Rollercoaster Brain and Very Personal Tidbits (don't tell anyone)
I don't think the issue I'm writing about is addressed very often in the chess world (of my level). I'm hoping it could help someone but most of all I like to document my journey and fap to it later so here it is. It may also be helpful for those of you who are chess coaches as a factor in diagnosing underperforance in your student's play in tournaments. My 2 cents.
Nothing as much as Tactics Trainer has proven to me that my brain has rollercoaster alertness tendencies. I described this unscientifically a year ago to a chess friend as "Sometimes I'm so on with my tactics that I get 13/15 in a row and sometimes I'm so off that I get 6/7 wrong in a row. And the tactic ratings are completely irrelevant to this phenomenon"
It took me about 5 OTB tournaments to figure out that my bizarre habit of frequently being in very winning positions that I squander was far more often than most players. Most high rated chess friends would comment that my understanding of chess was a few hundred points higher than my rating but dismissed these winning-turns-losing as just the inconsistency of my rating level. I took it as a compliment.
Yet...with more data collected - and my medical diagnostic tendencies, I began to suspect this particular habit of losing won games was even considerable compared with those at my rating level. Maybe I was awful at endgames? Sure, there's something to that. I started to detect that it was It was affecting my self esteem...I began considering it as "I can't convert a win into a win" or "Am I just not a finisher...does this means I have a personality defect at winning?"
I'm aware that my blood sugar seems to fluctuate more than most people but the degree of change had never occurred to me as affecting my chess until recently. I haven't been diagnosed with anything related to hypoglycemia after all. 2 OTB tournaments ago, I finally began suspecting that my brain would go "loopy" right about 20 moves in...or about 30 to 50 minutes into the games". Certainly other variables could be involved but this was notably the case in long games. Thinking about complicated positions would become too taxing for my brain and I'd inevitably just go with a move that wasn't one of the ones I'd already calculated as "bad". Which certainly doesn't make it better, necessarily. Suspiciously, I wasn't running out of time in my games usually. This was genuinely a matter of brain exhaustion or inability to concentrate further and just making throwaway hail mary moves in the hope of my previous advantage carrying me through. As anyone who plays chess knows...
“One bad move nullifies forty good ones" (Horowitz)
And so I have lived that.
Only 2 tournaments ago did I begin to suspect a small change in my food intake or rather sugar intake during the game might have some impact on my play. I shrugged at my theory but thought I should try implementing it. Finally I took some active action midway through my last tournament. Rather than just a Starbucks skinny vanilla latte before my games, I stocked up on apple, watermelon slices, Clif bar for my games. It made a huge difference to my surprise. Even in a game that ran past the first 40 moves.
Even with all that insight, days ago when my real tactics trainer rating (meaning nobody else was sitting next to me trying to guide my tactics) had reached an all time high of 1798...with a smooth flow of mental clarity...I kept going beyond my attention span's capability. And again yesterday, forgetting this rule of needing my brain to be fully present...I kept opting to try tactic after tactic with the belligerence of a stubborn mule. I had to get the 2 following tactics wrong in a row to stop. Think. Evaluate the problem.
One year ago almost to the date, I remember fighting so hard to regain my 1500 rating on TT. The new goal is to reach 1800 in my TT before the Midwest Classic tournament I'm attending in 10 days. But I'll have to be tactical and strategic about rest and food intake when doing them.