Being able to concentrate at the board is easier said than done, yet it is vital if you are going to play your best chess. Among the issues that could impact on your concentration are tiredness, fitness level, health, distractions and worries at home/work, etc.
Health and fitness are easily taken for granted, until you reach middle age and realise they are not a given. To be fit, well and rested for a tournament or match you have to train not just your chess brain, but also take care of yourself. It is notable that professional chess players spend a large amount of time preparing for matches just focusing on fitness. Great stamina is required to play at a high level for hours. Concentration is something that can be improved by increasing your fitness level and maintaining good health.
Getting a good night’s sleep before playing chess is an obvious one, but not always easy to achieve when you’ve got a family. Try to get an early night and avoid too much alcohol or caffeine.
On the day itself, get some fresh air before the game with a walk or some form of exercise. This is likely to help to get your body and mind energised for the game. Last minute opening preparation will most likely be a waste of time.
Some players find it useful to turn up 15 minutes early to games to get into ‘the zone’ before the game starts. Apparently Botvinnik did this. If you only get into ‘the zone’ 15 minutes after the game has started the whole game could be decided by then. Being calm will most likely put you in a better position to cope with whatever is about to occur at the board or around it.
When you do finally get started – after you’ve done your fitness program, healthy lifestyle regime, got a good night’s sleep, had a walk in the morning and turned up early – there can be really irritating distractions. Like talking in the background by inconsiderate folk, eating at the board (especially crisps and wrapped sweets), slurping tea/coffee, table shaking, etc. These things are often more distracting than someone’s mobile going off, but no one gets defaulted for them. Your opponent is not supposed to distract you, but rather than having a dispute that requires arbiter intervention, it might be better to remain resolutely focused on the position and not let yourself be distracted by it all. Maintain a Zen-like calm, and don’t let those pesky distractions get to you!
Spend as much time at the board as possible, concentrating as hard as you possibly can. You might find it helpful to get up regularly to take a little walk around, but try and limit these leg stretches in terms of time so that you’re not tempted to take your mind off the position. There is nothing worse than returning to the board and thinking, ‘what was I planning to do next?!’ and spending 15 minutes to re-acquaint yourself with the position.
Staying hydrated by drinking water before and during games is wise, particularly if the venue temperature is warm. This may mean you need to visit the bathroom once or twice, but better that than being dehydrated, which is proven to negatively impact body and mind performance. If you need to eat during the game, apparently bananas are good for slow release of carbohydrates, so that you don’t have any high or low blood sugars.