How To Be a Good Loser
When I was a kid I was playing for my high school chess team. I lost. I couldn't believe it. I threw all of the pieces on the floor and ran out of the room and didn't go back to the school for the rest of the week.
Was I six years old? Maybe ten? No. I was seventeen. What a loser I was then.
The reasons to be a good loser is that you become a better winner. A better player. Maybe even a better person. Being a bad loser or 'sore' loser just means you're a loser.
This applies not just to games, but to relationships, sales, business, haters on social media, and on and on.
1. Congratulate your opponent on his or her good win.
2. Don't point out where you would've won "if I only I had done..."
You don't need to tell them how you could've won. This is their moment and not yours.
3. Don't educate them.
Don't show them critical moves where they could've done better. This applies even more to poker than chess. In poker, people always say (when they lose), "I can't believe you played that hand. What an idiot you are!".
Particularly, when your money is at stake, why would you educate your opponents?
4. Always offer to go over the game
You lost. They won. You're going to have to study this game anyway. Why not understand what they were thinking all along the way. Plus it establishes you as a good sport.
5. As soon as you can, write down your thoughts about the game.
What were you thinking. Analyze the critical moments. Right down as much as you can. But this is only a first draft of your analysis. Still, you need to do this first part while it's fresh in your mind.
I used to do this also with daytrading at the end of a day.
6. Don't view it as a loss.
View it as a roadmap on how you can be better. Once you study that roadmap, you will get to your destination (victory!) much faster.
7. The more losses, the better.
30 years ago, if I lost even one game in a tournament, I wouldn't be able to handle it psychologically. The shame, the fear of more loss, the "fixed mindset" mentality, would force me to drop out immediately. Better luck next time.
This is how losers play. The last tournament I played in I started off with 2 wins (hurray!) and then SIX LOSSES IN A ROW (brutal!).
But six losses..what a treasure trove to study now. So much I can learn. It's not pleasant. It's very depressing. But this is how you train a "growth mindset" mentality. Or "grit", depending on what pop social psychology book ("Mindset" or "Grit") you like better. I like both,
8. Plus, Minus, Equal
If you can go over it with your opponent ,that's the "equal". But now you need to go over the game with a coach. This is the "plus".
For chess games, at least, for each move I:
- write down how much time the move took me so my coach can look and maybe say, "why did you spend 15 minutes on an obvious move? When you needed those 15 minutes you only had two minutes left!"
- write down what I thought the position was worth? Was I up, down, equal?
- what alternative moves was I thinking?
- where did I, or my opponent, deviate from "book" (aka, what pros play). Was it a good deviation or bad?
- what are the plans associated with the position I got into. Did I follow those plans?
- What were the defining characteristics of each position I got into. And, again, did I make the appropriate plans given those characteristics.
- What were the critical tactics I missed or my opponent missed. If I missed them, it's important to know what the right moves were but even more important to ask, "Why did I miss these moves?"
Studying all of this with a coach will help the next time I get into a similar sort of position, or even a remotely similar pattern on the board. Or meta-pattern (like, if I'm losing a game, what are the ways to get counterplay).
9. What materials do I need to study more, given the loss in this game?
Do I need to study the opening better? Do I need to study middlegames where I have a space advantage? Do I need to go over rook endgames? Make a study guide based on this one particular game.
10. What was my mental and physical health like for the game?
Did I sleep enough the night before? Was I too overconfident? Was I already counting my win while I was still playing? Was I even picturing winning the tournament when it was only game 3 out of 9?
The only way to win is to get good at losing.
When I play tennis with friends, I can proudly say I have never lost a set 6 to 0. I've lost but never that badly.
But that's an idiot's way to think.
Roger Federer, perhaps the best tennis player ever, has lost 6-0 many times. Here are a few of them:
1999 Monte Carlo R64 vs Spadea
1999 French Open R128 vs Rafter
1999 Queens R64 vs Byron Black
2008 French Open F vs Nadal
2021 Wimbledon QF vs Hurkacz
And that's why he's the best.