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Hi all. Unlike the vast majority of the site, I actually play in nationally rated USCF tournaments. Sometimes, I play really well; other times I play like somebody rated 900. I don't know why, but sometimes I get really uptight before a tournament, and other times I just tend not to take the tournament as seriously. There have been tournaments where I have been prepping for weeks nonstop like the LI G/45 tournaments and do horribly in and others in which I do not prep for and do amazingly well in (such as the 2011 greater NY Scholastics in which I took 9th place out of 60 competitors. I know. It's just a game and not worth getting uptight over. Well, easier said than done. My question is for those of you who actually play nationally rated tournaments, what do you do prior to the start of the first round to play to your maximum potential? Also, if you get nervous or uptight in game, what do you do to help yourself relax and play with more precision? The LI Open is coming up (a continental tournament) and I would really like to win the u1700 section.
I get really nervous before and during tournaments, such that I will have wild swings in performance. The main thing is to make sure you are well-rested and have plenty of energy. That's just as important as opening prep I've found. Coffee works wonders too. In one tournament, I gained 100 rating points off the coffee zerg alone. It's no wonder there's been talk of banning such 'drugs' in chess events.
Mindset is another important factor. Playing it safe instead of going for the kill can really backfire. I recall having a nearly won position against a weaker opponent. I smelled a sacrifice that I knew would give me a dominant position, but I got concerned it might not totally work. I thought in my mind that since my opponent was weaker, I could just play it safe in an equal position and he would eventually mess it up. Instead, I messed it up and he proceeded to play the best moves of his chess career to eventually win the game. Afterwords, I found out from the computer the sacrifice I was looking at would have worked and secured me the forced win. I damn near quit chess after that loss, but thankfully I bounced back and won the next tournament.
As for opening play, prepare for opponents you know the reportoire of. If you know someone knows your weak spot in a certain opening and they play it on you every time, learn an entire knew line and bust it on them during the tournament. I used this against someone that dominated me when I used the french, but they failed miserably when I used the Caro-Kann instead. It threw their whole prep against me out the window, and I quickly gained a winning advantage in the middlegame that I held onto until I won the game.
Other than that, just try to play what you know best. Preferably main openings if you can. I've found the stronger players eat obscure openings for lunch. It only gets worse as you get higher in rating, and eventually you realise the main opening lines are the main ones for a reason.
I have played in my fair share of tournaments... in my experience the reason you have performed poorly even after so much prepartion is for a few reasons.
-If you study more, you may feel more prepared but also feel like you SHOULD play better which may induce nervousness. (I don't really have a solution to this, this may tie into the next point)
-The day before a tournament review openings for maybe 30 minutes and do a few tactics and that's all. Don't exhaust youself looking through every opening sideline your opponent can play or doing 4 hours of tactics.
-Don't worry about the so much about the result (cliche I know). Although the result is obviously a huge indicator of your progress, looking to play the good moves may help to keep your nervousness to a minimum and ensure your sanity :). Also, think of losing and making mistakes as an opportunity to learn!
I hope this came as helpful rather than a lecture...
All the Best!
I don't believe in cramming opening preparations - it just stresses you out and most of the lines you memorize won't happen anyway. Play the opening lines you currently prefer, the ones you have played in casual, club, and online games since your last event.
The week before the tournament, the first thing is to get your rest. You will play better if you start the event well-rested. Work on a few things, areas you have had problems with in the past. If you've blown some Rook endings, look at those. An opening line or two is okay, but better if you play over whole games by strong players in the lines - that way you see the whole game plan and how opening advantages translate into wins.
For a day or two before the tournament, play no chess and look at no chess. NONE. Do other stuff - read, play video games, drink heavily, dance with fat girls, anything but chess. It clears the mind, and I always find I play better after a little break from the game.
For during the event, carry along plenty of snacks and bottled water, your meals will be off schedule and perhaps on the run.
Above all, never forget it is a GAME and you are supposed to have fun playing it.