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Ausknight
31-08-2007, 10:29 AM
One thing I've noticed when I play at my local club is the body language of the people I play against and watching other games in progress. I don't know about other people, but I've worked in fields before where I've been trained in reading body language and for those who are unaware of the tell tale signs, it's almost amusing for me to watch other players who give off these small 'tells' whilst playing their games.

I can read the fidgeting, the eye movement and even ones' breathing. People who play poker will understand where I am coming from with 'tells' - because this component of poker is integral to the ability of poker players to succeed at the game. In Chess, most of the attention is on the actual state of the board as everyone knows what everyone else has got - there's no hidden or unknown factor in chess to decide the result. It's very hard to bluff out a win in Chess. ;)

One of the most common ones I see is the hands behind the head pose, which for those who know about body language indicates control and command, commonly used by someone who feels they have the best position in the game. I see this often when people go up in material against me, it almost brings a wry smile to my face each time because I realise then they think they've got me. It's just a shame that 9 times out of 10, they're right! ;)

But I think it's very interesting to be able to read a player's frame of mind whilst at the table and can't help but think that this is a component of gameplay that can be used for advantage and incorporated into everyone's game. I found last night whilst watching people play I could tell who was winning by not just looking at material and board position, but by being able to read the player's body language as well. I felt this was just as important to the context of the game as the actual position of the pieces - well, almost!

I'm a new player to specific chess theory (which is why a lot of my posts at the moment tend to focus on non theory discussions like this), but I'm an old hand at reading body language and was surprised this doesn't seem to get more attention/discussion than I've seen online amongst chess players.

With Chess being a game that relies so much on wits, psychology and frame of mind I'm really curious as to why there's so much focus on board tactics, but not much in relation to chess psychology.

Given two evenly matched players, I would suggest that the one who can read, understand, interpret and manipulate psychological advantage the best will win over in the end. At least this is what I've come to believe, especially after watching quite a lot of old chess documentaries of famous matches over the last few months.

:hmm:

Thoughts?

Aaron Guthrie
31-08-2007, 10:35 AM
Any idea how you can use this to your advantage? I am suspicious of it being very useful, because the important thing is what goes on at the board. Also because even if you read someone, they can change their mind a minute later (e.g. I am winning yay to, oh no I'm not, and back again!), which I have seen and done myself before! The only practical use I could guess would be either to tell when they think they blundered, or to tell when they have some trick up their sleeve. I am suspicious of this too, because really I should be able to tell by my normal thought process anyway. But then maybe this heightened sense of danger could, in some cases, be useful.

Basil
31-08-2007, 11:07 AM
It's very hard to bluff out a win in Chess. ;)
Wait for 'Chess Training Lesson 12'
The Swindle! :lol:


hands behind the head pose, which for those who know about body language indicates control and command, commonly used by someone who feels they have the best position in the game.
1. Note to self. When position starts to deteriorate, clasp hands behind head and look satisfied!
2. Note to self. Stop immediately in case a spectator wonders why I am looking so satisfied with a bad position.
3. General. New spectator sport: Look for both players with hands behind head!

Ausknight
31-08-2007, 11:29 AM
Any idea how you can use this to your advantage? I am suspicious of it being very useful, because the important thing is what goes on at the board. Also because even if you read someone, they can change their mind a minute later (e.g. I am winning yay to, oh no I'm not, and back again!), which I have seen and done myself before! The only practical use I could guess would be either to tell when they think they blundered, or to tell when they have some trick up their sleeve. I am suspicious of this too, because really I should be able to tell by my normal thought process anyway. But then maybe this heightened sense of danger could, in some cases, be useful.

Psychology is always a useful tool in any competitive game. Many people can pick up on body language, even at a subconscious level - and also give off information the same way.

As a way of practical example, if you're setting up a trap and your opponent blunders into it. If they take on the commanding pose, you will know they're probably bought it and can continue. If they remain passive or look concentrated, they haven't. Would this information not influence your next sequence of moves?

How often in a game are you forced to take a risk in order to gain advantage?

Depends on what you understand about tells - but assume for a moment that you can tell whether your opponent is stressed, happy, nervous etc.

With the complex nature of moves on a board, you cannot possibly be expected to see all eventualities (you'd never lose otherwise). Whilst you are laying your own traps, your opponent is constantly making theirs also. If you can tell when your opponent makes a hinge move - one that results in a specific sequence that can lead to a result - this can allow you to focus more heavily on such a move.

