Preparing for your next chess tournament (2020)

chess tournament US/China Summit 2002
US vs. China Summit, Seattle 2001

Note to the reader: In this post, I will show you how to plan, set up and play in your own personalized chess tournament without leaving the comfort of your home. Not only that, I will play in my own event and share the game results in future posts. Happy Chess!


Introduction: Chess tournaments for new players

Many new players have e-mailed me asking how they should prepare for a chess tournament. Some have asked for strategies on how they can get the benefits of slow chess without the time commitment.

Playing in a chess tournament under classical time controls is the best way to improve your game. The challenge is that most people cannot commit to playing hours of chess in one sitting. So how do you reap the benefits of playing slow chess without committing to playing in an official tournament? Fortunately, I have a hybrid solution that works for me and it may work for you as well.

Classical chess uses slower time controls ranging from 40 moves in 2 hours to a full game in 90 minutes with a 10 second increment added to each move. This is by design as the playing conditions are designed to improve the quality of play by encouraging players to focus and budget their time before making moves.

Tournament settings have rules. Each player has to write down their moves on a score sheet. The entries have to be accurate. If they aren’t, a player can forfeit their game. The importance of writing down moves is to ensure no one has made an illegal move and to resolve any disputes that might be raised during the game.

Playing in tournaments takes some getting used to. Writing down your moves is probably the biggest change. It’s easy to forget to enter your moves, especially during a tense game. Clock management can be a challenge too. You have to remember to hit your clock after each move. You will need to budget your time effectively to avoid losing on time. For casual players, these are new and sometimes difficult protocols to follow. The more your practice, the quicker you will get used to them.

What is the best way to prepare?

Studying tactics, endings and high-quality grandmaster games are all important. But for me, the best way to prepare is to simulate tournament conditions as much as possible. In a previous article, I wrote about the value of playing against the software programs like Chessmaster XI and its various chess “personalities”. It’s the closest thing to a human opponent you can find and its a convenient way to prepare for a tournament without ever leaving your home.

Create and then star in your own chess tournament

For the purposes of this article, I will use Chessmaster XI but you can use any program you feel comfortable with.

First, decide who you will play. After reviewing the personalities, I chose The Turk.

Chessmaster XI - The Turk

He is right around my playing strength but the computer aspect of this will have consequences for me . Computers defend like iron, regardless of what personality you use. The good news is that no human opponent will put up the kind of defense you will get against a computer.

The next step is deciding on the length of the tournament. You should challenge yourself but don’t make it a marathon match. Choosing 5-10 rounds is usually just right for most people but it can be less. The last step is establishing the time controls. Let’s remember that a tournament game can last anywhere from 3-5 hours. That’s too long for the average person to commit to so we need a better solution.

The time controls should be anywhere form 10 to 30 seconds per move. That is quick enough to where you don’t have to sit around waiting for the computer to make its move. The ‘seconds per move’ time control only applies to the computer too. Chessmaster will not penalize you if you take more than the configured time to make a move. However, for its own play, it will stay within that time limit. This allows you to play a few moves at your leisure, walk away and come back to the game later. You can also save the game and continue the match whenever it is convenient for you.

During the match, keep a scoresheet just like you would during a real tournament game. This helps to simulate the atmosphere of a real chess tournament. To choose colors, use the Google flip coin website.

Once you start your first game, play as if you are in a real tournament. That means no takebacks or starting over. After you have finished a game, use your scoresheet to enter the moves into a database program like Chessbase. Be honest about your mistakes. Review your games carefully and make lots of annotations. It’s important to capture what you were thinking during the games as this will serve as a roadmap for future improvement.

After you have finished your mini-tournament, you are ready for the real deal. Sign-up for your next chess tournament!

My Tournament

I wanted to go through this exercise to show my readers how I prepare for a chess tournament. Below is what I will be starting shortly:

Name: Holiday Invitational
Rounds: 10
Time Control: 30 secs/move
Players: Paul (1867 USCF) vs Chessmaster XI Turk (2029)

I chose “heads” and won the toss so I will start game one as white.

Preparing for your next chess tournament (2020)

I will share the results of each of my games in future posts. Wish me luck!

What is your approach to preparing for a chess tournament? Please share your comments below!