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Written by Administrator   
Monday, 04 November 2013
By GM Daniel Gormally, England, FIDE 2504

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Whenever I'm sitting around or on the phone to a chess friend, talk normally turns to how we rate other chessplayers, and more crucially ourselves.

Normally these conversations will go along lines where we'll say how underrated we are, and that we'd be at least 100 points higher if we weren't so lazy/ played more tournaments/ lived in a better area/ spent less time down the bookies, and so on.

Sometimes these conversations take on a spiteful tone, as it's quickly established that those present are veritable titans of the chequered board , outstanding natural geniuses who haven't been able to fulfill their true potential for one reason or another. Anyone who happens to be absent from this conversation tends to be viewed rather differently, as a talentless workhorse who will surely be exposed sooner or later, someone obsessed with preparation but sorely lacking in any real chess gifts.

It's human nature to overrate ourselves, not just in chess but in general. Never have I heard a chessplayer say that he's overrated, while I've lost count of the number of times that the opposite has been claimed. In fact I currently have a bet going with a friend of mine, that he won't get to 2550 within the next few years. He's currently rated 2450, and has until 2017 to do so.

Quite often I'll look at the top guys, and wonder why they're so much higher rated. Is it just a talent thing, where they born with much more native chess ability, or is it something else?

The truth is there are so many elements that make up being a top chessplayer that I couldn't reasonably list them all here. Hard work, temperament, the energy of youth just to name a few, all play a part.

Playing the right tournaments is important too. It's my belief for a player to truly get stronger, then he/she needs to regularly play against people who are better than they are. Eventually if they're good enough, they'll start to think on that higher level.

That's why I never get the argument that's often put forward about the England football team, that the reason we're falling behind, is because there are too many foreign players in the Premier league, which means that England players can't get into the first team of their particular club, (say Chelsea) depriving them of valuable experience.

I don't get this at all, because if I got the chance to train with better players than me all the time and I didn't improve, that would rather suggest I wasn't good enough in the first place. If I got to train with the very top chessplayers in the world and didn't get any better, then I was wasting my time in the first place.

I guess I could make the argument that I have a fear of flying, and that has held back my chances of playing guys who are better than me. Certainly when I was able to overcome this fear in Gibraltar in 2005, it had a hugely positive effect on my pyschology, and I scored one of my best ever results. The fact that I've since gone back into my shell, and don't fly anymore is perhaps an indication I would like this to remain as an excuse, so that I don't discover just how strong I really am. It's connected to a strong fear of failure.

So yes we can always find reasons why we might be underrated, but the truth is there's little to hold us back actually doing something about it. Beyond talent, most of the elements that make up being a strong chessplayer are under our power, that it's something we can control and do something about. So there are no excuses. If you think you are underrated, do something about it! There's nothing more frustrating in life than not achieving our full potential.

Ego and self-confidence plays a large part in chess. The subject of Ego was superbly touched upon in the excellent  book "seven deadly sins" by Jonathon Rowson. You need to have a certain amount of confidence in chess, otherwise you'll be too pessimistic and won't see any possibilities for yourself. However it's a fine line between confidence and hubris, as was demonstrated to me when I played the following game.

View the game and GM Gormally's annotations

GM Daniel Gormally is open for chess lessons. You can contact him using this e-mail

Other posts by GM Danny Gormally:
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 (1)
1. Written by Davor Palo on 12:36 04 2014 .
I believe that it's often beneficial. As a funny note, poker player Daniel Negreanu once said that people compare their A-game to the C-game of other people.

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