Technically speaking, we can say that ALL moves should be treated as critical ones, but we all know that there are moves and there are ! moves - especially in tight games where board advantage is the deciding factor. Being aware and able to focus more heavily on these cornerstone moves I feel is where advantage lies. Now you can either realise these specific moves through experience and knowledge - or if you're not a walking encyclopedia - by tells from your opponent that such a move has taken place.

Knowledge, above all things, is power. There's no such thing as a disadvantage to having more knowledge and I can't see chess being any different in this case. Of course, when you're playing Chess, you're not just playing a board, you're playing your opponent.

Not as specific or practical as annotation in a specific scenario perhaps, but it's an advantage none the less I feel.

Ian Rout
31-08-2007, 11:45 AM
Used with care there may be something in this but it strikes me as fairly approximate. For instance the player whose pose denotes control and command may really have a good position or may have a poor position but not realise it.

Knowing enough psychology to recognise what the opponent thinks and knowing enough chess to recognise whether the opponent is wrong is probably a useful combination, the first without the second sounds like a good way to outsmart yourelf.

Also the other player may themselves have a shelf full of Allan Pease (sp?) books and be deliberately adopting poses to mislead you.

One player I know of often feigns uncertainty and nervousness to attempt to trick his opponent.

Aaron Guthrie
31-08-2007, 11:49 AM
As a way of practical example, if you're setting up a trap and your opponent blunders into it. If they take on the commanding pose, you will know they're probably bought it and can continue. If they remain passive or look concentrated, they haven't. Would this information not influence your next sequence of moves? No, because after I have played my next they will think more, and they may see the trap. And this type of changing of mind is something that I experience myself, and see others experience, and is indeed the whole point of the thinking you do when you play chess.
With the complex nature of moves on a board, you cannot possibly be expected to see all eventualities (you'd never lose otherwise). Whilst you are laying your own traps, your opponent is constantly making theirs also. If you can tell when your opponent makes a hinge move - one that results in a specific sequence that can lead to a result - this can allow you to focus more heavily on such a move.This may be possible.


Technically speaking, we can say that ALL moves should be treated as critical ones,Actually this is probably a bad principle.
but we all know that there are moves and there are ! moves - especially in tight games where board advantage is the deciding factor. Being aware and able to focus more heavily on these cornerstone moves I feel is where advantage lies. Now you can either realise these specific moves through experience and knowledge - or if you're not a walking encyclopedia - by tells from your opponent that such a move has taken place.I can see the possibility of this, but I am still suspicious. (namely because I think you have to trust your own Chess faculties, and especially trust them over your opponents! ;))
Knowledge, above all things, is power. There's no such thing as a disadvantage to having more knowledge and I can't see chess being any different in this case.But you are expending mental energy on things other than the board. This does not come for free. Not only are you expending mental energy, but you are interrupting the normal chess thought process (e.g. you don't want this thinking about psychology to have the side effect of being blunder producing).

Aaron Guthrie
31-08-2007, 11:53 AM
One player I know of often feigns uncertainty and nervousness to attempt to trick his opponent.I think the point of this is to get the opponent to relax. I think this is exposes why I am anti-psychology playing much of a part in chess. The point is to remain at a high level of concentration as regards what is going on in the game. So why think about what the other guy thinks, and why use it to help you be more concentrated (since you ought be already).

Ausknight
31-08-2007, 11:55 AM
Let me put is a simpler way then as a matter of example.

Given two equal players of very similar strength, you'd assume white would win every time given the intitiative advantage.

What else would separate them?

I find when I watch a lot of older chess films, especially ones that feature showdowns (like Spasky/Fisher as a classic example or Kasperov vs Deep Blue) that psychology played a major factor in determining the result.

Even if my personal analysis and arguement is debatable, I don't think the concept has any less credence as a whole.

Watto
31-08-2007, 11:56 AM
Wait for 'Chess Training Lesson 12'
The Swindle! :lol:


1. Note to self. When position starts to deteriorate, clasp hands behind head and look satisfied!
2. Note to self. Stop immediately in case a spectator wonders why I am looking so satisfied with a bad position.
3. General. New spectator sport: Look for both players with hands behind head!
lol. thanks for the laugh.

Gattaca
31-08-2007, 02:17 PM
Hello DMarinas.

You're definitely overrating body language in chess. The higher the level of opposition you encounter the less important it becomes.

Obviously when you set a trap it makes sense to keep a poker face as you don't want to alert your opponent. But everyone knows that.

