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I've seen some of my colleagues (2100-2200 Elo) who after shaking hands just think about 3-4 minutes on the first move, even though they know what they're going to play. When I asked one of them he said he's "building up focus and concentration" so I was wondering if someone could clarify that, and I want to know what you people think if that even makes sense

  • Ah I understand what you meant now, thanks to ETD explaining I deleted my answer and I will answer this tomorrow (it's 11 PM and I have an exam at the faculty :) ) – Chessbrain Apr 15 '15 at 21:09
  • Probably recalling their analysis. If they are incorporating a new opening into their game they would want to make sure they have the lines clearly at the front of their mind. This few minutes might give them a chance go back to an old opening. – ZL1Corvette Apr 16 '15 at 13:30
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Two big reasons:

  1. At higher levels, a lot of preparation may be done for a game, especially if you know in advance whom you'll be playing. You'll want to prepare responses to all of their most common or strongest lines. You might also have novelties or uncommon ideas in certain lines to throw your opponent off-book. There is a lot to remember, and using five to ten minutes at the start of the game, when you're not under any pressure, to recall all your preparations can be very helpful.

  2. Somewhat related, when you sit down for a game, you're often coming from some very different activity: eating, chatting, or kibitzing other games, for instance. You don't want to start playing while you're still distracted or thinking somewhat of other things, so you can take some time--again, while not under pressure--to get into a "chess mindset". This sounds to me like what your colleague was referring to.

I think there's a decent analogy to more typical "physical" sports, here. Before a basketball game, the teams take several minutes in their locker rooms, stretching out, going over the game plan, and "getting in the zone". They need to make sure they're properly warmed up and ready to hit the floor at full speed when the game starts.

The first move of a Chess game can be used in the same way. Just as basketball players need to warm up their muscles, Chess players may benefit from "warming up" their visualizations and calculations, by reviewing lines and tactics and so on.

As with any pregame routine, the exact techniques will vary widely from person to person, but the goals are always the same: get warmed up, get in the zone, and get ready (mentally) for some fierce competition.

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    That's it! "to get into a chess mindset" is the kind of thing I was referring to, I was just wondering if you do anything special to go into it. Like do you just stare at the board and think about it or anything? – Captain_Shepard Apr 17 '15 at 18:25
  • I'm not a strong enough player to have tailored preparations for a match, but I'll do basically the same thing as if I did: go over my plans for the game (do I want to play something fast and aggressive? Slower and closed? Wild and tactical?) and review some common lines. I edited the answer a bit to add some more detail. – Henry Keiter Apr 17 '15 at 19:05
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    I would also stress that chess is an aggressive game. You need to get into a fighting mood, otherwise you just cannot mobilise the energy needed to play on your best level. – BlindKungFuMaster Apr 17 '15 at 19:25
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A good question.

I tried to understand this strategy and use it in my own games.

Today, I don't use it at all. Because I find it completely useless.

Well, I know what I will play, because I have prepared it in advance. I don't need to focus because I know my first moves and I make them on the board and press the clock. Also, I find little interest in the psychological games of pretending to think or similar tricks. Since time is a resource to be cherished, I prefer to save these minutes to a situation when I actually need them.

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It doesn't seem like a great way to concentrate, as you don't really have anything to consider yet. Thinking on the first move when you are out of your book makes more sense to me, especially for people who struggle with time pressure. Famously, Bronstein thought for an hour on his first move once, his explanation being "It is a very difficult position!", but he wasn't the most practical player.

I found that more common reason for thinking on the first move is psychological: strong players sometimes try to guess their opponent's attitude and choose most unpleasant opening. For example, if they feel that their opponent is tired/discouraged, they choose a slow line to make him struggle.

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