Two Winning Habits at US Championship

I recently competed in the U.S. Championship from May 3-12. It was held at the St. Louis Chess Club which as usual provided excellent conditions. Congrats to Gata Kamsky for winning; Alejandro Ramirez for tying for 1st in the classical games; Kayden Troff and John Bryant for earning norms; and Irina Krush for winning the concurrent Women's Championship. As for me, it was my first U.S. Championship and my best tournament result thus far. I scored 5.5/9 with a performance of about 2670 FIDE, and finished in 5th place. I will share two strategies that helped me to achieve a good performance, with the standard disclaimer that they may not work for others, or be good ideas at all.


1. Pessimism

I am a big believer in the power of negative thinking. 

Consider my results at three training tournaments for the University of Texas at Dallas team:

In both the fall and spring UTD invitationals of the 2011-12 year, I went into the tournament excited and thinking about getting a good result. Then I lost in rounds one and two, and felt awful. I wished that I didn't have to play for the rest tournament and was convinced that it was no longer possible for me to get any kind of decent result. Then in both tournaments, I proceeded to get a GM norm by doing well in the next 7 rounds (even though the performance rating for the norm is measured over all 9 rounds). Also in the UTD Spring Open this year, after an OK start, I lost twice in rounds 5 and 6. Then I won 3 times to finish tied for 3rd. 


So looking at these tournaments, the obvious question is, why not skip the double-loss and just start out with the negative attitude at the beginning?

Therefore, I tried to vigilantly avoid thinking optimistic thoughts about my chess during the tournament. Often during a game I would catch myself thinking something like "Wow, I'm totally winning now..." but then I would correct myself by following up with "... but I'm going to totally ---- it up and get a lost position with my next move!" Even away from the board, I tried to keep in mind that I was going to lose the next day. I think that the practice of always telling myself that I am going to make a mistake is helpful to avoid making blunders. It is too easy, especially in a comfortable position, to become relaxed and allow the game to slip away. In the future I will definitely try continuing this attitude, with the possible exception of team tournaments, where it is probably not a good idea to tell my teammates we are going to lose.

In the last round, I lost because I let down my guard and stopped thinking pessimistically. We reached an obviously drawn endgame right after the time control. We both avoided forcing the game to its logical result, instead keeping pieces on and hoping for a mistake by the opponent. On move 64, I decided that I just wanted to make a draw since the position could only be dangerous for Black at that point. At move 76, I thought something like "This guy is really delusional!" since he still did not want to admit a draw in the following position: 

It was a mistake to become confident of the draw, no longer telling myself I am going to lose. I should have continued to be vigilant, and maintained a perpetual check, or with a modicum of calculation, spotted an opportunity to exchange queens and eliminate his last pawn. Instead I moved aimlessly and handed my opponent a gift.














2. Chocolate

My other most important strategy was to eat large quantities of chocolate. My chocolate consumption included oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, dark chocolate malt balls, chocolate-covered almonds, chocolate torte, double chocolate truffles, and peanut butter chocolate truffles. I also brought Oats and Dark Chocolate granola bars, which I often eat in a hurry before a morning round, but I did not eat any during this one-round-per-day tournament.

Chocolate was not only intrinsically powerful due to its chocolatiness; it also helped me by avoiding the need to go out and eat dinner. Each evening I needed both to prepare for the next round and to work on my three take-home finals. By subsisting on chocolate rather than going to the trouble of getting a "real" meal, I freed up additional time for accomplishing my tasks. 

I could say more about chocolate, but it is unnecessary since you can taste it for yourself. Good luck to readers in finding your own winning strategies!


  • vor 3 Jahre


    Thought you were kidding with the chocolate point. Either way, that's hysterical. Best of luck with your future chess. 

  • vor 3 Jahre


    Although the chocolate story was funny, I don't think eating only chocolate its the optimum way to prepare for a competition. It's actually pretty bad. Any competitor will confirm it. Eating too much chocolate can make you feel bloated or wanting to puke. What stops you from eating a quick healthy meal, such as a ham/cheese omelette or a chicken salad? It takes only 15min... You can still have chocolate for desert if you want to but eating only chocolate will not do you good. (I'm not even going to talk about you skin or cholesterol).

