How Can An Expert Become A Master?
A chess expert trying to become a master.

How Can An Expert Become A Master?

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The member Animaul7 (his real name is Anthony Maulucci) wrote:

I’m a 16-year-old who has been stuck at an expert rating for some time now, which I know is pretty normal. One question I have for you is what juniors like myself can do to maintain passion for the game as we get older and our focus branches off to other aspects of life, such as school and new hobbies.

SILMAN: Your query is purely personal; there is no definitive answer. I’ve had students in the 2000-to-2200 range who gave up chess completely when they entered university or college. Then, once they got a degree, they might return to the game or toss it away permanently. Of course, many strong players in university or college continue to play in tournaments or for their school’s team.

I’ve talked to many older players who told me they gave up the game after university so they could concentrate on their career, and then they went back to it in their 50s or 60s.

One example of an extremely strong player leaving chess for a career is Tal Shaked (born 1978), who won the World Junior Championship in 1997. He was a great talent, became a grandmaster, but, more or less, gave up the game (not counting blitz) after playing in the FIDE World Chess Championship tournament in 1999.

University followed, and a permanent career as a software engineer for Google ended his love affair with the 64 squares. But who knows, perhaps in the future he’ll come back to chess, as so many others have done.

chess school teacher

As for maintaining passion for chess, you might enjoy playing it now and then (online or an over-the-board tournament), you might go bonkers (after you realize that chess is the greatest thing on Earth) and study chess harder than ever before, or you might find Shogi or the Flat Earth Society is your cup of tea. And you might find that whatever career you’re studying is immeasurably more interesting then mere bits of wood.

In other words, youth is incredibly exciting since everything is unknown and everything is possible. Hell, you might be the one that proves that the amazing star turtle (named “Great A’Tuin”) is real, or you might invent the first anti-gravity device. It’s all at your fingertips.

Animaul7: “If you don’t mind, I have some games from a recent tournament I played in. I feel as though I have been over-complicating my positional ideas rather than modeling them after what the opening asks for.”

SILMAN: Okay, let’s look at all three games (over the board tournament, not online) and see what and where your weaknesses are. I will add that most people dream of having an expert rating, so you’ve done quite well.

Why aren’t you a master (2200)? Hopefully these three games will give us the answer.

Animaul7: “In the first game, I drew a master rated 300 points higher than me. I think I played well, but I also believe that I could have made more practical choices in the endgame to minimize the effort required to make a draw.”

Animaul7: “In the second one, I lost in a Nimzo Indian where I didn’t play 12.e4 in a type of position where I have played e4 in the past. I wrongly thought that if he played e4, his pawn would be over-extended, so there would be an opportunity for me to play e4 later.”

SILMAN: Let’s isolate each one of those moves, one after the other.




If you want to be a master you need to fully understand these kinds of pawn structures (in fact, as many pawn structures as possible). In this game you crumbled due to a lack of knowledge. Fortunately, this game was well worth losing since now you won’t allow this horror show to ever happen again. Losses, in many cases, are the best teachers.

Animaul7: “In this final game, I was frustrated at losing because I’ve lost these types of endgames in the Grunfeld over the board before. I know endgames in the Grunfeld typically favor Black, but when I traded queens here, I thought that White would have some initiative.”

So, what’s wrong with your game? It’s pretty clear (and very common for players under 2200):

  1. You don’t understand enough pawn structures. Knowing your openings’ pawn structures will let you (in many cases) immediately know where your pieces go and what plans are usual. To move up the rating ladder you will need to deeply study those structures.
  2. Soft moves. A soft move is a move that seems okay, but it really doesn’t milk the hidden possibilities that are waiting for you to find. Everyone makes soft moves (even grandmasters), but IMs and GMs don’t make them often. In a nutshell, every move is precious, so get the most out of it. You, in all your three games, failed to do that, which is why you’re an expert. Stop making too many soft moves, and master the pawn structures you get, and you’ll find yourself with a nice 2200 rating.

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