The downward spiral

Does one small mistake attract other ones like a magnet?

In chess, especially at the higher levels, the objective is to create a small weakness in your opponent’s position, and over time, multiplying that weakness to your advantage. What begins as being one pawn ahead of your opponent can often end up winning you the game.

Often though, it only takes a small mistake for a player to lose an advantage she has nurtured for several moves. One careless and hasty move can wipe out a long-held strategic advantage, especially against strong players. What separates the amateurs from the pros is how they respond to this loss.

Losing something we already have is more painful than gaining something we did not have. This can cause us to behave in irrational ways.

When we lose something or somebody, our first response is usually disbelief – that it simply can’t be. On losing an advantage on the chess board, players often refuse to accept it and continue playing as though they still have the edge. But that is merely an illusion. One mistake leads to several others, and they soon enter a downward spiral simply because of not conceding a small loss. From having a small advantage and seeing it taken away, they slide down a slippery slope until it is too late and the game is all but lost.

We this happen in other games as well. Every football fan can remember when their team was ahead 2-0, only to see the score at 2-2 due to a couple of defensive errors or just dumb luck. Now if the team continues to use the same tactics as they employed when they were 2-0 up, they risk losing the game altogether. As those fans can tell you, this happens only too often. They can also tell you how seeing one’s team lose a winning game feels like being hollowed out from the inside.

Loses are painful. This leads us to deny them for to deny a loss gives us temporary relief. However, recognizing a mistake when it happens is crucial to ensure that it does not balloon into a crisis.

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