In Search of Chess Mastery & Flying Turtles Tell No Lies

  • IM Silman
  • | Apr 8, 2010

Zuud08 asked:

I am yet another 1900 in search of chess mastery ... I have made incredible sacrifices for chess study. I changed my job so as not to stay 8 hrs in an office and be tired for studying. I neglect my wife and child a bit (although she understands because she’s a chess player too). I have read several instructive.

What frustrates me is: When I do puzzles from one of them, I get almost all right to the last detail – doesn’t that mean I should be a decent player?

But I am not. I am a lousy 1900 - 2000 and I think the reason is: When I do positions from the Reassess Your Chess Workbook I get only 50% right! I have always believed that strategy is more important than calculation – because it guides the calculation. In fact I can often spot wins for several stronger players but I never get such juicy positions in my own games!

So I am left with a bitter sense of disappointment and impotence to improve. I am very sad, and I am asking you for help with almost tears in my eyes. Could you give me advice? What should I do? 

Dear Zuud08:

Around 17 years ago I got a letter from some guy on the other side of the US (I live in California) who said he would do anything to improve and offered (in exchange for daily chess lessons) to come out to CA and move in with me and be my 24/7 slave! I’m not kidding! Now, the idea of having some dude with a leash around his neck chained to my bathtub just doesn’t appeal to me (though if it was some female supermodel, I would have been seriously tempted), so it was a no-go. But, your letter brought back memories of Mr. Slave’s level of chess desperation.

Fortunately, you’re in luck – scientists have recently refined the molecular components of the taste and smell of chess into a liquid compound that can be injected directly into the vein. No more study, no more wasting time playing or buying chess books, just one injection a day takes care of the chess addiction problem and let’s you get on with your life.

Seriously dude, it’s a game! Yes, it’s also a passion and an art and a science and many other things to many other people, but you can’t let it become an obsession. Most importantly, chess is supposed to be fun and fulfilling, yet you seem to get nothing but misery from it.

The problem is in your outrageous expectations.

You say you’re a “lousy” 1900 to 2000. Lousy? Most tournament players (forget about the insanely inflated internet ratings – I know many 1800 tournament players who have 2400 internet blitz ratings) dream of having a 1900 or 2000 rating! You are already a very strong chess player! Give yourself some credit.

You need to make small, realistic goals. Then, when you achieve it, you make another and another. Thus, in your case 2100 would be a proper goal. Once you are solidly at that level, 2200 can be placed on the radar.

Now, it sounds like you are most likely very strong tactically but have serious positional deficiencies. Well, that’s not necessarily a bad thing since the ability to calculate deeply and quickly is a talent (which you appear to possess), while the ability to read the positional characteristics of the board is easily learned. My new (upcoming … perhaps the end of July or August) book, How to Reassess Your Chess 4th Edition, is almost completely dedicated to this problem (I also do a serious study of chess psychology … but a form of psychology that’s practical and vastly improves one’s results). However, elsewhere on this site I’ve recommended (on many occasions!) that one look at tens of thousands of grandmaster games. Zip through the suckers at warp speed (of course, you can slow down or even do a deep analysis if you come upon a situation that fascinates you), and rest assured that you will subconsciously absorb the many patterns that are flowing by your eyes.

You desperately need to remove your chess-related stress. Simply put, if it’s not fun, if it doesn’t enrich your life, why in the world are you doing it? So, calm down, create a reachable goal, and enjoy the process! The Book of Chess I Ching (aka: the Chess Book of Changes) says: Those that are only interested in the destination but hate the journey will find that they have missed out on life – this is true in all things, chess included.

Please keep in mind that this journey never ends – once you get to 2100, you’ll be chomping at the bit to reach 2200, and once you do that, 2300, and on and on it goes. It’s all completely pointless if you don’t have a fantastic time with chess while all this is going on.


Quick Sound bytes

Exigentsky asked:

What rating range is the 4th edition geared to? Would a Class “A” player find it too basic?

