Have you ever been nervous about an upcoming tournament or big game? What did you do to prepare? Did you over-prepare? Maybe you didn’t feel prepared enough. I think it can be likened to a college student cramming before exam day. Just about every professor in the world will tell you not to do that, and yet it is the preferred study style for so many. Don’t do it. It will hurt you.
If you entered the tournament or agreed to the competitive game, it’s because you felt you were at a place in chess where you had a chance. Don’t freak out as the time nears. Don’t change your study habits, and for goodness sake don’t study more. In fact, many top players simply do nothing before a tournament. They go fishing, they go to the races, they relax with a loved one on the couch for a good movie. Anything but chess. In my opinion, starting the game or tournament with a fresh outlook is best.
Of course, we all have different ways of learning and preparing. Maybe watching four hours of video lectures and going over a thousand GM games the night before a tournament helps you. It doesn’t help me, though, and I’d be willing to bet many (if not most) of you out there are the same. Over-preparing is just as bad as not preparing at all.
What a strong player does before a tournament may differ significantly from what a weak or beginning player might do. I would advise to find an Expert or above chess player and ask what his or her study habits are, especially before a tournament. I’ll bet it’s far less than what you think. Sure, they read books, do tactical problems and watch GM games and lectures the same as you do, but they may not be quite as “freaked out” as you are when it comes to the big game or tournament.
For a couple days before a big tournament, just relax a little. Go for a drive, take in the sights, breathe in the fresh air. Your brain knows a tournament is coming, and it won’t let you down. Similar to what happens when we dream, our subconscious takes over and it is working for us, trust me. You won’t believe how fresh and ready for chess you are after a three or four day hiatus. As I said, it may not work for you but it sure does work for me. Good luck in your games!