When you think about chess confrontation, you must think of preparation. Getting ready for your game against a specific opponent can give you a tremendous advantage over the board; under the condition that you do it efficiently.
So here are all the steps to follow in order to get the most out of your chess preparation, as well as the time required for each part. Setting limits will help you stay focused throughout the process and force you to be more efficient in your choices.
Check the conditions of the game – 5’
Depending on the situation of the match or within a tournament, the way a player engages varies.
Consequently, the first thing to do is to look at the conditions of the game:
Are you playing with black or white? Please check twice before anything else. Getting distracted can happen to anyone!
Is your opponent going to play for a draw? Or a necessary win? Maybe your opponent is playing for a prize, or a norm in this tournament? Maybe he had many draws early in the competition? If a draw is required by your opponent for whatever reason, chances are you will face a solid opening accompanied with an early proposal. But if the player absolutely needs a win, sharpest variations will probably rise.
How do you feel? If you had an exhausting workweek, you probably won’t have the energy to play 60 moves or more.
Although these first elements are basic, they must be taken into consideration before analyzing the way your opponent plays. It could clearly spare you investing your time in variants that have almost no chance of appearing over the board.
Analyze the games of your opponent – 25’
Every chess player has the reflex to try to scan the opponent’s games. But amongst these, it is not always easy to find out what can be valuable for your preparation. Checking this list should help you make the games talk.
Check only the recent games
To start your analysis, it is preferable not to waste your time with games older than 3 years. A player’s style can change with time and you could go wrong in your preparation simply because of that. So keep it as recent as you can.
What’s happening around the 40th move?
Many time controls happen around the 40th move and are often subject to imprecisions or even big mistakes. Analyzing these particular moments of the game should give you a good indication on whether or not a player is comfortable with time management.
Look for tendencies in the play
When you look at the way your opponent plays, you will rapidly realize some recurrent and exploitable motives in the games.
Is there an opening played repeatedly?
Are the chosen lines of the opening sharp? Or more positional? What kind of positions does the player seem to prefer?
Does the opponent take big risks? Sacrificing early in the game?
Does he/she prefer open or closed positions?
Does the player rely on tactics as soon as he can?
What are its statistic results with a specific opening?
Are there many endgames played? With which result?
As the saying goes, asking the right questions is often finding their answers. This list is certainly not complete, but it should be a good starting point.
Decide your opening accordingly – 15 to 30’
From the conclusions you will draw, you should have sufficient keys to choose an appropriate opening for that particular game.
You may have noticed I only dedicated 15 to 30 minutes to this last part. This time should be aimed at understanding how the opening works, or reviewing your lines if you have the luxury to have a good opening repertoire at your disposal.
But if you really found a recurrent pattern while analyzing – such as the same repeated opening – and you think it is worth studying variants more deeply, go for it. In other cases, I personally don’t encourage this practice mainly for 3 specific reasons:
- Realizing the D-day you will play something totally different from what you prepared intensely can be psychologically destabilizing and make you underplay.
- Your memory can play tricks on you. And not remembering something you studied can really be frustrating over the board.
- The time invested in the preparation and the study can be exhausting. If you don’t feel rested enough during the game, you will certainly regret your hard work.
Be ready to give up on preparation
Some players tend to rely exclusively on opening principles and thus vary a lot their beginnings, as well as the way they play. This is even more the case as the Elo increases.
To face adequately such unpredictable opponents, don’t waste your precious energy and simply give up on specific homework. Playing without preparation and rely on your intuition can sometimes be good too.
And if you are afraid of being outplayed by the opponent’s research against you, you can also try a totally new opening both of you have never played. Like you, he/she will be forced to take independent decisions from the start on.
As a final word, that you finally prepare or rely only on pure creativity, I hope these guidelines will help you optimize the process or your overall chess preparation and avoid you wasting your time badly.
Good luck for your next game!