Chess Goals

Chess Goals

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Anon asked:

I’m a fairly new player with a low rating. My first question addresses the person who asked whether becoming a world class player at the age of 44 was out of the question and Andrew replied yes, it is; how about 21? I’ve bought some tactics books.

Dear Anon:

What do you consider to be world class? Top 10? Top 100? Only grandmasters? Or would you consider your efforts successful if you got the international master title?

Nowadays a player can’t expect to be in the top 10 unless he makes the grandmaster title by his teens. With people becoming grandmasters at 12, the age for ultimate chess success keeps getting lower and lower.

Let’s say your goal is to become an international master. In general, a player wanting to reach that level needs to go over anywhere from 100,000 to 1,000,000 games (the vast majority can be looked over very quickly, while you will want to spend some time on others). This allows him to see and subconsciously absorb the many structures and patterns that are must knows if a player is to reach a very high level.

In my own case, I learned at the old age of 12. However, I became absorbed by chess and worked on it for at least 8 hours a day, every day (I only went to class twice a week during my junior high and high school years, preferring to stay at home and stare at a chessboard). I became a master strength player by 16, but since I lived in a bad chess area I didn’t obtain a master ranking until I left home and moved to San Francisco at age 18. I eventually got the IM title, but only after getting sidetracked by various aspects of life in the rip-roaring Haight Ashbury.

When starting out you need to create goals that can be realized within reasonably fast time periods (that way you feel like you're accomplishing something). If your rating is 1200, make your goal 1400. Figure out the things a player of that rating needs to know, and then learn that information from practice, books, computer programs, and lessons. For example, in my book SILMAN’S COMPLETE ENDGAME COURSE I ask the 1400 student to only learn the endgames for players from beginner to 1400 (the material is listed by rating group). Then I ask him to put the endgame book down and make sure his openings, strategic understanding, and tactical acumen catches up to that same level. Once there, a new goal of 1600 would be right (which means you once again crack open the endgame book and study material for that level and the levels before it), and on and on it goes.

Is it possible for a player who is just starting out at age 21 to make master? Yes, though it will take time and hard work. Is it possible for that same player to get an IM title? It’s been done before, but it’s rare and requires an enormous commitment to the game.

However, why put that "grandmaster or bust" monkey on your back? Keep your dreams, and do your best to make them happen, but be realistic and go one step at a time by the repetitive 200-point goal leap that I’ve just mentioned.

Please understand that one book on tactics won’t get the job done. You need to set up (or have someone else set up) a serious study program that allows you to become proficient in all areas of the game.

Finally, the real reason to play chess is because it’s a rush, and is also a creative outlet. When I was playing professionally, winning a tournament was no big deal. However, winning a game that I deemed to be artistically pleasing was everything to me! A professional has to love chess, love its history, love looking at every facet of it – there’s not much money in the sport, but that love makes everything worthwhile.

Good luck!


I'll respond to a couple things I noticed in the reader comments.

Regarding Mr. Tarikhk's criticism of my usage of "grandmaster or bust" -- this was meant to be a general (not personal ... the answer was meant for everyone, not just Mr. Tarikhk) metaphor describing the common (and debilitating) error of creating unrealistic expectations. I then described a far more positive way to create attainable goals, while allowing the player to retain his ultimate dream.

Mr. Tarikhk also said I edited the tactic's book he was studying. I never edited a tactical book. I am guessing that he's talking about WINNING CHESS TACTICS, a book that I wrote with Mr. Seirawan. In general, when you see "with so and so" on the cover, it means that so and so did a lot of the writing (it has nothing to do with editing).

Finally, one astute reader mentioned that he had to ask himself why he was playing chess. Indeed, that's an important question. If you're playing because you see the game as a form of art, or if you love the battle of mind against mind, or if you've grown addicted to the intensity of chess warfare, or if chess history captivates you, or if the simple act of studying chess calms you and makes you feel good, or if you love everything about the game, or if it's simply great fun, then you're on the right track. But if the only reason you're playing is to get rating points so you can lord it over who knows who (in other words, chess has become a major extension of your ego), then you're traveling down the wrong road.

Of course, this doesn't mean you can't go for the gusto and try to be a world beater. Why not have expansive dreams, and why not try and make those dreams a reality? Everyone should try and be the best they can be. But love of the game is, ultimately, the major reason why anyone should play.

I'm often asked why I got into professional chess. I always answer in the same way: "For the money and the women!"

Why would I say that? Because, there is no money and there are no women. In other words, it's another metaphor for, "I play because the game is everything to me. I know there's no fortune to be had, or cheerleaders screaming in bliss as I push my Rooks down the board. I play because I have to play ... I play because it's in my blood and has become a part of me ... I play because chess makes me happy."


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