How To Focus Like A Grandmaster

How To Focus Like A Grandmaster

GM Illingworth

Hey chess fans,

Do you desire the superpower of perfect focus and concentration?

Grandmasters have honed this superpower with a great deal of practice, and it's time for you to develop it too!

I have so many ideas to share with you about focus, but let's start with - why is focus important?

For this, let's recall a familiar story, from Alice in Wonderland:

Alice: What road do I take?

Cat: Well where are you going?

Alice: I don't know.

Cat: Then it doesn't matter. If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.

How does this relate to your life and chess?

Simple - if you lack a clear vision for where you want to go with your chess, it doesn't matter which road you follow - your progress will be limited.

As Tony Robbins likes to say - where focus goes, energy flows.

And when it comes to competitive play, guess what the most important thing is?

Energy - as shared with me by my first private chess coach, IM John-Paul Wallace. That made a great impression on me as a 9-year old, after I asked him 'How do you play at your best during a tournament?'

Just earlier in the day, one of my Chess Improvers, Michael, was asking me how he can improve his concentration during the games. After a bit of coaching him through different questions, we realized that his challenges focusing during his games and training linked back to his overall energy.

I've already discussed energy in previous emails, so I'll give you a simple summary of how to boost your energy to be receptive to the 'flow' state of perfect concentration: 

1Follow a consistent sleep routine, getting 7-9 hours sleep a day (depending on your individual needs); 

2. Eat healthily (including several serves of fruit and vegetables, and some starchy foods and dairy each day);

3. Physically work out on a regular and consistent basis (walking being the simplest).

I'm sharing these insights with you now, because I used to think that the master title came first. Then, when you became a master, you would do all the things you're 'supposed' to do.

However, in reality, it works the other way around - the only way you will become a chess master is by doing the things masters do for long enough (as a consistent habit), supported by having the MINDSET of a chess master.

If we take other sports, Tiger Woods and Tom Brady already had a very clear visualization of themselves winning on the tournament field, long before they won the biggest titles in their sport. They effectively won the tournament before the tournament even started, through having a champion mindset and backing it up by training harder and smarter than their competitors.

I can't stress the importance of mindset enough - it is 80% of what will determine your success, and that's why I mostly write about the perfect chess mindset.

You could be doing the right things, but without a powerful enough reason to get better at chess and eventually achieve your chess dream, you'll give up and stop pushing through the tough times.

Or, you could be learning useful chess skills, but you're learning them from very rigid sources that teach you hard 'rules' that actually have many exceptions, and failing to appreciate and understand these exceptions puts a 'ceiling' on your continued growth as a player.

I've seen it dozens of times as a chess coach and it hurts me inside to see the great potential of chess players squandered by brainwashing to a very limited way of approaching chess (be it a reliance on traps, or fundamentally flawed principles such as 'to take is a mistake'). But this is a subject to delve into another time.

My challenge for you is for you to believe in yourself again - to know that you are capable of becoming a chess master or chess champion, regardless of your innate 'talent' or life situation (age, work, family, net worth, etc).

If you're struggling to believe it, then allow me to officially deem you worthy of chess mastery, with the potential to become a great chess player.

Now that this is out of the way, and you're brimming with confidence that you're on the way to becoming a chess master, let's delve into some deeper strategies relating to focus.

The first thing I always ask people when they share a goal with me, or that they're not sure what to do, is this:

'Why is that important to you?'

Thus, once we are in a good energetic state (from good sleep, diet and exercise, as noted before), the next step is as follows:

Get clear on your WHY

In my experience, most distraction from an activity is due to not having a clear, powerful reason why that activity is important to us, or otherwise forgetting this reason.

A great exercise for developing this deep understanding of why our goal or mission is important to us is called 'The 7 Levels of Why'.

It's where you answer the following 7 questions:

1. What is important to you about becoming successful?

2. Why is that (referring to your answer in Q1) important to you?

3. Why is that important to you?

4. Why is that important to you?

5. Why is that important to you?

6. Why is that important to you?

7. Why is that important to you?

My challenge for you is to write down your answers, and refer back to them every day for the next week.

I have gone through this exercise myself, and found it extremely profound. If you have the discipline to push past your initial reticence to answer the same question several times, you will experience this for yourself.

From there, you will find it much easier to define your goals in a much more powerful way, that emotionally moves you toward achieving them.

To share another story with you, I was recently coaching a student in High Performance. Rather than following some outdated acronym such as 'SMART' goals, I liken a clarity of purpose to being the captain of your own ship. You determine the direction you are going and how you are shaping the life you desire.

In tomorrow's email I will start teaching you the chess training strategies for getting closer to your destination (chess mastery).

See you in two days with a big announcement that will take your chess approach to a whole new level!

Your Chess Trainer,

GM Max Illingworth