Playing Yourself into Shape
Full disclosure: last week as I was doing my quick preparation regimen, I was horrified to find myself unable to see the board well. I would miss the most obvious variations in some of the tactics trainer problems I was doing, and I was scared! Was I going to show up to this tournament and suddenly be 1200? 1300? It had taken some work to accept my one hundred point fall, but a thousand point slip would really test my equanimity, and make me wonder what degree of brain damage I had sustained.
I had not even feared such a possibility before my training: at my last two tournaments in May and June, I played quite decently, and felt confident and excited to play more afterwards. I had played in close enough succession that I should not have gotten rusty by this event. And yet... my tactics trainer rating dropped; and worse than that, after getting a problem wrong, I'd often stare at tactics trainer for 20 minutes trying to understand "what is wrong with my solution? what is the defense I missed?" and simply not be able to find it. On a couple occasions I had to ask a friend. Most every time, once I'd be shown the move/idea, it would be blindingly obvious.
When you can't see something really simple, and then someone points it out to you and you immediately feel it's obvious, there are two main reasons this could be happening:
1) bad board vision: you simply are not seeing the pieces and what squares they attack very well. this is the most likely!
2) unimaginative: you are just a bit uninspired and are not seeing slightly unusual moves. this is more likely to be the issue for a player over 2000, and bad board vision is more likely to be the issue for a player under 2000.
I considered both possibilities, and recognized it was definitely 1) for me! This boded really badly for me, and I struggled along on tactics trainer for the last 5 days, to no avail: even the day the tournament started my TT performance was sorry. As I fretted over this, two friends told me not to go into the event with such shattered confidence, it would be self-fulfilling. But I disagreed: sometimes my confidence is high, sometimes it's low. The thing is, I've become more realistic about my shape over the years, and I use this self-awareness to gauge proper carefulness and other aspects of my play (I've written more extensively on this topic twice before here and here).
So in this case, I went into the tournament knowing I needed to be vigilant for an early disaster. I'm happy to say I have now successfully made it through the first three rounds without such a disaster, and have recouped most of my normal at-board vision and calculation.
When all else fails, there is one sure-fire way to get into shape: get a brain transplant from Garry Kasparov. Actually, the answer is: swim! The physical training will always pay off in your mental state. Actually, that's sort of true, but not the real answer either, the real answer is: playing chess. You can always "play yourself into shape," and it can take just 2 or 3 games. In my case, I was also talking about chess blindfold with my roommate a bit, which helped me get into shape relatively quickly: I think blindfold chess thinking is a decent way to force your board vision to get better, so I'd been doing some of that the last few days. For example, just visualizing and playing through old games in my head.
Ok, here's yesterday's round 3, which is totally decent:
And I hope to bring you even better ones in the future! Also in round 3 Sam drew with white against a pretty strong IM. It was a decent but slightly boring/balanced game.
In the Elite Section, I predicted three draws: the better player had black on all three boards. But Shirov came back from yesterday's debacle to win a very mature and nice positional game against Caruana. The Moro-Magtown showdown was a very very interesting slugfest, concluding reasonably in a draw.