Avoiding Fatigue during Tournaments

Avoiding Fatigue during Tournaments‎

WGM Natalia_Pogonina
38 | Chess Players

We often hear or say ourselves that “I got tired, and my brain went dead”; “I was tired and blundered”, “I didn’t have enough energy left for the last few rounds”. Standard time control tournaments are especially demanding, as they last a few days, and are important for a person’s chess career. Rapid chess and blitz can also be tiresome if you play a lot of games per day. Another factor is that many people play one event after another, which is quite tough. A tired player has problems with calculation, and that results in a lower performance than usual. Mental activity requires a lot of energy, but chess is different from other sports in the sense that you get tired in another way. We don’t run marathons, but still sometimes feel completely exhausted. Why does fatigue haunt chess players? How do we avoid getting tired and maximize our energy during tournaments?

One of the critical factors of fatigue is lack of control over our own emotions. Over the board a player should avoid all distracting thoughts and toss fears aside. This will allow you to channel your creative energy on the game. Unrelated thoughts and fears lead to a mental block and make us play constrainedly. Lots of energy is wasted, and we get tired more quickly. After one game you might not notice that, but over the course of a tournament, fatigue and tension can build up. One of our worst enemies is dwelling on our losses or mistakes after the game. Previously I have written a column on how to avoid mourning over one’s losses, so I won’t talk about this now. Likewise, excessive celebrating of victories also leads to hollowing out. By the way, anxiety can relate not only to chess, but to external factors: your work, family issues, financial problems, etc. An overemotional person gets tired quickly, but a stone-cold robot also lacks creativity. Try to aim for the golden middle.

Other factors are also important: proper nutrition, optimal daily routine. These issues have also been addressed before. I would like to remind you that the strength of your play is positively correlated with sleeping and eating well. By daily routine I mean a healthy sleep, taking walks and other physical activity and, if possible, avoiding distractions (e.g. coming to the game after a day of work). To ensure a sufficient rest, one has to spare enough time for it and avoid becoming a victim of one’s own emotions. The importance of taking a walk before a game has been cultivated by Mikhail Botvinnik. Boris Gelfand is a fan of this approach, and at last year’s Gibraltar tournament I saw Viktor Korchnoi on his promenade before the round. Fresh air fills our blood with oxygen and stimulates our thinking processes. Other popular choices are swimming or going to the gym. But don’t overdo it, train in “safe mode”!  

Chess games and tournaments should bring you joy, not disappointment and fatigue.


Under the surveillance of cameras and spectators

Today I will share with you annotations to a game vs ex-World Women’s Chess Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk that took place at the recent Russian Superfinal. As this match was important in the tournament sense, I was too emotional over the board, used up a lot of time and energy, and eventually got very tired. This resulted in missing a few strong and simple continuations.


In a rare variation of the Petroff I didn’t get any substantial advantage. Black was doing ok until Alexandra played 15...Bd7. After that Black had to start playing defensively. Then mutual mistakes followed. The game transformed into a major piece ending, where I had a better position due to having a “nail” pawn on h6. Black failed to solved the problems, and, after some chess adventures, White won.

Video commentary of the game

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