There are many similar questions to this, like Problems with chess anxiety, or How to relax when playing chess, but though they seem to be tackling the same question, I feel like my situation is still a bit different.

To start off, playing chess in general, during games, gives me a lot of anxiety. It isn't just stress or feeling overwhelmed, but a really overwhelming anxiety I can't figure out how to get rid of. During any game of chess, my heart rate starts going really up and I can feel it pounding fast and loud in my chest the whole game, my stomach knots really uncomfortably, and I tremble a little bit. But the thing is, it's not like I'm so nervous because I'm worried about losing—not at all. I can't pinpoint why I feel so nervous. (When I lose, I have less a reaction than when I win.)

During all these games, I try to suppress the anxiety because it's affecting my gameplay, and I know that the game isn't really important, I tell myself it's a game, I'm moving pieces on a chessboard. And heck, I'm just as nervous when I play unrated games or unlimited time control. It's like the anxiety is just default.

Well yeah, that's my question. I really love chess even though I'm not very good at it; when I watch people play it on Youtube or I go through some puzzles, it's really fun, and I always wished I could play chess more freely because I do really want to, but the anxiety's holding me back and I don't know how to unblock it or what's causing it.

  • So this is all the time when actually playing, even during friendly games, but not during puzzles?
    – D M
    Commented Jul 2, 2021 at 22:49
  • @DM Yes, that's right. I'm still nervous with puzzles, but it's a way less effect. No shaking, no loud heartbeat, no sweating, just hoping for the best. Commented Jul 2, 2021 at 23:49
  • 3
    For what it's worth I get the exact same feeling during games I care about. In long time control games, especially OTB, my heart rate is insane for more than an hour. I've noticed this feeling only lasts as long as the position appears critical. Once I'm won (or lost!) and there's really no more hope for either side, my fight or flight feeling disappears even while the game is going on. There's probably no reason for me to write this comment except to let you know that you're not alone! Commented Jul 3, 2021 at 1:30
  • 1
    Do you have this problem in other areas of your life as well or is it just chess related? And what is your general approach toward learning chess? I'm far from good in the game and have just a couple 100 games under my belt but my experience so far was a bit, that taking it too serious was crippling my play. I tried to read a lot about the theory of the game while not playing and so on and as a result also got super nervous about every match - probably because it was just overwhelming. I took a few weeks off and play it in a more relaxed way now and all the anxiety is somehow gone.
    – Christian
    Commented Jul 4, 2021 at 11:25
  • The boost of sensations (adrenalin ?) described here and experienced during a game is probably the main thing that got me addicted to chess for so long...
    – Evargalo
    Commented Jul 5, 2021 at 8:47

4 Answers 4


I would say figuring out under which conditions the anxiety kicks in can be an interesting challenge for you, which should help you figure a plan to deal with it. So:

  1. clock vs. no clock - really no difference?
  2. vs. friend and vs. stranger - any difference?
  3. OTB vs. online
  4. you say puzzles/tactics are not really a problem; how about competitive puzzle-solving such as puzzle battle on chess.com?
  5. how about other games against another human being? sports? conflict in general with other people, be it trivial or serious (potentially physical)?
  6. how about playing against a child?
  7. against a girl or woman?
  8. against a chess engine that you yourself operate?

My understanding of anxiety (and I most certainly suffer from it as well) is that it's a fear response. My guess would be that the chess anxiety is either a fear of conflict or an association with a deeper fear (of some kind of failure, with some terrible imagined punishment/consequence).


Stress management in a chess tournament was addressed in this forum by Ritesh Singh Feb 1, 2018. The following is nearly verbatim from his comment.

It can be captured in one word: Equanimity. Or, in other words, detachment with results. You should try to make yourself as unconcerned as possible with the result of your game / match / tournament.

This is by far the most effective way of dealing with stress in any situation, whether related to chess or otherwise. Furthermore, if this is not done, that is, if there is a lot of attachment with, and concern about the results, no amount of breathing or walking will reduce the stress with any degree of significance.

The following three verses from the Bhagvad Gita perfectly summarize the attitude that you need to have. They frequently help me in dealing with stress / anxiety / concern in my own life.

English Translation: You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but do not consider yourself entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.

English Translation: One whose mind remains undisturbed amidst misery, who does not crave for pleasure, and who is free from attachment, fear, and anger, has a steady intellect.

English Translation: One who remains unattached under all conditions, and is neither delighted by good fortune nor dejected by misfortune, he is a sage with perfect knowledge.


You can try playing bullet, 1+0. To play full games in under two minutes changes your feelings about chess. It is hard to like at all in the beginning, but I'd say you give it a try, because so many inhibitions just fall. The anxiety is there, too, but you get many answers you just can't help but go for. There is some 'in a nutshell' experience of drama that let's you feel utterly relaxed and in for joy when you return to normal play.


I do suffer from anxiety and I play a lot of chess but ironically, I play chess to relax. To me, chess gives me a sense of control because all I have to do is concentrate on these 64 squares and I can ignore everything else in the world at least for a short time.

You should really take a long look at why you play chess and what you hope to accomplish. Why are you putting so much pressure on yourself? What is missing in your life that you feel you need to fill that void with chess? If you aren't a professional there isn't any reason to be stressed. It's just a game. If you lose rating points that's okay. You can get them back by playing more games. The way the rating system is devised, the more games you play, the closer you'll be to where you're supposed to be. If you aren't happy with where you're at then focus on getting better. Every game is a learning opportunity. Play games, learn from your mistakes, get better, rinse, repeat.

I would recommend taking some time off from playing rated games. Just play unrated and play ridiculous openings that are typically aggressive. Have fun with it and get back to why you started to play chess in the first place. I liked Hikaru's Botez gambit series on Youtube. Although, winning a queen down is hard, sometimes I do basically the same idea with a knight ie I play Nf3/6 followed by Ng5/4 and Nf7/2 regqrdless of what the opponent plays and then just play chess. You're obviously losing but it's fun to play and you get more compensation for the knight than you would probably think. I also like the englund gambit, 1.f3/1..f6 and 1...Nf6 followed by 2...Ng8. These are just fun openings to play and take you out of theory very quickly.

In terms of the anxiety itself. Focus on your breathing. There's lots of resources online about reducing anxiety through breathing but basically a long exhale will slow your heart rate and thus make you feel more relaxed.

Also look at your physiology and muscle tension. Tense and relax your muscles. Get up and move around. Anything that keeps your muscles loose. OTB if I'm feeling anxious I'll get up and got to the bathroom or something. Don't even worry about the time. Online, maybe play some relaxing music while you're playing.

Also, and this seems counter-intuitive but play a lot of blitz and bullet. This does several things. 1) it teaches you not to stress on specific moves ie even if you make mistakes you can still win. 2 ) Most of the stress in chess comes from time. If you had 6 months to determine a move it probably wouldn't stress you out even if you had a horrible position. By learning to play fast it will build your confidence that you can find good moves quickly. And confidence is the antithesis of anxiety. 3) Along those same lines, in fast time controls your opponents will make a lot of mistakes and it will build your confidence to find those mistakes. 4) The way to overcome a fear is to confront it and by playing fast games you are confronting your fears.

Lastly, choose a good opening rep and learn it really well. Something solid that gives you a lot of activity. The Tarrasch defense vs 1.d4 is a good example. It's a very active opening but simple to learn and you can just bust out the first 8 moves or so without thinking too much. That gives you confidence in the position and likely a time advantage.

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