I know that as chess players who want to improve we hear a lot of the hustle thing, the grind that it takes to succeed. And while I do believe that hard work is important to develop one’s skill, it should be taken with caution.
The tendency to overwork oneself can on the contrary be hurtful to our progress, so it is important to know when to take a rest. I have experienced this myself and hope to share my thoughts on why taking a break from chess is helpful, as well as the specifics.
Taking a break from chess helps a player rebuild confidence from consecutive losses, recover from mental exhaustion that they are experiencing, reflect on lapses that should be worked upon, and prevent further damage on their ratings.
Even though some actual good players hate to hear this, I have a lot of reasons for the statement that I am making, here they are:
Why do players need to take a break from chess?
One needs to take a break from chess in order to recover confidence from losing, replenish the mind by removing mental fatigue, and prevent the reckless emotion that could affect one’s general lifestyle.
After consecutive poor performances every player goes into confidence downstream, a break will help refresh your mind. Tying one’s individual confidence to the results are natural, which means that multiple defeats can cause someone to doubt themselves.
Of course if we want to be at the top of the field we need to work on our ability to recover fast, but we’re just human beings after all.
Even the best of the best that have excelled for a really long time (Magnus Carlsen and Garry Kasparov) follow those into breakdowns when experiencing defeats.
The effects are just natural, and so we want to at least find a way to not hurt our ratings when we are on the verge of getting back. A break will be helpful in letting one remember their abilities as a player, as well as their triumphs over their defeats.
Resting will cure mental fatigue
Sometimes it’s not really about confidence at all, it’s about the restlessness of the mind to continue further play at the top level.
Mental fatigue will naturally take a player’s energy to do calculations that they can easily perform here at full strength, a break could be useful at this point.
The brain can of course recover from not doing any other problem-solving task, and chess is a complicated problem-solving. Just like how the body should rest physically after a long marathon, mental fatigue should be met with appropriate mental care.
Some people will respond to fatigue by playing even more chess, which is basically playing in a state where they are weaker.
A part of chess after all is enduring a long competitive struggle, a right rest should ensure that the player is in the right condition to perform.
How mental fatigue can hurt general lifestyle
If you never take a step back from chess after being so filled up with emotion it will transfer into other facets of life, hurting something that is more important.
Most people who are reading on this site are not really professionals (at least on the top level), they have a life beyond the board.
Depression and anxiety are both the results of accumulated mental fatigue from excessive chess games, it is not a good thing. You are more likely to be frustrated even if it is not warranted, which could hurt relationships and good experiences.
Taking a break can heavily improve one’s overall viability within the board and outside the board, it is convenient.
This would make it easier on your side to incorporate chess into your life without having the need to quit (you can’t improve on something if you quit from it).
How long should one take a break from chess?
A break from chess should only last around 1 to 5 days for the retained knowledge to not be forgotten, a rest for several weeks or months will be hurtful for the player.
So we want to take a break, we don’t want it to be so short that it would not be helpful nor too long that it could actually be hurtful. If you ever consider taking a break from chess it should last around 1 to 5 days depending on the intensity of the losing streak.
If you are just really fatigued and low on confidence from losing 10 rated games in a row then you might want three to five days. If you are just tired at this particular moment in time, a day or two can fix the problem easily.
A break can only be hurtful to a player if it lasts for a week or several months since you are likely to regress at that point. In a week or several months, you are unlikely to remember the knowledge that you have studied shortsightedly, making it pretty bad.
At this point, you are very likely to not be familiar with the feeling of playing the game and have to start over from scratch.
You would not start from the very beginning (if you’re quite experienced) but it will take some readjustment to recover the peak of your game.
But what I would say is that one day is pretty insignificant, you would not be affected majorly if you have gone for this. Short breaks from chess in a day or two are not that harmful to your chess anyway so why not take it (just don’t go too far).
As long as you have the knowledge to not surpass the week or month mark then you should be fine, the benefits are greater than the risk.
If you have kept playing on a downward spiral pace then it might cause a chain reaction to inevitably lose you more games.
What signs are there to tell if a break from chess is necessary?
You should take a break from chess if you no longer care about the actual game, the losing streak has passed the 8 consecutive marks there is a headache between games, and blitz games are becoming more common than longer time controls
Of course I don’t want you to take a break all the time (especially if it is not necessary) so there should be a guideline. A standard that should be followed to reliably tell whether it is warranted or not (a break), in order to not miss out on the experience.
