Closing In On A Master Rating

Closing In On A Master Rating

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The member mnuwan wrote: "I’m a middle-aged guy who has taken up chess again seriously after a hiatus of many years. I currently have a USCF rating of 2100, and I am trying to get the master title. These days, I read a few chess books, watch a few videos, and read a few articles, but mostly spend my chess time playing five-minute games on I occasionally try to play 10-minute games, and experiment with openings a bit, but usually I just want to have fun and bash out moves in a five-minute game using a fixed repertoire.

"I've attached a few recent games I’ve played, including an endgame loss from an equal position, an endgame win from what looked to me like a lost position, and possibly my best win (in terms of opponent's FIDE rating). If you can look at these games and provide a couple of tips on how I can climb the summit of USCF master, I would appreciate that very much."

JS: Many years ago, before was conquering the chess world, I was playing five-minute chess on ICC. I usually got paired with grandmasters and other international masters, but this time I was paired with a 2200 player. Anyway, the game wasn’t very interesting and, when I noticed a nice but fairly basic combination, I unleashed it on him and that was that. He immediately said (for all to see) that I was using an engine.

Apparently, if you play a combination that any 1900 would see then you’re a computer. And, of course, if you think you’re good but you are really very bad, your ego will also insist that your losses had to be caused by computer cheating.

I bring this up since when I went to mnuwan’s page I noted two comments aimed at mnuwan, with both claiming that he was using an engine. However, after looking over quite a few of mnuwan’s games it seemed clear that he wasn’t using an engine at all. And this really bothers me since accusing someone of being a cheat is a despicable act unless you have solid proof. One of the accusers wrote the following 100 percent idiotic comment: “…plays good until he gets in time trouble. I would say avoid.”

That somehow empowered another guy to write: “Engine user. Avoid.”


What stupidity! All players get considerably weaker when they are in time trouble. Some can handle it better than others (and many just panic!), but all players perform below their usual level when the clock is running out.

I apologize to mnuwan, since this has nothing to do with his request. But when I see clueless people squealing that someone is using a computer, it drives me crazy.

Okay, I'll get back on track. Unlike many players on, mnuwan is a tournament player with a USCF rating of 2100. That means that he can play well (though this doesn’t mean that he can handle the speed and mania of blitz). Let’s take a look.

An amazing game for blitz!

So, what did mnuwan do right or wrong in this game? Of course, if you get low on time in a blitz game, expect the board to rain down endless blunders. However, at the beginning he played dynamically but not quite dynamically enough (It’s blitz! Give everything you can give when you have the initiative). Unfortunately, when things didn’t turn out in the way he wanted too, he put on the brakes. In the end, passivity and the clock joined together to drag him down.

All in all: lots of missed tactical and dynamic opportunities.

Mr. mnuwan, you need to take a deep look at your ninth move (9.Bb2) until you fully understand why it’s really, really, REALLY bad. You’ll be a far better player once you do.

So, can mnuwan make master? I would have to look at your tournament games to know that, but what I’ve seen in your blitz games tells me:

  • You need to improve your tactics. Not a lot! But you do need to put some work into that area.
  • You tend to go into defend mode when you feel danger is around the corner. In many cases, the "danger" isn’t really there at all. This weakness also needs to be corrected.
  • If you want to be a master you will need to tighten up your opening repertoire.
  • You need to improve your dynamics.


However, of all the games you gave me (and I looked at some others when I went on your page), your 9.Bb2?? in your game against LastCentury still upsets me. If I were teaching a student who played that move, I would spend a lot of time discussing it until the student completely understood why that move is as awful as awful can be.

You playing 9.Bb2 (??) tells me that you need to work on making all your pieces active (this also ties into your wobbly dynamics). 9.Bb2 stuffs the poor bishop in a cage. You killed the poor thing, and I would badger the student until he 100 percent understands that it’s an abomination against the gods. Thus, please do your very best to always optimize each of your pieces during a game.

When you do all these things (and it’s really not that much), and if you dedicate yourself to making your dream come true, I think you will have a good chance to grab that 2200 rating.

Finally, let me thank you. The games were very interesting and I enjoyed looking at them. If you do eventually get that master rating, please let me know.

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