Before the Olympiad

Playing for my country has always served as a great motivator for me. The Olympiad in Baku will only be my third Olympiad, and although I would have preferred more, at least I know what to expect there.

In view of my recent performances I feel vulnerable. I did some work to prepare, but this is no guarantee that things will not continue down the same road. I found things very difficult this year, even though I think that I have actually improved. Inexplicable things have started to happen, like leaving pieces en prise, something I wasn’t doing even when I was starting to play chess. I found it impossible to beat considerably weaker players and this happens on a constant basis.

When there were no computers I was very good at sensing my opponent’s state and I knew how to play against him. The computer helped me improve my opening preparation and learn so much, but I lost that feeling for the opponent. I have become too academical in my approach, too much “playing against the pieces” and too little “playing against the opponent.” I remember seeing my (much weaker) opponents so motivated when they play against me, it was written on their faces. I expected to win just by “playing against the pieces” but it didn’t work. And after such a long time I don’t know whether I can get my lost feeling back – during the games I am so immersed in the game that I forget about my opponent and this takes a considerable sting out of my approach.

The Olympiad is a very tough tournament. The level of resistance is much higher, no easy games, everybody is very motivated. And I will play stronger players than the open-tournament opposition I failed to beat. I am usually optimistic but this time I am not so sure.

Confidence is the key. And at the moment I don’t have it. How to get it? I don’t know, it’s a fickle thing. I thought my work will give me confidence, but in reality it’s the results that give (or take away) confidence. Good results – big confidence, bad results – no confidence. Unfortunately, now I find myself in the latter category.

Sometimes life helps. A lucky break, a positive event, a good coincidence. But I cannot rely on that, can I?

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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7 Comments
  • Aug 30,2016 at 10:38 am

    Thanks for your kind words! I'll try to do my best, hope it works! 🙂

  • Aug 30,2016 at 3:23 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Aug 30,2016 at 2:27 am

    Always enjoy your blog and will be pulling for you. I'm just a chess patzer, but when I'm in a downward rut, I sometimes remind myself to look thru the pieces instead of at them, to limber up the brain for a more acrobatic effort. Cheers and good luck.

  • Aug 23,2016 at 10:30 am

    Thank you Peter for this wonderful reply.

    You are absolutely right about the learning curve and how it affects results. I still don't know whether that is the case with me, as I haven't played too much since these things started to happen. I guess I'll find out at the Olympiad, as risky as that may be.

    I enjoyed the links you posted, both very useful and I recommend them both to my readers. I particularly liked the first one, https://terrytao.wordpress.com/career-advice/there%E2%80%99s-more-to-mathematics-than-rigour-and-proofs/ where he talks about the stages of development that can easily be applied to chess. Very much to the point!

  • Aug 23,2016 at 5:44 am

    I was listening to a sports commentator talking about international competitions recently. He has been to a lot of international sporting events. He finds how players handle the situation fascinating. He said that, in events like the Olympic Games, everyone is of such a high physical standard that, in one sense, they are all equal. So it is how they handle the situation mentally that makes the difference. He quoted the captain of our national cricket team who said that, at the international level, cricket is 10% physical and 90% mental.

    We lesser players cannot imagine how you would prepare your mind for an international competition such as cricket or chess. We can only spectate and wonder.

    There is one phenomenon I have noticed in both chess and physical sports. When one learns a new skill, one's performance decreases before it moves to a new higher level. I think it is because the mind is preoccupied with cementing the new skill to the extent that old skills are temporarily "forgotten". I have seen this phenomenon so often that I regard it as completely normal.

    I wonder if the reflections of Terence Tao about developing mathematical expertise are useful for top-level chess preparation. See
    https://terrytao.wordpress.com/career-advice/there%E2%80%99s-more-to-mathematics-than-rigour-and-proofs/
    https://terrytao.wordpress.com/2008/08/07/on-time-management/

    I hope you enjoy the Olympiad.

  • Aug 22,2016 at 8:12 pm

    You're right, especially with the last part, but somehow rating seems to have magical effect on people, myself included.

  • Aug 22,2016 at 7:49 pm

    No you cannot. But nobody can. Every game starts at move 1, and from there is a story of its own. You cannot but try your best on every move. Either it works or it doesn't. Practically speaking, I think one should not play with any result in mind nor should one look at the rating of the opponent and take any conclusions from it.

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