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For the last 3 months or so I've been unable to concentrate and play chess to the level that I am used to. I'm rated 2050.

I've been suffering from the following symptoms:

  • Being completely unable to see the board in it's entirety. I've done silly things like put my queen en prise because I just didn't see that an enemy rook is on the same file
  • Being distracted whilst playing. I have this odd habit of working hard to gain a winning position, then my mind drifts to some music that I like. Inevitably I throw my advantage away
  • Playing 'hope chess', i.e. I may analyse just one variation a few moves deep and conclude it is good for me. Of course I miss my opponent's best move

My question is, how can I get out of the rut?

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    Yeah, tell me about it! Do you have similar problems in other areas of your life? – Philip Roe Feb 4 '18 at 22:33
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    Related: chess.stackexchange.com/questions/8505/… – Ellie Feb 5 '18 at 1:07
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    are these rapid/blitz games? – TheAutomaton Feb 5 '18 at 15:57
  • Sort of general purpose advice, but sometimes concentration problems are not necessarily related to the domain you're working in. Are you getting enough sleep, exercise, healthy foods? Are you playing at times of day where you're most alert? Have you tried more or less caffeine? I've gotten the impression that the physiological aspect of chess playing becomes more relevant the stronger you get. Many titled chess players appear to be quite rigorous about getting enough sleep and exercise to aid their concentration skills. – Alex Pritchard Feb 9 '18 at 21:24
  • If you feel unsatisfied with the answers the biggest unknown variable, I feel, is your mental status. Such blunders are extremely rare at your level. Do you have any more information concerning mental condition, attention disorders, or other disturbances? Scrounged and Philip Roe's answers, as well as Alex Pritchard's comment have created a basis to discover these issues personally if you feel capable, or don't wish to disclose this evidence. Either way, hope it goes well – TheAutomaton Feb 21 '18 at 21:07
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From the way the question is written it seems like these flaws in your chess are uncharacteristic, and that you recently noticed that they've suddenly become way more apparent than before. The first point about putting pieces en prise does indeed seem uncharacteristic for any player >2000 Elo, unless we're dealing with very short time controls.

For a beginner, putting a piece or two en prise during a game is to be expected, but for someone of expert strenght it's indicating that something is going on. Most likely it has to do with momentary lapses of concentration, and it is very difficult in general to know why these happen. Has something happened in your life recently that puts you under a lot of stress? Then that is very likely the culprit affecting this area of your game, and you should work on improving your personal life in order to get rid of these annoying mistakes.

The second part, about getting winning positions and then not being able to convert them, is not uncharacteristic for a ~2050 Elo player in my opinion. Strong players tend to be remarkably resilient, and they will not yield an inch unless you force them to. Keeping this in mind, it becomes clear that it is very dangerous to think of your position as "winning". That way of thinking makes it much more likely that during a game you will start relaxing too early thinking the position will win itself, and consequently letting your opponent off the hook. Instead, I believe it is much more appropriate to always keep in mind that your position is nothing without you! Without you there to accurately improve it, your position will most certainly deteriorate, no matter how good it is to begin with. Don't forget this; do not relax until the game is over!

The part about "hope chess" should be taken care of if you remember that your opponent is not supposed to be your friend during the game. If they can avoid it, they will never actively cooperate with your plans. However, if the hope chess has increased in the last couple of months it could be caused by the same thing that is causing you to drop pieces. Stress has a way of making people mentally exhausted, and this will inevitably lead to chessplayers 'letting go' the moment they think they see a solution to their problems, unwilling to strain themselves mentally even further by double-checking to make sure the plan is air tight. In this case the solution to the issue should be to work on improving your personal life to eliminate mental exhaustion as a factor in your game.

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  • i agree, even at a lower rating I never made such major blunders. The revelation behind the psychological grasp seems highly likely and logical too. +1 – TheAutomaton Feb 9 '18 at 15:29
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I have a FIDE 1996 rating and I had the same problem you have now. What fixed for me was to play many slow games G/30 minimum and G/60 ideal, and then have Shredder do a quick blunder check on these games. I slowly learned where I am most likely to make silly mistakes. I also changed my game mindset. Rather than try to get a winning position I chose to aim for a solid position all the time with small improvements, nothing too greedy. I chose to win games by exploiting my opponent's mistakes and not because I blew him out of the water with amazing moves. I consistently get winning positions 90% of the time. Now my problem is to efficiently win these won positions. Good luck.

