22 October 2019

Reflections on breakthrough tournaments

Part of the process of analyzing your own games is not just to see what goes wrong (and right) in each one, but to draw broader lessons for yourself as a player. What patterns emerge? What do you do well consistently? What kinds of mistakes do you often repeat, perhaps unknowingly at the time? Eliminating or reducing those mistakes and building on the strengths are what (eventually) cause a gain in chess strength and an increased rating. It may be useful to do a personal performance inventory as a baseline, which can help highlight different areas that most need work. (Although remember Training quote of the day #9).

For improvement purposes, this process of self-diagnosis is naturally helpful to do if you have a lousy tournament. Can you articulate the main factor behind that poor performance? Major mental distractions? Poor physical condition (sickness, lack of sleep, etc.)? Overconfidence? Fear? Repeated errors of a similar type in the opening/middlegame/endgame? Many times a bad tournament can just be a one-off occurrence, although it's important not to make excuses and to concretely address whichever issues that you identify.

I think it's equally important to examine your positive results and draw similar kinds of lessons from major inflection points in your chess career, which include having breakthrough tournaments. This means analyzing what went into the tournament results that marked a long-term change in your rating. At the most basic level, it should involve identifying what factors led to success and reinforcing that positive behavior. At the same time, it's not just a self-congratulatory exercise, and a candid assessment of your weaknesses is still necessary for further progress.

The last two tournaments presented here (Annotated Games #216-224) marked my own breakthrough into the Class A rating (1800), after spending most of my chess career around the 1700 level; this is covered in The Long Journey to Class A. I was wary of being too happy about these results, since I'd previously had a significant, positive tournament result after starting this blog, only to fall back to my long-term average. However, I've played in a number of tournaments since the breakthrough and have been able to maintain the new 1800 plateau. While I naturally would have preferred to make continuous progress, at least the results have validated the (not-insignificant) 100-point increase in strength over time.

Focusing on what went right with the two tournaments - what went wrong in each game you can see in detail in the annotations - here's what I came up with, in no particular order.
  • Refusal to give up the fight, when down or even objectively lost according to the engine, while there was still the possibility my opponent could go wrong. (This is also called the art of the swindle.)
  • Ability to better identify and calculate tactical counterblows, including naked sacrifices (Annotated Game #216) and exchange sacrifices.
  • Isolating individual game results mentally, so a previous loss would not have a depressing effect on the next game.
  • Willingness to try new openings (Dutch Stonewall) and start building the practical experience needed to play them well.
  • The stamina, patience and willingness to go into and legitimately play out endgames. I've previously treated them as unwelcome guests, and the usual pattern for me was to play with resolve until around move 35-40, then drop precipitously in performance due to exhaustion and lack of focus/motivation.
I'm in a period now where I have fewer opportunities to play in OTB tournaments, but hopefully after a certain amount of time devoted to additional training and building more skills, I'll be able to make another post like this one. We shall see.


  1. Congrats! Since I've been reading your blog (at least a year now?) I've appreciated the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of your approach, and I'm not surprised it's starting to pay dividends for you.

    1. Thanks! It's been good to see positive results from a holistic approach, including better mental toughness and energy management, as well as (eventually) finding some better moves. I think I need to invest more serious time in learning and practicing additional specific skills now, with the endgame first and middlegame second.


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