There is a golden rule for ensuring good concentration, and that is to limit your focus to simply finding the next move. The problem is that it is easier said than done.
All sorts of unhelpful thoughts visit our minds during a game, from chess related things such as rating, qualification and prize money to a variety of non chess issues. Some of these are impossible to ignore, such as having a house move in the offing. And it is advisable not to play chess when you have such huge concerns as it can result in horrendous losses and a severe blow to one’s self confidence.
Can this sort of focus be cultivated? I believe it can, and largely through the meditative arts such as meditation, yoga and chi kung. And there are also things you can do during a tournament to avoid too much distraction.
First and foremost you should never talk to people during the game, even to exchange a few pleasantries. Talking is the most destructive thing that I know of to a player’s concentration and should be avoided at all costs.
Secondly you should have a clear idea about where you’re staying, how you’ll get to the tournament hall and where you’re going to eat. These things may seem unimportant but they can all use up the attention needed for chess.
Finally it’s important to try and settle any life issues before you go to play. House moves are at the top of my list of distractions, with pending divorce or separation following on closely. Don’t play when your kids are ill because you’ll hang a rook whilst worrying about them.
Earlier this week it looks like even Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Kramnik seemed unable to maintain full focus, though having a single game decide who would play for the World Championship is not an easy thing to ignore. So they were looking at each others games and then trying to adjust their own play depending on how they thought their rival would do. Of course this is going to be horribly distracting.
Club players too can go through this kind of thing, especially during team matches. It may seem like the right thing to do to watch how your team mates are playing, but actually it’s better to ignore the other games. Try it the next time you get to play a match as your team’s chances of winning will be improved when you concentrate on your own game.