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Niepómniashi does not work with psychologists

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Chess is the ultimate mental sport, but very few players work with a specialized psychologist like many stars from other disciplines. Not even Ian Niepómniashi, current runner-up and renewed contender for the crown of Norway’s Magnus Carlsen after unbeaten and with great clarity won the Candidates Tournament in Madrid. The Russian was upset this Tuesday when EL PAÍS asked him if he had worked on his biggest weakness, the mental breakdown after defeats, with the help of a professional or if he planned to do so for the 2023 World Cup.

“Thank you for the question,” replied Niepómniashi, who had not used that catchphrase in any other response at the Palacio de Santoña press conference, with gestures of moderate irritation. And he continued: “I don’t know any player whose strength lies in defeat. The normal result in chess is a draw. Losing causes stress, but winning also causes stress because sometimes you can’t return to emotional stability. It’s definitely a very difficult question because I don’t know any player who likes to talk about negative feelings.

Azerbaijani Teimur Radyábov, third in the Candidates Tournament after China’s Liren Ding, sat next to the Russian and may have realized he was tense because he decided to strike up a conversation to back up his thesis: “I don’t think it’s easy either to find experts on defeats. Everyone just tells you to calm down, play normal and stuff like that.”

The journalist then insisted: if working with specialized psychologists is normal in other professional sports, why not in chess? After a few seconds of silence, Radyábov activated the microphone again: “That’s a good question that questions our professionalism. I think all of us have tried something at some point, but chess is a very different sport that is very connected to the mentality and the brain compared to more physical sports.”

Teimur Radyabov, during the press conferenceDavid Lada

And he gave an example: “We can’t shout to blow off steam during games and nobody can give us advice while we’re playing. You have to keep the tension inside you all the time. I don’t think it makes sense for a chess player to work with an expert in other sports. I don’t know, maybe Rafa Nadal or Federer have a secret but I doubt it. I believe that the main work should start with yourself. Anyway, I remember that Karpov and Kasparov also tried to do things along these lines, as far as I know, without good results, because they had trouble sleeping. And Kasparov didn’t recover well from the defeats in the two’s first duel. I don’t know, maybe you know a specialist who can recommend us,” he concluded, while Niepómniashi repeated that last sentence.

The Russian then asked for the mic: “I would like to add that during a tournament you have a lot of emotional ups and downs that don’t always translate into results. I remember an eminent Soviet-era psychologist and grandmaster, Nikolai Krogius, who recommended that after losing in the next round, you should try to draw with as little effort as possible.

The innovative Spanish psychologist Amador Cernuda, doctor matter of honour from the University of Guantanamo (Cuba), has a brilliant record with sports stars. For example, he worked with gymnast Gervasio Deferr on the eve of his first Olympic gold medal (Sydney 2000) and for several years with the Spanish women’s team in the same sport, using techniques used by Soviet cosmonauts, among others. He has also rendered services to former world chess champion Véselin Topálov, a Bulgarian living in Salamanca, and others whose names he must keep secret.

Cernuda understands Radyábov and Niepómniashi’s reluctance, but clarifies: “If psychological preparation is very important in any sport, it is obvious that it should be in chess, and even more so. But it is also true that a psychologist needs to be particularly well prepared for his work with chess players to be effective; for example in the neurosciences”.

And he adds: “Certainly a chess player can narrow down his psychological problem better than anyone else because he knows his mental processes in detail. Well, another very different thing is who is doing the handling of these issues. He can’t because the solution could be as sophisticated as hypnosis or complex cognitive programs. Unfortunately in chess there are still a lot of people who think that going to a psychologist will make you sick.”

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Source elpais.com

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