, and after 22...Rd7 23.Rae1+ Be7 24.Rxf7 Kxf7 25.Qe6+ Kf8! 26.Qxd7 Qd6 I held on to my extra piece and adjourned the game in a won position. When I later asked Fischer why he hadn't played 22.Rae1, he replied: 'Well, you laughed when I wrote it down!' - Mikhal Tal

Here is the game:

[fen ""]    
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bc4 e6 7. Bb3 b5 8. f4 b4 9. Na4 Nxe4 10. O-O g6 11. f5 gxf5 12. Nxf5 Rg8 13. Bd5 Ra7 14. Bxe4 exf5 15. Bxf5 Re7 16. Bxc8 Qxc8 17. Bf4 Qc6 18. Qf3 Qxa4 19. Bxd6 Qc6 20. Bxb8 Qb6 21. Kh1 Qxb8 22. Qc6 Rd7 23. Rae1 Be7 24. Rxf7 Kxf7 25. Qe6 Kf8 26. Qxd7 Qd6 27. Qb7 Rg6 28. c3 a5 29. Qc8 Kg7 30. Qc4 Bd8 31. cxb4 axb4 32. g3 Qc6 33. Re4 Qxc4 34. Rxc4 Rb6 35. Kg2 Kf6 36. Kf3 Ke5 37. Ke3 Bg5 38. Ke2 Kd5 39. Kd3 Bf6 40. Rc2 Be5 41. Re2 Rf6 42. Rc2 Rf3 43. Ke2 Rf7 44. Kd3 Bd4 45. a3 b3 46. Rc8 Bxb2 47. Rd8 Kc6 48. Rb8 Rf3 49. Kc4 Rc3 50. Kb4 Kc7 51. Rb5 Ba1 52. a4 b2

game at chessgames.com

  • 1
    Interesting that you found this.
    – xaisoft
    Feb 15, 2013 at 16:27
  • 1
    To help others find this too, Tal recounts this story in The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal (if memory serves).
    – ETD
    Feb 17, 2013 at 2:28
  • 1
    @EdDean, I see, Thanks. That's where the original story must be from! I believe I first read this story in Kasparov's OMGP.
    – Akavall
    Feb 17, 2013 at 3:50

Something I like to do in online chess is if I lose a Pawn or more in material, and if I'm higher rated, I offer them a draw. That usually burns a few seconds on the clock as they try to weigh the utility of accepting the draw while up material or whether or not they should play on and convert, but the opportunity cost of them even contemplating this decision means they lose time on the clock.

It's kinda stupid, maybe disrespectful, and will definitely make your opponent rage if they decide to play on and lose, but just a little something I like to do.

If you are interested in this topic, there is a book called "How to get lucky in chess" that you should look up and download (pretty sure there is a pirated copy somewhere online) that discusses issues you ask about in your post.

  • 1
    It's disrespectful and various online chess websites add several seconds to your opponent clock if you offer draw (several seconds to make a decision).
    – Zistoloen
    Jan 28, 2013 at 17:17
  • 2
    Chill out, I'm not advocating offering excessive draws. I'll at most offer one draw in a losing position just to burn a little bit of time on their clock. Nothing illegal about that.
    – flicflac
    Jan 28, 2013 at 22:18
  • 1
    The book is called How To Be Lucky In Chess, and it is still in print, so I'd recommend buying it if you want to read it. (It's an excellent book).
    – dfan
    Mar 14, 2013 at 18:47

I think most psychological tricks that still fall within the boundaries of fair play are connected to time trouble. Here are some tricks to deal with an opponent in time trouble:

  • If he just got into time trouble and he is hovering at the board, hand ready to move, eyes wide open … wait (if you still have plenty of time). After 15-20 min his adrenalin level will drop and he will be much less ready to deal with what follows.

  • Don't go for a forcing variation. If possible, change the pawn structure. Play in time trouble is often conducted on a higher level than blitz, because the time trouble addict can draw on all his thoughts about the structure from earlier in the game. If you change the pawn structure, you take that away from him. If you cannot change the pawn structure, just making a quiet move is often very hard to react to.

  • Think deeply about the position and try to anticipate his response. Then bang out the next 3-4 moves. If you have done it right, he will be in terra incognita, with no time, low adrenaline and a new pawn structure to adapt to.

Another little thing, that for some reason works incredibly well against some players: If you see him fall into deep thought, stand up and go away from the board. But whenever he straightens up and seems ready to move, go back to the board and just look at the position. Often that is enough to make him "go back to sleep" again.


As already pointed out the tactical draw offer is a fine psychological weapon.

The variant that I used to fall for and then later adopted went like this.

The Setup: A rating difference (ELO or equivalent) of 100 - 200 points. The weaker player struggling in the opening.

