An ice cream on the ground

photo by Sarah Killian

Blundering Lunch

ChessAnalysisChess Personalities
I completely blundered my homemade spicy bean burgers.

I had concocted a sort of sloppy mush. I tried to form them into patty-like burger discs, but they just wouldn’t hold their shape. It was like trying to grill soup. So what did I do?

My initial reaction was to start calling myself the worst cook on the planet, to berate myself for not baking off the ingredients in the oven first to attain a drier mix.

But instead, I told myself it was okay.

I had made a mistake.

I took stock of the situation objectively. I was low on the clock - my wife and son were due home in 20 minutes.

I began to do some deep calculation.

What did I have? A sloppy but delicious blend of vegetables and black beans. I needed to find a plan. A way to introduce some dynamics.

I thought about my last OTB game (Game 4) in which initially, I thought I’d blundered my f-pawn (just like I had blundered this lunch). But after some sulking, I decided I hadn’t just lost my f-pawn, I’d gained a semi open f-file and initiative against a weak king.

I looked over at my sloppy bean mush and closed my eyes.

This wasn’t a burger.

This was a delicious dip.


All I needed was to introduce some nachos into the position. I laid them out on the tray.


The next thing you know they're covered in cheese. I’ve brought two avocados, some coriander and a left field tomato to the board. And now I’m just chopping.

It’s wild.

I’m going for a second dip!

Suddenly I’ve got the initiative. I’m still in time trouble, but the oven is almost fully heated. If I can get the nachos in before the front door opens, I think I’m not only going to save this - I think I might be completely winning.

It was a glorious turnaround. Picture the scene. The whole family is at the table. We’re laughing. We’re dipping. We’re sharing stories.

And imagine what it could have been?

Me, completely furious with myself, sulking at the table looking down at my plate, not even noticing the single tear sliding down the cheek of my only son as he spreads the wet sloppy excuse for a burger I’ve presented him across a stale lifeless bun. My wife’s trying to tell me it’s okay, but I’m inconsolable.

A depressing dinner scene, indeed.

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The Chess Mirror

So what does this story have to do with chess? Well, oddly, everything.

I genuinely believe that without chess, I wouldn’t have recovered from this setback.

And it might seem insignificant, but life is full of small disappointments and my ability to bounce back, to see the positive side of things, to not spiral into a hole of self-deprecation, was largely discovered and worked on through the lens of chess.

I believe that the betterment of the ‘chess self’ is parallel to the betterment of the ‘non-chess self’ (my student Ché and I discussed this in ep. 3 of Ono Another Chess Podcast).

Our personalities are reflected on the mirror of the chess board in such a raw way that I often feel less like a chess coach and much more like a therapist.

And this is also the way I look to improve my own chess.


Sometimes to confront a chess problem, you have to confront the darkest parts of your soul to understand and change it. That is really difficult but it is also beautiful, especially when a life changes through the power of chess analysis.

It’s uncomfortable work, but I am ultimately rewarded in the betterment of myself, my relationships, my family life and most importantly, my chess rating.

I am a better father because I worked on my negative self-talk. I worked on my negative self-talk, because I noticed how bad it was during the analysis of my chess games.

I realised I spent a significant chunk of my thinking time at the board berating myself for my own bad decisions. I also rarely recovered from a setback, even a minor one that didn’t affect the evaluation too hard.

Instead I had a tendency to start self-hating, and make even more bad moves from a dark self-destructive place from which I was confirming what I was already telling myself at the table: “I am a terrible chess player, all my students will abandon me.”

Now, after a painful amount of self-reflection and work (I describe part of this process in my article It’s Not Chess, It’s You), I am much much better at forgiving myself and finding opportunity and positive perspective in positions resulting from my own errors.

And guess what? Working on that has had a huge knock-on effect in my life.

Thanks for reading. Do you also want to change your inner dialogue at the chess board? You can book a free trial lesson with me here.

In March, I'm going to start analysing my games on Twitch. Follow the channel so you can watch that process live.

Every other week I host a hangout on Zoom. All Adult Improvers welcome. Sign up to my Patreon page to get the link (there is a free trial). The next hangout is TODAY (Friday the 1st of March) at 1900 UTC. See you there!

Many thanks to Patrons of TheOnoZone for their support: Benjamin Portheault + Rick Choplan + Tim Everett + MatthewKCanada + Brett + Nate + Laura + Marcus Buffett + Dan Bock + Dawn Lawson + Glen G + Mikey Wells + Michael Shpizner + Karen W + Gregory C + BowiE + Yara V + Stefan K + Ché Martin + Ben Johnson.