2015 Chess Recap

Jan 8, 2016, 8:58 PM |

Though I had been playing chess off and on for quite a while, I never took it too seriously until 2013.

Here are the results since then. 

Chess Performance
Rating 7/1/2013 1/1/2014 1/1/2015 1/1/2016
USCF 1311  1533 1530  1679
Chess.com 1408  1458 1552 1592 
Tactics Trainer 1395  1453 1649 1724 



2015 Playing Summary

 2015 was an exciting chess year for me. In February, I scored my best tournament performance rating, beating an Expert and Class A, drawing another Class A, and finally losing to a Class A to score 2.5/4 points and sending me above 1600 for the first time ever.

 Later in the year, I played eleven straight days of chess, first in the DC International and then immediately following, the World Open, where I scored 6.5/9 points and sending my rating to its current high water mark of 1753.

 Since those summer time tournaments the rating has fallen off the peak and bit and been in a trading range in the mid Class B range. But, for the last 3 months of the year I chose to "defend my rating" against mostly weaker players by not playing up in tournaments. As many of you know, it is not easy to be one of the highest rated players in the section and have lots of underrated (kid) players sniping you for points. I was able to do this successfully and even tied for 2nd place in the Indiana State Championships U1800 section.

 It wasn't a year of just roses, believe me, there were plenty of bloody thorns. I had a few very bad tournaments including the US Amateur Team North where I unsoundly sac'ed a bishop against a 1204. Then later in the year, in the Midwest Class, I only scored 2 draws in 4 rounds against 1600-level players. (Which led to my resolution to prove that I could "defend my rating" against these players.)


2015 Training Summary

 I was very fortunately to have again played in a lot of tournaments last year, but playing is only one part of a successful training program and so I put in many more hours of study.

In my program, I break out each activity and then track both how many times I perform that activity each week and how many hours each took. 

 First, here is a summary of the frequency I performed each activity.


 As you can see above, I did just over 4300 tactics problems last year. That is way less than the 13,000 problems I did in 2014! But, one of my goals for 2015 was to work on fewer and harder problems. And, I switched from Chess.com's Tactics Trainer to ChessTempo's Mixed-Mode, which encourages taking more time on problems than TT.

 I completed several books during the year, including How to Reassess Your Chess, Winning Chess Combinations, and Chess Tactics for Champions. I also made progress through How to Attack in Chess, Masters of the Chessboard and Training for the Tournament Player.

 A few surprises popped up in my review. I spent a significant amount of time on studying openings. (3rd behind playing and studying tactics.) Also, I analyzed 93 of my games and played through 108 annotated master games, which was twice as many master games as 2014.

Next, here is a summary of the hours I put into chess activities.

I spent 1118 hours on chess in 2015! This was up from 925 hours in 2014. Most of those extra hours came from playing OTB and the extra opening study I did. Conversely my time spent on solving tactics dropped from 257 hours in 2014 to only 168 in 2015.


 Some Insights

 Not only is everyone's chess improvement needs different (though some type of tactics training seems almost universal), our personal training needs change and evolve over time. I think I did pretty well balancing the need to play and work on tactics while also proportioning time to understand and work on my weaknesses.

 For instance, before the DC International/World Open, I got some feedback from a NM that my understanding of dynamic play was weak. So, I hit this subject hard by watching videos, reading books, and playing through ChessMentor courses.

 That led into a focus on understanding how to play the king hunt, where I again picked videos and books (How to Attack in Chess) that bolstered this weakness.

 The trick here is to get outside input from coaches or other strong players or even peers who can give you an honest assessment. It is very hard to accurately self-diagnose weaknesses. Then, one has to come up with a "curriculum," or set of activities, that address the weakness.

 Many coaches and authors recommend against rote memorization of opening lines. In the past I have heeded that advice, but this past year I spend a significant amount of my time doing exactly that--memorizing over a hundred specific lines in the openings I've already been playing for years. This extra work memorizing lines forced me to delve much more deeply into the openings and ask questions that I had never considered. Through this process I now feel I better understand how to learn new openings and understand my own repertoire more deeply.

 Chess is hard. A friend at my chess club, who is a strong player but who has had recent uneven tournament results, recently said he is taking a break from playing tournaments--maybe a long break. I understand! After several tournaments this year, especially the disasterous Midwest Class, I questioned all the time I am putting into chess and considered taking an extended break. But, ultimately, taking 6-8 weeks off from playing tournaments always ends up being just enough time to reenergize my playing and motivate me again. But these breaks are important. Take breaks when needed and only continue with chess if you are enjoying it.