Shaking off the Rust: A 5 Step Plan

The new chess season is upon us. League chess where I live is generally played between October and April. Many adult players don’t seek out tournaments in the summer months and are probably thankful for a bit of a break. Juniors on the other hand tend to take advantage of the time and opportunities that the summer holidays offer. Sometimes juniors play more games over the summer than at any other time of year, and this more intensive practising can see them improve quite a lot in a relatively short time.

Chess clubs are often closed during the summer holidays so unless players are proactive about playing during this time, they can be out of practise. Come October juniors can be playing at a level above their previous published grade – while adults are often trying to remember what to do with the pieces! This makes a recipe for some ‘upsets’ in grading terms although when you consider the background context of what some juniors have done over the summer, it is hardly surprising.

It is a bit embarrassing showing up at the board at a match in October and completely forgetting what you’re supposed to do having not played since April. It’s even scarier if you’re sitting opposite someone who is primed to sweep you off the board, their skills honed after many hours of competitive play during the summer. If you’ve not played during the summer what can you do to warm up?

My suggestions are:

1) Analyse your games from the previous season. Have a go at annotating your own games – and look for improvements not just in the losses and draws, but also in the wins. A bit of openings analysis should reveal which ones are performing well, and only need light maintenance, and which ones need a more extensive service and even an overhaul! It can often be useful looking at games databases to see what other players do in the middlegame in the openings you play. This kind of work is very beneficial I would suggest.

2) Play online. Ideal for those you’ve forgotten what they are doing, and ideally do this anonymously so no one you know can see how badly you are playing. Getting some casual games at your chess club before the league season starts might also be a good idea if you don’t mind your club-mates seeing how (bad) your form is.

3) Tactics training – sharpen your tactical vision by working through tactics puzzles every day – sign up for Chessity or Chess Tactics Server, I would suggest. The latter takes account of time taken to solve the puzzles, so good if you want to work on your thinking speed and cultivating intuitive play, but the risk is this encourages guessing without much calculation. If your aim is to improve your slowplay skills, where the position on the board is much more important than the clock, Chessity may be a better bet – it’s all about accuracy.

4) Learn a new opening – I’ve blogged about this before – it’s a very good idea if you want to avoid getting stale and broadens your knowledge about chess in general and experience of playing different positions and pawn structures. People say that you should ‘play to your strengths’, which might well include openings that you have a good knowledge of, but in truth if you’re going to really improve, working on your weaknesses is key for your development. That means going outside of your comfort-zone and trying something new.

5) Get inspired – reading chess magazines, online chess news, and chess columns in papers is informative and entertaining, but are they a waste of time when it comes to improving your play? Well there are often nuggets of use, such as annotated games that are relevant to your opening repertoire or understanding middle game plans, interesting player interviews, articles about improving and puzzles to solve. Most importantly of all, reading about other player’s exploits and playing through some spectacular published games can inspire you to get out there and play some great chess! You may also get some ideas that you can use in your own games.

Hopefully these steps will help you to prepare for playing some competitive chess. If all else fails just get out there and play! Good luck!

Angus James