The Secret(!?) Ingredient to Chess Improvement (This is not clickbait)

Hi everyone! My name is Jennifer Yu and I am excited to be joining the writers at Chess^Summit! To introduce myself in a quick snippet: I’ve been playing chess for eight years now, as my first tournament was in February of 2009. Right now, my rating is currently floating around the 2300 range. I have had my chess ups, downs, and times where my rating just seemed to get stuck at a wall and not get anywhere at all. I currently reside in the Northern Virginia area and compete in many of the tournaments on the East Coast. I also have had the opportunity to compete nationally and internationally. I think my most notable achievement is probably winning the gold medal in the 2014 World Youth Chess Championships U12 Girls. I am also in the process of preparing for my third US Women’s Chess Championship this year. Along the years I’ve gathered some helpful tidbits that I would like to share with you all. However before I start, I would like to thank Isaac for giving me this opportunity to write on Chess^Summit and share my ideas with all of you. Now to the article!

There is one question that I am often asked about chess; whether by a fellow chess player comparing notes, a younger player seeking advice, or most often, friends at school who have not yet entered the complicated realm of chess. It is, “How do you practice chess?”. It is a simple question, really, and one that I’m sure all tournament players were asked at one point in time. Now this would be different for everyone as the levels, time commitment, and aspirations of every player vary. If one wants to improve the most they possibly can in a specific amount of time, there would have to be a specific routine set in place that takes into account all variables. This would lead to perhaps one player committing to solve as many tactical problems as they can while another reads and memorizes entire endgame books over and over again. It would be impossible to create a practice routine that applies for all players that will guarantee improvement. So… what is the point of this article? I believe there is one factor that will lead to steady improvement over time for all players. This magic ingredient, simply put, is to play more.

I know this topic has been mulled about and been described time after time again, but I cannot over stress the importance of it. I have heard it before said here and there, but to me I just always kind of put the advice away into my pocket and sarcastically scoff, “Yeah, because that would somehow magically make me play better.” But now, I truly believe in the importance of increasing play as I have seen the improvement it gave to other players, and the evidence of this in my own chess history. I originally learned chess in California where my rating rose to about 1400. After I moved to Virginia in the summer of 2011, I increased the number of tournaments I played in, especially larger opens (I previously attended mostly scholastics). By the end of 2012, I was a solid 1900. That is quite a leap! I’ve also observed the dramatic rise of young talented players correlated with the amount of games they play. An amazing example is a fellow Gold Medalist Rochelle Wu. Rochelle is the current reigning World Champion for U10 Girls and is already at a high 2100! She plays a tournament nearly every week sometimes driving hundreds of miles to get there. This also shows an extreme amount of dedication and hard work.

I have compiled three simple reasons why increasing the amount of games played, will increase skill level.

  1. Experience

Usually when a child plays an adult of the same level, it will almost always be an interesting battle. The issue of the difference of age will become a factor in the game somehow. Some people may say the child has the sharper mind, and therefore the upper hand. Many others say that many more years of experience that the adult has garnered easily triumphs the child. This is a hypothetical situation, as in a real game, it will be rarely as simple as this. However, the gist of this example is that experience cannot be overlooked. It can only be a good thing, as it slowly adds new knowledge each move you play. It can definitely help improve one’s play because if you lose to a trap in one game, you will be wary of it in the next. The only real way you can get more experience, is to play more games.

2. Intuition

You may have once seen a blitz game between high level players, maybe Grandmasters. As the clock winds down, each second becomes more precious, each move entering faster on the board then the last. Before long, a frenzy of clock banging and the whizzing of moves will occur. How is it possible for them to play that fast?  How is it possible for them to think that fast? Most likely, the players are using their intuitions. They have a subconscious feeling that tells them where to go during the game.  A solid intuition is the basis for every good player. It can help conserve valuable time during a game and sort through jumbles of variations to direct a clear way to go. Intuition can be developed by solving problems like the ones in Positional Play by Jacob Aagard (a great book!), an excellent technique I learned at the US Chess School. However, I found that by actually physically playing a game, it will develop an unique “chess sense”.

3. Focus

Have you ever just gone to a chess tournament and felt like you learned more about chess in those few measly hours between games than weeks of ‘practicing’ at home? This happens to me all the time. It’s really absurd but I find that just being in the environment of playing an entire day of chess makes me focus on chess more in my down time after games.  It is extremely easy to get distracted at home, but at a tournament, I am only thinking about chess. For example, I may explore opening lines I have never seen before when preparing for an opponent. Also, when analyzing a game with an opponent, I could be provided by valuable insight from the ‘enemy’ that could not be given by an engine or a coach.

In a nutshell, these are three relatively simple reasons of why playing more chess will improve chess skill. I think that increasing play at larger tournaments will be most beneficial. However, if you are restricted by time, finances,or etc., playing online can also be great. (It does have to noted that there is a real difference between playing games over the board and over a computer screen.) And also, if your rating suffers at the beginning don’t be alarmed! It is completely natural and occurs to me often. Just realize that rating is only showing something that is temporary and if you experience true improvement over time, your rating will realize that too. As I said in the beginning of the article, I am preparing for the US Women’s Championship and I know how I will be practicing! My calendar’s lined jam packed full of tournaments! I hope this article helped all of you in some way and I wish you all good luck on your journey to play more games!

4 thoughts on “The Secret(!?) Ingredient to Chess Improvement (This is not clickbait)

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  4. Joe

    I agree. I come from the opposite direction. Thinking that tournament playing is expensive, self learning cheap. I studied with the thought that I would spring into a tournament and surprise and dazzle all my opponents. Instead I got destroyed. The first few tournaments were were I and my opponents both playing against me leaving me thinking I know I could play much better than this… Unfortunately though tournament play is still less practical and online play doesn’t appeal somehow.

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