Playing in the "Eastern Open" in DC this week (Mon-Thu). What do I do different before a tournament? When I was younger I didn't do anything. I had the stamina and the energy. And there were no computers. So the whole world was different. But now...
1. Sleep eight hours a day every night the prior week.
I had a lot of work the week before last so didn't get to sleep 8 hours a night. but this past week I made sure to sleep eight hours a night.
My main worry is during the tournament itself how to sleep eight hours a night. But I have a bunch of techniques ready to go.
I have done many podcasts on the importance of sleep but I am always learning something more.
Here are two things I learned this past week about sleep:
- go to sleep at the same time every night. More "growth hormone" is released if the body realizes you are going to sleep at the regular time. The first 90 mins is when GH is released. Else, it won't be released, even if you sleep late the next day.
- Get as much sunlight as you can the first 2-4 hours after you wake up. This will set the body's clock so it is ready to sleep at night.
2. The prior week: exercised every day.
Exercise gives future stamina and energy.
3. Chess preparation:
Some things one needs to know:
A) before each round, pairings are texted to everyone's phone.
B) since I know who I am going to play I can look them up. Their games on chess.com are probably publicly available. I can then use a site like openingtree.com to see what they play against my particular openings.
C) Important to note: they are doing the same with my games.
4. I created a secret account
I switched most of my opening preparation about six weeks ago. I then made a secret account that doesn't have my name on it.
I used my old account (which has my name on it so they can discover it) to play some of my old openings a little each day.
But I used my new account (which does not have my name on it) to play all my new openings. Anyone who looks me up will study all of the wrong openings.
5. Before each game:
A) When I get the pairings, study their games. Look up the openings they play if I am unfamiliar or if I have forgotten.
B) eat at least 90 minutes before the game but not closer
C) cup of coffee.
D) do some easy tactics to build confidence
6. Watching some videos
When I did standup comedy every night this was part of my routine:
A) about two hours before leaving my apartment I would watch videos of great comedians. I'd go back and forth among about a dozen comedians
B) right before going on stage I would pick one comedian and watch two or three videos of his over and over.
The idea is I want my "mirror neurons" to kick in. Not so I can mimic the comedian I am watching (well, not their specific routine) but that my body knows how to act like a superstar comedian. The best comedians have all the right movements, pauses, voices, act-outs, crowd work, stage work , etc. Even if it's a millisecond different from how my body works on stage I want to mimic their skills as much as possible (not copy or steal, just have the skills).
I find that watching peak performers right before a peak performance event is like a booster shot that lasts about a half hour to an hour.
I do the same thing when I go to a social event (watch comedians) or do a podcast (watch great podcasters)
So before a chess game I watch great games played by the greatest players, usually with another great player providing descriptions of what they are doing. This hopefully gives me a similar booster shot.
What do great players do that I don't do normally? It's hard to say because they do everything better than me.
But if watching videos gives me a little more patience, a little more ability to attack and defend, a little more ability in the endgame, or recognizing I need to play on both sides of the board, then this is all good.
7. A little meditation
Meditation is a method for not identifying who YOU are with the stream of thoughts constantly running around in your head.
The mind is very busy all the time and sometimes it's good to take a break and observe what is going on in there. That is what meditation is. Nothing more (no "enlightenment", which is BS).
So if I can meditate before a game, perhaps I will recognize when my thinking has gone awry during a game (getting despondent if I think I am losing, getting too anxious if I think I'm winning but worried I'm going to lose it, getting too excited if I think I am winning but the game is not won until it's won, etc.
I am trying to develop mini-meditations to do during the game also.
8. DURING the game.
A) try to sit at the board the entire time. I used to get up and walk around. But I think it's better to stay at the board.
B) Between each move: think of something I'm grateful for. Steven Kotler suggested this to me as a way of getting into flow during the game.
C) CHECKLIST for strategy:
- is my king safe? is his?
- what is my weakest piece? Can I make it more active.
- what is his weakest piece? Can I suppress it from being active.
D) CHECKLIST for blunders:
- can he check me
- can he attack my pieces
- can he trap my queen
- if I make a tricky move does he have an intermezzo (intermediate) move that ruins my calculation.
E) WRITE down how long each move took. Will be useful afterwards to see where I spent most time thinking and where I did not think at all. Ditto for opponent.
9. AFTER the game:
Quickly put the moves in the computer and write down what I was thinking each move (if not obvious).
Run through the game to see where I made mistakes and could've played better.
10. NOTE: I lost the first game in this tournament.
I was doing fine and had an equal position. An equal position is fine for me. Particularly if I can get queens off the board I know I can make good moves in an endgame.
And then I did not do one of the checklists mentioned above.
In this position he is building up on the F file and getting ready to invade. The computer evaluates the position as equal.
11. But then I made a move that looked simple.
I did Qxa2. I spent less than a minute on it.
As soon as I picked up his pawn (which means by the rules I now have to take it) I saw that it was a blunder. I took the pawn, he made the move I expected and I immediately resigned.
What was his move?
Instead of Qxa2, just Kb8 or Rd7 and the position is equal and maybe would end in a draw.
12. Post-game where I make a mistake like this
This was a pretty basic blunder. When I was younger (18 years old) I would quit the tournament if I played a move like that. And I would be depressed for days.
But now I view it as a learning opportunity (I hope) and the challenge is to have the right mood for the rest of the games.
Very often, the right mood makes a huge huge difference. But I go back to the preparation and get ready for the next game.