Riding the Elevator

Posted: January 10, 2012 in Analysis
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Unless you are a child prodigy, most of us have experienced the thrill of watching our ratings rise when you get on a hot streak and win a few matches in a row. Having a great tournament, or riding a hot streak for a month or two can be exciting, especially when you rise to another level and establish a ratings floor.

Conversely, sometimes we get our of sorts and go on a losing streak. Wins that seemed so easy become ever more difficult to obtain. People we used to beat suddenly rise up and surprise us with a tactical combination or a new opening that wasn’t previously in their repertoire. Worst of all, somehow it seems that you’ve forgotten all of the things you’ve learned along the way.

How can you learn to maximize the upward trends and minimize poor play? Here are eight things to think about:

  1. Always conduct a post-mortem on your past games: The best players always review the results of their games to find out where they could have played better. It’s important to take the time to review the game quietly by yourself or with a fellow chess player. If you have chess software at your disposal, use the analysis feature to evaluate the game. Lastly, find a chess database and lookup key positions from your game to see how strong players have handled similar situations.
  2. Never play when you are over-tired: If your sleepy and you can’t think straight, how can you expect to calculate variations or recognize a well-known trap? (You can’t and you won’t. Save yourself some misery by getting enough sleep before you matches.)
  3. Periodically review basic endgame tactics like the Lucena and Philidor positions (it’s surprising how often these things pop up when you least expect it): Nothing to add here, learn the basics, they will help you in the end.
  4. Remember to stay calm and focused: Play the board, not the opponent. Some people might disagree, but playing fast and loose trying to spring an obvious trap against a low rated player can backfire dramatically. Conversely, going into a shell and worrying how a higher rated player is going to crucify you will turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Play what you know and ask yourself, “What is the best move in this position?”
  5. Take an occasional sabbatical: Sometimes a two or three-week break from match play can provide a new perspective on things. Clear your mind from the bad patterns you have gotten into and come back with a fresh perspective.
  6. Don’t fall into old patterns: Speaking of patterns,  if you constantly get creamed by the Sicilian Defence, either learn how to play against it, or find a way to steer games in another direction. There are thousands opening variations to choose from, some are aggressive and some are more tactical. Find the style that you understand the best and stick with it.
  7. Don’t play too quickly: Every game is different. If you find you’re just “pushing wood” to get through the first 10 moves, then you are doing yourself a disservice. Many times an error occurs within the first few moves. But if you stop thinking, there is no chance to uncover an opportunity.
  8. Always look for tactics: Tactics appear in the most surprising places. Here’s an example from a match played in late November. The match has evolved into a positional battle and black has amassed more space. After 17 … Bc6 white was concerned about defending the d6 square but didn’t look for any tactical ideas so he played Nbd2 to shore up c4. But, he missed the tactical Nbd4 which wins a pawn (due to the hanging bishop on c6) and could eventually lead to some counterplay.

Remember, don’t get into a mental funk and cause yourself to go into a free fall. Remember to study, review your previous games, and make the best possible move you can think of in every situation. This will maximize your chances for victory and minimize losing streaks.


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