Dear Mr. Exigentsky:

The book is for players in the 1400 to 2100 range, and I suspect many 2200s will also find much of interest. Yes, there will be some examples that will seem basic, and there will be other examples that seem difficult, but the idea is to learn a series of concepts and a new way of looking at chess in general, and thus “hard” and “easy” don’t really apply. What does matter is whether or not the book actually helps you learn the things it set out to do. And, in my view, I’ve succeeded in that (well, I hope I did, though it will be up to the readers to give it thumbs up or thumbs down once they read it).


MrAttribute (commenting on my article, LEARNING AN OPENING) said:

Good article but way too loooooong.


Dear MrAttribute:

Perhaps for yoooooou, but not for ooootherrrs.


Cally-ntete (referring to my article, LEARNING AN OPENING) said:

The moment I encountered 9...Bc8 I lost interest, and went back to confirm if my favorite IM Silman is really the one analyzing this beginner game with so much passion. How could such a high profile chess player spend his resources like that?

Dear Mr. Cally:

First: Don’t beginners deserve some loving care too? Should I only cater to players of your rating or higher?

Second: When I am no longer passionate about teaching lovers of chess to improve their game, I’ll hang up my chess pen. I am extremely passionate about making the game easier for players of all ratings to understand.

Third: Yes, 9…Bc8 was horrible, and as I pointed out, it’s forced me into daily (and expensive!) therapy. But there was a very important lesson there too – one that will prove useful for players in the beginner to 1800 range. Perhaps you’re so strong that such lessons are obvious to you, which is great. But there is also a high likelihood that you missed out on a learning experience because you felt a “beginner” game couldn’t teach you anything. That’s your loss.

In my upcoming book, I used a mix of games: modern grandmaster games (some just a few months old), old classic grandmaster games, very old games (from the 1600s!), games played by my students, and even blitz games that I found online (by grandmasters and beginners). In all cases, the rating doesn’t teach you anything! The instruction lies in a specific position (which anyone can arrive at), and in my notes. It all comes down to my ability to explain concepts in a user-friendly manner. If I come up short, blame me, not the poor position.

And that brings us back to passion: if I’m looking at some position and a turtle falls from the sky onto a chessboard and the result is some highly instructive situation, I’ll happily use it as a teaching tool – Flying Turtle (unrated) vs. Silman, LA 2010.


  • 7 months ago



  • 5 years ago


  • 6 years ago


    You're a great player, do chess mentor, and get your rating up by doing the  book called "The Ultimate Chess Puzzle Book" by John Emms, and "Three Steps To Chess Success", by some author, (you can find the name of the author on google) good luck! :)

  • 7 years ago


    11 words: "If you find a good move look for a better one."

  • 7 years ago



  • 7 years ago


    Chess, despite it's being a quiet peaceful game, can be very stressful for players at the highest levels.  Just hang in there!

  • 7 years ago


    Don't be stressed. How many times have you seen Magnus Carlson like flip out out of nowhere. (Hint- Never.)

  • 7 years ago




    I agree with your attitude about chess being a journey.  Sometimes it is hard to see the joy of the journey within its midst, but it is always important to stand back and take a look at it from afar to see why you are playing in the first place.  It's always a pleasure to read your articles.  Thanks for the insights.  I thank your book on endgames for helping me improve my play tremendously!  p.s. I'm banking on the turtle.

  • 7 years ago


  • 7 years ago


  • 7 years ago


    Mr Silman, are you still doing book reviews for your own website?

    No offence to Donaldson, but it seems that every book he gets, he recommends.

    It seems that the only active review on your site now is Donaldson, what happened to you, Bauer, and Watson?

  • 7 years ago


    Thank you, Mr. Silman.  This article has taken a weight off of me!  I had become frustrated,  wondering if my efforts were going to pay off.  I now realize that I had my focus in the wrong area!  I wont become some master overnight,  there is no growth hormone for the brain,  and I can't teleport to the far away kingdom of ChessGrandmasterdom!  I forget who, but someone once said, "the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."  I need to take pleasure in the advances I have gained so far, and look forward to the challenge of attaining my goals which I set for myself. 

