A detailed guide to learn how to improve your skills prepared by Natalia Sadowska - Women's World Draughts Champion.
This article is aimed at players who have already reached a certain level in playing draughts but want to press home their advantage and achieve the next level of draughts skills. As in all other sports, success in draughts based on hard work and lots of hours of training, is not a secret. Draughts are a mind sport where you subject your brain to continuous training - and this brain functions a bit like a muscle during physical training. This means that both a footballer who stops training for a month will not be able to go out onto the pitch and run 90 minutes in 100% form, and so the draughts players after a long break will not play the tournament at their best as well. And the problems with calculations will take a toll on every tournament gameplay. Summing up, systematicity in training is the number one rule and the key to future success.
Draughts are nothing but an interwoven strategy and tactics. To understand thoroughly this beautiful, but also very complex sport, you must carefully study the most important draughts reference literature. Here books by such authors as Burzyński, Kac, Getmański, Goedemoed or Watuti are strongly advised. Obviously, these are not the only important names, but these authors’ books opened the way to many professional draughts players. Additionally, several free publications can be found on the official website of the Polish Draughts Federation. Little Polish or Dutch bookshops specialising in draughts are also recommended.
You have already the necessary books, but what’s next? Another important element is to create a good training plan. It must be both varied and complex, i.e. openings, endings, combinations and positional training. Remember that none of these elements can be skipped!
The greatest ally of mind sports is a computer programme whose mathematical and analytical skills significantly exceed those of the human brain capabilities. In the past, draughts-related books were written based on many years of Grandmaster's analyses. Today, this role has been largely overtaken by computer programmes, thanks to which you can be sure that the variant you are studying is error-free (which was not the case with the human-made analyses).
Thanks to draughts programmes, you can create your own theory, your opening moves and variants which will surprise your opponents during the tournament. Each professional draughts player enters the games he played to the programme, and it suggests where to look for one’s chances during the game and what mistakes the player made. Therefore, the computer does a good job for us and shows very interesting variants, which even a group of Grandmasters probably would not be able to find that quickly.
The great advantage of the computer-based draughts “brains” is the database of particular gameplays (dating back to 1877!), in countless numbers. So you can easily trace, i.a.:
Nowadays, the draughts programme is an indispensable element of a professional draughts player’s equipment. Turbo Dambase , Kingsrow and Aurora are among the most well-known and appreciated draughts programmes.
As in any other sport, the coach is a very important character leading the player to success.
He tells how to train, what to train, how to prepare for individual tournaments and how to improve your playing on an ongoing basis. What's more, according to my observations, I can assure that he is the best motivator (even when he says nothing). This is because during the tournament I give my best not only to win the medal, but above all to demonstrate the coach how much work I’d put into the training and to hear from him words of recognition.
Nothing will help you practice, memorise and improve your abilities like active participation in draughts’ tournaments. Interestingly, some players avoid spending hours studying draughts reference, but play a lot of tournaments throughout the year and can boast about good results. Therefore, there is no universal recipe for success - it will be best if you look at yourself and discover what has a good influence on you.
There are numerous draughts tournaments throughout the whole year, you can always look at the tournament calendar in Poland as well as at the international events calendar.
A lot depends here on whether you already belong to any draughts club in Poland. If so, there are definitely some of your colleagues playing at a similar or higher level, so it's good to arrange sparring for several hours. First of all, you will check your form before the tournament, and secondly, you can experiment and practice then the variants you prepared yourself at home. Remember to choose a sparring partner who is not twice as strong as you are, because too many defeats (even the training ones) can have a negative impact and discourage you from playing.
The vast majority of the most important draughts’ events are broadcast live on the Internet. Habitually, analyses of these games are also accompanied by Grandmasters’ comments. This is a great source of free knowledge and a large dose of practical openings or “up-to-date” variants. Commentators, when analysing the given gameplay, usually refer to similar plays in a given style that took place during the last few years.
Tracking live tournaments gives simply inspiration. Lots of young draughts players are honing their openings in a certain direction, justifying whose style of play inspired them and who is their draughts master. Every sportsperson has their idol, have him too!
In the previous part of the article, I pointed at how to improve one’s skills and how to become a good player. You still must remember that, as in any other sport, both physical and mental preparation is very important. So how to prepare well for the tournament, not only in terms of tactics?
Nobody knows you better than you do. Observe yourself during the tournament, pay attention to what helps you achieve your goal and to win, but also pay attention to what may contribute to your failures. Keeping cool and being able to keep your nerves under control until the end of the gameplay is half the battle in our sport - anyway, it's probably the same in every sport. There are draughts’ players in the world who, despite their vast knowledge, are unable to win tournaments and have never managed to win the title of the world champion. There was always an element in their lives which they could not eliminate (or even recognise), and which at key moments effectively made their success impossible. Don't forget that you win the battle in your head first and then on the board. Don't play for a draw and think about how strong your opponent is. Focus your thoughts on yourself, your strengths, and how much effort you have put to find yourself in this place.
Each tournament for a sportsperson is associated with great emotions and to some extent, with stress. Some people are inherently calm and self-controlled, and do not need any external stimuli to get rid of bad or stressful thoughts. Yet, these are exceptions, and practice proves that the vast majority of Grandmasters had to find a way that would help them calm down to achieve full concentration before the gameplay. The methods are varied, as each of us is different - from physical activities (swimming, running, gym and all other sports) through listening to music, reading books, or a conversation and even meditation.
Although draughts are a mind sport and we spend most games in a sitting position, it is wrong to think that you do not need to take care of your physical condition or a healthy lifestyle. The draughts gameplay usually lasts 4-5 hours (in extreme cases even 6-7 hours), and all this time we don’t want our brain and body to show any signs of weakness or fatigue. What distinguishes draughts from some sports is the fact that the player cannot afford a moment to relax, because one weaker move can affect the outcome of the game. All top draughts players are aware of this and that’s why they put so much emphasis on physical activity.
Looking after our bodies, we also need to have a look at what we eat. Proper nutrition is a key element to survive a long draughts’ tournament, so try to follow these basic rules:
Interestingly, the brain is only 2% of our body weight, while it consumes as much as 20% of the energy we deliver to the body! Therefore, make sure that you provide the body with as many nutrients as possible.
Arrange your training according to your possibilities and time. The most important thing in training is systematicity, which means that it is better to train an hour every day than 8 hours once a week. As I have already mentioned, the brain functions a bit like a muscle which should be constantly exercised to keep it in optimal shape.
First of all, don't overdo it. Be demanding, but not too hard on yourself. Training should give pleasure, which you will gladly return to. Try to have a good plan so that every week there are a few hours of each element of the draughts’ game, as aforementioned. Spend Monday with the openings, Tuesday with a positional game, Wednesday with the endings and so on. Besides, try to take 30-60 minutes to focus on a combination game every day, because I am convinced this is the most important element of draughts.
After each tournament, analyse your games and add this practice to your regular training. Remember that you learn best from your mistakes, so try to draw as many conclusions as possible from your gameplays and positive results will come faster than you imagine.return