Why is taking breaks from chess necessary to progress?

By | 7 septembre 2017

Whether it is for a few weeks, or some minutes here and there during the game, taking a break from chess is essential to refresh your mind and come back stronger.

Let’s see what science says about breaking effects and what you can do to optimize its benefits for your chess career.

Ideal breaking time

Taking time off and productivity have historically been closely linked. Research is unanimous about the positive effects of vacation on the well-being, as well as on the performance of workers when they return to the office.

For most of us, chess is maybe not a full time job, but the fact remains that it is a brain activity which requires taking breaks as well.

According to studies, taking less than a full week of vacation wouldn’t be enough to decompress from the stress and strain of your job.

So, next time you feel a decline in your game or a lack of motivation, don’t hesitate to completely disconnect from chess during a minimum of 8 days, and ideally 2 to 3 full weeks.

And in case you play quite regularly, the best solution is to schedule carefully how much you will play and train throughout the year, and include breaks accordingly.

Long pauses from chess

If breaks are the price of being in a better mood and performing better, it is not necessary for them to last for months.

With chess at high level being mentally really demanding, it is not rare among top GMs to take longer breaks from competition, especially after poor results. The example of Peter Leko in 2011 almost proved it can be successful. But when you hear the whole story, you realize he simply trained without competing to get fresh new ideas. And how long did he really forget chess? Not more than 2 weeks.

Mini-breaks during your chess game

And the breaking power doesn’t stop here. If revitalizing your mind a few weeks a year definitely bears its fruit, brief diversions are also important.

According to this study, making short and frequent breaks can improve your performance and kick start your creativity.

After attempting to stay in the zone for a long period of time during chess games, we all have a tendency to lose focus. It seems that pauses might help stay focused on the game.

I’m afraid of losing my time

I guess some of you have had this reaction: how could I possibly take a break while playing? What if I regret it later because of the lack of time?

For blitz or rapid, I obviously suggest staying focused during the whole game. But during a long game you actually have plenty of time when you use it properly. Here are the rules to get the most out of refreshing halts without suffering from time management issues:

  • Schedule the last hour before time control

This experiment revealed the ideal combination for a maximum performance is to focus during 52 minutes and take a break of 17 minutes. Knowing that and the cadence of play, make sure you will stay over the board the last 50 minutes before the time check, including your time as well as the one of your opponent combined obviously.

  • Take breaks in 15+5 mode

Use your clock as a reference and be sure to make some breaks during 5 minutes every time your own clock crosses the 15 minutes barrier.

Why 15 mins? Simply because you cannot predict how much time your opponent will consume so this number is a good average to get you frequent breaks and stay below the 52-minute limit.

Breaking for 5 minutes should be in most cases enough to refresh, without feeling too pressured by time. But don’t hesitate under the right circumstances to extend this time.

What should I do during my mini-breaks?

You have different options to recharge your batteries. Here is a list of the most powerful and realistic ways to do so while you play:

  • Take a walk: exercise would actually be perfect, but I guess you won’t work out in the middle of the game so walking will fit perfectly.
  • Meditate: I explained in this article all the benefits. Meditation is one of the best ways to reload.
  • Chat with a friend: if it is allowed in another room of course, provided you don’t talk about chess.

Time to take a break

Alright, you get it. Breaks are good.

As I don’t really play these days and that I just started my holidays, I will take my first halt in this project. I will only post 2 articles this Monday and the next one (I already wrote them before leaving).

I will however engage in new habits as these are not only good for chess, but also for me.

On your side, don’t forget to force yourself to recharge by scheduling breaks in your game, as well as into both your training and playing schedules.

I think we agree it’s better to take a break rather than wait for a poor performance to arise right?