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Why Is Chess A Psychological Game?

It is often said that chess is a psychological game, but what does this really mean? Whether you are new to the game or you have been playing for many years, having a full understanding of how to play it will necessarily involve an appreciation of the psychological elements of the gameplay. In fact, a lot of good players say that chess is primarily psychological or even entirely. In this post, we will discuss further what such claims might actually mean.

All in all, though, it’s definitely the case that there are strongly psychological elements to the game of chess. In this post, we are going to look at this in detail, helping you not only to play the game better, but to appreciate it more and understand it more too. By the end you should have a pretty strong sense of this. Let’s take a look.

Reading An Opponent

One of the most central parts of the game of chess is being able to read an opponent well. In this sense it is very much like many other games, from poker and bridge onwards. But chess is a top level example of a game where being able to read your opponent is hugely important to being able to play against them, and hopefully to win.

In particular, you will want to try and know what your opponent is thinking on the board. At the very basic level, that includes what they are trying to achieve at the moment, which is why most players will at least try to ask themselves what their opponent is currently trying to do. This is a case of putting yourself in your opponent’s shoes and simply trying to work out what they are aiming for.

At more advanced levels, it can look like actually trying to read on your opponent’s face whether they are bluffing, following where their eyes are going and so on. All of these things can be useful in improving one’s game, and show perfectly just how it is that chess can be called a psychological game.

Being able to read an opponent is a sign of a strong chess player, but it is something that all players do, at all levels, to varying degrees of success.

Memory Abilities

Another mental capacity that proves very important in a game of chess is memory. The better a memory you have, in general the better your game will be when you play chess. People often know about the importance of looking ahead in chess, but actually looking back can be just as important, if not more so.

Part of the reason for that is because of what we have just outlined above: if you are able to remember what your opponent has already done in the current game, that will help with figuring

out what their strategy is and what they are planning to do. So that is one way in which a good memory is going to help someone to play chess well.

But that is not the only way this works. It’s also true that a good memory helps you to remember the board state at earlier times of the game, which in turn helps to figure out what patterns are showing. That proves to be very important for strategizing too, so clearly memory is a really important factor all in all.

A lot of the best chess players actually play memory games outside of the game to help their memory within the game, and here it is pretty easy to see why that might be quite so important to do.

Problem-Solving Skills

Playing a game of chess is quite simply trying to solve a puzzle better than your opponent does. It’s like a puzzle but against someone rather than just against yourself. And as with any kind of puzzle, it can be really helpful to have strong problem-solving skills, because that is the best way to ensure that you are actually able to work on the puzzle as well as possible.

Again those problem solving skills can be developed both within and without the game, and doing so is going to make it so much easier to fully enjoy and engage with a game of chess and to improve one’s game generally. Fortunately, one can always build on existing problem solving skills, and doing so can be a fantastic way to make chess not only more skillfully played, but more enjoyable as well.

Good problem solving skills can show up in so many ways, so if you are hoping to improve your psychological chess skills, this is something that is well worth looking into as soon as possible, and sticking to.


A major part of playing chess is being able to see in your mind’s eye what the board will look like after particular changes have taken place. In essence, on each turn, you are looking ahead to imagine a variety of different circumstances, and trying to actually clearly see what it will look like. Only by doing that can you ensure that you are able to strategize properly and make the best decisions for your game.

So clearly, there needs to be a strong ability to visualize. And this is yet another very important psychological skill that a chess player needs to have if they are going to be good at the game. Some people seem to have a better natural capacity for visualization, but at the same time everyone is capable of improving it, so that’s something to be aware of here too. It is always possible to work on this particular skill.

The more visually you can think, the easier you will probably find it to play chess well, so this is certainly something you should think about building on as soon as possible if you want to be a better player, or you just want to enjoy it more.

Managing Stress

It might sound strange to say this, but it’s definitely true that a game of chess can be stressful. That is certainly the case during a competitive game, but even with a casual game there can be surprisingly high levels of stress and anxiety which then need to be handled as well as possible. So yet another reason that chess can be considered a highly psychological game is that it often requires this kind of regulation and management of one’s stress levels.

During a game, that can help you to play better, to make the better move, and generally to enjoy it more too, which is fundamental to making the most of the game. But how can you actually make sure you are managing stress well during a game of chess? There are many ways, and different players develop their own way to do this, but there are a few ways that can be worth considering for most players here.

For instance, it can be really helpful to take deep breaths and generally to take your time on each move. Even though chess is a slow game, it can be hard to remember that you can take your time. But doing so can really help with managing the stress and anxiety levels that might otherwise spike.

It can also help to try and maintain an awareness of how the game is playing out and to keep an understanding that it is still just a game. Having that kind of perspective is hugely important here. However it is done, managing stress is really important if you want to play chess well and to enjoy it as much as possible, and is a major part of why chess is such a mental game.

