Preparing for a Game

  • WGM Natalia_Pogonina
  • | Nov 23, 2010

Here and there we hear all types of things about “home prep”, but how do grandmasters prepare for their games in real life? The pre-game stage is often as important as the game itself. So, what is the most efficient way of preparing for your next chess match?

Let’s say you have looked up the pairings for the next day and found out who your opponent is. Different people have different approaches to the preparation stage. Let’s review the main ones.  

1. Preparing in the evening

After returning from the game, you continue the chess work by preparing for the next game. The next morning you will only refresh and memorize the variations you have chosen in advance. Pros: your head won’t get too tired before the game. Cons: preparation requires a lot of energy. In the evening you are likely to be tired and miss something. Moreover, it will prevent you from taking a proper rest, which can affect your performance in the rounds to come.

2. Preparing in the morning

Most of the preparation is performed in the morning, while during the evening before the game you take a quick look at your opponent’s profile. Pros: you can rest well after the game. Cons: your head may get tired in the morning and crack during the game. Also, sometimes just before the round you realize that a certain variation doesn’t work (is flawed), and have no time to fix it.

3. Mixed preparation: in the evening & in the morning

This option works best for chessoholics with an excellent physical shape. Pros: by spending a lot of time preparing you get to know your opponent well and can choose the optimal variation. Cons: anyone may get tired all of a sudden, and that can affect your overall result in a negative way.

There is one more “secret” option – consciously give up on preparing before a game. This can be done for a number of reasons: when your opponent is well-known for playing all sorts of lines (unpredictable opponent); when you are sick/tired and can’t waste precious energy on anything. No matter what the reason, the aim is usually the same – to have a “fresh head” during the game.

It is important to note that the timing and intensity of preparation depend on your general wellbeing. If you are fit, motivated and willing to study, go ahead. When you are tired, disappointed, ill, it is vital not to be too hard on yourself.

After having played a few tournaments, people usually get a feel for what suits them best. For example, my personal choice is option #2. Also, due to being rather fragile, I try not to spend over two hours on preparing, otherwise it harms my play.

The next question that jumps to mind is “how do I prepare for a game?” Here is a brief overview:

  1. Scan the opponent’s games using a chess database or (at least) the games from the tournament – usually available online. Pay a lot of attention to his/her openings. Try to understand what positions he/she prefers, and which he/she plays badly. If you have enough time, try to compile a complete dossier on him/her – psychology, weaknesses and strengths in chess, current chess shape, physical shape, motivation, time management, etc.
  2. Depending on a variety of factors (tournament situation, opponent’s style, your own wellbeing) you can choose an opening variation (or a few of them, depending on how broad your opponent’s opening repertoire is).
  3. If necessary, study the variation in more detail, try to find new ideas.
  4. Rehearse the lines before the game (normally the higher the level of a player, the longer it takes).

Of course, the better you are prepared for the tournament, the less time you need to spend on your homework during the event itself. However, many pros are either lazy or too busy travelling from one tournament to another, so they have to catch up on chess theory between rounds.

Now let's take a look at another game of mine from the recent European Club Cup:

White didn’t get anything out of the opening. Feeling too relaxed about this, at some point I started playing rather carelessly and could have ended up in trouble. Luckily for me, my opponent missed that opportunity, and the game ended in a draw.


  • 13 months ago


    A very nice article. Very very good. Thanx for the help. I'll keep these things in mind.


  • 3 years ago

    WGM Natalia_Pogonina

    Let’s stay in touch on social networks! Here are my official accounts:

    Account 1, Account 2, Account 3

  • 6 years ago


    great article

  • 6 years ago


    Another great article about game preparation. I knew some of these things just not know how to use them correctly.

  • 6 years ago


    if g3 then Qxf2+ with prepetual check or maybe the another option of taking on b2 and fighting a passed pawn.Undecided

    Am I right Natalia?

  • 6 years ago


    I prefer option 3.

  • 6 years ago


    Great info on such an interesting topic.  This also brings to mind of how adjournments used to take place during high level tournaments.  In this case you had the night and the following morning to gloss over the game played thus far and try to guess what your opponent might do during the rest of the game and the move they "sealed".  They changed the rules for these in terms of being allowed to analyze the game at all and who else could analyze the game with you (seconds) over the years before finally doing away with them altogether.  Chess is worse without them.  The same strategies you listed above for preparation were also followed for adjournments.  Thanks again for sharing your thoughts on here :).

  • 6 years ago


    I think the best way to prepare yourself is still to know your opponent's name, try to kidnapp his children/girlfriend/cat/dog, then send him a letter telling him he'd better resign quickly :)

  • 6 years ago


    Thanks for another great article.

  • 6 years ago


    must be nice to have the upfront knowledge of who the opponent(s) will be, so that one can study their weaknesses from a chess database.

    i'm not sure i'll ever get to the point where that kind of preparation will ever be necessary ;)

  • 6 years ago


    great variations

  • 6 years ago


    Irs perpetual check because even if white blocks with b3 blacks queen take the c2 pawn, white king can only move to a1 black queen moves c1 white king moves a2 black queen move c2 ad infinitum

  • 6 years ago


    I am an intermediate level player .I have started playing this line-C78, as Black but deviated from above game by playing d6 which often results in Queen exchanges.I wonder whether if black has played d6 White can force exchange of Queens by playing eXd5 .Against higher rated players I would likely opt for d6.Will have to investigate thoroughly.My line of thinking seems O.K? Thanks, WGM Natalia_Pogonina.

  • 6 years ago


    @ teodortenchev : if g3... then Qxf2+ and now it would be real more perp :)

  • 6 years ago


    Preparation is a must when you join in a tournament or before every game, like you must know what is your opponents opening style, playing style because you will have an idea how to counterattack him and move this piece and move that one. Kinda help. Thanks mam.

  • 6 years ago


    i find taking some time of from chess really opens up my mind from it........i like preparing for a bit just so i don't feel rusty.....but when i lay off chess for a while and start playing i feel so fresh and my mind becomes more clear.

  • 6 years ago


    My best preparation -12 h sleepingSmile

  • 6 years ago


    How is this a perpetual check? Couldn't white block it with a pawn? You played in my town btw, I'm from Plovdiv.

  • 6 years ago


    EmbarassedThis is really embarrasing!  Foot in mouthI think I stepped in it this time!  LaughingLOL!  WinkGood Shot, Natalia! 


  • 6 years ago

    WGM Natalia_Pogonina

    @sierraronda I'll be playing at Gibraltar.

    @Silviu-E It's impossible to compare people from different chess epochs.

    @ChessPaladin2009 Not for pros only. Most club-level players also prepare for games in this or that way.

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