An unexamined life is not worth living.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Keeping Focused – On and Off the Chess Board

The issue of focus is an ever constant problem for anyone in the current society, but for chess players addressing it is particularly important. As Garry Kasparov once wrote – being able to concentrate fully on what’s happening on the board during a game and ignore everything else – is perhaps the most important skill for a chess player. That was written more than 25 years ago, and is true today more than ever.

When starting to study chess, I also read that chess, among other things - helps kids to improve their attention span, and I found that to be true at the time, but that was before computers, internet, mobile phones and other distractions came along. Maintaining focus during the game is easier because old habits kick in, and we are not allowed to use computers during tournaments, but during preparation – it is a challenge. If Anatoly Karpov was known to prepare for his Candidate Match games with the TV on, what can the mere mortals do? I’d like to suggest the following strategies for focus and motivation:

  1. set up clear study plans with definable objectives over longer term
  2. create habits that involve at least minimal daily chess study (e.g. solving 3 puzzles a day)
  3. set up routine for regular longer chess sessions when you can dedicate an hour or two of uninterrupted time
  4. get a study buddy or coach involve to keep yourself responsible to someone
  5. turn off internet or blocking distracting websites
  6. spend time away from the computer, with the chess board and books
  7. emulate playing environment while training – using chess clocks when looking for a move, having a board in a quiet room, etc
  8. during the tournament games – be mindful or where your clock time and attention goes – during your turn and your opponent’s
  9. during longer games – have regular breaks to make sure you have blood flowing to the brain and you don’t play a “blackout” type of move that you later can’t explain yourself
  10. arrive for tournament games a bit early, so that you can get into tune before the game starts, and don’t accidentally play a wrong opening move because you are still thinking a traffic jam you were in on the way to the game

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