Thursday, November 10, 2011

Midchesslife Crisis

My, in lack of better words, career has been ongoing for about four years. Early on I set a long term goal for my activities: Play at a 1750 level before the age of 50.

I am more than halfway there, the due date is a little more than three years away, and progress is slim to none.

What has gone wrong?

The time budget has always been infinitesimal and I have not been able to play enough slow games. That is no surprise and part of the equation from the very start. I honestly believed that my chess muscle would grow and a steady diet of tactics puzzles. The tactics muscle has improved (around 1850 at Chesstempo today) but I see no traces of improvement in my few games or in my rating.

Obviously, a lot of time have been wasted in illusionary fake training which comes in many shapes:

  • Reading Chess news instead of something beneficial
  • Planning, Documenting or changing your training instead of training
  • Not spending enough time on a topic and not learning it properly
  • Developing knowledge instead of skills

Sounds familiar?

Well, it is time to be more concrete, condensed and minimalistic. Will it help? We will see!

Goals for December 31, 2012

  • 40+ slow games played and analyzed
  • Three Books
  • Daily Chesstempo problem(s)
  • Monthly Chessmagnetschool rating tests (November 11, 2011: Rating Test. Score: 1487)


  1. Hi Farbror! Don't give up! I've recently come back to chess after a long time off and have set myself a stretching goal too so feel like I'm in a similar position.
    How far off your ChessTempo rating is your Over The Board rating? I only have an estimated grade at the moment but it is nearly the same as my CTempo (around 1750).
    To be that good tactically is a big plus. What area of the game do you think is letting your rating down?
    I have just started competing this year (played 17 games so far) and have noticed that there are a lot of non-chess factors that contribute massively to results and that these need to be worked on too.
    For instance, I have played games against people with grades ranging from 1400-2000 and have found them to be as difficult as each other. Things like "will to win" and just making less mistakes are very important to results and ratings.

  2. Hi Alchemos! My ICC rating has been wobbling around 1250 for months. I did the Chess Exam test som months ago and had a few surprising results. There is a blog post somewhere. I will track it down!

  3. Here it is:

  4. I haven't seen the Chess Exam books so don't know how they score but I'd take Chess Tempo as being closer to a real tactics score given the big difference in your results on these.
    I see the sections 'You are better/equal/worse' - are they based on how well you play when the position is favourable/unfavourable? I think many people play with confidence when things are going there way and lose interest or give up when they know the opponent has the advantage. Getting the most out of every game (in terms of both results and learning points) is very important to boost ratings. The opponent must be made to fight for their win.
    There are programs such as Chess Mentor which are good for teaching other (less tactical) elements of games and books such as The Amateur's Mind (Silman)come recommended too.

  5. Thank you for interesting suggestions! If I remeber correctly, the rating of the segments "You are better/equal/worse" were based on fewer problems than the rest.

    A test is just a test but it was very odd to score so low on tactics when tactics is what I have trained with some consistancy.

  6. Hi Farbror,

    Do you mean you want to play 40+ long games until the end of the year? That's a lot, if you ask me, considering time constraints. Make it 2-3 per week and don't forget the post-mortem analysis.

    I highly recommend that you try to find a tournament (OTB or online). This is great for the motivation, you have a regular schedule and you know that your (human) opponent will take it serious as well. Based on the mistakes made in the games, create a custom trainings session and focus on this aspect.

    Skip general chess books until the end of the year and pick a game collection instead. Work through the games and your chess understanding will improve automatically.

    An essential skill to reach 15-1600 at all is to avoid making blunders. All individual parts are worth nothing if you make a decisive mistake. Working on this skill is rather easy: after each move ask yourself what your opponent plans. You will easily see his threats and can decide what to do.

    I hope to see you in the next Team4545League event. You can also join a 90+30 tournament ( or the weekly STTournaments on ICC.

    Good chess!

  7. Hi Coderyder, Sorry for being vague! The due date for the 40+ games is the last of December next year.

    I totally agree that league play and tournaments is the way to go but my schedule is just to hectic. I have considered to join the "Monthly Standard" @ICC and just bite the bullet when I cannot make it a on a weekly basis.

    Team4545League is great fun but the planning is too energy draining and in the end I have to play 04:30 in the morning.

  8. Hi Farbror,

    A way to get better at chess quicker you may want to consider is this two step process.

    Have a book thet lays out the fundamental keys to a chess position like Silman's "Amatuers Mind" or Evan's "New ideas In Chess". Understand and use these keys ( Bish vs Kn, Space, Tempo, pawn struct) as clues to what's a good position and bad position.

    Then use well annotated master books, best annotated by the player master themselves, like Fischer's M60MG or Botvinnik's work. Then play through a game or if rushed even use a diagram position and note where the author comments.

    It's usually something like "...if 12.Bxc3 Nxc3 13. Qe2 Nd5 advantage to Black." or "25. c5 Nxc5 26. Bxe6 Re8 27.f5 with a bind."

    Then try to answer the simple question as to why is the resulting position the way the author says it is?

    After 6 or 9 months of this you'll be thinking more like a master and you'll probably start seeing ways to get better positions for yourself or weaknesses in your opponents position a lot easier.

  9. FWIW, I just took the Chess Magnet School rating test with a 1650 result. My USCF rating is 1885. My Chess Tempo rating slow/2045 blitz/1715

  10. ChessClues, Thank you for your input. Evan's "New Ideas in Chess" i on my reading list. I decided to restart med reading project and follow the ouline suggetsed here:

    Newz: I used Chessmagnetschool quite a lot about a year ago. They have since then improved the test (I guess?). I used to be "one test fits all" which of course was bad for the precision. Now the test seems to be fed problem close to your estimated rating.

    Did you have to answer too many questions about the name of the pieces etc?

  11. Hey Farbror,

    I love chestempo but I have found that it is not as good for training as a good set of tactics such as those sold by chessok.

    Chesstempo is more of a put it all together, practice place as opposed to a training place (I think).

    I am also a firm believer in Heisman's instructions to play over a boatload of master games.

    And I have noticed that chess training has gotten more fun (and productive) for me when I stopped creating time lines and be all-end all goals (such as the circles of MDLM).

    The goal is chess, not chess training. So we have to enjoy the journey without some preordained timeline on it. (I believe this is true for long termed sustainable (and fun) growth.

    Good luck!

  12. Hi Tommyg, Thank you for your observations. In particular, which ChessOK sets do you like?

  13. Hi Farbror,

    I really like the Chess Tactics Vol. One and Two (I will also do three at some point)

    The Simple Defense course is really nice. (easy but VERY important I think)

    Wang did a great review of the Chess Tactics courses here:

  14. Thank you, Tommyg! I will check out the review ASAP. We should try to get a game some time!