Choosing your Tournaments
This is my very first blog post as a member of the chess.com team. I believe that chess.com is already an excellent chess website, and will continue growing at a very fast pace! The future is certainly very exciting.
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Many of you may know me for my annotations - and indeed you will still see many of those in several chess magazines. Because it is easy to find analysis of me splattered across the web, I will be dedicating this blog series (once a month) to out-of-the-board experiences that definitely affect your performance during chess events.
Today's topic: how to choose chess tournaments. This is a problem that faces both strong and weak players. I will try to give a general guideline on how I personally choose my events.
1- Play when you feel you're in shape
Chess is a very demanding sport. It is difficult to take a weekend off after not playing for many months and expect to do well in a tournament. For this reason, I think it is important to try to plan events in which you will have at least a few days before to start training. It doesn't have to be full days, but a few hours of tactics or some training games at a local club can be the difference between seeing that key moment in the tournament and missing it completely. Play when you're sharp! Give your mind time to acclimate itself to the black and white squares.
2- Don't play tournaments you don't like
It has happened to everyone. That tournament where it rained all day. That tournament where there were no food choices. That tournament that never had on time pairings, or sets, or clocks, or decent lighting. That tournament that was held in the sketchiest part of the most remote town in middle earth. And of course that tournament that combined all of the above. Don't go to them! It may be convenient on your schedule – but there are so many important out of tournament activities that must be enjoyed for you to have a good mind set during the games.
3- Play the schedule that you like
In American tournaments you constantly have the choice to participate in different schedules and sections. Play to your strengths! If you think you do well against higher rated player but have trouble consistently beating those below you – play in a higher section! Good blitz player? Try the rapids. Like taking your time? Play the slow section.
This is a tough choice at the IM/GM level. Many feel that they would like to play the 'weaker' section to try for better prizes, while others need the long time controls to achieve their norms. Hikaru Nakamura once famously won the World Open by going 5-0 in an extremely weak 2-day section, taking two byes in the last round and simply not screwing up the games in between.
4- Go with Friends.
This is a not so obvious one that I cannot stress enough. Tournaments can become very miserable if you start badly, so you need a way to lift your spirits. Friends serve that purpose perfectly! Not only that, they are people you will feel comfortable analyzing, sharing a meal, talking about your games, asking questions etc. I have never done well in a tournament where I was miserably alone, and with the language barriers exhibited in many international events it's an easy feeling to get.
5- Ask around
Resources are nearly infinite – use them! Ask someone in chess.com if they have been to a specific event previously. I know that I will be happy to answer any questions you have regarding any of the tournaments you read that I've played.
My main rule of thumb is this: If I don't see how I will have fun at a tournament, I simply know that I won't do well. Keep it in mind!