We all know these days. You sleep badly, are sick, have a migraine, or have any other physical problem that makes you feel bad. But just on that day, you have an important chess game to play.
What is the best way to go about that game? Should you change anything?
This is the question I got from a reader not long ago. Sadly, I am quite experienced in playing games when not feeling great. Ever since my brain injury in 2017, I hardly had any games I really felt 100% fit. But I managed to find ways to get the most out of myself, even on bad days.
This article should help you do the same.
Before The Game
If you still have some time before the game and realize it isn’t your game, there are some things you can do to increase the chance that you perform decently.
As you already have limited energy, what you should avoid is a lengthy preparation. You simply can’t afford to lose any energy before the game! So forget about long opening preparation and do something good for your body. Everyone is different, so you will know best what helps your body recover on a given bad day.
Additionally to your physical preparation, you need some mental adjustments.
I have always been extremely ambitious, playing for a win with both colors against nearly any opponent. This strategy worked extremely well for me on decent days. But on the days I really felt bad, it was putting too much pressure on my weak body. Going for big complications wasn’t the smartest choice on such days.
My key mantra on such days was “play in rapid mode.” It meant that I was aiming to play logical moves rather quickly. The goal wasn’t to find the most sophisticated lines but to keep the quality of each move on a decent level.
Additionally, a relatively quick draw became a slight possibility for me on such days. I knew rationally that it might be the right choice to play it safe, get a draw, go home and recharge. Still, in practice, I nearly never got myself to do it.
Just a few months after the brain injury, I got myself to make a move repetition against a strong GM with White and felt extremely bad afterward.
Both physically because I was unable to sit straight on a chair without the feeling of falling over and mentally because I still felt bad about repeating moves on move 15.
Especially as chess will be a hobby for most of you guys it simply isn’t worth it to jeopardize your health for a game of chess.
Determine how bad the day really is and if playing a game of chess would make things worse or not. Depending on the answer, just play more cautiously, make an early draw, or forfeit the game and visit a doctor!
During The Game
If you find yourself playing a game and not feeling great, there are some small adjustments you can make to increase the quality of your moves.
The key is to understand that you are playing below your normal strength and to accept that. You want to make the best out of the situation without expecting huge results.
That means maybe not pushing as hard as you would on a normal day or opting for the same line instead of going for huge complications. But it also means that you really need all the energy you have left to be spent thinking about your moves.
Depending on your energy, playing this game until the end might not have any additional learning benefit. In such cases, try to swallow your ego (which was hard for me) and accept draws against lower-rated opponents. This approach might save you a lot of pain and rating over time, especially when you play a tournament and have a round to play the next day.
Playing Better When Feeling Sick
Feeling a little unwell doesn’t always have to be bad, though. Sometimes I performed better than usual when I was sick with the flu. This made no sense until I realized I spent 100% of my energy thinking about chess if I was sick.
On other days, I would walk around, talk to friends, watch other games, and think about dinner or a pretty girl. In other words: I wasted energy on many other things than thinking about my next move.
When feeling sick, on the other hand, I somehow understood that this wasn’t possible. So I either tried to relax or think about the next moves. Using the full potential of my 80% capabilities on such days was more efficient than wasting 50% of my energy when feeling fully healthy.
So, even feeling bad might not always be a disadvantage! Use it as a motivation to really think about the upcoming moves and take frequent breaks.
How To Use “Rapid Game Mode”
As mentioned above, the “rapid game mode” helped me make simple, logical decisions on such days. Especially when your head feels cloudy or slow, calculating long, difficult lines isn’t ideal. Usually, I’m a big fan of going for difficult lines, even if you can’t calculate them until the end. It is the only way to improve your skills in a tournament setting.
But when you are feeling bad, the only thing you might learn is that you were feeling bad and thus missed a simple trick. Not a very fun way to spend your sick afternoon!
So, opt for a logical game approach that does not need as much concrete calculation. And don’t spend your energy on decisions that won’t decide the game’s outcome. Without full energy, you don’t have the luxury of deciding which Rook you should put on the open line or if a subtlety will slightly improve your position.
Go with what seems logical and don’t lose and save up the energy and time for more important decisions. When feeling bad, you might need double or triple the time to really calculate the game-deciding line. It would be a shame if you didn’t have that time and energy anymore because you wasted it on other things or less important chess decisions.
5 Steps To Better Results When Feeling Bad
Improving your results on bad days will allow you to keep your rating floor higher than people that automatically give away points on bad days. Here is a step-by-step guide to what you should do:
- Avoid lengthy preparation on days you feel bad. Give your body time to relax and heal. For this day, all the energy left should be spent during the game.
- Change your mindset and expectations. On particularly bad days, allow yourself to offer quick draws or try a move repetition. Be careful not to use that as an easy excuse, though. I did that only when I couldn’t sit straight on my chair!
- Use all your energy for your chess decisions during the game. Avoid checking games of friends, saying hi to people, or thinking about anything other than chess. You need the remaining energy badly!
- Play “Rapid Game Mode,” even in classical chess. That means playing logical moves without trying to be too sophisticated. Develop your pieces, avoid big threats from your opponents, and slowly improve your position.
- Safe up time & energy for critical moments. Small details even count less on bad days as you are more likely to make big mistakes on such a day. Don’t obsess about subtleties and play logical moves quickly.
When you feel the game is arriving at a game-deciding moment, take your time and try to calculate the lines as well as you can. If the game might be over after a certain move (if you calculate it correctly!), feel free even to take 30-40 minutes with a not-so-well-working brain.
Once you get the best result out of such a game, make sure to give priority to your health again. Kindly decline the invitation for game analysis. Feel free to skip your game-analysis process this day and give your body time to return to 100%.
Be proud that you made the best of the situation, and you will be back healthier and stronger soon! Needless to say, I hope you will never need the advice outlined in this article. But if you do, let me know how it went.