Answers to Questions for Psychological Preparation

Here are my responses to Barry Lenson’s thought provoking questions for psychological preparation:

Have you learned lessons that you believe can be applied to life in general? To business?

Chess is a lot more than just moving around plastic chess pieces; we teach business and life lessons through the game. The steps of our thought process (write down your opponents move, ask why he went there, come up with candidate moves, calculate to determine which one has the highest ROI, try to find a better move and blunder check) all relate to any life or business decision you make. For instance, when discussing blunder check, we discuss the key mistake Coke made back in 1985, when they failed to a blunder check (market research) and sweetened their product to compete with Pepsi. Their sales then plummeted. Our tagline says it all; Conquer the Game; Master Your Life.

What kind of preparation have you found to be most effective before matches? Do you have certain routines ahead of time?

My coach Grandmaster Leonid Yudasin made it a point to calm down before matches. In the past, I’d run to a tournament and arrive right before the first round started. Now I realize it’s important to arrive early, check in into the hotel room, ideally the night before, and relax before the first round. It helps to meditate and potentially even do some yoga before games.

Can you plan what will happen, or do you rely on your skills and experience to tell you how to adjust and navigate through a match?

Non- chess players often ask me how long I can calculate in a given position; the answer is always “it depends”. There are two factors here- the type of position and player’s style. In general, I am a positional player who likes to steer games in more a quiet direction where I can use my intuition based on prior knowledge but of course, games do occasionally get sharp, where calculation is key. Grandmaster Alex Lenderman once shared with me, while Mikhail Tal was famous for his tactical prowess, many of his games were positional masterpieces. A business needs to a good mix of marketing tactics and long-term planning.

Do you experience nervousness before or during games, and what do you do about it?

Situations such as last rounds when there is lots of money on the line and times you are playing opponent’s that have had a good score against you in the past can be particularly nerve-wracking. There are three ways I like to handle these situations:

1) Follow my dad Keith Rabin’s old advice that I should pretend like key tournament games are just fun practice games on the internet. Whether a game is one of 100 practice ones on LI Chess or, or the last round of the World Open, one should just focus on making the best possible moves.

2) Pretend like everyone you play is 50 points higher rated than you; this will allow you to give your opponent some respect but at the same time remain confident.

3) Mentally prepare before games; consider doing yoga or meditation.

Does motivational thinking play a part in your wins? Do you think about getting “psyched up,” or using some other form of mental preparation?

Before doing yoga and/or meditation, I will often have a good meal. Thanks to some guidance of my good friend Coach Michael Deutsch of Hands on Hoops Skills, I enjoy having green smoothies for breakfast every day, which gives me the nutrients needed for physical activity and critical thinking. In addition, I often listen to some music that will fire me up, including the Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers and Jewish folk songs.

How do you keep your career and company on an even course, whether you win or lose?

Three quotes inspire me with regard to my thoughts about this question:

1) “Every Master was Once a Beginner”

-Irving Chernev

2) “The first time you make a mistake, it’s a learning experience. The second time you make a mistake, it’s a true mistake.”

-Paul Njau, Make a Difference Now

3) “You either win, draw or learn.”

-Elliott Neff, Chess4Life

Every chess player, employee and company will suffer losses. Unless you are Magnus Carlsen, who has a crazy unbeaten streak of 118 games, you will most certainly suffer losses. As a chess player, it’s important to avoid domino effects; if you make one mistake in a game, it’s important to take a deep breath, re-evaluate the position and adjust your plan. Likewise, if you lose one game, you need to relax, gain composure and come back to the tournament room for the next round with the willingness to put up a good fight.


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