9 Reasons You Are “Suddenly Bad At Chess”

A sudden dip in form can be very distressing for a chess player. When the sport you choose is a game of the intellect there can be a terrible urge to confuse a few bad days of play with losing your mind. Fortunately for you, that’s almost certainly not the case and you can diagnose your problems on the board and then remedy them too.

Why am I suddenly bad at chess? You’re probably not “suddenly” bad at chess. You’re probably having an issue of focusing on your game for a few days. Maybe you’ve convinced yourself that you’re going to lose anyway, and that’s a great way to lose confidence.

That’s a common problem too, so let’s take a look at why you might have been losing recently when you would have expected to win.

Here's why your suddenly bad at chess - ChessPulse.com
Here’s why your suddenly bad at chess – ChessPulse.com

Why Am I Suddenly Bad At Chess? Time For An Honest Self-Examination

Before we begin, you do need to bring a little self-reflection and honesty to this if you want to get better, because if you’ve been beating players who are stronger than you for a couple of weeks and then you’ve returned to normal – you’re probably not “suddenly bad” but simply “playing at your own level” and the only cure that will improve your game is study, practice and coaching or tuition.

A couple of weeks of improved play can just be due to the good fortune of catching a group of opponents on their bad days.

If, on the other hand, you’ve been playing to a certain standard for a very long period of time and now you’ve seen a significant dip in form then there are several possible explanations (and treatments, if you like) for this “sudden badness”.

9 Factors That Can Cause A Dip In Chess Playing Performance

There are more than 9 factors that can dent your chess playing ability but we’ve tried to get the most common possible reasons together here for you to consider:


The first potential factor that can hurt your game is illness. Nobody plays like a chess god when they are struck down with the flu or recovering from malaria. If this is the case, then your doctor has already given you a treatment for your disease – you need to let that treatment take effect. You can put down the chess set for a few days, it won’t hurt your game to do so and focus on being healthy.

Good physical health and good mental health go hand in hand, you can’t have one without the other and it’s perfectly OK to be worse at chess when you’re ill.


Desire is a funny thing. For someone like Magnus Carlsen who eats, breathes and sleeps chess in order to be the world’s best player, you can bet that desire to be good at chess is never far away. But for the rest of us? Our desire to be great on a chess board can come and go like the wind in the desert.

If you don’t want to win, the odds are pretty good that you won’t try as hard and you won’t think your moves through properly and will make more mistakes. You have become worse but only because you don’t care as much. You may want to ask yourself why that is and what you might do to change it?

Your Opponents Have Improved While You Have Not

If you regularly play in a small group of people, those people can sometimes undergo rapid change. Let’s say there are 8 of you in a school chess club, for example, and 6 of the players decide with their parents that they wish to become better chess players and hire coaches to improve their game.

You, on the other hand, don’t take chess so seriously and soon, you’re losing to your classmates. You didn’t get worse, but they did get better. You can’t do much about this unless you want to hire your own coach and start working on your skills.

Stress And Other Distractions

One thing that can instantly upset the apple cart when it comes to your chess playing ability is when your head is full of some other crisis. When we’re under stress, none of us do our best work – if you’ve lost a parent or broken up with a partner or have trouble at work, then you may be working on these issues when you could be working on the board.

That’s OK. Sometimes, life takes priority over chess. Why not give yourself permission to take a short break from chess while you deal with the bigger problem and then come back when you’re feeling more relaxed?

Too Much Speed Chess

We love all forms of speed chess but as we discussed in our article “is blitz chess bad for my game?” it’s only good for your game if it’s part of a bigger chess training strategy. If you play too much speed chess of any description – you will improve your tactical recognition, but it comes at the cost of learning to make moves quickly.

In standard chess, thinking is not just allowed, it’s thoroughly encouraged. If you just react quickly to your opponent’s moves without thinking them through – you’re going to end up making way more mistakes than they are. Solution? Cut down on speed chess and get practicing ordinary chess again. You’ll get back to where you were in no time.

Your Diet And Fitness Levels

We don’t want to sound like your mother but there is an undeniable link between mental health and physical health, and this becomes increasingly true as you get older. While teenagers may be able to live on burgers, no sleep, never work out and play chess 24 hours a day – the older you get, the less likely you are to survive this kind of behavior.

There is no perfect “healthy diet” but you ought to be eating a sensible number of calories, exercising regularly and sleeping for around 8 hours a day to keep your body healthy. The less healthy that you become the harder it will be for you to play great chess and eventually your form will dip.

Not Enough Sleep

in fact, sleep is so important that we want to cover it again. It has become all too common in our busy modern lives to go without sleep, yet growing research shows that a lack of sleep is a horrific problem for our long-term health and our short-term health.

No-one can function normally if they can’t sleep properly. If you are having problems sleeping, then it will affect your chess. You should talk to a medical professional if a few nights of going to bed early doesn’t make you feel more rested.

Environmental Issues

The rules of chess say that players must not distract each other but is it possible that the place you are playing in is distracting you? Are you sat somewhere cool, comfortable and conducive to playing chess? Or are you outside in the middle of a hot, sweaty day laboring over a board on a street side table with a pneumatic drill going through the sidewalk?

It’s perfectly understandable to have a dip in form if you can’t concentrate and what qualifies as “distracting” for one player may not bother another. It ought to be relatively easy to find an environment that you do enjoy playing in, so find one.


There can be other good reasons for a drop in skill, you don’t find chess as much fun anymore, you don’t feel self-confident at the moment, you’re no longer as interested in chess as you once were, and again, all of these issues can be tackled – if you want to tackle them.

In general, you may find that the first thing to do when you have a problem with your game is to take a break from chess. Explore what is wrong and then put that right before returning to the game, your form should return with you.


You’re not suddenly bad at chess. We all have times in our lives when we’re better prepared to deal with the challenges in front of us than others. Have you been working late? Got any emotional issues in your life? Convinced yourself that whatever you do on the board that it won’t be enough and you’re simply a loser? All these things can happen, and the good news is that they can all be fixed too.

Sometimes, you just need a little break from the game itself and other times, you will need to address the underlying issues that are interfering with your ability to give chess your full attention. Whatever it needs you to do, it’s best to go and do that rather than beating yourself up. You’re just as skilled as you were before, you just need to remind yourself of that.

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