Irina Krush is a three-time U.S. Women's Chess Champion. Born in the Soviet Union, Krush emigrated to New York in 1989 at the age of five. She learned to play chess the same year and in less than ten years won the U.S. Women's Chess Championship at age 14, becoming the youngest woman ever to win that competition. She currently holds the titles of International Master and Woman Grandmaster. She also played on the U.S. team in the 38th Chess Olympiad.
Question: How has chess informed the rest of your life?
Irina Krush: Well I think that one of the main things that chess teaches you is how to be resilient in the face of defeat because a chess player faces so many defeats throughout their career all the time. You know. So I must be really able to bounce back and know how to deal with that or you’re not going to get very far in Chess. And obvious, you know, that’s a quality that’s very useful in life in general.
I mean, you know, for me especially that this was a personal problem, you know, how I dealt with defeats in my career because sometimes you have some very painful games, you know. And these games just – in a way I can say they are soul destroying. Not every defeat is like that, but some of them are. Some things very painful. And I’ve had situations where you know, after a soul-destroying game like that I just wasn’t able to get back for the next game. And I would play the next game at a much weaker level then the previous one. And then you can even roll into like game number three, you know. And some days could just pass with me playing so much below my usual strength because it really was stemming from that initial defeat. So at some point I had to learn how to deal with that.
Question: How did you learn to stop dwelling on failures?
Irina Krush: The trick for me actually was realizing that, first of all, beating myself up really hurt my subsequent results. You know, like my next games. And basically I was jeopardizing my whole tournament because of one game. You know. So, a tournament is not one game, right. Like it’s like nine games is a normal tournament. So you can’t really sacrifice your whole tournament than because of one, you know, one lapse; one low moment. You know, and if you kind of value yourself, if you value your endeavor or you’re trying – what you’re there to do, then you have to be – you know, you have to put yourself in a position where you can do your best over the course of nine games.
So once I realized that – so the trick was basically convincing myself that if I wanted to beat myself up about this result, about what I did, I can do this after the tournament. I would allow my ability to do that afterwards, like when it no longer matters. If I beat myself into a pulp, you know, psychologically after the tournament that’s okay because I have no more games to play. But of course, I mean, that’s a trick because once a few days pass, you’re never going to do that anyway. So even if I was going to, even if I wanted to basically after a few days pass you’re just not really likely to be in that state anymore.
So basically that’s one thing. The other thing is, you know, instead of crying over my losses, I would actually – my new ritual was, I would go and treat myself to a glass of wine and pretend like I’m celebrating a happy occasion. So instead of making myself feel bad, I’d try to make myself feel better, try to uplift myself with a little ritual like that. It’s a very simple thing and it’s maybe a little primitive, a primitive psychological trick, but it did work for me and after that, after I consciously kind of tackled this problem, I would say I made a lot of progress a lot of headway against it.
Question: What do you do when you win?
Irina Krush: Two glasses of wine!