If you are a professional tournament player, or very active in chess competitions, you are probably jumping from tournament to tournament so frequently that preparing for a given event involves making sure that you register and show up for it in timely fashion, and then just prepare for each game (pure guessing on my part, I actually don’t know for a fact what the pros do). But if you are like me and only play in 2-3 tournaments a year, being rusty and not adjusted to the tournament setting can seriously affect your play. Here are some suggestions for how average adult players (1500-2400 ELO) can get better prepared for those rare but important chess tournaments:
Play some practice games online, with slower time controls. With patience, one can nearly always find an opponent for a 15 minute game on ICC. Even better – a couple of training games in an environment similar to the tournament setting (I would guess though that if you don’t play much in tournaments, training games over the board would be hard to arrange too). In any case – focus on the quality of your play, not the online rating.
Find out who your opponents are going to be, if that’s possible. Even in a Swiss tournament, it is possible to have a cursory idea of who your 10 most dangerous competitors are and whether there is any opening in your repertoire you need to review.
Decide on your opening repertoire for this tournament. Focus on preparing just those openings. Your long term opening repertoire plan may involve adding a new defence against e4, or switching to 1.d4 from 1.e4, and that’s fine, but make a decision well in advance whether they are going to be ready for any given tournament.
Do a bit of study for pure pleasure – look at your favourite games/books, etc, to reignite your interest in the game
Rest from chess for several days before the tournament. Most tournaments now are played with two games per day, and with some possible “before the round” opening preparation, during the competition you will have more than chess to satisfy your daily dose. So don’t overdose it!
Plan the non-chess part of the event well, try to clear up your schedule to reduce possible distractions. As a side note, I used to take a day or two off work right before the tournament to “rest”, but that just made me hope to get review my openings, and do all the tactics and opening and other training in those two days, which was obviously contradicting point 6!
Set up a goal for the tournament. I am not talking about a pure result, expected performance rating, but rather a specific training objective that you can aim for during the games. Examples would be “not getting into time trouble”, “spend more time at the board during opponent’s turn instead of walking” and so on.
Preparing for each tournament should start at the … end of the previous tournament, so when the event is over – make sure to go over your games sooner rather than later. What was the problem in your play, and how are you going to address it?