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Losing Your Motivation

User Rating: / 16
Written by Administrator   
Wednesday, 04 December 2013
By GM Daniel Gormally, England, FIDE 2504

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Victor Korchnoi- matured with age, but for most it's a different experience.

Why do chessplayers get weaker? There are a number of explanations for why chessplayers decline with age, but one of the primary reasons is a loss of motivation. In fact I'd say that was the main reason why most grandmasters tend to have a good career for 15-20 years or so, but then fade away to almost nothing. They lose their mojo.

Take Vishy Anand as an example. Ok I've picked on Vishy more than enough over the last few weeks in this blog, so I have no wish to do so again, but it's clear he's lost motivation.

Compare him to Boris Gelfand. Historically Vishy has been regarded as the stronger of the two. But now is that the case? Boris seems highly motivated over the last few years, to prove himself, but it's easy to see that by comparison, Vishy has lost something. Desire. If they played a match now, my money would be on Boris.

And it's not so difficult to understand why that might be. Vishy has achieved everything that can be done in chess. He's been world champion, he's won many tournaments. What more is there to prove?

Kasparov recently suggested that most players decline on the wrong side of 40. This is true. Of course it's not just motivation, there are other reasons, like just simply getting older. Your brain slows down. You have less energy.

You get tired more easily. In the past, when I was in my early twenties, I could go out and drink for hours in the evening and stay up to the early hours and it wouldn't affect me. Now I find myself having to go to bed early if I have a game the next day.

Otherwise lethargy creeps in. By the end of the tournament I'll be a ragged mess, tired and irritable. So age does indeed catch up with you. And I don't even want to go into the subject of losing braincells, a scary problem indeed.

These are matters beyond your control, but what about motivation? Victor Korchnoi is an example of someone who bucked the general trend and actually improved past his forties.

Victor the terrible matured and was playing his best chess into his late forties and early fifties. He came very close to beating Karpov when he was at his peak, and wresting the world championship off his great and at the time, hated rival.

But Victor was a man apart. This was someone who in his youth, lived through the siege of Leningrad. You have to be a tough hombre to do that. It was a different time, a tougher time, and it would inevitably shape his future outlook on life.

He maintained incredible motivation into his later years for working on chess. Incredible passion and vitality for investigating chess and studying the game. Compared to living in terrible poverty, your life on the edge, getting the opportunity to travel the world and do something creative was a wonderful release for him.

I wish I could say the same myself. Unfortunately of late I've found it very difficult to even put a few hours a week into chess. Getting the board out, and playing through chess variations, seemed exciting and fresh when I was younger. Now it just seems ridiculous. The whole process seems preposterous. I find it equally hard to study chess on the computer.

As many have suggested, I'm tired and fed up with chess and need a new challenge. Maybe the answer is to take a break from chess, but I'm far from convinced that if I had a year off completely, that I'd come back and my attitude would be changed. That I'd suddenly start putting the hours in. Also I'm 37, and it's not so easy to just take a year off. By the time I come back, I may already be too old. Too long out of chess too.

But it's worth a try perhaps, because clearly now it isn't working. If it is broke, fix it.

Boris Gelfand- an inspiration for older chess players.

I think growing older you automatically widen your scope of interests. Focusing purely on chess is an easy thing to do when you're younger, when the process of working on the game is likely to move you forward. It's easy to improve when you're young.

When you get older, you realise that there are other things in life far more interesting than obsessing about whether or not there is a novelty on move fifteen in some opening or other. I read a lot of history, and I find it far more fascinating reading about historical figures, real people, than some moves on a chessboard. Maybe I've developed a slight intellectual contempt for those who work hard on chess.

Now if I do work hard on chess, it's more to just maintain the same level. It's more of a case of if I don't work, I'll get considerably weaker. Is that a motivation? There's also the question of money. Even if I work hard and get to 2600, possibly a realistic goal, if a very difficult one, then my life circumstances are unlikely to change. I'd still be skint.

Mark Hebden is a good example of someone who works hard now into his later chess years, and I should use that as an inspiration, but maybe I'm just too lazy. Beyond help. Mark tells me himself that he has to work hard just to stay at the same level, but he's currently rated above 2550 which is pretty good for someone in his fifties (sorry Mark.)

He's a great believer in hard work, and as he's pointed out to me, I don't work hard enough and my level has stagnated. I'm playing the same openings that I played 15 years ago and my theory hasn't moved on. But the difference between me and Mark is that he has never had any doubts about devoting his life completely to chess. With me, there's some voice in my head that there should be something better in life. But is there?

The London Classic starts in a few days and I'm still wondering whether or not to play in the open. It could be a once in a lifetime opportunity, or it could be a disaster. Ultimately, it's up to me. Motivation will make the difference.

Originally published in GM Danny Gormally's blog

Other posts by GM Danny Gormally:
Playing blitz chess online & all the computer cheats
Anand-Carlsen borefest continues
Magnus, is this all he has?
A clash of kings
Do we overrate ourselves?
Computers and their all-pervading influence on modern chess
From Russia with love
The England Chess Team & Jack Wilshire
Should the grandmaster title be scrapped?
ECF Book of the Year?
Is being a chess pro worth it - continued?
Is being a chess pro worth it?
An Elitist Game?
Does hard work in chess pay off?
World Cup Final preview
World Chess Cup Semi-Final preview
World Chess Cup Quarter-Final preview
World Chess Cup 1/8-final preview
Why are Russians so good at chess?
British Champs-2013
Ghent and now the British
I'll never be fat again!
Lessons learnt!
The sad case of Borislav Ivanov: Part II
Does Anyone Have a Cure for Anger Problems?
The Depth of Chess
Fundraising in chess
Nurturing a Chess Prodigy
The Sad Case of Borislav Ivanov
4NCL Impressions: no country for old men - Part II
4NCL Impressions: no country for old men
One move, one line - Part II
One move, one line
Candidates Final Review & Preview of Upcoming World Championship Match
Would Carlsen have beaten Capablanca?

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Comments (4)
1. Written by Peter on 12:00 04 2013 .
Most top chess players seem to have a huge ego and treat the game as a way of showing off their superiority via crushing others over the board. Hence, when they can no longer beat their rivals, they retire. Others truly love chess and enjoy the creative and analytical sides of this activity. They can keep playing for a much longer period. We have a saying in Russian: "love chess in yourself, not yourself in chess", which can be applied to any occupation. 
It requires thinking outside the box. For many guys "motivation" is just another ambitious goal. Sometimes one can shift his core system of values and find motivation in realizing that you enjoy doing something and can afford to do it. I am not a pro, but when I set myself strict goals for the tournament (a certain score; a rating plus), I tend to perform worse than when I am enjoying myself and the game. Just my 5 cents.
2. Written by Peter on 12:11 04 2013 .
In a more academic way: it is important to have an intrinsic motivation when the extrinsic motivation is not good enough anymore.
3. Written by Fabio on 12:29 04 2013 .
Good article, very personal and honest
4. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 19:59 04 2013 .
For me it was chess computers that made me give the game away. 
Whats the point of putting any effort in? 
Especially when you know you have reached your level

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