ChessGoals Learner Series #1

ChessGoals Learner Series #1

SmarterChess
NM SmarterChess
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3

The ChessGoals.com Learner Series will highlight players that have made significant rating progress over the past few years. The first guest in the series, Jesse, is a good friend of mine and definitely a student of the game. He has gained over 250 points in his chess.com blitz in the last year, which is no small feat! If you have questions for Jesse, please leave them in the comments!


GENERAL OVERVIEW

How old are you and how long have you been playing chess?

I’m 30 and I’ve been playing chess for 5 years.  I literally didn’t know how the pieces moved before that.

How many hours per week do you spend on chess?

On most normal weeks I will play anywhere from 3-5 hours.  If I’m learning a new opening, I will dedicate about 10 hours for a couple of weeks to get it down. If I’m doing a tactics book I’ll spend 2-3 hours per week making my way through it.  If I want to focus on endgames I’ll play through some simple endgame for a couple of hours a week. There are many weeks that I do no intentional chess study. On average I would say I’m doing “chess stuff” for about 5 hours per week.  I’m doing some sort of deliberate chess study for roughly 1 week per month.

Chess website usernames?

I’m chessebuss on chess.com and lichess.

What’s your current skill level or rating?

I’m about 1575 blitz and rapid on chess.com, 1700 or so on lichess. My USCF rating is 1341 (more on that below)

PLAYING OVERVIEW — describe where you play, time controls, how often, etc

OTB

I sadly don’t have much time to dedicate to true OTB chess.  I will play 1 or 2 tournaments per year with nice slow time controls.  I’ve played 60|30, G45 or G60d5 events in the past. These are hosted at a local chess club; I have never traveled for an event.  When my kids grow I will play more events.

Online

I like to play on both chess.com and lichess- I don’t have a strong preference of the two.  I play a few blitz games per day on average. Normally 3+2 or 3+0. I’ll review the games after and do an opening check on each game. I will average 1 slow, 15+10 game per week, with analysis.

STUDYING OVERVIEW — talk about what sites you use, how often you spend, tips

Game Analysis

Both chess.com and lichess have good a post-game analysis tool.  I’ll analyze the game after I play them. One tip I have is to identify a key moment in the game when you know you were worse or better. Step backwards move by move and try to pinpoint the move when the evaluation changed or where the evaluation was equal.  In tactical games this may be easy but in more slow, positional games it can be much trickier!

If I am studying other players’ games (or my own OTB games)I will import them into a lichess study.  I’ll commentate through them and add my own comments before any engine analysis. Once I add the engine in I will try out other lines I thought were good to see if they can be easily refuted.

Tactics

I like puzzle rush a lot for tactics.  It helps you drill common ideas and mating patterns but more importantly- it’s fun!

The book “1001 Chess Exercises for Beginners” is fantastic and will help you drill these patterns into your brain.  There are many, many examples for each essential tactical motif. Chesstempo.com has great tactics as well. 

My tip is to mix in a problem set that you can do quickly and intuitively and also new tactics that you spend a few minutes per move.  Do your best to see through all variations before making your move. Solve for accuracy, not time.

Openings

For me, chessable is the best way to learn openings.  Their spaced repetition makes it so easy to learn new openings and have them stick.  They have a huge (and growing) catalog of opening books. Play through all variations from move 1.  The first few moves need to be pounded into your head so you never mess up a move order and get into a bad position.

My biggest tip on opening study is to focus on breadth rather than depth.  Do not, for example, spend hours studying the geller gambit if you are a beginner or intermediate player. You probably won’t see this in more than 1 in every 100 games you play.  Instead, focus on getting set ups that you understand against common deviations after 1. d4 d5. Know what you’ll play against the london system, trompowski, 2. c4, etc.  

Endgames

The chess.com endgame fundamental drills are really good: https://www.chess.com/drills/endgame-fundamentals

They will give you many endgame positions and motifs to work through.  Aside from that, going through basic endgame books (this one is free! https://www.chessable.com/course/6371/) are good.  I have not spent a ton of time on endgames. Most games at my rating are decided with tactics and middlegame play, not grinding out a rook endgame. The basic pawn endgames are vital to know but don’t spend hours of time on advanced endgame studies.

Strategy

I learned a lot of strategy and positional ideas from watching strong players on youtube.  My favorite is John Bartholomew https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6hOVYvNn79Sl1Fc1vx2mYA

His Climbing the Rating Ladder is very educational. His Chess Fundamentals series is great for newer players.  There is a ton to learn from his standard playlist, but his blitz playlist is probably even more dense with info.  If you watch and pay close attention you’ll learn great ideas through osmosis. Honorable mentions are Chessexplained (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCd9RHivv7ryAQSS7Q8p1zgA) and GingerGM(https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClV9nqHHcsrm2krkFDPPr-g)

OTHER USEFUL TIDBITS — Do you watch streams/videos, play variants, any unique things you do that others can learn from?

Get very familiar with your favorite openings and play them exclusively for a while.  Once you feel comfortable or bored start to branch out. You’ll learn a lot of strategy from learning new openings.  

Occasionally play games with the goal to gambit a pawn or even a piece.  Try to hold on!

At the lower levels, never resign.  Always look to complicate the game, make things unclear and press on the clock.  Hanging on in a lost position is a ton of fun once you learn to love it! You will learn a lot about how to defend actively and tactically. It will improve your game considerably.  Even if you’re down two rooks- look for stalemates!

For more content on chess development, please visit the ChessGoals.com website.