As far as sitting down and thinking about what my future chess goals are, I’ve never really done this. To be honest, I’ve just gone with the flow without aiming towards anything concrete for the past 10 years, as I’ve felt setting hard goals is restrictive. I’ve always felt they were pretty arbitrary, and I’ve always felt “doing my best” and “improving as much as I can” were sufficient enough direction for me. To many others, goals such as “breaking 2000” are quite useful. For me, it was easier to just play and not have any outside pressure to achieve something. But as I’m on the verge of climbing over 2400 USCF, I realize that improvement comes slower and slower, and titled players are a whole different animal to take down. To that end, I’ve outlined a list of things I would like to accomplish by the end of this year, my first chess goals if you will, as I know that instinct and blind faith has its limits, and if I want to keep improving I need to reach towards something (instead of nothing):
- 2300 FIDE and the FM title:
I’ve played in relatively few FIDE tournaments in my career, so this one may actually prove to be one of the toughest goals to accomplish. I’m currently hovering right around 2200 FIDE, but I would like to bring that up significantly. Doing so would prove I can hold my own against stronger and more varied opposition (generally FIDE rated tournaments are much stronger). It’s easy to have an inflated USCF rating simply from playing the same people or in the same area all the time, so I would like to perform well outside my usual bubble.
- 2450 USCF:
If the first goal was the hardest, I would say this goal might be the easiest, though still not trivial or simple by any means. I have around 50 points to go, but gaining rating points from this point will be a slow climb, unless I have a godly performance at one tournament. I think sudden breakouts are super tough though at this point, so I’m aiming for steady improvement. If I had a huge block of free time when I could just study chess nonstop, it might be possible. With college and work and other stuff, it’s hard to commit a ton of time or even consistent time to study chess. The important thing is to keep playing though, as rust is a real thing. I’m actually playing more regularly now than in my last two years of high school, and my performances have slowly been getting better.
- IM Norm:
Screw it, this might be the toughest. Checking the US top under 21 list, I might be the highest rated junior that doesn’t have at least one IM norm yet. I’ve only ever played in one tournament where a norm was even possible, so I have no concept of what it really takes. What I do know is I have to score well against many titled players, which goals 5, 6, and 7 will all help with. The most likely tournaments I will play are the Washington International and the US Masters, but this is still to be determined.
This year’s PA State Championship will be in Lancaster, and in March. I imagine the location of Lancaster instead of Pittsburgh will attract some stronger competition, but I look forward to kicking spring break off with an attempt to defend my title and repeat as state champion for the third year in a row. Like goal 3 (but a little easier), this will involve strong, consistent play, and a will to try to win against anyone.
- Improve Calculation
I’d like to say I have a decent intuition and understanding of the game, but my calculation is seriously lacking. This will involve doing some engine work and doing some difficult tactics. Also, I think endgame studies will also be quite helpful, as the more empty the board the harder it is to calculate, as the range of viable candidate moves increases.
- Have an Opening Repertoire
Yeah, I’ll admit it, my openings are probably like 1700 level. They suck. That’s not gonna cut it against stronger opposition, so I finally have to study my least favorite part of the game and do some memorization. On a side note, I think chess960 is a great idea, as chess really shouldn’t be a contest of who can memorize the most moves to start a game. But whatever, it is what it is, and I will need to improve on this if I am serious about getting better.
- Be Clutch
Be able to perform under pressure and when it counts. I spoiled a tremendous position and a 40 minute time advantage against IM Eylon Nakar in the Pan-American last week, which would have saved the match for the CMU team. I’m not totally sure how to work on this, but I think just gaining more playing experience in these situations goes a long way. Being able to do this will help with goals 3 and 4.
All in all, I’m excited for the challenges that lay ahead and to be working towards what I have outlined above. Cheers to a great 2017 of chess for all of you, and may you reach your goals, whatever they may be!