16 August 2015

Tournament prep is less about the chess, more about you

I've had a rather busy summer with a lot of travel and limited chess study time, but still managed to do reasonably well at my latest tournament this month - I played interesting games in all rounds, didn't blunder (which always makes for more interesting games), gained some rating points and won some money.  In the past, I've been apprehensive going into tournaments with what I felt was too little prep time - in particular, not enough time to review all of my openings.  This time I tried to put that feeling aside and focus more on having a good mental attitude and taking care of myself physically both before heading into the competition and during it.

Going back to the Tournament Preparation: Chess Skills and Mental Toughness posts, your skills practice over time should boost your strength (and it's good to put extra focus on some things pre-tournament).  However, it's your ability to maximize your chances in each individual game that determines your actual performance.  "Cramming" for a chess tournament like it's an exam is not helpful, since there's simply too much information to deal with; an exam has a finite boundary (even if it seems like a lot), while chess does not.  That's why optimizing your own mental and physical state - being as relaxed, energetic and confident as possible - will do more for you in the short term when going into a tournament.  Because chess is also a creative and engaging activity, I think this is even more important, since purely rote memorization and application of ideas generally leads to failure.

A recent post over at the Chess Improver ("Tournament Prep for Older Players") contains some similar themes.  The author (Hugh Patterson) has some more specific suggestions for pre-tournament activities, which you may or may not follow - IM Josh Waitzkin and others have also focused on Tai Chi practice as a blend of mental and physical training - but the main point is that getting your mind and body in a good place is the best way to set yourself up for success in both the long and short term.

IM Josh Waitzkin


  1. My performance in chss is close related to my physical condition. When my bloodpreassure is high or if i slept bad, then my performance in chess is about 50+ points lower than usual.
    To reach the top performance you should look for your boddy too, good food , moderate physical activity, good sleep, ...

    1. I think for me it's much more of a swing. I'm an average 1700 player over time, but when I'm closer to 100% mentally/physically I'm at least Class A strength (1800+). Conversely, I'm at least 100 points lower when lacking energy, due to an increased number of missed opportunities for myself and overlooked threats from my opponent.

  2. I agree! The day of a game I don't do any calculation or whatever before the game. I might just play through some cool annotated chess games. And health is vital.

    I think trying to "prepare" or cram before a game only gets a person into a bad and harried mental state.

    The caveat to that is if they think better in that state (which some people do!)

  3. even in an College exam- the "cram" rarely (and usually didn't) help me.

    I think I, even more than most people, do really poorly under stress. Topolov's recent attitude "i'm not studying THAT much- I don't fret about finding the BEST move" makes some sense to me.

    Other people are more driven and have a different reaction - "An intense will to win". IMHO, its a personality thing- at least to a point.


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