Aug 192011
Kasparov never had a problem with expressing his feelings
at the board

“He has an extreme capacity for work, extreme determination to win and extreme perfectionism.” Magnus Carlson on Garry Kasparov

I’ve been reflecting further on my recent experience at the British Championships and in particular thinking about the attributes required to be successful as a chess player. By ‘successful’ I don’t just mean winning the odd game in the league but winning tournaments and league titles on a regular basis.

In Sheffield I experienced first hand the levels of determination and fighting spirit that were required to carry me as far as the top board of my section in the final round. I had to play some of the best chess of my life to do it. I also needed to capitalise on the odd bit of good fortune and some bad mistakes from opponents at crucial moments. But, I’d say more than anything else, I found it essential to consciously collect together my reserves of will power and determination before every game in a way that I wouldn’t normally do before a league match. This was the first occasion on which I had asked myself to play two games a day for 5 days and I found that maintaining the necessary level of intensity was the most challenging and exhausting aspect of the whole experience. It made me realise what it must take for the professionals to compete successfully at the highest levels.

Last week I was interested to hear the thoughts of Michaels Adams who won the Championship after a play off with Nigel Short. He was pretty open about saying that had didn’t think he’d had a particularly good tournament.

“…the whole tournament was just really hard work actually. I mean, nothing went smoothly really… I thought Nigel was playing much better actually in general. It seemed to me Nigel was winning games quite smoothly a lot of the time.”

I’ve edited this quote from an interview Adams gave to “The Full English Breakfast” podcast (well worth subscribing to by the way) shortly after his victory. Adams clearly felt like he’d had to work very hard for his victory and also mentioned that he’d had to save a few desperate situations, particularly against his closest rivals, Short, David Howell and Gawain Jones. Despite this he still emerged the winner and that was in no small part due to his resilience and strength of character. Adams may have thought Short had played a better tournament but it wasn’t enough to take the title off him.

Of course Garry Kasparov was the arch competitor and made his will and determination physically manifest during play. Having seen video footage of Kasparov in action it is fascinating to see how expressive and energised he was at the board. It’s as if he simply couldn’t restrain his strength of character from seeping out. I’m pretty sure that will to win gave him an extra 10% against even the most talented opponents and may even have seen him through the tightest situations against Karpov, who was himself an iron-willed competitor.

So, maybe there is a lesson for me in all this. I need to try and find a way of bringing the intensity I found at the British Championships to my play in the coming league season. If I can succeed in doing this consistently then I think I can be confident that I will play to the best of my abilities and that my results will improve further in 2011-12. Now I just need the discipline to apply what I’ve learned game after game. That’s always the hard part!

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