During my chess career I learned a lot about the dark side of psychology. One thing that I didn't put into 'Chess for Scoundrels' was how to talk a tournament leader into self destruction.

It goes like this. Let's say that a particular player is leading a tournament and is really 'in the zone'. The way to ruin him is to congratulate him on his magnificent play and then innocently ask what exactly is he doing right? This works in 2 ways, the first part (the flattery) being to cultivate vanity (more preening, less vigilance) and the second (requesting the explanation) fosters the kind of self-consciousness which takes them well and truly out of the zone.

Now I don't use this myself, but I've seen it done many times by, let's say, 'well meaning' fans. They flatter and beg advice, thus unknowingly sowing the seeds of self-destruction in their hero. And of course they promptly move onto a new hero when that one happens to fall.

This is why it's better to only flatter your enemies. And run like the wind when you're the lucky recipient.

Pitt T. Maner III adds:

Gamesmenship is practiced in many sports. And Stephen Potter was one of the masters in a good-hearted way:

All this failure is important, for it never would have occurred to a successful man to devise the four strange books that were the making of Potter's reputation as a comic artist. The idea for these books first arose while Potter was playing tennis with the philosopher C.E.M. Joad as his partner, against two younger and better players. After hitting a ball that was obviously well out of court, Joad called, "Kindly say clearly, please, whether the ball was in or out." By suggesting a slight lapse in etiquette on the part of the younger players, good sportsmen both, it threw them off stride, a stride they never regained, and Potter and Joad went on to win the match. "For me," writes Potter, "it was the birth of gamesmanship." "Gamesmanship" is devoted to "the art of winning games without actually cheating." Actually is the key word here. In tennis, golf, chess, poker, cricket, bridge, hunting and other games, Potter suggests delicate ways of breaking the flow of concentration in your opponent so that he stumbles and falls off his game. A gamesman does what he can to make sure that the best man does not win.


George Parkanyi comments:

This would suggest a corollary that insults and criticism would only just strengthen the already confident, i.e. the rise to the challenge gets the creative/competitive juices flowing.

It reminds of a recent football game — I think it was the Super Bowl. For some unknown reason, this huge Pittsburgh player went after this much smaller Cardinal player tossing him around like a rag after the whistle had blown. I remember commenting at the time — "What did he say to that guy?" It certainly was something.

Paolo Pezzutti writes in:

It happened to me after a long streak of winning games during a tennis match. For some reason I was in the game, focused and ready to exploit any weakness of my opponent. But when I would start to rationalize what was happening and why it was happening and building scenarios for the final victory I was finished, and eventually I would lose at least the set. Maybe it's because you take bigger risks: you think you can do even better and change something in your tactics. This makes you out of sync with your physical and mental condition which builds an advantage to your adversary. Similarly in the markets, after a long winning streak, when I try to analyze the what and whys, I end up changing the way I have been trading up to that moment and things get worse.

Nigel Davies adds:

Empty sycophants can be bad news for any teacher, especially teachers who are active participants in their activity and need to maintain great focus and self discipline. I've found in my own mentoring work that the best students can be very difficult, but they can actually help you raise your own game.





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