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On Chess: 'Growth Mindset' And Confidence

Grandmaster Magnus Carlsen playing grandmaster Anish Giri in the 2019 Croatia Grand Chess Tour.
Lennart Ootes | Grand Chess Tour
Grandmaster Magnus Carlsen (right) plays grandmaster Anish Giri in the 2019 Croatia Grand Chess Tour.

When I started playing chess at 8 years old, I relished the idea of winning games.

I would win game after game, but still I would place fourth or below, unable to place in the coveted first through third positions. Those were very painful moments for me as a child, as only the first three places got medals and prizes.

Today when I look back at my early chess years, I can’t help but think these experiences actually helped me grow as a player. Some young talents reach their peak early in their career and get stuck; they win all the youth events, dominate the field, and some of them suddenly quit.

Why?

Because I persevered, and they did not. I had a goal in my career — reaching the top three — while they achieved all that they wanted to achieve in their short but successful chess careers.

Unbeknownst to myself, I followed what these days is called growth mindset. Creator Carol Dweck says it's a view that creates a love of learning and a resilience essential for great accomplishments.

In some respects, I can count myself lucky — not for failing at the game of chess, but for failing at dominating in chess. I was a talented youth; I would win most of my games yet struggle to win the games against my direct competitors.

I had only one solution: work harder than before. Not surprisingly, that would not help, and I would fail again and again. I would luckily still come back after multiple failures, learning from all the previous mistakes I had made.

After between two and three years of hard work, I was able to achieve one of my goals, and I broke into the top three of the youth championship. I felt a great sense of accomplishment, because I had made it.

After this sudden breakthrough, I felt even more confident in my chess abilities and felt that I could achieve even greater results in the future. At that moment, I achieved something that was still lacking in my general chess play: confidence.

Confidence is a slippery thing, as it only comes with a sense of accomplishment, which is hard-earned.

The Norwegian world champion Magnus Carlsen recently said in an interview how much confidence helped him outwit an opponent. Talking to the Guardian, he mentioned his game against the Dutch grandmaster Anish Giri, in which he outmaneuvered his rival, even though he knew that his strategy was objectively dubious.

"I had [the] confidence to play the man and not the position," Carlsen said.

Growth mindset helped me develop into a strong player and was a key factor in the longevity of my chess career. Setbacks happen, but there is always room to improve as a chess player and individual.

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Grandmaster Denes Boros is originally from Budapest, Hungary, and currently resides in St. Louis. In addition to playing competitive chess, he is a commentator and chess journalist for various chess tournaments. Boros is also a member of the St. Louis Chess Club, a partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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Our priority is you. Support coverage that’s reliable, trustworthy and more essential than ever. Donate today.

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