      I would also like to say that your passion has inspired me on many occassions, and I pray that you never lose that love!  THANK YOU!!!

  • 7 years ago


    People keep asking about books! What has helped me? The Art of Sacrifice, The Art of Chess, Alekhines best games, Laskers Manual of Chess. I typically don't study tactics on this website, in fact for the most part I read the books and physically move the pieces on my nice board in accordance. I am just now breaching the 1400 rating... I have beaten people who have an 1800, and I also beat my friend who is a master. Chess has no limitations, but our brains can constrict us and get tied in knots of repitition. I feel that one must consider all options when playing games, especially sacrifice's, even if you are hoping for it 4 moves down the line.

  • 7 years ago


    IM Silman,

     I study hours of tactics puzzles a day, but I am still stuck with the same ~1400 rating. For months now I been studying tactics, reading articles by GMs, looking at expert games, and still I cannot really beat anyone above 1600, and I continue to occasionally lose to 1300 players.

    In other fields of study, the more I practice or study, the better my strength and it shows. However, for some reason in chess, every game is a completely different situation and sometimes I am simply lost in how to win the game.

    I have also found that my weak point is positional play, but I can't find any articles or ways to improve my positional playing. I read articles by GMs but I don't learn anything new.

    Positional play has become something that I cannot quantify, judge, practice, or improve. What do I do?

  • 7 years ago


    I eagerly await your annotated game VS. Flying Turtle. If I remember correctly, Flying Turtle is the only opponent to Best Fisher, Kasparov, Lasker, Capablanca, Korchnoi, Spassky, and Tal in a single sitting. My favorite chess quote is regarding the dreaded Flying Turtle, "Looking into his eyes is akin to staring into the vast depth of Super Phenom Uber Grandmasterdom. Stare long enough and unlock the secrets of Chess perfection, driving the mortal mind beyond any sanity." (someguy that went insane staring into the turtles eyes, circa 400 BCE)

  • 7 years ago


    If Chess weren't fun I would not play it. Too many players seem to worship ratings. Ratings are a subjective assessment of one's playing skill. I hear players at USCF otb tournaments speak of their ratings as if they were god. The journey is the thing for me. Cool

  • 7 years ago


    I play chess for fun. I meet with my club after a hard day of school and study and we just play. It is so very relaxing. 

  • 7 years ago


    I can understand these feelings and I have, I think, a good advice.Who wants to improve own chess playing has to reed Russian authors as Bobby Fischer does. Its a base.

  • 7 years ago


    Mr. Silman,

    For what class of turtle is your coming-soon book most good?  As you can see, I am Red Koopa Paratroopa.  Am very serious to improving my level, and am hoping your book to helping me make the jump (ha ha!) to Hammer Brother.  Of course am concerned that most problems in book to be geared toward level of silly Green Koopa.  Ha ha! Silly Green Koopa looks too high, like Norwegian thinking to be Magnus Carlsen.

  • 7 years ago



    This might not be exactly what you want to hear but, for the past 10 years I have been unsuccessfully trying to get my rating over 1500. I have spent long hours, days, weeks, months, and years reading books, beating opponents online, and crushing software programs at home. But once I get to a tournament...I have no clue what happens, it all goes downhill. SO YES, I think I know how frustrated you feel.

    But you know what, I have enjoyed every minute of it. The ride has been amazing so far. I have enjoyed every game I have played. I have met wonderful people accross the board....and even though I'm still struggling to get to 1500....I feel like a chessmaster. I'm looking forward for the next 10 years....and hopefully then, I will be close to 1900 or even 2000.

    In the meantime, I would recommend that you don't beat yourself so hard and try to enjoy the games at hand. Maybe if you get some pressure of your back on reaching a certain will end up getting there while enjoying the ride.

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