Here are the signs you might want to take a break from chess:
- You no longer care about the actual game and only want to see the results.
- There is a trace of impatience in the games you play.
- The losing streak count has passed 8 and it is unlikely to win future games.
- Your head hurts when playing the game or just by thinking about certain positions.
- Blitz/bullet games are becoming more common than rapid/classical games (since you want to see the results faster).
But basically it is just about impatience, it is the most common trait of someone who wants a result to recover their confidence. Chess naturally played in a very long format that punishes those who cannot wait and therefore rush opportunities.
Being impatient/annoyed as you can imagine is a very huge weakness that can be taken advantage of before the game even started.
Chess is a very competitive environment, you might perform actions in the game that you wouldn’t do if in the right condition.
This is why a rest is like covering a wound in order to not leak any more blood, letting the cut heal over time. If you are suffering a severe losing streak then it is likely that your confidence has been affected and playing more wouldn’t help.
Does a break from chess make someone a better player?
A break from chess can enable a player to view the lapses in their abilities and things they have to improve on. It also allows recovering one’s confidence that counterintuitively makes someone better even away from any form of chess study.
A rest is useful for taking a step back and considering your overall progress and not just the results of an individual game, providing useful insights.
When we are on the hustle mode (grind) we don’t like the idea of stopping since it might hamper our progress.
But counterintuitively it makes us continue doing something that doesn’t work, which is fatal for chess improvement. Here is a video of a man (Youtuber) that has this exact mindset but decided to take a break and have seen a valuable perspective:
I know that this is not about chess (youtube) but the fundamental principles of what I am talking about should also apply to this one.
Taking a break lets you get an overview of your shortcomings, therefore making informed decisions in the future when deciding what to study.
If you just keep working on the wrong things over and over again it will not work (obviously) and it is hard to say when you are in the hustle mode.
This is why taking a break from chess will allow you to have a spectator’s eye, an unbiased opinion of an outside person that is likely to be objective.
Don’t underestimate yourself in chess!
Another sign you should take a break is when you are starting to underestimate the power of your abilities and overestimating that of the opponent’s.
If you are not confident enough to assume that you can at least draw (not even win) the next games to be played then rest is warranted.
Theoretically, chess should be a drawn game if both sides have played properly, as long as you don’t make a mistake a draw is reasonable.
If you can’t even see yourself doing that, you are likely to be already plagued with excessive losing and have to take a break to recover.
My recommended product, resource, or service for this article
There is one thing I hate the most about chess, which is it could be an expensive pursuit (with little value gained) if you look for the wrong products. I believe that chess should be inexpensive if you know what you are doing, which is why I always share my top picks!
In some posts, I embed this section with products related to that specific post so you may see this section throughout the website.
But enough of all that, here are some of my recommended items/services for this post:
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Is it possible to only take a break on rated chess and not casual?
One can take a break from rated competitive chess to recuperate their confidence from losing streaks and play casually on the side, this way, the player can slowly build self-esteem over time.
Some people may not know this, but taking a break from chess does not necessarily translate to not playing anything at all. One can take a break from rated games and still play on the side casually to build their confidence.
Casual games after all (especially online) don’t give any consequences to losing while one is still being able to practice. If you are a highly rated player you are unlikely to tie your self-esteem to the results of casual games, therefore making them valuable.
You don’t have to suffer any regress that comes from not playing any chess games (since you are still technically playing) just not on the stake of your hard-earned ratings.
Rated games are just way different than casuals, there is a lot of pressure and stress in each move constraining the player’s ability to make decisions.
Taking breaks makes it easier to recover from very memorable losses in rated encounters that could have been worse. If you keep playing in a rated environment where the result matters greatly, stress and panic will surely think hold.
You are sure to lose a lot of ratings from playing in an unprepared state, just play casual first and confirm your confidence level.
Then you can get back at rated-pressured games as a sort of a custom break, this will allow you to perform better than before.
Do you now know the value of resting in chess?
If you are a hard worker it is common to fall into the trap of getting things done even in a weak condition. However just like any other thing, chess is required to be competed in a state that allows one to excel.
If you keep being stubborn and ignore the signs you will lose a lot of ratings, chess should be played in the harmony of the soul. If the soul wants to do other things at this moment then you should follow it, otherwise the activity becomes a drag and heavy.
We don’t play chess just for the stresses of it, we have the passion. And we must not let that passion burn away, sleep well and play chess.