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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Online vs. OTB Concentration

Last night I got to thinking about one of the main differences between online and OTB chess: concentration level.

When you are sitting across from another man (or woman, as the case may be), and there is a real chess board with real pieces and a real clock to worry about, our mind is much, much more into the game than when we are staring at a screen with a chessboard on it.

For one, the distractions at home can be severe: instant messaging, email, the phone, a TV, the doorbell, pets, kids, parents, etcetera. Combine them all and you end up with what – 20% concentration on the game at hand? That doesn’t ever make for good chess.

There may still be small distractions in a club or tournament setting, but not nearly to the level there are at home, on the computer. Also, losing to a player who is looking at you is much different than losing to a series of numbers and letters on a PC screen. Face-to-face chess is far more like a battle than is Internet chess, in my opinion.

If you are really wanting to improve your chess game but don’t, for whatever reason, have regular access to real live players, I give the following tips to practice during your Internet games:

1. Play long games.

I can’t stress this one enough. Fifteen minutes is not competition chess; it’s glorified blitz. 20/20, 30/30, 45/45 or even 60/0 are all good time controls if you really want to sink into a position you won’t necessarily lose if the phone rings.

2. Set aside good times to play.

Try and schedule or seek games when you have a good couple hours to play, and fill that time up with quality chess. If, for example, you have two hours to devote to chess, you’ll get much more out of playing a single 60/0 game than four 15/0 games. You likely wouldn’t hurry a big exam which required a great deal of thought and accuracy, so don’t hurry your chess games.

3. Study them afterward.

Once you complete a game, whether you won or lost, go over it again by yourself. Make sure you know where critical mistakes were made, which side made them, and how the win was executed. Go over it with your own mind before implementing an engine because they can make for lazy studying.

4. Minimize distractions.

Turn off the IM windows, close the Facebook tab, ignore emails as much as is reasonable, and keep the game on your screen. A single switch to another window breaks *all* concentration we had on the game. It’s a shame to lose a great battle because you switched back to the game and blundered. Ask me how I know that.  *giggle*

If you are a blitz or bullet player who simply enjoys speed chess, of course, that’s fine. More power to you! But if you are wondering why your rating hasn’t increased in the last year, and you are not taking your online games as seriously as you could, you are doing yourself a great disservice. Get into those games!

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