2013-2014 Training Recap

Jul 10, 2014, 11:40 AM |

My chess "fiscal year" ended June 30, 2014, when I completed my first year of serious chess training in my effort to achieve a herculean goal as an adult improver in his mid-forties.

So how did it go?

It generally went well. I know I have improved my general knowledge, my pattern recognition, and my thought process. But I am disappointed I didn't achieve my USCF goal of 1600 by June 30th. I came close, peaking at 1583 in March, just 8 months into my program. But the last few months have seen me in a trading range, if you will, as my rating has gyrated between 1460 and 1583. Fortunately, I believe I have diagnosed these issues and have a plan to overcome them.

Here are some stats that I track weekly:

1st Year Performance
Rating July 1st, 2013 July 1st, 2014
USCF 1311 1510
Chess.com Standard 1408 1457
Tactics Trainer 1395 1620

I'm pretty happy with the 12 month 199 point USCF gain though I am surprised at the chess.com rating. It always surprises me that my chess.com rating trails my USCF rating by 50-150 points.

Here are a few numbers to give a taste of what was involved in following my training plan for the year:

  • 18,469 tactics problems (primarily Tactics Trainer and Seven Circles)
  • 240 calculation problems (primarily from Chess Training Pocket Book and Manual of Chess Combinations 1B).
  • 76 slow online games
  • 100 slow OTB games
  • 121 hours reading chess books
  • 52 master games
  • 95 of my own games reviewed 
  • 26 hours studying openings
  • 22 1-hour chess lessons with IM Turzo
  • 148 hours spent on misc. chess activities
Total hours: 1,227

Lessons Learned

This year was an epic experiment for me. I frankly wasn't sure I would stick with my one year plan and had fears I would get bored or discouraged along the way. Maybe move on to something not so utterly difficult. But I learned instead that I really enjoy chess, studying, examining master games, exploring the game along with others, and of course, the thrill of tournament-level over-the-board play.

Here are some other lessons from my past year.

  • For those of you who are considering the Seven Circles training program, I have two things to say. The first is that it is not a panecea for chess improvement. Yes, one needs to have the tactics patterns and the calculation/visualization skills that it helps build. But there are many ways to gain those skills. Second, what is good about the Seven Circes is that it is a prescribed system--one doesn't have to invent one's own, but just follow the one Michael de la Maza has laid out.

  • The most important thing for under 1600 players is probably solving 2,000-5,000+ easy-to-medium level tactics problems, repeating them as needed until solving them becomes muscle memory.

  • If you are serious, get a coach or befriend a higher-level player to review your games with you. I think this is critical to rapid improvement. If this isn't an option, review your own games and then, afterwards, compare your notes with a computer engine. If this person is at least 200-300 rating points higher than you, that is probably fine.

  • For me, improving both my chess thought process and my psychology when playing OTB games ended up being very important. I feel I've mostly found a thought process that works well for me, though I know as I move up beyond 1800, it will likely have to be further refined.

  • I believe the psychological aspects of competing, controlling my ego and emotions (fear, greed, wanting, etc), are what is currently holding me back from achieving class B and am currently working through those issues.

  • The most important lesson learned over the past year is that individual improvement is very personal. My strengths and weaknesses may or may not match someone else's. So, having good self-reflection skills and/or someone else who can give one objective feedback is crucial to improvement as an adult.

Finally, it is so important to enjoy the journey. I love improving, studying chess, playing chess. So, it is easy for me to sit in my home office and study tactics or master games for 3-4 hours while losing track of time. For others, that would be miserable. So, they should find what works for them, because ultimately, chess is just one way to enjoy our free time and so it should be....well....enjoyable.