Big tourney prep

USATE is just around the corner – the gigantic US Amateur Team East, wherein 1200 chessplayers divide into teams of four and stink up the Parsippany Hilton.

As I did last year, I hope to sorta-quasi-live-blog it. With Denys Shmelov on first board, our team will probably be slightly less obscure than in the past.

It’s the high point of the chess year as far as I’m concerned. Question for the typical Amateur is, given normal family and work demands, how do you allot your very limited preparation time?

This year I’ll try to squeeze in some brush-up time on my critical openings as Black. As White, I can only look at what I consider to be the biggest repertoire holes and try to fill what I can. I’ll also do a little work on the online chess tactics server. And I’ll take a quick spin through the key points of Aagard’s Excelling at Technical Chess as a reminder. 

But I’m actually counting on something different to make up for what I lack in chess-specific preparation: Exercise. It’s well established that physical conditioning is very important – if you’re not a tournament chessplayer, imagine concentrating hard for two games, each lasting as much as four or even six hours, on each of three consecutive days. It’s a grind.

Some years back I played a gentleman named Curtis who was rated three or four hundred points lower than I was. After about 25 moves I had pressure but he still had some interesting and tricky ideas. He resigned abruptly and explained that essentially, it was more important for him to go hit the gym, get his heart rate up, and stay tuned up for the rest of the tournament than it was to spend another hour trying to grind out some swindle against a heavily favored opponent.

At the time, I found that baffling. Now that I am 40, it suddenly makes a lot of sense.


9 thoughts on “Big tourney prep

  1. I’m doing multiple reps of “12 ounce curls” to prep for USATE :)

    Seriously, I’m doing tactics on the train, going through “Silman’s Engame Course”, and I’ll play in the Open section this month at the club; so watch out!!


  2. During my best USATE performance (2002 edition) I did exactly 3 laps around that damn hotel in the freezing cold before each round. Not exactly lifting weights but maybe it helped?

  3. Mr. Curtis may have had a point but once you start resigning instead of playing ’em out, the logical conclusion is just avoid the stress of tournament chess and go to the gym, then play over a Capablanca game with Mozart in the background and a glass of wine in hand…

  4. LEP – I was obscure?! ;)

    Wahrheit – Capablanca, Mozart and wine? Nice – I think I’ll go straight to that part and skip the gym altogether. (Although I might shade more towards Tal and White Stripes.)

    Tim – excellent. I did not know that (I think that was the year I missed eh.)

  5. I’ve always been a big believer in the value of exercise and conditioning for chess. Many people overlook that aspect of the game. If you’re playing two games a day that are going 3 plus hours each, that can be physically taxing.

    Tim commented about doing laps around the parking lot before each round at the USATE and wondered if his good performance had anything to do with that. I would say yes. The combination of getting some fresh air and getting the heart rate up definitely has a positive impact on one’s ability to focus and stay sharp.

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