The Hit: Just as you are about to equalize make the offer.

The Psychology: Improving kiddies in my chess club used to do this regularly to me as their ratings approached mine. The feeling in the "mark" is one of indignation. "How dare this patzer / pipsqueak (or whatever) make such an impudent offer? I'm going to crush the little ****!"

The losing blunder often follows shortly afterwards.

Once I cottoned on to what was happening I managed to fix my attitude and even used the ploy myself successfully a few times against a stronger player in our club.

EDIT: I've been rereading Jonathan Rowson's "Chess for Zebras" ( an excellent book, by the way) and came across this example where he fell for the tactical draw offer from the weaker player. I've just included two of Rowson's comments. He comments almost every line at times giving great insight into his thinking.

[FEN "1k1r4/1p3p2/p3b1pp/P1nN4/2PRP3/5BP1/6P1/6K1 w - - 0 1"]
[Event "Bundesliga"]
[Date "2000/1"]
[White "Straeter"]
[Black "Rowson"]

1.Bd1 h5 2.Kf2 Rh8 3.Ke3 h4 4.gxh4 Rxh4 5.Nf4 Bc8 6.g3 Rh8 7.Rd5 Ne6 8.Bf3 Re8 9.e5

My opponent offered a draw with this move. Had I accepted, the match would also have been drawn, and this would have been a huge disappointment for our team, but not a complete disaster. In any case, I didn't really come to terms with the fact that my position had deteriorated over the last few moves, and I felt somehow possessed, as if I had to win this game at all costs. I arrogantly rejected the offer with an immediate "No!" and this arrogance tainted my thinking in what follows.

[FEN "1kb1r3/1p3p2/p3n1p1/P2R4/2P1PN2/4KBP1/8/8 w - - 0 1"]
[Event "Bundesliga"]
[Date "2000/1"]
[Result "1-0"]
[White "Straeter"]
[Black "Rowson"]

1.e5 Nd8 2.Rc5 Ne6 3.Nxe6 fxe6 4.Kf4 Rh8+ 5.Kg4 Rd8 6.Kh4 Rh8+ 7.Kg5 Rh3 8.Kg4 Rh8 9.Be4 Rg8 10.Kg5 Bd7 11.Kf6 g5 12.Bg6 g4 13.Bf7 Rh8 14.Ke7 Bc6 15.Bxe6 Kc7 16.Bd5 Rh5 17.Bg2 Rf5 18.Be4 Rh5 19.Kf6 Rh3 20.e6 Rh6+ 21.Bg6 Kd6 22.Rxc6+ bxc6 23.e7 Rxg6+ 24.Kxg6 Kxe7 25.Kf5 Kd6 26. Kxg4 Kc5 27.Kf5 Kxc4 28.g4 1-0

A truly painful defeat, compounded by the fact that it meant our team lost the match, and with it any realistic chance of winning the league that year. In any case, this game made a deep impression on me and I resolved to understand what happened, not so much on the board, but psychologically - in terms of my competitive attitude.


Whether or not you try any of these tricks in your own games you should take away one important point. You should work out in advance what your approach is to draw offers to make sure you yourself don't fall for these tricks.

The first point to note is that the reason your rating is 200 points higher than your opponents is because over the long run you make fewer mistakes than your opponent. It does not mean that you are superior to him in every way nor are you entitled to win every game. There will be days when he plays well and you play badly and if he offers you a draw when he is clearly winning then take it!

Unless there are special circumstances (e.g. last round, prize money at stake) I ask myself two questions when I'm offered a draw:

1) Is it just too early? I'm enjoying myself too much in the struggle?

2) Do I have a plan to win the game?

If both answers are no then I accept the offer.

Special circumstances and question 1 are answered very quickly. For question 2 I can take as much time as I have left on the clock minus the time I estimate it will take to implement the plan. Take my time, try and work out a winning plan. If I don't find one then irrespective of our relative ratings I accept the offer. It must be a good day for him and a bad day for me but let's not make it worse.


The only ethical psychological "tactics" in my opinion are

  1. getting opponent out of "book" by playing "unusual" moves,

  2. playing "trappy" openings if you want to risk opponent already knowing the trap (e.g. Blackburne Shilling, 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nd4 (4.Nxe5? Qg5)), and

  3. if opponent is not using good time management, that is, playing either too slowly or too quickly, then shade your own time management in the opposite direction -- play just a little quicker against dragging opponents and a little more deliberately against impatient opponents.

