Exploring chess player’s tendency to be sore losers

If you have been playing a game of chess you may notice one thing, opponents are emotionally attached to the outcome of the match. There tends to be an emotional spectacle after every game whether it is committed by you or your opponent, it does exist.

Are players who naturally play chess just cannot take defeat? or are there any other reasons why individuals are like this? Why are chess players sore losers?

Chess players generally appear to be sore losers since the majority of players are young (likely to throw tantrums), the exhaustion after the games builds up, only a few participants can receive the prize money in tournaments, and the pride of the individual is at stake at every match.

This is what I’m going to discuss today in order to provide valuable insight to explain this phenomenon, there is a pattern after all. It would allow us to dig deep into the system of chess and why participants seem to be so emotionally riled up in the end.

Is the system of chess the reason why players are sore losers? 

Chess is an individual game that favors results more than the processes of the match, this means that every loss of the player matters greatly with the sole responsibility of the outcome, therefore, making defeats much sour.

Chess pieces are controlled only by a single person, every defeat of the player is independent of any team members which means that frustrations to self are much more common. If the activity in question is a team sport where fingers can be pointed into the members, the fault is much distributed (less painful).

In chess however it means that losses call for accountability of the player only, which makes people likely to correlate their skill level to the results. This is a good thing when you have a positive streak since you will be able to enjoy the benefit individually. However, in cases of defeats the burden will be much heavier and so players are more likely to be emotional.

The defeat will appear to be more personal since the accountability is higher, unlike with any other team sport (where you are not alone). Especially on big moments that can be potentially career-changing this stigma will make things worse, a player can be devastated with no shoulder to rely on.

The what-ifs are going to be much more severe since a single action can change the course of the game dramatically. The player is also left to recover on their own which is surrounded in every loss as understood by the competitor.

The harshness of competition in chess

Chess is one competition where the result is very more important than the game itself, which is why losing is extra painful. You might have heard some say that the outcome will not matter if the processes of the game have been played brilliantly.

This is not the case in chess since nobody really observes a player’s difficulty on the board, they only looked at the stat sheet. The struggles are much less likely to be recognized meaning that losing is going to be much memorable than actually winning.

Nobody is going to care about someone who almost won if they didn’t blunder, the result is what brings people to fame in chess. This means that every outcome will have a more impactful meaning for the players, this makes them appear to be sore losers when being defeated.

The extensive length of a chess game

Over-the-board play usually falls in long-time controls, which means a loss cannot be immediately followed by a win even if the next game is played immediately. The feeling of uncertainty about one’s confidence can be swayed away if a win can be easily acquired.

But the truth is no matter how skilled an individual may be a win usually does not come really fast, you have to fight for it. Players are going to value the results much deeper in this way which they do, which is why nobody really wants to lose (since getting it back is lengthy).

The process of winning is incredibly long, getting even (if you can win) is going to be a tough process that requires a lot of tenacity. Especially after a loss, meaning every result that could possibly propagate the player in a positive way should not be wasted.

The player understands what it means to lose the game, therefore they appear to be much more emotionally reactive than what other people hoped for. This is why other chess players can easily condone serious competitors (who appear to be sore losers) much more than the general population.

Does the competitive nature of chess make players sore losers?

Only a selected group of people will receive prize money in tournaments making the environment competitive, adding to the fact that players are becoming younger and better, nobody wants to lose a game in chess.

People who engaged in competitions participated because they wanted the prize money, which is why the result is very important to them. Chess can be a costly career after all with little financial incentives to support individual life, the money will help a lot.

This means that players will prioritize efficiency in their games a lot, likely to be very disappointed if a defeat comes their way. I have written an article providing an estimated monetary value for grandmasters (click here to open in a new tab) and spoiler alert, they do not earn much. It’s either kill or be killed, players want to win in order to survive their personal pursuit, and so emotions may drop if losing.

Only people at the top can enjoy the benefits after all, therefore if someone wants to experience the rewards they have to win no matter what. This is why when the contrary happens, regrets and disappointments will dominate most of the participant’s faces as they know the consequences of defeats more than any other.

The competitive nature of chess can lead to an outburst

The environment in chess is just extremely competitive, players want to have good results all the time to grind that rating. Other competitors are becoming younger and younger as time goes by, naturally having a competitive edge over others.

Everyone is becoming more educated as well, back then the majority of chess people are really not good enough to pass the 1500 rating. Now all individuals are studying complex aspects of the game like wizards, it is much harder to get a win. This means that winning if possible are opportunities that should not let by, losses are becoming more meaningful since wins are harder to earn.

If one is in a winning position with all the luxury to convert but for some reason didn’t, you can imagine the frustration that can emerge. Because the player will know the amount of competition involved in chess and what is the value of getting an easy win, which is why some go into outbursts.

Why is losing in chess more difficult than in other competitions?

Losing in chess is much more difficult since the mental exhaustion will build up after every game causing an emotional swing, players are proud of their accomplishments not wanting to taint them, and defeats from arrogant players are distasteful.