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General Play

Building habits is a good way to get out of the rut.

Depending on the the time it could be fundamental to analyze the board and the opponents move to gain a general sense of the direction and goals of each side, of course this is most likely acknowledged by you.

A way to reduce blunders is to manage time, which imposes how you multitask.

If anything, multitasking isn't as much about the ability to effectively tackle on each individual thing, but of being well acquainted with certain aspects so you can focus on certain parts.

Certain sports such as football have many dynamic aspects, but certain things practiced heavily become more natural, such as throwing/ catching, which allow you to focus more on field awareness, position,and the oncoming defenders.

Following this it may be helpful to practice tactics by playing a bunch of chess tactics on chess.com, lichess, etc, or playing chess engines that follow similar moves so you can expand on your knowledge of the systematic processes in opening.

Generally following/ or making a system before playing may help too (analyzing undefended pieces in your side, blundercheck, etc)


Listen to Music

Another thing is it could be useful to listen to music while playing. I personally listen to jazz, classical, or lofi hip-hop while playing. Something calm and relaxing so I'm not as impatient, and aggressive when I play. Something without lyrics is awesome, and can help tame part of your wandering mind.

Though I do expect the use of headphones would be banned in tournament play.


Time Management

You also have to take into account the type of chess you are playing

Classical Chess Using FIDE standard for Classical Chess, which allows an hour and a half for the first 40 moves and another half an hour for the rest of the game, you have a large amount of time to calculate. In this variation major blunders are pretty much absent at higher level play, as the players are able to completely analyze their moves, anticipate responses, calculate lines and attacks, and even delve into intrinsic theories of the board/ color/ control/ etc.

Rapid Chess With 10 minutes to an hour you have a fair amount of time to analyze your moves and board. I personally find this variation ends with who has the stronger end game moves, so with standard opening principles I like to spend half of the time in mid-game setting up a strong, preferably 2 rook, or rook and bishop ending with a faster king centralization

Blitz Blitz is 10 minutes or less, commonly played with 2,3 or 5 minute variations. With 5 you may not have a large amount of time to analyze the opponent's goals and motive, but you should still get a general sense of why they make each move. Personally a quick blundercheck in mid-game, 2-5 seconds, and you should be good, just check common moves like how the position could be exploited (fork, discovered attack, skewer) and structure (pawns, defended pieces).

In the 2 and 3 minute variations it is common to find weaker, less analyzed moves, with stronger players still rarely making blunders. The key to this is memory and intuition, with a large history of chess allowing you to find similar positions, piece combinations, and ideas. This variation is heavy on tactics with both sides waiting for the other to make a blunder or a weaker, exploitable move. The harder part is implementing strategy, but with study of the piece combinations, and chess theory you can practice powerful, unexpected attacks that could force the opponent out of their comfort zone. So using this the key to making less mistakes in this variation is practice, and with the above allusion to football, make tactics inherent.

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I would take quite seriously the possibility of taking medical advice. Our chess ability, measured objectively by rating, is a very sensitive measure of our mental health is several ways.

Some years ago my thyroid gland became underactive (hypothyroidism) which leads to a slowing down of mental processes. This went undiagnosed for two years, because being normally quite a bright chap I was just a bit more normal. My rating fell during this period by at least 200 points. I knew that I was playing badly and felt furious about it.

After treatment had begun I was playing in a tournament and I recall exactly when the cloud lifted. I looked at my opponents k-side attack, and suddenly realized that g5 was not a threat. Quite suddenly, I was analyzing accurately again.

I am not offering a diagnosis of your condition, but this very similar experience of mine was in fact symptomatic of something quite serious. The fact that you post here indicates that you are quite worried about it. I think you need to talk to a doctor. A good one will not think that complaining about your loss of chess skill is frivolous.

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Rated 2050 where?
Is that FIDE OTB?; or some online site with inflated ratings?

One old GM said to sit on your hands. That was to keep you from moving impulsively until you really thought about the position.

You need to train yourself to slow down and be sure before you move.

I would add that you need to stop playing blitz if you care about your OTB ability.

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