What Counts as a Healthy Tournament Schedule?

Growing up around tournaments have always made me wonder – what counts as a healthy frequency for tournament play? If there were multiple tournaments within a single weekend… should you play both tournaments?

Up until tournaments began to interrupt my ability to complete all my schoolwork, I would compete in what tournaments I could almost every week. I was always completely fine with it as I enjoyed going to tournaments and thus taking breaks from academia. I always thought that such a schedule was normal but now that I look back, it seems almost crazy to be playing so often, especially as school curriculums become more and more difficult.

So what counts today as a healthy schedule for tournament play – especially for students? Per usual, this is dependent upon what the students themselves are like – but I still believe that there is a threshold that people can use to determine what’s best for their kids or for themselves. The most important thing in my opinion is that as long as you are still interested into playing the tournament by the end. The worst thing one can do to oneself or one’s kids is force them to continue playing when they are already having issues concentrating during their current games.

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“It’s fine to show up late, no one cares”

About a decade now into playing chess, I , for the first time ever, regret arriving to a tournament game late. Okay, that’s false – the first time was when I remembered the time of a round wrong… and forfeited my first (and as of today, my last) game. But this time was different – to be honest I don’t think I was even late when I got to the tournament hall, as the announcements were still going on.

For some background, this was the last round of World Open, right after my first win of the tournament. With 2.5/8, I was set to play up again and a point above the players with the lowest number of points in the section – and honestly, my score is not as bad as it sounds as I had played 6 games against players rated either 2200 or higher. I was playing solid 4-5 hour games and pretty satisfied with my game quality as someone who hadn’t played since January nor studied since before entering college. When I walked up to the standings that round, I remember staring in confusion as my name was nowhere to be found in the 4-5 boards of players with 2.5 scores and as I looked down, I realized that I had been withdrawn without my knowledge and given a zero point bye. As with other problems, I immediately went to the TD desk, where I was told that they’re not sure what happened and to wait for the head TD who was making the announcements at the time.

After he came out of the main tournament hall and the other TD’s caught him up on what happened, I was given two options: either take the withdrawal or play the player who had a one point bye, a player rated about 1600 FIDE. Ultimately, I chose to not play the last round as I saw no point in playing down so much when I had finally just won a game and while not in the greatest mood from finding out about the withdrawal in the first place. Inside, I was honestly pretty upset. Competing in Philadelphia isn’t just hard on me, but it’s also extremely hard on my parents who drive me an hour to and an hour back every single day. Just because I had arrived to the standings minutes late, I was unable to play the game I deserved and had wasted a couple hours of my parents time having them wait for me to finish to go home. So next time, note to self, just arrive early – it’s better than allowing yourself to be removed or paired incorrectly.

Long-Distance

It’s funny, everyone tells me distance kills friendships and relationships, but at the same time if that were true, how would anyone in the chess community still be friends with each other? With the creation of social media also came the ability for us to keep in touch with people across the country, even across the world, from us. I have friends in California, in Europe, in Asia whose lives I keep in touch with thanks to various social media platforms. Just the other day, a friend who I haven’t seen in about two years now if not more, messaged me and we were able to have a conversation like we’d never stopped talking, as though the tournament where we met was just yesterday.

In fact, fellow ChessSummit writer Vanessa Sun and I theoretically met through a mutual friend – online. It wasn’t for months even until we officially met at Millionaire’s last October. Especially since going to college and participating in tournaments less, I have been surprised to find that I am able to reconnect with people from the chess world so easily even after no contact for an extended period of time. 

The above interactions prove what I feel like I’ve repeated many times here already – chess is always something you can come back to. The people, the game, the community. So once you’re in – sorry, we’re not letting you go. 

Coming Home

If you’re following me on any social media or have interacted with me in any way in the last year or so (and actually based on the topics I have been covering recently), you probably know that due to college and some personal things, chess has been sitting in the backseat for about the last year of my life. I’m happy to say that I will be jumping – maybe stupidly diving is a better term – back into my chess career during the upcoming World Open.

So I’m an extremely superstitious player. And for some reason my past performances at World Open have been half the tournaments great and the other half is trash. But that was back when I still competed relatively consistently. Right now, all I really want is to not blunder away any games through piece drops.