After every game every player experiences mental exhaustion, this adds fuel to the fire if one cannot control their emotions. This is something that a lot of people just don’t get, the chess matches are a very exhausted ordeal even if not physical-based.

You would be spending hours calculating tiny bits of the position trying to get an advantage, all while the stress of losing is behind you. This means that if a loss did occur, all the blame and guilt will be rushing all at once making you throw an emotional fit. The outrage that I see in chess is usually internal rather than external, the regrets that have been made in-game instead of attacking other players.

Being a proud chess player leads to high standards

Players are usually very proud of their accomplishments (since they are very hard to earn) which is why they don’t really feel good about losing. As I said, the environment is becoming more competitive where only those with extreme dedication to results can survive.

This is why you commonly see honorable chess individuals that really hate losing since that is the mentality that they used to get to the top. This is a video asking really elite players that same question which reflects the pattern I am talking about.

Everybody wants to win against arrogant chess players

Some chess players especially those that are highly rated can appear arrogant, losing to them seems very distasteful. However these individuals are arrogant for a reason, they are likely very confident/skilled enough capable to beat most people.

The really confident player most of the time can back their behavior (if they have the rating) and everyone is likely to lose on them. Everybody wants to beat someone that is hard to beat, this is a recipe for disappointment if a loss did transpire.

Are the demographics of chess more likely to have sore losers?

The general population of chess is made up of younger individuals which are people that cannot control their emotions yet, or determined adults that take the game very seriously. This means that a defeat is more likely to be taken personally than if it was played by other people.

The majority of people who play chess are very young, of course they are more likely to throw emotional spectacles. These people don’t have the experience yet to be formalized in competitive settings, making them naturally vulnerable to emotions.

Perhaps it is not that chess by itself makes someone bad at handling losses, more like it naturally attracts such individuals. Look at your local quiz bee or spelling bee, I bet a lot of disappointments in such contests are taken personally (since the participants are younger).

It is good for kids to learn how to play chess in a stage where they are highly likely to develop an affinity for the game, but there is the drawback. If a kid does experience a loss, it is much harder to control their actions after the game where guidance is needed to help them recover.

This is a video of a kid who made it to the top levels only to be defeated in an important game:

As you can see something like this is very acceptable, the person is so young that this normal behavior at their age. Similar to how a lot of young players take on chess, a lot of them will find it hard to deal with defeats.

Serious chess players will naturally appear as sore losers

Real chess players naturally take the game very seriously, which is why they naturally appear to be more game-oriented than other people. Someone who plays the game casually will not get upset with losses since they really have no investment in winning.

Those who are serious however, having spent countless hours practicing and accumulating their ratings will react differently to outcomes. They will seem very annoyed since they care whether they win or not, the dedication to pursue chess just requires you to have this intensity.

You will never excel in the field that you like without taking that extra mentality to actually care about the results. The two best chess players in history (Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen) both have tendencies to appear very emotional in games that they do not win.

Here’s a video of Garry Kasparov getting angry at the friendly chess match due to the possibility of cheating (someone suggesting a move):

This may seem petty and you can argue that it is, but you have to understand that Kasparov reached the echelon by being this way, the game incentivizes this behavior with positive outcomes. This means that those who stayed long enough to be called chess players are by elimination, likely to have this characteristic that may be considered as a sore loser.

Is chess the only competition with sore losers?

Other competitions out there like basketball, football, etc. will have people that cannot take losing. Chess is not a singular activity that hosts unstable individuals, rather is just a statistical chance due to the number of people that play the game.

There is a factor that we have not yet to talk about, which is the generalization of some outside perception. There are just bad people in every activity that cannot take being defeated, it is not solely in chess.

If you have played any other sport (basketball, soccer, etc.) you are likely to have met one of these individuals, it is not exclusive to one. Because if we are talking statistically, some bad apples will just get attracted to the game if it becomes popular enough.

Besides everything that I have talked about earlier, such conditions will get amplified if the wrong person is involved. There are a lot of good players out there who will take their losses politely even if they are frustrated, there are others who don’t.

There are just some people like that and it is unavoidable, but the circumstance will play a role whether the desire to win will be warranted enough against rudeness.

Chess players can go into aftershock mode

After every game the player most of the time realizes his/her mistakes which is why some throw tantrums. This might be a small idea that they missed that has completely collapsed their position, this realization will of course have a reaction.

The reaction to the losses will come just at the end of the game since that is where the mistakes get highlighted. No one really realizes if they have made a mistake in the middlegame since the game is so far ahead, when the result is there that is when the emotions come out.

There will of course be a visible disappointment to losses (obviously) and some people may have just exaggerated that even if it’s normal.

Do you now know why chess players appear to be sore losers?

They’re just so many reasons that can explain why chess players can appear to be sore losers, and I have ideas. It might be because of the system of the game, exhaustion after the game, the demography, or just plain exaggeration.

To be truthful, even I am not sure which is the case to be an explanation, I’ve just provided my thinking. What I am sure though is some of these factors have definitely played a role in this pattern, it is easy to see if you actually play yourself.

The next time you become a sore loser or have seen one you already have the knowledge why such is the case, I hope this brings value, sleep well and play chess.

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