Making a mistake before the game starts, is very painful. I had this experience several times. The game gets going and I am not fully into it yet. Because of this lack of focus, I quickly run over a critical moment or mess up my opening. What happens when I trust half-knowledge you can read here.
When I started to look at other sports more attentively, I saw one big commonality: everybody has a pre-game routine.
Rafael Nadal is famous for his ticks before every single serve.
In ski racing, you see the athletes mentally going through the track before the race several times.
The most famous example is the routine performed by New Zealand “all blacks” Rugby team. If you have never seen it, go watch the haka now. It is very impressive.
Everybody has their own way of achieving the same goal: Getting ready for showtime!
So, I started putting a routine together for myself. After many trials, I came up with the following one.
How I Do It
Being on time is very crucial for me. This gives me the time and space to perform my routine without any stress. So no matter where I play, I want to sit at the board 5 Minutes before the start of the game. Having accomplished that is the first small win.
Then, I fill out the scoresheet (in classical games only). Now that everything is in place, I can start my mental routine.
I mentally go through a recent successful tournament of mine. The emphasis is put on positive emotions. I want to feel the confidence the tournament gave me. Replay the good decisions I took.
I remind myself that I can play very good chess. Negative feelings or events have no place here. It is all about getting a good feeling before the game.
After going through the tournament in my mind, I usually have a slight smile on my face. And I sit more upright. Nearly ready for battle.
In order to focus on the process, I will define one key point before a tournament. Again, this is always formulated positively. The last time I told myself “Have fun and play with confidence”.
I will repeat this key point several times.
Now I am really ready for battle. From move 1, I am into the game. My brain is working. The adrenaline kicks in. Not too much, but the right amount to care enough and still be focused.
Create Your Own Pre-Game Routine
If you want to create your own pre-game routine, there are some things that can help you.
Repetition is key!
The more I perform this routine, the more powerful it gets. Mentally revisiting an experience needs training. I can remember incredible details of tournaments years back. And anytime I need some boost, I can access the feeling I had back then.
Before you use something in tournament play, try it in training. You will soon realize what makes you feel really good. Toss away everything that does not serve this purpose. Re-define your story so that it gives you maximum confidence.
Formulate it positively!
I have caught myself many times saying “don’t blunder” or “don’t fuck this up” before a game. This is very problematic because our brain does not understand the word “don’t”.
Instead of “don’t blunder” it registres “blunder”. Not a great way to start the game!
That is why, whatever you come up with, formulate it positively.
- “Don’t blunder” becomes “stay alert from move one”
- “Don’t get into time trouble” becomes “trust your intuition and play with confidence”
- “Don’t play stupid irrational moves” becomes “ask yourself if your move makes sense”
I hope this helps you get into a good mood for your next game.
P.S.: if you liked this article, then you will certainly also like my FREE guide to organize your chess training. Get it HERE.
Prematch routine is very important and being on time is huge to me. Playing in a weekender I was offered to be put up for the night if I drove a fellow competitor home to his house on the Saturday night. He was one of these last minute types. Suffice to say we were cutting it fine on the Sunday morning got lost and were 15 mins late. I dropped him off and struggled to find a parking place. My nerves were shredded and I lost horribly. Never again . I scored 2.5/5 in the Open. Next year I avoided the competitor who was looking for a similar lift. Slept well in the car and scored 4/5 ECF 219 performance only 0.5 behind GMs Korneev and Pert.
I listen to piano music either Hania Rana or Alberto Giurioli and recite The Desiderata by Max Ehrmann which is really positive. I will do a few stretching exercises and deep breathing exercises. Then just before the game I will say a quick prayer.
I can feel the stress only by reading this story… Indeed it is important not to depend on other players that tend to be late for the game. In Team Events I always struggled with that problem as well. Glad you found a way that works better for you! And congrats on the 4/5, great result 🙂
Hi, one thing I’ve been wondering for a while: Do chess players also do some kind of warm-up, like solving tactics puzzles 30min before the game?
Hey Michael, I don’t do that personally, but I am trying to get my head going even if I am still in theory in the first few moves. This means calculating small tactics whenever I can from the start, so that I’m ready for the first critical moment.
Great information in one page, thanks I’ll try applying them to my chess
Happy you like it. Let me know how it works out for you! Enjoy 🙂
I am rated only 1100 for a long time in Fide classical.
But while playing online on lichess , that too in Blitz, I have attained a Blitz rating of nearly 2000.
But I am really unsuccessful in increasing my Fide ratings despite repeated attempts
Can u plz guide me in which direction should I go and how to practice hard and smart to replicate the online performance in fide tournaments
Try to make your training as similar as possible to FIDE classical games. This means training at the real board, not screen. Having longer thinking times, not just solving fast puzzles and much more.
Interesting, thanks! I’ll try it ????
Thanks Lucy. Hope it works out for you :-). Let me know when you’ve tried it out!