    I really liked the part about pessimism Laughing. Good luck with your chess

  • vor 3 Jahre


    You found a way to not loose concentration using pessimistic thoughts. I believe too they can maintain the cold blood avoiding the relaxation and so on. But can't we continue to be vigilant on winning positions besides being pessimistic? Isn't that taking away too much pleasure?

  • vor 3 Jahre

    IM DanielRensch

    Conrad, your blog has become one of MY favorite reads on! I look forward to it every month! Seriously, this was enjoyable in EVERY WAY! Please keep it up!!! Laughing


  • vor 3 Jahre


    I would say you were thinking outside the box.

    UNLESS, you were eating smarties, which have chocolate and are in a box.

  • vor 3 Jahre

    IM Kacparov

    I both am a pessimist and I eat tons of chocolate. Whether that helps, I'm not that sure :)

  • vor 3 Jahre


    Conrad, too bad you are not playing Caruana in the blitz/bullet matches coming up!

  • vor 3 Jahre



    "Chess is like a box of chocolates. You don't know what you're gonna get."

    -What my Fritz 12 says.

    And the pessimism might work because generally when your losing, you play stronger.

  • vor 3 Jahre


    Chess is like a box of Chocolate!  =)

  • vor 3 Jahre


    This may be the greatest blog post ever written.  Inspired, I plan on experiencing chocolatiness for myself in the near future.  Congrats on a good tournament!

  • vor 3 Jahre


    I reviewed one of your live games this evening against the FM in Hong Kong.  You mentioned attitudinal focus.  Conscious thought influences subconscious programming which affects future perceptual focus and decision making.  It requires heavy discipline to have self control, and with this correct decision making occurs.  

    Chocolate has an amphetamine like precursor without the negative effects.  Have you heard of tea?  There are many types.  Albert Einstein supposedly liked Yerba Mate.  Guayusa is another good one.  And in Texas, Yaupon Holly can grow in your yard, cut a few leaves, and bingo, instant tea leaves.  Try out the different types if you are inclined, they all have slightly different effects on the dopamine system due to their types of processing.

    You are quite the hammer in chess.  What is your opinion on Go, Wei-Chi, the oldest unchanged game on earth?  I would like to see you go against a 2 dan player in Go on a 19 x 19 board.  I bet you would do very well and the tactics would be interesting.

  • vor 3 Jahre


    chocolate is an important point!

  • vor 3 Jahre

    FM MichiganEagle

    I laughed while reading the entire article. Great tournament, Conrad!

  • vor 3 Jahre


    Congratulations on a great performance in what will be the first of many US Championship appearances for you!  I think you played some of the most enterprising and interesting games there.

    Continued good luck and success in your future endeavors, on and off the board.


  • vor 3 Jahre


    Congratulations for a very good performance and for some very spectacular games!
    This is from the official website of the Champships:
    Who has had the most exciting wins in the 2013 U.S. Championship?
    GM Gata Kamski 21%
    GM Alexander Onischuk 4%
    GM Alejandro Ramirez 22%
    GM Conrad Holt 47%
    GM Ray Robson 5%
  • vor 3 Jahre

    NM Petrosianic

    Always dangerous to think about results during the game.  The commentators thought after Kh6 at some point maybe you could even think about playing for a win, or would that be optimistic thinking? :-)

    re: dark chocolate:

    some people find dark chocolate bitter although i personally love it.  i have found via holiday experiences that too much milk chocolate (which i don't eat anymore) can make you sick.

  • vor 3 Jahre


    i use chocolate in tournaments too![but not as a food substitute]

  • vor 3 Jahre


    Congratulations Conrad on an amazing tournament!  I especially like the way that you led the charge of the younger players in an inspiring way.  You conveyed the message. "these guys are beatable" and then you just plowed your way forward!  Or at least appeared to do so on the outside. More chocolate, Please!  Especially for the younger players - they were fun to watch!!!

  • vor 3 Jahre


    Pessimism is an important point.

  • vor 3 Jahre


    Chocolate is one very good brain food but remember to eat dark chocolate not the one with lots of sugar. For example sugar (sucrose) excites me too much and can make me lose concentration.

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