Three Things I'll Change For My Next Tournament
For my first OTB tournament in over a year, I can’t complain about the result. But when I got home and reviewed my games, I found the quality of my play was uneven. I found some good moves in key moments, but also had some head-scratching misses. I’m also thinking ahead to my next tournament. For my first tournament back, I decided to play in the ALTO (at least twenty one) tournament in Charlotte because it has a looser social vibe. But for my next tournament, I’ll likely choose a conventional open tournament. And let’s be honest: things are going to get tougher once the kids get involved. With all that in mind, here are the three biggest things I’m going to change after my OTB tournament.
Deepen My Opening Preparation
The contrast between my White repertoire and Black repertoire in this tournament was very interesting. With White, I was playing my own Chessable repertoire. My preparation was completely in the open for anyone who cared to look at it, but I knew the lines well; I knew the reasons for the moves I chose, and why I had rejected the alternatives. With Black I was playing new openings that I had rarely played online or OTB, so I had the value of surprise. I was using other people’s Chessable courses to prep them – Sam Shankland’s Semi-Slav and Danny King’s Kalashnikov Sicilian, specifically. But while I remembered the lines I practiced, I didn’t know as much about the reasons behind the moves. It all added up to a natural experiment: what’s more valuable, surprise value or depth of knowledge?
The winner was depth of knowledge in a landslide. I got great positions in all my White games. I made a video reviewing how the opening went in each of my White games. None of my opponents even seemed to know I had a Chessable course. With Black, things were more rocky. Todd played a rare Anti-Sicilian against me and got a good position. This is the kind of thing it’s hard to be ready for if you don’t have a lot of experience with your repertoire. In my other Black game, David went for a mainline of the Semi-Slav where I had memorized a 25-move drawing line from the Shankland course. The problem was, I didn’t know much else. While I ended up winning, during the game I was very uncomfortable and unhappy with my preparation. Questions kept popping into my mind: “What if he does this? What if he does that?”
While that was uncomfortable during the game, it suggested a training technique I can use before my next tournament. In any long line I memorize, I’m going to force myself to ask – and answer – at least one question. I’ve already started doing this in my Chessable lines and I think it’s going to make my opening preparation much more robust.
Before this tournament, I had been criticizing Magnus for complaining about the slowness of the World Championship format. Within two games, I was back on his side. Classical chess is way too slow. Multiple times in this format, my opponent thought for 30 minutes or more in a completely normal position, then played an obvious move. I guess this is to my benefit competitively, because they did get in time pressure later, but it did kind of take me out of the game mentally. I wasn’t sure what to do – walk around, sit at the board, try to calculate, daydream? I’ll have to give more thought about how to handle these situations in my next tournament.
Given that I was ahead on the clock in all my games, it might seem surprising that this section is titled “play faster.” But overall I feel that I played too slow, it’s just that my opponents played way too slow. If anything, I slowed down almost out of embarrassment. Should I really be playing so much faster than everyone else? But every time I took a long time on a move, I ended up playing the same move I would have played in ten seconds.
There are some players who are known for playing very quickly, even in slow time controls. Ian Nepomniachtchi comes to mind. This strategy can put a lot of pressure on the opponent, and it’s something I’d like to try as an experiment for one tournament.
Relax Before The Round
When you know your opponent in advance, it’s tempting to try to target them with opening preparation. Especially when you can find lots of your games online, it seems like you’ll be able to prepare something to target the weaknesses in their repertoire. Well, I tried to do this many times in this event, and not once did my preparation appear on the board.
I’d still say it’s worthwhile to check for your opponent’s games online (if you have enough time) just to know what to expect, but you shouldn’t overestimate the importance of targeted preparation. More important, in my opinion, is preparing to be calm and focused during the game. With that in mind, I’m considering adopting a rule for myself at my next tournament that all opening preparation needs to stop at least 30 minutes before the round. That 30 minutes is reserved for getting yourself in the right mindset to play. For this tournament, I used some mindfulness exercises from my friend Benji’s course. I was really happy with the exercises when I used them, but sometimes I allowed my opening preparation to go right up to the start of the round. This felt reasonable at the time, but it never paid off. For the next tournament, I’m going to use that hard and fast 30 minute rule to ensure I’m in the right mindset to play every round.
When most people think about training, they think about consistency and discipline. Those are important, but equally important is creativity. Sometimes you have to try something different to get to the next level. What’s something that you’re experimenting with in your chess training right now?
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