How to come back from the chess vacation?

As you can see from the title, today’s topic of our discussion is a bit unusual. First of all, what do I mean by coming back from a chess vacation? It means, you haven’t played chess for some significant amount of time but decided to change your life and come back. Sometimes people have to take a break from playing/improving their chess.

There is an infinite number of reasons why that may happen: exotic vocation, job schedule, school work, travels arrangements, winning a million dollars lottery (some people would play more in this case) may interfere with chess. After we’re done with all these “important” things we may feel that it is a good time to start playing our favorite sport again. How to do it again?

Depending on how long was the “chess vacation” you will experience the decrease in performance when you start playing. Chess is the same as any other sport: longer the break, lower the performance. Best advice, of course, is not to take a vocation from chess, but if it had happened:

What do we do about getting back into a chess shape?

If you haven’t played a single game for five years and tomorrow is when the World Open starts, you’re in trouble and probably don’t have sufficient amount of time to get your mind to work well in chess direction. In most other cases when you have some reasonable amount of time it is possible to do something to get you back in chess playing state. If you are planning to get into an “okay” chess shape and compete in the tournament in near future after your chess vacation, you may want to read the steps below.

  • The first step, of course, is to do what you haven’t been doing for a while: playing chess! Just start playing random game with an average strength opponent, preferably with one that you would comfortably beat in the old days. You may want to use the ELO table to estimate your opponent’s strength vs. your chance of winning. However, since your chess strength is most likely lower than before, you may need to take it into account to avoid nasty surprises (something like” I was rated 2000 three years ago but 1400 player beats me now”:)
  • After you have played a sufficient amount of games against a weaker competition you can estimate your current chess shape. Then you may want to play against the stronger opponents to actually get beaten a few times. When you mind gets a losing punch it would usually get back into the desirable shape quicker. Don’t overwork that; you still need some confidence in your chess abilities for the next steps and actual tournament.
  • Solve tactical problems from chess books, magazines and internet. You may start by solving Shredder Chess Puzzle and continue on chess tactics server. The chess tactics problems will make your chess vision to improve and will make your tactical abilities sharper – a crucial component for success at chess competition on any level. This is very important step you should dedicate at least 50% of your chess time to it.
  • Next step is to review some openings. You should find your favorite chess book on the opening you play and read through the basic ideas such as main plan, basic strategy, positioning of pieces and key variations. Don’t forget that you also need to play black sometimes, and review openings for this color as well.
  • On this stage you should analyze your own games played during step 1 and compare them with games you played before the chess vacation. You should look for changes in style, mistakes and not-very-good decisions during the games. You main objective is to find your weakest stage of the game (opening, middle game, endgame) and be able to improve it before the tournament.

You may want to review the following articles; they will build up your confidence and give some advantage over your competition:

Chess Nutrition

Chess Psychology

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Updated 04.07.2023


Hi Nigel Hanrahan, glad it was helpful!
Nigel Hanrahan:
Good, sensible advice! Tactics, openings and review of your own games with a view to finding the weakest link.