Grandmaster Q&A Part 4

In the autumn of 2013 I gave ten hours of training to a GM who has been struggling for years, unable to improve his play and slowly bleeding rating points. I felt he had certain problems in concrete positions, but in general needed to work more on improving his play.

After the sessions he sent me a long list of additional questions that I agreed to answer, if I was allowed to share them with the readers of the blog. As long as I kept his name confidential, he saw no problem with this.

As we are talking quite a lot of material, I have decided to cut up the Q&A session into five posts over the summer.

This post continues from last weeks post.

9) In terms of Opening which approach do you think more practical and advisable

a) Having a fixed opening repertoire with in depth knowledge and experience or

b) Having a very broad opening repertoire so that it becomes difficult for opponent to guess.

Both! I do think it is important to have a fortress that you can retreat to. Especially as you will want to play well against 2600s. You cannot bluff your way out of the opening against really strong players. You need to have your home soil you can return to from time to time.

As for me I fall into the category “b”. But the problem of b is that sometimes I myself become confused about choosing my opening line and even I choose many times I won’t be having sufficient knowledge and pros & cons of that system/variation. It leads to loss of time and energy in the initial stage and opponent on the other hand benefits from it.

If you have tried one strategy for a while; maybe it would be a good idea to change into a different strategy for a while. Not because it is better (in this case it is just different) but because you cannot really work out what suits you without trying different things.

Sorry to be so vague, but as with most of the questions: investing time into trying different things is the way forward.

10) Sometimes I have avoided many tournaments or cancelled my participation at the last moment thinking that I don’t have sufficient preparation. Is it a typical psychological problem for Chess players? (I know this about myself but I have spoken with my fellow players, colleagues and friends who also have done similar things).

This clearly shows lack of self-confidence and professionalism. As for me I would like to get rid of this nonsense no matter that improves my game or not but I feel such things should not stop me from playing in a good tournament.

Again I have a sort of a double thinking on this.

First of all, I think you should be less harsh on yourself. I think you do not accept your situation, which makes everything harder. If you feel the need to cancel your participation, then cancel it, rather than feeling bad about it.

It does seem that you spend a lot of time feeling nervous or disappointed, when it would make more sense to study chess. If you want better results, you need to put in a lot of time studying the game. This is what everyone else does and it can sometimes feel difficult just to keep up.

Maybe if you were better prepared, if there were more areas of the game where you felt really confident, you would feel less uncertain about participating in tournaments? Confidence is after all often preparation in action.

11) What kind of goal should one keep before a tournament? Should it be based on realistic chances or quality of preparation gone through before the event or should it be very optimistic no matter what are the practical chances?

Goals are hardly ever useful. What you should focus on is playing good chess. Especially if you have had years of disappointment. Why add to the disappointment? Why try to solve years of frustration in ten days?

Prepare a lot. Expand your knowledge of the game. Try to solve the problem of “what is the move I should play here” on every move as good as you can and then see what happens.

Get back to the feeling you must have had at some point of chess being a wonderful game. Get back to the excitement and joy of playing.

Results will come. Games end. Do not worry about it; you cannot influence it by doing so anyway…

If you want a goal, make it something that is not reliant on the performance of your opponent.

Take this example: In 2005 I played in Cappelle La Grande. Not a tournament I enjoyed. I also struggled and had a few bad games. I lost to a little boy and I was lucky to draw against another local boy. Only years later did I return to this tournament and saw that the boys, Feller and Edouard were now both rated about 2650.

If I had focused on my effort instead, I would have been happier. I have done this since 2006 and my chess has not suffered at all. On the contrary.

I have not had specific goals since then. I wanted to play well and at times I succeeded. I also won tournaments of course, which was nice.

10 thoughts on “Grandmaster Q&A Part 4”

  1. I think your comment and anecdote on #11 are very valuable – to players of any strength. I must say that you have developed into an extraordinary trainer and I really appreciate your clear style, both here and in your books. Many thanks.

  2. Attitude changes and learning to deal with disappointing results mid-tournament are extremely important.

    Very often I would turn a win into a draw and a draw into a loss vs a lower-rated opponent and the rest of my tournament would fall apart. About 2 years ago, I learned how to deal with these situations:

    1) Keep concentration levels high during so-called “winning positions.” Convert these blasted things! Then it’s easier not to beat yourself up later. Once you start doing this, you learn other skills such as pressing for an advantage in equal positions and sometimes turning these drawish positions into wins. Exhaust all resources in a position (Carlsen style!).

    2) When I would draw (or lose to) someone 200 pts lower than me, I used to react to the result like it was the end of the world. Not anymore. After a bad result, it’s OK to grimace after shaking hands but then you need to move on to the next game. Forget what happened. Dwelling on the past only leads to more bad results and the bleeding of rating points.

    These two factors might be the biggest factor in a steady rating increase (Approx 2270 FIDE to 2380 and 2 IM norms). I’m scoring close to 80% against players rated lower than I am, and my maximum loss of rating points in a single event was only about 20-25 pts about a year ago.

    I have also never withdrawn from a tournament (Interestingly, my two IM norms were scored when I was feeling incredibly sick) and I also have a great reluctance to offer draws (at any point in the game!). I feel these just set bad habits.

  3. @Seth
    Yes, these are good examples of strengthening of character. I have found that focusing on the moves and the level of the chess in the game often helps. Because a 2200 player can play like 2500 in one game and then like 1900 in the next. It is quite common. Just because you had the long straw, it does not mean that you cannot play chess anymore (as a number of my students seem to think).

  4. @Jacob Aagaard

    You touched upon something I tell my students (11-14 years old) all the time when they see they are facing someone 400 pts higher rated than they are.

    First – play the best you can. Let’s say this raises your level from 1200 to 1400. Secondly, let’s say your opponent has a bad day and instead of playing at his usual 1600 strength he drops about 200 pts. Guess what? It’s now an even fight.

  5. Jacob Aagaard

    Unfortunately things that are obvious to experienced people sound like nonsense to the unexperienced :-). All we can hope for is that if we mention it early on, it will stick…

  6. @Seth
    This is as life itself, and also he can be 400 points better than you in some kind of positions, but just a few points ahead in other. You have to play the best you can, and what is sure is that you are going to enjoy the game!

  7. I have advice for losing one’s fear of losing, too. This method may be more controversial though.

    First off, I can go months without playing a single online blitz game. I think it’s bad for one’s chess in general and I don’t get that rush of adrenaline that many chessplayers feed off of.

    However, before an event…if I start to get the feeling that I may “fear” losing a tournament game or if I begin to sense that a loss or two might lead to an unraveling of the entire tournament, I will play a couple of “Marathon blitz sessions.” 2-3 hours of 3+0 or 5+0 blitz games without a single break.

    The only catch is that you have to maintain a heightened sense of concentration throughout. Play at 110% or this method doesn’t work at all.

    Some things will happen if you do 2 or 3 of these sessions 1-2 weeks before a tournament: you will maintain better focus for long stretches at a time and, after losing 10, 20 or 30 games, you get used to losing. Then if you lose a tournament game, it won’t sting as bad. You’ve already programmed yourself to think, “OK I lost – next game!”

    Obviously my method comes with a health risk! It would be bad to overuse this before a tournament but I think there are positives to it. If you only solve tactical problems beforehand, you don’t get that same feeling if you fail to solve it as you would when you lose a game.

  8. Javier Urrutia

    Wrapping it up: Terrific post. This is just what I wanted to heard since long time ago. Keep up the good work Jacob and this pretty useful blog.


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