When your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.
I don’t know who else does this, but I keep a text document of my mistakes big and small which I review frequently. Every time I go to any gaming event, from casual play with friends to big events like Gen Con, I try to write at least one thing in my text document which I feel was a mistake I made in a game I played or what I did or didn’t do before or after a game. I call this document “Lessons of the Five Rings” and its purpose is to help me prevent making the same mistakes repeatedly. I would like to share one of my entries into this document which has served as the inspiration for this article.
“3/27/2010, Las Vegas Kotei – Arrive at major events well rested. Energy drinks and caffeine help to keep me awake, but they do little to keep me focused and mentally sharp. There is no substitute for rest before an event. I arrived fairly early the previous evening and rather than going to bed I stayed up and went out gambling. The next day I came out strong but faded quickly as fatigue overtook me. Easy decisions were agonizingly difficult to make and difficult decisions were all but impossible to make correctly.”
In many ways, major tournaments are something of an endurance event. All the deck tuning and predictions about the meta game will not mean much when your mind and body are too exhausted to make good decisions in the current game. Fatigue takes its toll on everyone and it is very easy to make mistakes that are very much out of character for you. This is especially true in the later rounds of Swiss and in the elimination rounds after people have been grinding out games for several hours and have the most stress adding to the mental and physical strains. The good news is this mental and physical fatigue is happening to everyone involved in the tournament, so if you are better able to withstand this fatigue than your opponent, it can be turned to an advantage.
The first suggestion should be fairly obvious; get plenty of rest before any big event. It sounds so obvious, but a lot of people will stay up late the night before trying to get in some last minute testing and/or tuning of their deck. Your deck should be ready long before the tournament. Some minor changes here and there are to be expected, but it should not interfere with your rest. Do not try to force yourself to sleep more than your usual amount before an event. If you usually only sleep for four hours a night then make plans to get around four hours of sleep before the event. If you sleep for ten hours, make plans to do so. The point is that your body tends to get used to the sleep patterns you have already established and getting more or less than that amount can and will affect you the next day. Get good sleep. Just closing your eyes in a chair in the corner of a room with a half dozen guys drinking and listening to loud music is not going to cut it. If doing well in the tournament is important to you, find room accommodations with others who have similar goals of resting before the event. This is especially true of events where the elimination rounds are the day after the Swiss rounds. I have seen people go out to celebrate making the cut only to get eliminated in the first round because they spent more time celebrating than resting.
How you start your day is just as important as how you ended the previous day. Do not hit the snooze button on your alarm (you did set an alarm didn’t you?) until you have 10 minutes to hurry out the door and barely make the tournament start time. Give yourself plenty of time in the morning to start your day out in a manner which will give you the best chance of playing well throughout the day. Start with a shower. Never mind that it is in the floor rules and it is the considerate thing to do for the sake of the people sharing your room or car ride, the morning shower will help your body wake up and usually eases body aches which most people get from sleeping on the floor or in a strange bed at a hotel or on a friend’s couch. Dress in something comfortable. If you are worried about looking cool, you are probably off to the wrong start by going to a CCG tournament. If you are distracted by the discomfort of a new pair of shoes or the collar of a shirt being too tight, it will affect your game. Eat breakfast! They say breakfast is the most important meal, I say it is even more important when you know you will be putting an unusual amount of mental and physical strain on your body. Avoid foods which will negatively affect your body in any way. Greasy biscuits and gravy or a half dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts may be delicious, but they will not do much to help your body hold up to the rigors of several hours of tournament play. Try to get some healthy foods like fruit, cereal, yogurt, or toast in your system.
Pack light. Hauling around everything you own not only gets you physically tired, it is also mentally tiring to keep an eye on so much stuff throughout the course of the tournament. Have a small bag with a few items in it and leave everything else in the car, hotel room, or at home. Bring your tournament deck, maybe a casual play deck for some fun games, any game accessories you might need such as dice tokens honor counters or play mats, some trade stock if you are looking for cards, a notebook with a couple of pens, some bottled water and some assorted snacks to keep your energy level up throughout the day. That should cover every need you may have during the course of a tournament. Anything else you may decide to bring is likely to become a burden to yourself, the people around you, or the tournament staff. The fewer items you bring with you to an event, the less likely it is you will forget anything or have anything go missing. Theft is thankfully uncommon among L5R players, but it does exist and it is important to keep this in mind.
Snack throughout the day. This is an important point I think not enough people will account for during their tournament. As you place more demand on your mind and body, as occurs in a tournament environment, the body will in turn need additional nourishment. Water is the most important as some of the well known and well documented effects of dehydration include mental fatigue, confusion, irritability, and increased susceptibility to stress. All of these things occur already through the day just by participating in a tournament, doing so while dehydrated will only amplify these effects. Your body will also need additional refueling through snack foods. Again, things like candy bars, chips, or other unhealthy snacks should be avoided. Granola bars, jerky, trail mix, and other similar foods will help your body maintain its energy levels throughout the day. It is probably a good idea to not wait until you are hungry or thirsty before eating or drinking. Most experts say that by the time you are noticeably thirsty, you are already past the initial stages of dehydration, and the same is true for hunger. Taking time to eat a small snack and drink some water every round or every other round should be sufficient to meet the needs of your body.
Following these suggestions should help to mitigate the mental and physical exhaustion that all players experience in a tournament setting. Many games are won or lost due to one bad decision. Keeping your mind and body in the best condition to make the best decisions is something that I highly recommend to anyone hoping to do well in any major event.