Pre-Game Routine


Table of Contents

The sixth World Champion, Mikhail Botvinnik, was famous for his rigorous regime. A man of principle, once he determined a course of action, he followed it without fail.

Botvinnik was the father of modern-day preparation. He invented the scientific approach to chess, how to prepare an opening, how to prepare against a certain player, how to analyse endgames and a player’s strengths and weaknesses.

It is not surprising, therefore, that his most famous pupil, Garry Kasparov, followed his teacher’s methods.

One of these methods was the approach to the pre-game routine. Botvinnik wrote that he ate approximately 1.5-2h before the game and that one hour before the game he stopped all preparation and rested by lying down in bed. Not sleeping, just lying down. Then, in an ideal set-up, he would walk 20 minutes to the playing hall.

Kasparov was following a similar routine. I remember seeing him taking a walk in the park next to Hotel Anibal in Linares, when I played the open tournament there in 2002.

I have also followed that routine. Depending on the circumstances, I usually stop preparation approximately 30 minutes to 1 hour before the game and rest by lying down in bed. It helps me focus better on the game and detach myself from all the variations I had looked at in my preparation.

However, not everybody follows this routine.

Here’s what Anand wrote in his book Mind Master:

“On the morning of a game during the world championship matches, after breakfast, my team of four trainers and I would spend a couple of hours debating the final choices and lines, and they would force me to go over my notes before breaking off to get back to work while I showered and took a nap. In the final 45-minute stretch before heading off to the venue, I would sit at the board in the training room while my seconds stood around me, forming a half-moon and, by turns, throw positions at me to solve. If I was unable to solve a position in the third or fourth attempt and they were all standing around me, perhaps secretly wondering how I ever became a world champion, the embarrassment I felt was intense and scalding. It was almost as if my ego was shredded into bits with a butcher’s cleaver. If a similar position popped up in a game, I would never be in doubt anymore – the humiliation I’d experienced earlier would work as a branding iron. Sometimes, having your ego take a knock before a game is actually a good thing. You’re then a lot sharper at the board.”

When I first learned of this type of pre-game routine, preparing until the last moment, I was surprised. I thought all these champions were following Botvinnik. Apparently, I was wrong.

There are a lot of players who prepare until the last moment. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as it suits them.

What suits me is to follow Botvinnik and Kasparov. It’s a personal choice.

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