What are you afraid of?

“Fear is the mind killer!” — this famous incantation used by the Bene Gesserit in Dune, turns out to also be helpful in chess. (oh, while I’m thinking of Dune and chess: wouldn’t it be nice if I could use some spice to be Precient?)

Fear of the opponent plays a significant role in the psychology of chess. This fear typically manifests itself as belief that the opponent is “better” given his rating, age, height or even looks. Then, when you make a mistake or reach a position where your opponent has the advantage, all these fears come up again, leading to even more mistakes and blunders.

Naturally, this fear is common with kids but it exists at any age or level of play. With adult players, fear is subtler, but it’s still there. It’s not easy to recognize this fear and overcome it, but sometimes it’s crucial to your success.

This type of fear is common in many other competitive situations, from personal achievement to business success. Take the movie The Karate Kid – Can Daniel LaRusso overcome his fear of Johnny Lawrence (who is larger and better trained) and beat him in the final round of the karate tournament?

The Bene Gesserit‘s incantation¬†continues with “I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.” Try that the next time you sense fear creeping in and holding you back from being successful — in chess or in anything else you do.


The other day my son said “I’m going to be world champion in chess!”
I was quite amazed at his conviction – It was not really a question, more an observation.

My first thought was: wow, that’s great.

Then, I felt the need to protect him — isn’t this too ambitious? What would happen if he finds out it’s too difficult to climb that mountain?

But I felt that this instinct to “protect” is wrong. It’s really a “learned behavior” for us adults; over the years, with more responsibilities we tend to become risk averse; we avoid taking on really big challenges, and thus don’t fail very often.

This is exactly what Seth Godin describes in his book Linchpin Рour lizard-brain trying to stop us from taking risks, and drives us to seek safety.

I think we should be more ambitious every day; take on big challenges and make life more interesting. So I said to my son: “wow, I really think you can. I will help you get there.”

So I urge you: take on a new big challenge today. You won’t regret it.