Once a year, I take the team I coach, Catalina Foothills High School from Tucson Arizona, to High School Nationals. Every four years, Super Nationals is held, which is where Elementary (K-6), Junior High (K-9), and High School Nationals (K-12) all play at the same location! This year, Super Nationals is held April 5-7, 2013, at the Gaylord Opryland Convention Center, In Nashville, Tennessee.
As of the time of this writing, over 5000 students are pre-registered, and for most will be one of the most exciting experiences of their life. If you are a scholastic player and never attend Nationals, I highly recommend it! The website for United States Chess Federation (USCF) is www.uschess.org.
I have 15 students from Catalina Foothills attending, along with some private students. It should be a tremendous experience for everyone, win or lose.
As our team prepared for Nationals, I had to discuss with students various issues. I thought it would be helpful for the public to hear the problems, issues, questions, etc of my students. I am sure many of the things that my students discussed with me are common to most of you!
1. Opening Study: Chess Study these days tends to focus on openings. Players tend to know certain lines very well because they get to practice them against fellow players either in chess club or online. Chess is such a complicated game that it is really not possible to know everything. I did numerous, what I call, massive reviews, where we covered every single thing we had ever covered. This took a lot of time but was a good review. Also, as I prepared students I made sure each student could explain to me the middle game plans in the popular openings.
2. Training Games: Training games is perhaps the best way to prepare for an event. All too often, I see people studying too much and not getting any practical experience. You can learn a lot by playing training games against fellow team members in a group setting (I call these strategy sessions) or online. In the group setting, we were about to review the games afterward (usually games played the same opening), and students were able to learn from each other’s mistakes. The advantage of playing someone online is that people play a wide range of lines and it broadens their horizons. I always recommend students look up lines that are played against them.
3. Time Controls: Some students don’t like playing blitz, so I had those students play 15 minute games. Some students, in order to maximize the opportunity to see more games, played faster time controls – though 5 minute was as fast as I would recommend. Playing 3 minute games is too fast.
4. Middle Game Approach: With some students, I spent some time discussing how should you approach a position. Examples of things to look for include: evaluate the pawn structure, trade bad bishop, look for half-open files, trade off pawn weaknesses, gain space, etc. This was a great refresher course.
5. Chess Tactics: I gave some students chess puzzles and had some use the Tactic Trainer on www.chess.com – it definitely helps stay sharp.
6. Chess Mentor. Some students used chess.com’s Chess Mentor to hone their skills.
7. Mental Preparation: Nationals is an endurance test. In some ways, it is very much like the NCAA tournament – survive and advance. You need to take the tournament one game at a time. You also need to have a positive attitude – something that is easier said than done for many. Strong players bounce back from disappointing results – weaker players often tank a game after a tough loss because they are still thinking about the last game.
8. Avoid Time Pressure: Because of the relatively quick time control at Nationals (which is Game in 2 hrs), it is important to avoid major time pressure, or in fact, time pressure at all! It is best to play with confidence and be focused and not get too bogged down spending too much time in a given position.
I am sure there are lots of other issues to discuss, but that is it for now. Until my next blog……good night now!