Tournament Tactics: Start
By “start of a tournament” we usually mean the first 2 or 3 rounds. They define the tactics for the whole event. However, unlike the finish, the first few rounds are less important. In a perfect world the best approach would be to win all the 2-3 rounds, but life is more difficult. Let’s talk a bit about what tournament tactics one can use to achieve good results.
First of all, it depends on the tie-break scores and tournament format.
1) Open tournaments
In open events the most popular tie-break score is Buchholz (or its variations). In this case it doesn’t make sense to go all out during the first few rounds. Nonetheless, you might want to take a risk in one of the first three games since, even if you lose, there will be time to catch up. Of course, it doesn’t mean that you should play casually (stay focused on winning), but, when making your decisions, remember that most of the tournament lies ahead. There are numerous examples when people started with, for example, 5/5 and didn’t win, or were dragging behind until a certain point, but then emerged victorious. For instance, Tatiana Kosintseva performed poorly in the first few rounds of the Women’s European Championship-2009 (or Russian Superfinal-2010), but became the European Champion (tied for first and got bronze). A case from my personal experience: in 2005 I was playing in the Russian U-20 Championship and got only 1 point out of 3. Then I pulled myself together and scored 7.5/8, finishing 1st. These examples prove that one should never give up.
A different situation takes place when the main tie-break score is progress: in the case of a tie, results of the first round are compared (the higher the result, the better, i.e. a win scores better than a draw). If they are equal, then results of the second round are compared, etc. The start becomes extremely important, and it makes sense to concentrate on performing well in the initial rounds. If you fail to do that, you will have to score better than your opponents in order to clinch the top place.
2) Round robins
In round robins everyone gets to play more or less the same opposition, so the start factor is less important. No matter what the result, you will still be playing the same person the next day, according to the schedule. One of the main tasks for the start of the tournament is to evaluate your chess shape, feel the energy of the chess pieces and pull into the tournament. I myself prefer to play long and relatively riskless games in the first few rounds. This is a good preparation for the main part. Also, after a few rounds it becomes evident who the “victims” (i.e. players who are performing well below their usual strength) of this tournament are, and one may dedicate more efforts to beating them.
Today I will share with you my annotations of the 1st round game vs IM Olga Girya at the Russian Superfinal. I didn’t perform well enough in the tournaments before the Superfinal, so it was important to find out what my chess shape was. In the game I obtained a long-lasting advantage. The result was only a draw, but it was still a good warm-up game for me.
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