The importance of good sportsmanship.
One of my undergraduate degrees is in psychology where I studied many different aspects of this very interesting subject. Some of the more interesting courses were the ones on social psychology where they did experiments to see how people interacted with each other. Sometimes in chess we see people repeating the same experiments in the hope of gaining some slight psychological advantage and to throw the opponent “off his or her game”. My advice is, “Don’t try this.” In the end, whatever advantage you gain will be more than offset by the social disadvantages that you suffer.
It is fair game to try to defeat your opponent over the board through superior preparation or by outplaying him or her. It is even permissible to play openings or plans that your opponent will find psychologically unpleasant. What is not fair is to play tricks or engage in behaviour that is not sporting in the hope of gaining an edge.
Some people do this as a matter of course but the drawback for them is that they come to be disliked by their opponents. If you are disliked then your opponents might work together to “bring you down”.
One can look at the world championship match between Anand and Topolov for an example of a champion, Anand, who was well liked and respected by former opponents and rivals. Topolov and his handler Danilov were in contrast hated by everyone because of their endless attempts at psychological tricks aimed to throw off their opponents. The net result was that the former world champions Kramnik (who previously beat Topalov) and Kasparov and possible future world champion Magnus Carlsen helped Anand to ensure that he was able to beat the Bulgarian challenger. Anand had adopted Kramnik’s favourite Catalan opening and Kramnik called him and lectured him on the proper way to play the opening against Topolov. Similarly Kasparov called and offered advice and Carlsen helped Anand briefly with his preparation.
Topolov had Danilov and a special version of Rybka running on a custom computer with 32 or more cores but Anand had the accumulated wisdom of some of the finest chess minds of all time. If Anand was not respected as a likeable and honourable opponent they would not have gone to this unusual extent to help him win.
As the CFC master’s representative and a CFC governor I am occasionally asked to make decisions or vote in certain matters where one person or another is to be selected for some honour or some team. If someone is perceived to be a poor sport it is often difficult for him or her to get the help needed to prevail in the selection process. Every bit of bad behaviour is brought up and discussed. Sometimes the bit of bad behaviour can overshadow the fact that someone should be selected on the basis of being the better player.
The lesson here is to always behave properly towards your opponent and give him or her the respect that they deserve. Without your opponent and the test that they provide for your chess ideas it will be harder for you to get better at chess.
Chess is an adventure that we undertake together. There are many who will help you on your journey and there will be rivals but they are your friends who can help push you to greater heights of understanding. There are many players who were my rivals thirty or even forty years ago and who are now still my friends. We greet other warmly at tournaments both before and after our games. We are the few that have survived and continued to play through the years while so many others have fallen away, their names gradually forgotten as the old scoresheets are lost and lay abandoned in a drawer somewhere and are uncovered once a decade or so.
In all things take a long view in everything that you do in chess. Behave properly and always in an exemplary manner. You are a representative of your chess teachers and your city. Remember the line from William Shakespeare, as spoken by Mark Anthony in the play Julius Caesar,
"The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones."
A translation of this phrase is that everyone remembers the bad things that people do. The good things are often quickly forgotten.
In any case, there are online discussion threads where individuals bring up instances of bad behaviour by individuals in some long forgotten tournaments. Don’t give these complainers any opportunity to lodge any legitimate complaints against you. Winning is nice but winning with integrity is even better.
August 24th, 2012