2015Q1 Study Plan

Chessmo
Chessmo
Jan 3, 2015, 9:35 PM |
6

I've spent a lot of time lately thinking about my current chess weaknesses and the best ways to overcome them. As some of you know, I keep extensive records of my training activities and like to plan out my weekly training activities and then track how well I am meeting my activity goals. My belief is that this helps provide discipline that I otherwise would not have. It also allows me to take a look at what is working and what is not and adjust accordingly.

About every three months I've been updating my training regimen based on my current inventory of weaknesses. Here they are in priority order, with my solutions to address each:

Lazy/impatient thinking

In about 1/3 of my games laziness or impatience overtakes me on at least one move. This causes me to fall into a sort of intermediate-level "Hope Chess" where I either forget to do a final blunder check at the end of my thought process or during calculating variations, I do some "hand waving" where I don't look at all my opponent's possible replies or I don't push the calculation until the point of quiescence and then accurately evaluation the resulting position. I hand wave and say, "Ok, this looks pretty good for me in the lines I've looked at."

EDIT (1/10/2015): A chess.com friend who is also a strong player suggested, after review many of my games, that I may also be failing to see all the possibilities of my opponent's pieces. IE, I am either missing threats caused by certain unfamiliar piece configurations or I am just not being diligent enough in reviewing my opponent's checks, captures, and threats. I wholeheartedly agree with this assessment and tend to think it is more of the latter (not being diligent enough) with some of the former (unfamiliar piece configurations).    

Solutions:

  • Deeper calculation and evaluation training by taking a hard tactical position and spending 20 minutes calculating all lines with evaluations and writing all of it down. Only then, comparing my notes to the problem's solution.
  • During these exercises, practice my game thought process.
  • For my daily tactics problems, switch from Tactics Trainer to ChessTempo Mixed-Mode, which doesn't emphasize quickly guessing at moves like Tactics Trainer. I believe Tactics Trainer, unfortunately, encourages the bad habit of rushed and truncated calculation that is more useful for blitz players than long time control players.
  • Increase the regularity of my cardio and strength training routine in order to decrease tiredness during long tournament days.

Misunderstanding the position's needs

It is rare anymore in middlegames when I can't come up with a plan but I often don't come up with a plan that is congruent with the position. This causes me to fight against the imbalances instead of leveraging them. For instance, not launching a minority attack when I should. Or taking on a IQP when I shouldn't.

Solutions:

  • Review typical pawn structures and middlegame plans for the openings I play regularly.
  • Finish studying How to Reassess Your Chess (currently about 1/2 way done).
  • Review master games in order to see how strong players exploit different imbalances.

Fumbling endgames or other won games

I've lost several endgames in 2014 that were won games. I drew several more games that should have been reasonable wins. Some of these were because I lost my "situational awareness" and allowed myself to become flustered because of the emotions of the moment or because of time trouble. Other times I just couldn't find a reasonably easy win because my calculation skills were not adequate.

Solutions:

  • Again, I will focus on deeply solving harder problems to practice accurate calculation.
  • I'll do a thorough review of Silman's Endgame Course through the Class A chapter and I will begin reading de la Villa's 100 Endgames You Must Know
  • I'll continue at the pace of 8 games a month to build my OTB nerves and judgement.

So here is my new weekly plan for the 1st quarter of 2015, which assumes a 20 hour a week commitment (including OTB games).


EDIT (1/10/2015)
After thinking through the above plan posted on 1/3, I decided to make a few more changes. These new changes were based on a conversation I had with my chess coach, NM Zach Kasiurak this past week and also from me watching these two IM Daniel Rensch videos:
These videos reminded me that my best rating increase so far came in late 2013, early 2014 when I was doing daily visualization exercises from Michael de la Maza's book. Those exercises trailed off in early 2014 and that happens to be the time when I hit my current 1461-1583 rating trading range. I know that the visualization exercises from the book helped me and I am now wondering if ceasing those has helped bring about my stagnation.
So, these videos have inspired me to add in 3 visualization session based on IM Rensch's suggestions; I've started off this week by working on memorizing square colors and diagonals and then will go from there.
Another change I made was to reduce my chess commitment a bit from 20 to 18 hours per week (including both training and games). The idea here is that I can always do more if I have the time and motivation but I would prefer to get all "green bars" on my tracking chart than have it constantly littered with "red bars" because I've simply overcommitted and am not getting everything done. Lots of green bars are a motivation for me. 

So, here is my updated plan for the quarter:
Notice that I've slightly reduced the number of master games, analysis problems, and tactics problems and added in the three visualization exercises.
Also notice how many red and yellow bars I had for the weeks of 12/22 and 12/29 (just the top half gets marked in red for not completing: The bottom half activities have not weekly commitment). Then in the week of 1/5 (the current week) we have only three red bars remaining and two of those will be knocked out tomorrow, giving me all green except for "Play a USCF game" because I missed chess club this week.

Rating goals
My long term rating goal is 2000 by 7/1/2018, which would be five years after I started my serious chess study program. Is this possible? I think it is, given that I stick to the program and put in the hard work necessary, but also keep the sense of joy with the game. As I experienced over the summer, it is easy to get burned out and just go through the motions. I have to avoid this at all cost and take breaks or otherwise mix up my routine when I feel burnout looming.
I've set my immediate rating goal for 7/1/2015 at 1700 (I'm currently 1530) and the end of the year at 1800. This is pretty insane but I feel like I am not that far away. I am beating or drawing enough class B players right now (but also losing to or drawing class D players....) that I have hope that I am in that same league, given I can plug my current Hope Chess holes.
Unlike previous years, I am not going to dwell on hitting a certain rating by a certain date but will try hard to enjoy the journey of discovery as I learn more about chess, and myself. If I do that and work hard on improving, my rating will eventually improve to where it belongs at any given moment.