My friend and fellow writer Vanessa Sun recently asked me why I haven’t been focusing more on chess, was it because of different priorities? Or just being busy overall? I would say that it was a combination of believing that I should be prioritizing school and the lack of a real chess community around where my college is. The closest chess hub to my school is probably in Philadelphia – still about a forty minute train ride away. There is also the small issue of how there is no chess club at my school yet (something I plan on changing this coming year since I have grasped how to take care of myself better in college now). Without a chess club or community around you, there is no one to play with, no one to have weird debates with about tactics.

Sure, there are always those amazingly supportive friends that want to challenge you or ask you to teach them, but it is still different with having fellow tournament players nearby. While our team wasn’t amazing, just having a chess team in high school really helped to spur my continued passion and participation in the game as my schedule grew busier and busier. As I catch up with those friends, I hope to also be re-discovering my love and drive to improve myself, step by step, as I try, as well as I can by myself, to relearn how to study and figure out what I personally need to finally get myself to master.

Online Ratings: A Myth?

I often hear people talk about how our online ratings are supposed to be inflated versions of our official ratings. Oddly enough, I’ve almost always had an online rating lower than my actual rating, on both my ICC and chess.com accounts (both of which, unfortunately, have been rather inactive in recent years due to school).

For the longest time, I thought, maybe I’m overrated? But at the same time, my rating still steadily increased over time. In fact, for basically the entirety of my chess career and for as long as I’ve had my ICC account, my online rating has been at least a hundred points lower than my actual rating.

Evidently, that disparity, although it incited some teasing from some fellow chess players, did not stop me from actually improving my ability to study and progressing both on and off the board.

So don’t let your online rating, whether it be the blitz ratings or the tactics ratings, either boost your confidence too much or drag you down too much. As long as you work hard, you will improve and you will make it.

Facing Reality

I came into college believing that I’ll have more free time, more time overall to play tournaments and to study chess, after all, college provides a more flexible time sheet, no?

Boy I could not have been more wrong.

I remember my junior year of high school, I was talking to a friend of mine who played chess who was in college and we were just catching up since I hadn’t seen her in a year or two. One thing that stuck with me that she said after she found out I was already a junior but was hoping to break master before going to college was that I didn’t have that much time left. I remember thinking to myself, “Really? But there’s still two years plus the summer before college.” Yeah, I was wrong then too.

Maybe it’s different for students at schools with chess clubs or chess teams, but I keep finding myself in a repeated cycle where I keep saying I’m going to play a tournament, or study one day, and then by the time I get around to it its already 2 am or something. And I’m not sure if I exponentially aged in college or something, but I most definitely cannot pull all nighters or survive on tiny amounts of sleep like I did in high school (Yay TV, thanks for ruining my sleep schedule!). So logically, I chose to sleep over studying chess or dragging my night out longer to add that into my schedule.

Just remember, whenever someone tells you that you’re not going to have as much time as you think you well as you progress in life – they’re probably right. And speaking from experience. So listen. And take advantage of the time you have now before you graduate and move onto an even busier part of your life.

Rifle-Paper-Co-Graduation

 

Choosing a Coach

Whenever I’m at a tournament, I find myself being asked “Do you think who and who is a good coach? What about this other person?” Usually, I answer with what I know – which is something along the lines of “Yeah, I’ve heard good things about them!” (and I do mean it, I rarely hear negative comments about coaches).

I’ve had four coaches over my chess career thus far – and I can honestly say that each one of them has helped me in one way or another, whether it be furthering my interest in chess, helping me develop my opening repertoire, or even just helping me to understand, embrace, and broaden my playing style. Every coach has something they can add to your play. Honestly, every person you come into contact with in the chess world can help add to your play – whenever I teach, even at the most beginner levels, it forces myself to try and think about chess in a different way, to re-emphasize the basics of chess in my mind and keeping it fresh.

Coach Article
Fabiano Caruana and Bruce Pandolfini – then and now (a great example of an amazing student-coach dynamic!)

So in such circumstances, how are we supposed to choose a coach? Obviously, it’s different for every player, but I’ve found that finding a coach with a similar playing style as you (usually this means positional vs. tactical player) helps in that the coach will be able to cater your openings to your playing style as they will have a lot of experience in these types of games. Now, of course, it is also important to keep in mind that openings are not all that one needs to care about. Make sure that the coach is also well-rounded in terms of their understanding of endgames and BOTH positional and tactical play. If you’re really intent on understanding and knowing a coach beforehand, there is also always the possibility of looking up their games and seeing how well you understand and agree with their play. And of course, there’s always hearsay!

And above all else: it’s important to have personalities that click well and a healthy student-coach dynamic!