Although the game of chess online is quite fun, there is nothing like sitting on the board in front of another person, pressing the clock and moving the pieces. This is especially true when it comes to a tournament setting.
Fear not if you’re just looking to transition from online to offline play and prepare for your first on-board event. We’ve got some helpful tips for managing some of the nerves you’re likely to experience along the way.
Experience the physical sensations.
If you are just playing online chess games, the point of view of sitting in front of a three-dimensional chessboard can easily confuse you. It can make it much harder to spot tactics and calculate continuations if you’re not familiar with them, so it’s a good idea to take some time and play around with a real board before heading into the event. Even just plugging into an online game and making the moves manually on a regular board can help you get familiar with the feeling of staring at physical chess pieces.
Play slower games (and sit on your hands)
If you haven’t yet experienced what it’s like to spend fifteen to twenty minutes on a single move and more than four to five hours on a game of chess, you should practice a bit before embarking on a classical tournament. Most amateur players waste a lot of their allotted time. You have to trust that you can do the math well enough, and it helps to sit there and think about the position. If your opponent is throwing moves, it’s a missed opportunity for him. Don’t be afraid to be a little behind the clock and think things through.
Also, sit on your hand. Perhaps not literally, but this is an idea commonly referred to in chess circles. Don’t make any move the moment it occurs to you. Take a few moments to collect yourself and check for any other possibilities you may have missed while tunneling during your calculations. This is a great way to avoid big mistakes.
learn the rules
There are a lot of little rules and protocols that you need to be familiar with when it comes to playing OTB. Not only can you get yourself in trouble by messing them up, but you’ll also waste a lot of brainpower taking them into account unless you make sure they’re second nature by the time you sit down to the board.
First of all, the tactile movement rule. You must first move with the piece you have touched, so make sure you are one hundred percent sure of your decision before reaching for the piece. To castle, pick up the king first and only use one hand.
Online-only players sometimes also have problems with the physical clock. You have to press it on purpose after every move to make sure the countdown passes your opponent. Not only is it the rule, but you’re also putting yourself in danger by letting the other player think freely while your clock ticks down. You must press the clock with the same hand you move the piece with, multitasking is not allowed!
Once you hit the clock, it’s time to write down your move. Unless you are playing in a blitz event, you are expected to record every move on the score sheet board. Make sure you are familiar with algebraic notation before going to an event. However, if you’ve done a bit of practice with the studios or gone through other players’ games, the formula itself should be familiar to you.
If you’re looking to offer draws, be sure to do so when it’s your turn. Make your move, make the offer, then hit the clock. No need to keep repeating “I offer a draw” (or “pass,” for that matter). Resignation is usually handled with an outstretched hand.
Hear from tournament referees about penalties for illegal moves. Generally, the former is punished with a time loss (or time added to your opponent’s clock) and the latter is an automatic loss. The same goes for your phone, if it makes a sound, you have automatically lost. In some events, you are not even allowed to keep it on your person for the duration of the game.
As a corollary, don’t go to the bathroom when it’s your turn. It might seem counter-intuitive because you’d be wasting your time, but who knows what you’re logging in there?
It’s a stressful thing and everyone’s a pawn
Chess tournaments are not casual affairs, and there is no easy way to jump to another game with the click of a button. This reflects the level of commitment and plays exhibited. Just like you, your opponents will spend the entire day or weekend playing the tournament, and they’ve also been actively practicing to prepare. They will probably also put some money as an entrance fee. This means that you won’t get any of the easy quits or tilt-induced quick wins that you can experience in your online games. Playing chess on the board is like trying to draw blood from a stone.
Don’t expect easy games and never let your guard down: there is always the chance of a comeback when humans play chess, and mental toughness is just as important as chess knowledge, if not more so. ELO is also just a number. Anyone can have good days and bad days, and the worst thing you can do is fire an opponent just because he’s significantly lower rated than you (or give yourself no chance against a higher rated opponent). “Elophilia” is a great thing!
Having a good poker face can also be surprisingly helpful. Amateur players often make it quite clear how much they dislike their position, which is a great indicator of how you should approach the game.
Ultimately, make sure you have fun. Whether it is a one-off or the start of his grand chess tournament, his performance will inevitably fall into an unfamiliar environment. This is perfectly normal and you should not be discouraged by it. As a general rule of thumb, subtract 300 from your Lichess score to get your FIDE score (and it should be roughly equal to your chess.com score). Maybe add a 150-250 “tournament tax” and you’ll have a good idea of what to expect!