Handling Defeat

As with any game, it’s possible to take defeat in a variety of different ways. And the fact that this is something that needs to be considered, is a sign that it’s such a psychological game on the whole. In fact, it’s really important for a chess player to figure out how to handle defeat as well as possible. This is something that can take as much practice as learning the strategies of the game itself, in fact.

An important thing to remember here is that literally everyone loses games sometimes. Even grandmasters lose games. It’s a natural part of the variance of playing any game that this will happen, and it is literally impossible to win every single game of anything. With that in mind, you should try to remember that defeat is just a normal part of playing chess, and that it is not necessarily a reflection on you or your skills if you are to lose.

Remembering that and keeping your head when you lose is hugely important for the enjoyment of the game, as well as for being the best player you can be. If you can do that as well as possible, it is going to help you to make so much more chess in no time.

Social Interaction

Another angle of the highly psychological nature of chess is that it is a very social game. It is impossible to get around the fact that chess is a highly social game. There is no such thing as playing chess against a human being without there being a social element involved. And this is something that needs to be considered if you are trying to make the most of it and to enjoy chess as much as possible.

So how does the social side to chess actually play out? First of all, there is the fact that you are two people playing against each other, with all of the social influences that are part of that. That needs to be considered and is inevitably part of the game of chess at all times, whether or not you are aware of it. There is also the fact that you might have people watching, and that audience fosters part of the social side of it too.

But it’s also about what happens in between games. At its best, this can include a sense of a community growing, and at its worst there can be all sorts of tensions that you want to try and avoid. In any case, as you can see, there are all sorts of social elements to chess that you can consider, which might not have been immediately obvious. And that is a major part of why it is such a psychological game.


Chess is often touted as the ultimate example of intellect at play. The general idea is that you need to be intelligent to play chess, and very intelligent to play it well. In truth, the role of intelligence in chess is often quite overplayed, and it’s not quite as cut-and-dry as you might think. While it is certainly the case that having a good intellect can help you to play chess well, you don’t have to be a genius even to be a grandmaster.

Being good at chess, then, does not necessarily make you smarter, though it does mean you probably have specific strong skills, such as problem solving and spatial reasoning, along with perhaps a good understanding of mathematics. However, the fact that some intelligence is generally required to play chess well does mean that it is another way in which it is quite a mental game on the whole.

If you are worried that you might not be intelligent enough for chess, be assured that it is much more about specific skills than general intelligence. And it is also possible simply to learn to play well, for pretty much any human being on the planet.

Logical Thinking

One kind of mental skill that is certainly important for playing chess, and particularly for playing it well, is logical thinking. It’s certainly the case that being able to think logically is going to help you to have a better ability at chess. Again, however, this is something that anyone can develop with time, and which is going to help you to have a much better sense of how to play the game.

The best way to develop the specific kinds of logical skills required for chess is simply to play more chess. But there are also other things that can help, such as trying logic puzzles of different kinds. And anything that involves spatial reasoning in particular is going to be particularly important for improving your chess skills.

There is no doubt, then, that having logical thinking skills can be important in chess, as it is a basis of playing the game well. And that is another way in which chess is deeply psychological.

The Battle Of Wits

One very common way that chess is portrayed is as a battle of wits. There is certainly a lot of truth to this, and it might even be helpful to consider it in this way if you are trying to improve your own chess game as well as possible. It is certainly the case that you and your opponent

are trying to get one over on the other, and that the one who is better at doing that will win the game. In that sense, it’s a battle of wits as expected, and that is one of the main reasons that people think of chess as truly a psychological game.

Again, however, the full truth can be more subtle than that, and there is the important question of what exactly we mean when we say ‘wits’. However, there is no doubt that playing chess against someone is a case of putting your mental abilities against theirs, which is one of the main reasons that most of us actually enjoy playing the game in the first place. All in all, the battle of wits image of chess remains largely accurate and true, even if it is only a partial truth.


Another interesting note is the impact of expectation on a game of chess. This is one of the lesser-talked about ways in which chess can be regarded as a strongly psychological game, and it’s something that you might want to be aware of in particular. In essence, the kinds of expectations you have going into a game of chess can make a huge difference to how you actually play it and the kinds of results you are likely to see.

Someone who is quite in touch with this truth is likely to find it a lot easier to manage their game well and succeed with chess on the whole. It’s therefore really good to be aware of and to make

sure that you go into a game of chess with strong expectations in your own favor. That can actually improve your game quite considerably, and it’s amazing how much it helps or hinders, depending.

As you can see, chess really is a psychological game, in these as well as some other ways. It’s definitely good to be aware of these elements if you want to make sure that you are enjoying and playing chess well.


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