How to Deal with Burnout in Chess


Bryce Gallo   ·   June 2, 2021   ·   8 min read


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Burnout in chess was one big concern of mine when I first began learning more about chess. I really enjoyed the game, and I was willing to practice, read books, and watch videos to help me improve, to the point that I was working on my chess skills every single day. When burnout eventually came, I had no idea how to get out of the feeling, and I considered quitting chess.


I personally have experienced several burnouts over my years of playing chess before I finally figured out how to get out of one in the first place, and secondly how to prevent them from occurring. In this article, I will be sharing my tips on how to get out of the state of burnout and how to prevent them from occurring again in the future. I'll be sharing everything that I wish someone had told me when I began playing chess. Not only will these tips help you with chess, they also can help with a burnout in other areas too!


What is Burnout?

According to HelpGuide.org,


Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.


Burnout can arise for a number of different reasons and can appear unexpectedly. Things like losing games frequently, a prolonged slump in skills, a sudden lack of interest, or stress are just a few of the possible reasons for burnout to begin.


Many times when a chess player experiences burnout due to any number of reasons, they simply quit playing either for months, years and in some extreme cases, they stop playing forever. One reason that this happens is that I've noticed that many chess players have no idea what burnout is, how to get out of it or how to prevent it from happening. Because they aren't aware of it, how can they do anything about it? 


Luckily, managing and preventing burnout has a very simple solution, but it can be difficult to find.


Escaping Burnout

My tips to escape burnout.


Each time that I have experienced burnout in chess, it has usually revolved around either a lack of motivation to continue or due to an extended period of poor performance and a sharp drop in my rating. Especially when I first began playing chess I so badly wanted to get better that I would spend 2 - 5 hours each day working on tactics, playing games, and analyzing my games until I became utterly overwhelmed. I didn't realize it at the time, but spending so much time on chess each day and expecting to see rapid growth was unreasonable, as it takes time for the patterns in chess and the strategic ideas to marinate and fully sink into your brain. When I had spent weeks using this intense training regimen and saw little to no improvement in my playing skills, I got really frustrated and questioned whether it was worth my time to continue.


Tip #1 - Take a Break

Take a break from chess for a couple of days every two weeks


The tip I would give anyone either experiencing burnout or feeling as though they are entering one would be to take a break. Cathedrals weren't built in a day, and neither will your skills as a chess player fully mature in a day. Learning chess takes time, so enjoy the journey!


If you aren't seeing growth, and you are spending a large portion of time on chess, go ahead and take a break. Usually, I've found the sweet spot to be one week of playing zero chess. No puzzles, no bullet matches, no chess reading or videos, nothing. Completely refresh your mind and completely cut yourself off from chess for a week. Try some other hobbies, activities, or projects in the time that you originally spent working on chess. 


When you come back from your break you should see that playing chess is less stressful since it would be expected that you are a little rusty when returning to chess.


You can of course take a longer break if you would like, but anything longer than a month can leave you very rusty when you return, and it will take longer to get back into the game and to begin seeing improvement. 


(I should note that there are people who have taken breaks lasting 3 months to 10 years who come back to the game and absolutely crush it. It can happen, but generally, a week-long break to a full month is all you need.)



Tip #2 - Don't Worry About Your Rating

Everyone wants a good rating, but obsessing over it can lead to frustration and burnout


Another tip that I would give anyone experiencing or entering burnout would be to forget about your rating. Worrying about whether your rating will go up or down while playing chess is an awful way to look at a game of chess. Sure, it can be interesting to calculate your potential change in rating before and after your game, but stressing over that while playing a game will only make it harder for you to focus on your game.


I've played games before where I was so worried about losing 15 points to a 1400 opponent that I obsessed over that risk, and lost focus in the game. I made a horrible blunder, giving up a Knight and ended up losing the game. My worry before the game even started over the potential loss of 15 rating points was enough to pull my focus off of the game and caused me to hang my Knight. Don't let this happen to you! 



Tip #3 - Don't Expect Too Much of Yourself

Nobody is perfect, so don't stress it!


The third and final tip I would give to someone either falling into or trying to get out of a burnout phase would be to go easy on yourself. It's easy to beat yourself up over silly mistakes, poor choices, and silly oversights, but these things are counter-productive. Instead of getting angry at yourself for the mistakes, you feel you shouldn't have made, see every mistake as a learning opportunity. This one idea alone was groundbreaking for me, and once I actually began implementing it, saw a 300 ELO improvement while not changing anything in my practice schedule.


Humans make mistakes. That is to be expected. Nobody is perfect, not even Magnus Carlsen, a Grandmaster and current World Champion of chess. He makes mistakes just like everyone else because he is human too (although it might not seem like it at times!).


Embrace the mistakes as your personal journey towards getting better at chess, and learn from your mistakes. Analyze mistakes with a chess computer and figure out why your move or plan was a mistake. Think of it this way. Every mistake you learn from makes you that much better of a chess opponent.


Once you recognize that mistakes will happen, you will recover much more quickly from mistakes in your games, and you might even win a lot of games that appear to be lost! This thought process will keep you motivated even after a series of lost games due to simple mistakes. Just because you made a series of bad moves that lost you a few games doesn't mean that you are a bad player, or that you are getting worse! It simply means that you are human and that you goofed up a few times. Your mistakes don't define you unless you let them. They are just learning opportunities.


Preventing Burnout

The best way to prevent burnout is to take regular breaks. Ideally, you should take a couple of days off from playing chess every two weeks, but I must admit that I don't follow this pattern myself.


What I usually do is play until I reach a slump and then take 3 to 5 days off from chess. This has worked out for me pretty well, but if you want to reduce the number of slumps you experience, taking regular breaks every two weeks is the best course of action. 


Conclusion

Burnout in chess happens, but it doesn't last forever. Take regular breaks from chess to keep you motivated and to keep your mind fresh. Don't let your rating get in the way of your gameplay by worrying about whether it goes up or down. Fluctuations are normal and happen to everyone. Additionally, don't expect too much of yourself, and treat each mistake as a learning opportunity. Learning chess takes time and won't happen overnight, so don't stress about the ups and downs of your rating!


Finally, the best way to prevent burnout is to take regular breaks from chess. Take a couple of days off every two weeks to keep your mind fresh or do what I do and keep playing until you hit a wall and then take a break (although I don't recommend that strategy!).


Hopefully, my tips and personal experience help you to manage burnouts in chess, and I hope that everything was explained clearly.


Thank you for reading and feel free to check out my other posts and videos on YouTube. See you on the 64 squares!




Posted June 2, 2021 by Bryce Gallo


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