  • What's the benefit of playing more slowly against fast players?
    – nalply
    Sep 2, 2019 at 14:45
  • @nalply It makes them even more impatient and error-prone.
    – Jeff Y
    Sep 5, 2019 at 14:13

doing something like 38.Qxd3 in Emanuel Lasker vs Johann Hermann Bauer (1889):

[fen ""]

1.f4 d5 2.e3 Nf6 3.b3 e6 4.Bb2 Be7 5.Bd3 b6 6.Nc3 Bb7 7.Nf3
Nbd7 8.O-O O-O 9.Ne2 c5 10.Ng3 Qc7 11.Ne5 Nxe5 12.Bxe5 Qc6
13.Qe2 a6 14.Nh5 Nxh5 15.Bxh7+ Kxh7 16.Qxh5+ Kg8 17.Bxg7 Kxg7
18.Qg4+ Kh7 19.Rf3 e5 20.Rh3+ Qh6 21.Rxh6+ Kxh6 22.Qd7 Bf6
23.Qxb7 Kg7 24.Rf1 Rab8 25.Qd7 Rfd8 26.Qg4+ Kf8 27.fxe5 Bg7
28.e6 Rb7 29.Qg6 f6 30.Rxf6+ Bxf6 31.Qxf6+ Ke8 32.Qh8+ Ke7
33.Qg7+ Kxe6 34. Qxb7 Rd6 35. Qxa6 d4 36. exd4 cxd4 37. h4 d3
38. Qxd3 1-0

hehe :)

  • 4
    I do not get it. The game is won, so what ? Jan 12, 2013 at 6:08
  • 1
    @NikanaReklawyks he basically told him (in a very peculiar way) "dude, just resign", QxP is clearly not the best move, also the OP was clear that "It also does not matter if it is the opening, middle, or end game."
    – ajax333221
    Jan 12, 2013 at 6:47
  • 8
    I contend Qxd3 is, if not the best, then the simplest way to win: it forces the major pieces off for both sides (if 38...Rc5 39. Qg5+ and 40. Qxc5 and boils things down to a K+P ending I could easily win with 1-minute remaining against Carlsen ;)
    – user76
    Jan 15, 2013 at 18:16
  • Unless Carlsen pulls a nice psychological trick on you :)
    – yrodro
    Sep 8, 2013 at 17:44

If you are the underdog (in rating points), be satisfied with a draw. Let him come to you, because he will lose rating points from a draw, and you will gain them. He is likely to overreach in those circumstances.

As a previous poster pointed out, make sure that you calculate any potentially winning candidate in that situation right to the end. What's the best move for each player after everything has settled down and you're ahead in material or positionally? If you find another potential tactic, your analysis isn't finished.

As for draw offers, by all means make one if you think a) the draw would be a good result for you, and b) it might antagonize him. Nigel Short once said, "If your opponent offers you a draw, try to work out why he thinks he's worse." So, expect the draw offer to be rejected unless your opponent has demonstrated that he's committed to winning.

Don't make repeated draw offers. It constitutes annoying behavior, and can get penalized.

If your opponent is low on time and you have plenty, don't try to blitz him in the hope that you'll deprive him of thinking time on your move. You have an advantage; use it. I once played an opponent rated 250 ELO higher than me, and pinned one of his pieces. There was no way out, but he thought for half his time about how to fix the problem. I just walked around the room for nearly half an hour, letting him stew.

He finally made a move when he had only 15 minutes left on his clock, and I had nearly 45. When he got down to a minute left on his clock, he went for an all-out pawn storm against my king's position. After each of his moves, made in 10 seconds or less, I would spend at least 45 seconds on an obvious reply, and 3-4 minutes on moves that could complicate the position but were still winning. I burned another 15+ minutes playing defense, but when it was over, his attack was simply coming apart, and he lost on time anyway.

BTW: Don't mess around with using the scoresheet in psychological games. USCF has changed the rules so that the player must make his move before he writes it down. Writing it down first can (and should) be claimed as illegal, and earn you a time penalty.


There's an old example that I forget when and where it happened, but a man wrote very clearly each move he made before he made it. Of course this took some extra time, but an opponent was sure to notice it.

At some point when he was in not such a good position, he wrote down three moves ahead, the sign for losing the game for himself.

That particular opponent interpreted this as a concession coming, but curious to play three more moves.

After those three moves, he simply crossed out the concession and continued playing and his opponent, in euphoria, had lost significant position in those turns and ended up with a draw.

He was kind enough to say that this wasn't intentional on his opponent's part, but I'm not so sure.

Though... these kind of psychological tricks can be as much as a distraction as they can have an effect. Kinda like astrology sometimes.

  • As @Jaxter's answer says says, this is no longer permitted. If you write down a move that you haven't yet played on the board, you are now required to make that move.
    – GreenMatt
    Aug 12, 2019 at 21:12

This was said by a team-mate while returning by car from an away match.

"I do hope I play old Frank in the return match. After our game tonight we analysed a line in the Giuoco Piano. Its good for White, in fact very good, but I was letting him win the analysis."

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.