Against weaker players I have occasionally resorted to looking mournful and depressed when in a lost position to try to get them to relax their vigilance, but against stronger players this doesn't work as they are correctly assessing the position. So any body language tricks that you nurture at a lower level become less effective as you improve, which you will do if you put the bulk of your efforts into chess study rather than body language :-)

One reason you might be overrating the importance of body language is that chess at a lower level is different to chess at master level. At a lower level both players are only seeing a fraction of what is "really there". Therefore each player is privy to a lot of information and ideas that the other player isn't and vice versa.

Master level chess is quite different. Both players are seeing the majority of possibilities in the position and it is more their judgement in choosing between possibilities that separates them. The higher the standard of the players, the more they are seeing a similar "objective truth". When there is a lot of hidden information, such as in poker or low level chess, tells are more important, but when the vast majority of the information is shared by both players and they are just haggling over the interpretation, body language becomes a fairly minor factor.

There is a nice quote by Emmanual Lasker that goes to the heart of this issue.

"Over the chessboard lies and hypocrisy do not survive long. The creative combination lays bare the presumption of a lie; the merciless fact, culminating in checkmate, contradicts the hypocrite."

Essentially he is saying that objective truth is all that matters.

I wouldn't quite go that far, personally. Whilst I don't think body language is very important as you move up the ranks, every little advantage is helpful and clearly there are times when a poker face would be advisable. The times you have to be careful about tells are obvious though. After a blunder. When you have a subtle threat, etc.

Looking sad when you're losing I don't see as a problem as long as underneath you are secretly looking for every chance to swindle. But if I see an opponent looking confident or banging the clock as if to say "I've got you", it just encourages me to keep trying to trick them, as their display of emotion shows they are concentrating less on the position than they should be. The position on the board is overwhelmingly the most important thing.

Finally, psychology. This is a lot different to mere body language. Whilst players like Fischer and Tal had intimidating body language, the thing that threw their opponents at the board was their strong moves and fear of their strong moves. If Tal stared at you it was intimidating, if a patzer stares at you, it isn't. That's simply because when a strong player stares at you or shows surprise at your move it's because you're allowing yourself to think, "I must look like a complete goose", or "they've seen everything, what hope have I got."

When you refer to all the psychology used in those elite matches, it went far beyond body language and I don't think body language actually mattered much. Knowing that there is a parapsychologist in the front row trying to send brain jamming waves at you would be more worrying for most players than just an arrogant stare, and the annoyance might distract them from thinking about the board.

I would note however that there are not many matches I can think of where the acknowledged weaker player won by using psychology.

Alekhine beat Capablanca. At the time Capa was regarded as almost invincible, but his moves and style had become predictable. His aura didn't help him.

Euwe beat Alekhine. Alekhine was now the one with the feared aura, but alcohol affected the quality of his play and that's what decided.

Fischer beat Spassky. He was simply much higher rated and made better moves.

Karpov beat Korchnoi twice. He also won nearly every elite tournament for several years. Korchnoi was more charismatic and feisty, but Karpov made less blunders.

Kramnik beat Topalov. Topalov's camp were the ones accused of trying to use psychology. The match was decided by Topalov's blunders on the chessboard.

It's good to be analytical about anything you're trying to get better at though, so keep asking questions and coming up with your own theories. They won't always be right, but the player who is questioning and creative in their approach often seems to do better than the one who just takes whatever they are fed.

Spiny Norman
31-08-2007, 03:26 PM
Understanding the psychology of your opponent can be very helpful however. I recently managed an early draw against a higher-rated opponent when he had the better position. The factors that (I believe) influenced him to accept my draw offer were:

1. I had more time on the clock (28 mins vs 19 mins)
2. His clock had just ticked below 20 mins, so the seconds ticking off the clock were visible
3. It was the last round of the tournament
4. He was leading the tournament and only needed to draw to win it (he was 1 point clear of his nearest rival)

I was conscious of all those factors, and waited until the clock went below 20 mins before offering the draw ... and he had just glanced at his clock and had seen it go below 20 mins ... and I knew that he doesn't particularly enjoy the time limit that we normally play at (60+30).

If he had declined and played on, he probably would have won and I would not have begrudged him the win in the slightest. But there you go, understanding the factors that go into a assessing a draw offer were very useful ... but body language and/or attitude at the board played only a minor part in the scenario.

Aaron Guthrie
31-08-2007, 03:37 PM
I find when I watch a lot of older chess films, especially ones that feature showdowns (like Spasky/Fisher as a classic example or Kasperov vs Deep Blue) that psychology played a major factor in determining the result.But you are talking about body language, and using knowledge of that to your advantage. In these matches the psychological breakdown of the opponent was indeed an important psychological factor. But this is a different issue to the body language one, isn't it?