Improving One's Capacity To Improve - Part 3
In the previous post I covered the importance of studying annotated grandmaster games. However, you can't readily test your abilities and notice a positive trend in your play without putting your newfound knowledge to the test. I recommend playing in an over-the-board tournament at least once a month in order to apply what you've learned in a serious competitive setting. Although there are many options for online play, games over the internet tend to be less serious and are not as helpful in gauging levels of improvement. In this post, I'll be discussing some methods of preparation before a tournament that I have found beneficial in the past.
I would typically begin preparing anywhere between a week and three days before a tournament. Setting a schedule or creating specific milestones to cover each and every day is helpful in reaching your goals. The chess topics I tried to cover (for a typical Swiss tournament) were as follows: tactics and openings.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to sharpen your tactics before a tournament - at most levels, tactics tend to decide the game and it is vital to have a quick and confident mind in order to see combinations at every step of the game. I would do around 10-15 problems a day - these puzzles covered not only the basic well-known materialistic tactics such as mating nets, forks, skewers, etc., but also positional tactics such as combinations that resulted in a superior pawn structure or minor piece. Brushing up on these topics refreshed my memory and reinforced concepts that I had learned in the past.
A detailed opening repertoire needs to be visited rather frequently in order to remember all of the lines - it's quite easy to forget a move in a jungle of variations. Therefore, I try to go over each of my openings in a systematic manner. I would start off on the first day by meticulously going through two or three openings that were likely to appear, and for every subsequent day I would dive into another opening in order of decreasing importance in addition to reviewing the ones I had already covered. Through this approach, I would have the most predominant openings ingrained in my memory and the less common ones fresh in my mind as those were reviewed closest to the start of the tournament.
Of course, preparation before a tournament is not limited to chess-related issues. In my experience, healthy sleep schedules and eating habits are also crucial. Eating unhealthy foods can lead to sluggishness, clouded minds, and an uneven temperament. Before a tournament, eating foods with fish oil that contain fatty acids can provide useful fuel for the body. Finding a good balance between carbohydrates and protein is also highly important - a low carbohydrate meal can lead to impaired judgement. Of course, eating well isn't limited to the times before a tournament. Staying eating healthy between rounds by keeping steady blood-sugar levels and staying hydrated is critical for a well-tuned mind.
Although getting several good nights of rest before a tournament helps when attempting to maintain a schedule, I have found that sleeping well during a tournament helps me stay alert for every round. For example, during long tournaments such as National Scholastic Championships or Open Championships there tends to be some down time in between rounds. By sleeping for around 30 minutes between rounds, I was able to stay awake for the 12 hour days that are inevitable for every chess player. This, coupled with the 8-9 hours I would get per night, proved invaluable in countless tournaments.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that playing regularly in tournaments is paramount in the road to improvement, but the work that you have to put in prior to and during the tournament may come as a surprise. I hope that some of the techniques outlined in the blog post will prove useful for you in your next tournament!