One advice I give to junior players is to play the game in front of you, and not worry about your tournament finish. It is advice based on a saying I once heard which goes "The man who aims to win the competition will not, it is the man who aims at the bullseye who will".
Of course having passed this advice to others, I have not applied it myself.
Before the 2011 Oceania Zonal I had a couple of goals. The first was to reach 50% (which I did), and the second was to finish first amongst the Pacific island players (which I did, tying with Manoj Kumar and Sam Goundar from Fiji). I did this in part by reaching 50% with a win in round 7, and then coasting home with 2 draws. However I may have achieved more by trying to win either of those games, but consciously decided not to.
The reasons why I did not are easily explainable, although not justifiable. Part of it
was a reaction to the results from the first Olympiad I played in in 2000. There were a number of games where I thought I was better, from a club/hacker point of view, which I then lost due to better defensive technique than I was used to facing. As a result I adopted a more cautious approach in future Olympiads, deciding that a half point gained was more important than a half point lost. However this resulted in a mind set where an equal position became the end of the game (ie I was happy to offer/accept a draw), rather than the start of the game (ie It was up to my opponent to defend an equal position). The resulting change of style then carried over to my general play, where I found it harder and harder to create winning chances. Of course the fact that I dislike losing more than I enjoy winning is the other significant factor.
There was also the importance of personal pride. Having not played a zonal before I decided that 4.5/9 was an 'acceptable' showing. Of course focusing on the score like this ignores the fact that I should have scored more (based on rating) than I did. But when I look at the results 50% will still be 50%.
Having said all that, I went away from the tournament happy with my result. Partially this was a result of the feeling that I played better than at the 2010 Olympiad (4/11 was my score there). I put a lot more work into my opening prep, and most of it 'worked', in the sense that the deviations from theory were after 12 or 15 moves, rather than 6 or 7. I was able to predict a lot of my opponents opening choices, and prepare accordingly, although I did have a couple of malfunctions (rounds 3&4 weren't so great, and I mixed up a prepared line in round 6). But when it did work I mostly got to the middlegame in one piece, and in a couple of instances held a clear advantage.
The bestt example of this was the game where I got back to 50%. Although it was aided by some interesting opening moves from my opponent, it was the sort of position I had prepared for, and gave me the kind of kingside hack I used to play in my pre-olympiad days. (Note: Most of the fun happens in the first 20 moves, and I am up a rook before move 30, but my opponent had a reputation for fining tricks in the position and I don't begrudge his decision to play on)
Press,Shaun P (2067) - Dolejs,Dan (1892) [B06]
Oceania Zonal Rotorua (7.21), 29.01.2011
1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.Be3 b6 5.Qd2 Nf6 6.Bh6 0-0 7.h4 e5 8.Bxg7 Kxg7 9.0-0-0 exd4 10.Qxd4 Nc6 11.Qd2 Qe7 12.f3 Be6(D)
13.h5 Nxh5 14.g4 Nf6 15.Qh6+ Kh8 16.e5 Nxe5 17.Ne4 Nh5 18.gxh5 Bf5 19.Ng3 f6 20.Nxf5 gxf5 21.Qf4 Qe6 22.Kb1 a5 23.Ne2 a4 24.Qe3 a3 25.Nf4 Qf7 26.Ng6+ Kg8 27.Nxf8 axb2 28.Qb3 Qxb3 29.cxb3 Kxf8 30.Bd3 Nxf3 31.Bxf5 Ng5 32.
Kxb2 Kg7 33.h6+ Kf7 34.Rc1 Ra7 35.Rhg1 Kg8 36.Rce1 Kf8 37.Re3 d5 38.Rd3 c6 39.Rc1 Rc7 40.Rxd5 Nf7 41.Bxh7 Nxh6 42.Bd3 Ng4 43.Rh5 Ne5 44.Bf5 Rg7 45.Rh8+ Kf7 46.Rh7 Rxh7 47.Bxh7 Ke6 48.Rf1 Ke7 49.Kc3 Ng4 50.Rf4 Ne5 51.Kd4 Kf7 52.a4 Kg7 53.Be4 Kf7 54.Rf5 Ke6 55.Rh5 Kd6 56.Rh8 Ke7 57.a5 bxa5 58.Kc5 Ke6 59.Re8+ Kd7 60.Rxe5 fxe5 61.Bxc6+ Kc7 62.Kb5 Kb8 63.Kxa5 Kc7 64.Be4 Kd6 65.b4 Kc7 66.Ka6 Kc8 67.Ka7 1-0