We always enjoy guest posts by Grandmaster Alex Colovic.
This time, Alex’s offers thoughts on the art of training for tournaments.
I write this as I finished my one hour of tactical exercises. This used to be my routine when I was playing often; I would do at least one hour of tactical exercises to keep my brain sharp. In the case of tactical training, more is indeed better.
I’ve written before that it was this kind of discipline and dedication that brought me the title of Grandmaster. It was the consistency that mattered.
With lifestyle changes in the last several years I rarely, if ever, get a chance to do some tactical training. The reason I started doing it again is that I am planning to play a tournament soon. I need to get the brain working again.
It hurt. The brain doesn’t want to work, it’s lazy. Forcing it to work is extremely uncomfortable. It tires quickly, having grown out of the habit to calculate on a daily basis. After a few exercises it stalls, I feel an incredible urge to sleep (the brain’s best way to rest). I cannot keep my eyes open, I cannot keep my concentration, the position in my head fades away.
It is suffering. Self-imposed at that. But I know that if I don’t do it, the suffering during the tournament will be much worse. I hate losing games (who doesn’t) and the only way to avoid it is to suffer now. The harder the training, the easier the battle, as General Suvorov used to say.
Scientifically speaking, what I am trying to do is to increase my myelin, the substance that makes the synapses in the brain fire faster. When a task is repeatedly done, myelin is created as if to grease the neurons so that they can work faster and better. The mechanics of this process is wonderfully described in the book The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle which I whole-heartedly recommend – I learned quite a lot from there!
I refer to the daily tactical training as mental hygiene. Just like you do morning and evening hygiene, if you want to be good at chess you need to keep your brain in shape, you cannot just neglect it.
When I could dedicate whole days to chess I would follow up the tactical training with some opening preparation, analysis of games, modern and old, perhaps some endgames. Nowadays I limit myself to the one hour of calculation. As Botvinnik decided to do when he left the World Championship cycle after losing to Petrosian in 1963, I too depend on my “old baggage” of opening preparation. Thankfully, it’s still well stocked up with ideas.
I have always had a professional approach to chess. Before play I always prepare, whether that be a pre-game preparation or a pre-tournament preparation. Therefore nowadays if I cannot prepare I prefer not to play. It just goes against my principles.
Back to the Daily Training Routine
So whenever there is a tournament in sight it is time to get back to the established training regime. I will adjust it, apparently, but there is nothing to substitute the good old brain drilling.
There is no shortcut to success. You have to work hard. And even hard work doesn’t guarantee it. Honestly, I am always a bit afraid how things will turn out when I sit behind the board again…
Thank you, Alex, for sharing your thoughts on your daily training routine.
Readers can find more excellent and instructive articles on Alex’s official website.