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To give a picture of my level: I started playing chess fairly recently (8 months ago). I knew the rules before, but haven't played since childhood. I developed a huge passion for it and studied very, very hard and with a lot of commitment. I have 2080 Lichess elo on Classical time formats, which is decent but still not fantastic.

In my college, I was invited this year to represent my faculty on the University Chess Olympiads, and I became part of a team of very experienced players, all of which play tournaments since a very young age (I'm 21 and I have only played two very casual tournaments!).

This Friday we will face another university on a friendly competition, and this will be my first tournament as a member of my University team. Of course I want to do well, since I want to make a good impression on my team members, prove them that inviting me to the team was not a mistake, but I have too little experience on OTB tournaments.

My first tournament I did well, winning 4 and losing 6 games (I was 1700 Lichess elo then). My second and last tournament I did HORRIBLE, losing 6 out of 6 games (!) and falling fully under the pressure and tension of the tournament. I was 1900 Lichess elo then. My nervousness was such that I lost won positions, or hang pieces, things that I do not do (except rare exceptions) when I play on Lichess. That was the first realization I had that OTB tournaments, with all their pressure, and playing comfortably from my couch, where two completely different worlds.

With all this said in order for you to understand my background and chess experience I ask: how can I prepare for an OTB tournament? I really want to do decently this Friday, and I need to keep my head cool and control my nerves. Advises for this tournament beginner?

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First, from a pure chess standpoint, you are probably as close to prepared as you will be since there is only so much you can learn between now and Friday.

The most important things will be to get a good night's sleep, and the cardinal rule in a team tournament is "don't lose". I know that sounds funny, since it seem obvious, but if you have a four-board team, and you lose, then the remaining three players have to go 2.5/3 to win the match. What that means is that, in practice, you cannot play too wildly since wild play can put the team in a very bad position. Stay solid, and if you can win, great; but be satisfied with a draw if you really do not have anything more.

As far as the nerves are concerned, they are a problem; but you will find that the more you play, the more you will get used to tournament play, and the nerves will subside.

Lastly, at the board during the game except for obvious recaptures, and assuming you have the time, just BRIEFLY consider every reply your opponent has before you make your move. In other words, I am going to play Ng5, but for a second, I just scan every move my opponent can make. I am not analyzing, but subconsciously, if I left something hanging, I often notice it. This will hopefully cut down on the one-, or two-move, blunders

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  • P.S. If you are gaining rating points that quickly, my bet is that they will want you on the team in the long run no matter what happens on Friday. It sounds like you love chess, and study hard, and the results will come. – PhishMaster Mar 4 at 16:07
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    @PhisMaster, as usual your answer is spot on. Thank you very much. I do love chess and I do study very hard (I think I have quite an obsessive personality with the things I love), it's the nerves that get the best of me. It makes me feel better to hear, from an experienced player such as yourself, that the nervs will go away simply with play. Thank you very much! – lafinur Mar 4 at 19:13
  • @lafinur Thank you. I am always glad to help. To be honest, and this was 40 years ago, but when I first started playing tournaments back then, I used to have such terrible nerves, that I threw up before every game! I don't really remember how long that lasted, but I got over it eventually. Later, I gave up chess for 16 years when my daughter was born, and I started playing again back in October 2019, and while I did not throw up anymore, I was having INCREDIBLE nerves again. I played my third tournament this weekend, and they were gone again...thankfully. – PhishMaster Mar 4 at 19:17
  • Oh, it is so great that the nerves are gone again! Not that I feel glad that you threw up before your games, but I does make me feel better to know that others have experencied this kind of stress too! The guys I play with seem so cold and chill at the time to play that I felt quite alone with this feelings haha. Thanks for sharing your experiences, means a lot! – lafinur Mar 4 at 19:23
  • That is why I told you...You are not alone, but it gets better with experience. – PhishMaster Mar 4 at 19:24
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You have stage fright. Experienced actors will tell you that you should have stage fright. Something is missing in you if you don't. They will tell you that this is what gets you excited and lifts you to do your very best.

I suggest that you think for a bit about what is good about being nervous. Don't avoid nerves, make use of them!

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  • That is an interesting and helpful approach to the situation. Thank you! – lafinur Mar 5 at 21:12
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I can only give one piece of advice that I think is too important not to stress: Demanding too much from yourself never ends well!

While it is good to be ambitious and setting goals for oneself, there is always a real danger in letting those goals become demands. It puts you under a huge amount of self-imposed pressure and it will most likely make you panic and blunder rather than help you stay more alert and sharp in your play. When reading your title I just couldn't help but notice that you wrote that you MUST do well rather than WISH to do well; I really don't recommend this mindset, since I've managed to do incredibly poorly with it in the past. The last thing I would note on this topic is that you should treat every game independently, and not let your ambitions for the overall result affect what you want out of the game. Win/draw/loss in the previous games don't matter. Don't bring those results as baggage for the next game you play, it can only serve as a distraction.

Another note on nerves during actual play: do not get over-excited!

If you're playing a game, a calm head is more likely to help you find good moves and avoid blunders than if you're too excited. This means that even if you're totally winning you should take some deep breaths to get your emotions in check so that you don't get too eager and play too quickly; I've had many wins turn sour because of this. Conversely, if you're in a difficult position you're more likely to find a good defense if you're calm instead of in a state of panic. Stay as objective as possible and try to avoid having your evaluation of the position be colored too much by your emotions.

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