I know of many adults in the world of chess who never seem to be able to reach the 2000+ mark. My question is why? They are dedicated, very interested in chess, and enjoy the game. So why are they not able to crack the 2000 rating level? I have some theories about this based on my own painful process over the past 15 years of chess playing and learning.
First, a little bit about my abstract beginning in chess. My first exposure to chess is drastically different than the young authors at Chess˄Summit. My journey started without the influence and resources that the internet provides today’s young players.
I did not learn how the pieces moved and rules of the game until I was 25 years old, and somehow I have passed the 2000 rating barrier a couple years before my 40th birthday, and believe me – if I can do it, anyone can! My beginning started at a college party where some friends of mine were playing chess on one of those cheap, fold up wooden boards where the pieces fit inside. I was instantly drawn to the game and to what they were doing. They explained the game to me in a quick and not very instructive way. They just wanted new blood to beat up on! All evening they took turns crushing me and enjoying laughter at my expense. I think most people would have been defeated by this introduction to chess, but it only added fuel to my fire. My college friends continued to beat me for a couple of months until I won my first game! Now I was really hooked! Next venue was a famous coffee house in Cleveland Heights Ohio called Arabica, where local masters and class players would frequent daily playing speed chess and casual games. This place was heaven! Chess at any time – day or night There was also an IM who frequented the coffee shop and would give dazzling displays of time odd blitz, and often times give free lessons to anyone who would listen. The only down side to this place is that this was before the smoking ban, so by the end of the night you could barely see across the room. I played for hours here and started to slowly improve my game. One of the regulars named Ray took me under his wing and tried to show me the tricks of the trade. One thing he would tell me when he would review my games, “You know what I need? A bigger 2×4 to wack you over the head with!” Again, I think this would discourage many players and pound them into submission, but I guess I was a fool for punishment and would always come back for more. The most important lesson from this hazardous beginning was the development and passion for chess and learning . After this I started playing in a Friday night game 30 tournament once a week and have been captivated ever since.
After all these years I think I know how I could have made this journey a little easier and less painful. I knew once I reached 1300 or so that I would like to be 2000 someday. Something about having the number 2 in front of your rating made it seem more official. Looking back, I studied chess in an unorganized manner, and was never consistent on what I did. I would change openings all the time looking for the Holy Grail (no such thing when it comes to chess openings). I would switch chess books all the time without really reading one the entire way through. I would take every persons advice on playing and learning and would become even more confused! Then I met someone who had a love of the game, who enjoyed talking about chess, and more importantly liked to discuss and research ways on how to improve. This friend of mine is also an adult, and yes he conquered the 2000 rating barrier as well. What I took from him that has been and is still helpful is that chess really is just hard work. I needed to become more familiar with simple patterns (please read Vishal Kobla’s excellent articles!), and repeat the same problems over and over until they became part of my DNA. Once I started to do this my chess rating started to climb. We both did John Bain’s Chess Tactics for Students at least 15 times.
I even cut the problems out, taped them to 3×5 index cards, and would shuffle them each session.
We both got to the point that we could complete the entire book of 400+ problems in less than 30 minutes. We also did Gilliam’s book, Simple Checkmates over and over as well.
I ended up taking a long break from chess due to starting a family, only playing 2 tournaments in the past 4 years. As a result, I dropped below my peak rating of 2050 to around 1967. In order to get back in chess shape I have started doing the same study and practice methods mentioned above as I am slowly starting to play more frequently.
I am currently using the massive Laszlo Polgar book of 5,334 problems to solve daily exercises after a conversation I had with GM Jesse Kraai
Just take this one book and you will be busy for years! Every chess player out there eventually comes across this massive black book of chess, but I have never met anyone who has gone through the book. Well that changed after having a great conversation with Jesse. He told me he went through this mammoth book three times! The only thing he did not do was play through the short games at the end of the book. All the mate in 1, 2, and 3’s were completed. I guess it comes as no surprise that he became a GM. He then told me that what he did is nothing! His friend GM Becerra completed the book blindfold! Someone would simply tell him where the pieces were and he would solve the problem in his head. What I have found in doing these mates is it is not about just solving the mates, it is more about seeing how the pieces work together in harmony. The pieces find a way to coordinate and have some nice conversations! Sometimes I have to ask myself how dedicated are we really to improving and becoming stronger players when you hear stories such as these? Most adult players do not commit a fraction of this kind of time to their own self-improvement. One thing I learned more than anything else when talking to strong players is yes, talent is important, but just down and dirty hard work is the real key to chess improvement.
I started to ask some personal questions about my own chess study that some of you might be able to relate to and offer advice.
1.) How much am I learning by passively watching chess videos?
2.) How much am I learning playing countless hours of online chess?
I think online chess has much to offer the developing player if used in moderation and if it does not just become an addiction or an escape from life. There are many other healthier things that we can do besides passively taking in chess information. I have started to take long walks and just think about positions or a game I have played. You can get incredible insight this way.
I have also started writing out analysis in notebooks with just pen and paper, no computers! (see photo)
It really does not matter if your analysis is wrong, just that you are starting to analyze and get your ideas on paper. This is something else that Jesse Kraai strongly recommended to me during our conversation. I guess the biggest thing is just being fully present when you are studying or playing – there are plenty of other things we can enjoy in life besides tricking ourselves that we are learning or improving our chess by trying to take in the overabundance of chess materials out there! Lastly, I have started to make goals that are not focused on ratings or results such as; 1.) Manage my time, 2.) Relax and eat healthy between rounds, 3.) Play with confidence, 4.) Do not offer or accept draw offers if there is any play at all in the position, etc… By doing this you remove extra external pressure that result goals create. See Isaac Steincamp’s excellent article Reflecting on the 2016 US Junior Open for more about not focusing on result based goals
Here is a link to one of my recent games in the DC Chess League as I make my adventure to getting back into playing chess tournaments more regularly. All of the notes in the game were done without the use of a chess engine. I think this is a great improvement idea to first analyze without the use of a chess engine, and only later to check your analysis with the computer.
Thank you everyone for taking the time to read my first article! I welcome and appreciate your comments and feedback.