Rags to Riches?

Apr 19, 2012, 1:31 PM |

...otherwise known as, "My journey from beginner level chess to being a "class" rated player".  Is it possible at the ripe old age of 42?

So here I am, a premium member of Chess.com, with oodles of tools to help me get better, thousands of potential opponents and mentors...what to do?!?

So I don't know if this goal is achievable or not, but based on what I've read in the forums, it looks like it might be. And just like anything else, you get out what you put in.  I'd like to achieve 1500 Online rating within a year.

A few weeks of tactics training, videos, and chess mentor, and I can feel myself improving.  I'm hovering around a solid 1150 rating, with a few recent lucky wins putting me around 1200, but I can feel the competition getting tougher, and challenging me more and more each game.

Here is my plan:

  • Tactics Trainer
  • Chess Mentor
  • Videos
  • A book
  • 10+ Online games to "practice"
  • Chess960 Games
  • Online games with a mentor to get the "mindset" of chess
  • Live Games

Tactics Trainer

As often as possible.  I discovered on my own it's not good to use the tactics trainer when I'm not feeling well, or preoccupied with something else - fail after fail!  I dropped almost 150 pts in one session before I realized it wasn't the right time.

I also discovered that when it shows me my rating every single time, it's a distraction.  So I changed my setting to ONLY stop when I fail a lesson.  When I pass a lesson, it just goes to the next one.  I get better streaks this way, and feel I'm not distracted with the rating each time. When I fail a lesson, I can take the time to "Try Again", and really l earn it.

Chess Mentor!

This is probably my favorite premium benefit.  But more importantly, I found a unique way to use this tool.  I started going through lessons rated close to me. When I would fail or get less than a 100% score, I would retake the lesson again to get 100%.

Good, right?  WRONG!

The 100% I would subsequently get was a farce.  I only achieved the win because Chess Mentor just told me the answer.  I hadn't actually LEARNED the lesson, I just repeated what I just saw.  So, I came up with a new plan which so far I feel is actually working.

  • Select a course at or slightly above my rating (currently in the 1200 range), but also that I feel would help me the most (for example, a course on how to achieve a Draw in a complicated end game is nice, but I need to know how to GET to that point first - with forks, pins, skewers, etc - tactics.  So those courses will be what I select first, those with action - mating nets, tactics, opening theory, etc.
  • Do each lesson in a course.  Use the hints freely, if needed.  But my score is my score.  If I get a 0%, so be it.  if I get a 50%, so be it.  Once I know the answer, I MOVE ON.  File that one away.
  • The next day or next session, I SORT the course listing by "Percent Completed, Descending"....this shows me the courses I am currently working on.
  • Start at the top with the first lesson inside the course I want to work on...and retake every lesson, including those I passed with 100%!
  • The idea is that as I get better, I should improve ALL of those scores, with the goal being eventually to get a 100% on each and every lesson.  When I achieve that, I feel I have truly mastered the material, rather than simply regurgitate the answer while it's fresh in my mind.

I've been doing this for about 2 weeks now.  I can already feel it is helping, as there have been SEVERAL games I've played where positions that were similar to those I found in the Chess Mentor, presented themselves, and I saw them!


Videos are easy. When I don't feel like thinking too much, making moves, etc - I'll find a good video and watch it.  Admittedly, they are not all on Chess.com, but the Chess.com videos are excellent.  I've found some good videos on YouTube also, but they are mainly focused on openings.  So when someone plays an opening with me that I don't understand (which is just about ALL of them!), I will go and watch a video on it before making a move.

Overall the videos are a great way to put my feet up, Diet Mtn Dew in hand, sit back, and learn a little more about chess.

A Book

A chess.com friend (and mentor) told me about a book, that so far, has proven to be very helpful Jeremy Silman's "The Amateur's Mind".  But I know it's not enough to simply read a book, and confuse myself trying to follow along on a static image of the starting position.  So I use a little free Chess Openings app to follow along.  I've had some difficulty figuring out how to use the setup board on chess.com to do this, so the free app is working just fine.  Silman gave starting positions to his students, then wrote down and commented on their THOUGHTS as they analyzed each position out loud.  It's a great learning tool to compare what the amateur sees compared to what a master sees.

Online Games!

That's why we're here, right?  To PLAY chess!  I think playing games also provides:

  • A great way to "test" your progress...am I truly getting better?  if I am, my rating should slowly rise.
  • Test tactics and other goodies.  I use games also to test my own theories about why a certain trap or line is bad, etc.


Funny story - one you might recognize.  I get an online game challenge request from a random player.  I accept it.  I make a move, he makes a move.  I make another move, he makes a very strange move.  I make another move. He makes a totally illegal move!  How on earth did he move his Bishop there?

Oh wait...why are all those pieces in the wrong place?


I resigned realizing it was confusing, and I had no clue what to do.  fast forward to now....a good friend challenged me to 960, and I decided to oblige.  It turns out I am liking it more than I thought I would.  Now that I understand it's purpose, I feel it is a terrific way for me to accomplish three things:

  1. Focus on tactics solely, without the need to know any openings.
  2. Improve my "board vision"....with the pieces scattered randomly, it's more important to be aware of where the pieces are.  So I'm hoping by playing 960, my ability to see the board will improve.
  3. Testing ground.  I don't really care what my Chess960 rating is.  So I can experiment with ideas - what happens when I just move all my pawns?


A friend offered to "mentor" me by playing unrated "take back" games, and walking through games to better understand them.  I can't tell you how valuable this has been so far.  We've all heard someone tell us that moving our Rook to that square was a bad move, but do they ever take the time to really EXPLAIN why it's a bad move?

I am hoping that playing with a much higher rated player than me and allowing myself to be open to criticism will help change the way I think about chess.

Live Games

Although this is not my primary focus, I think it is important.  I have read from multiple sources that playing Live games will help you with timing and making decisions.  I won't focus too much time here since I would prefer to learn the correct moves rather than frantically make bad moves just to save time, but eventually this is where I will prove my worth.