The Road is Not the Same for Everyone

The Road is Not the Same for Everyone

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Hello everyone! 

It has been a while since I have updated my blog, but that was partially intentional! In previous blogs, I have posted the videos that I have done for a video series on Instagram around my 8 Fundamental Principle for Improving Your Chess. This one I will still share two of those videos but I felt they deserved a more substantial blog as far as writing is concerned, with the videos merely being bonuses.

My two principles that these videos talk about is Be Honest With Yourself, and Realize The Road is Not the Same for Everyone. Both of these are very connected and very important, but as you can tell from the title the latter one is the one I want to emphasize.

So first being honest with yourself. This may be something you don’t really think about when it comes to improving in chess, but I think we all (especially chess players) have a tendency to overstate our mistakes or try to ignore them. We need a good in-between, which is honesty. Now the obvious question is why is that important? Well, I think of it as fixing a hole in a tire or fixing a leak in the pipes in your house. You can’t really do anything until you actually locate where the problem is. But once you do then you can decide the measures you need to take to fix the problem. And it is the same in chess. To fix the things you need to fix you first need to understand what you need to fix. And that is where honesty comes in. When you are honest and objective about the mistakes you are making then you are identifying the problem and thus one step closer to fixing it. Sometimes it is difficult to identify the problem yourself and that is where outside assistance comes in, but even then you have to be honest and humble in being able to say whether or not someone’s suggestion of what you need to work on is a correct suggestion. Honesty is not just accepting it, but it is not just rejecting it. A couple of experiences come to mind that have emphasized this point to me over the years. 

The first was for myself. In my younger years, I really feel like I didn’t have a good grasp of some of the classical methods of studying. I remember working with some of my first GM coaches how the idea of studying classical games started to come together for me. That really wasn’t something I had done, and that being a good way of studying chess had never really occurred to me. That hit me especially when I was working with GM Melik Khachiyan, and then continued when I started working with GM Alex Chernin. I will never forget when I first started working with GM Alex Chernin and how shocked he was by the fact I had gotten to where I had without knowing a lot of the classical games and strong ideas from them. GM Chernin said to me in those first few times of working together that I knew nothing, but that was okay because I hadn’t built any bad habits, and he knew how to help me. Now the reason he said this was because I really did know little to nothing about the classical games. Which was fully true and not something I could argue with. But GM Khachiyan had told me something similar and strongly recommended I study those games, and I did a little bit, but definitely not as much as I should have. So I was in a lot of ways more willing to be honest and humble with GM Chernin, and it made a huge difference as I followed that advice. 

The other experience I had was with the roles reversed. With me being the one to give the suggestion. There was this chess club I was going to a decent amount, and with me being by far the highest-rated player often the other players would ask my advice on different parts of chess that they had. Now there was this one player there that asked me a particular question about attacking your opponent. I started to answer it and could quickly tell my answer was being met with skepticism. Over the weeks I felt like that feeling that it was taken skeptically was confirmed when he asked me pretty much the same question several times only phrasing it a little bit differently every time he asked. The problem was that he liked to attack a certain way, almost always by pawn-storming or an early sacrifice. This sometimes worked, but my advice was basically that those things aren’t always the answer and you need to be careful of them sometimes. Which if you do look at some of the top players that are more aggressive, they have a lot of ways of going about attacking and can find some absolutely unbelievably attacking ideas, but you can also see how sometimes they buckle down and play a strong positional game. They are willing to do both and that goes a long way. For the friend I was trying to help at this chess club, he was so focused on when the attack worked, that he wasn’t honest about the times when it failed miserably and he should have gone a different way. And so I don’t think he was ever able to fully identify the differences between when it worked and when it didn’t and thus was never able to fix some of the mistakes he was making when his attacks were not justified.

These are just a couple of experiences, but there are definitely many more I could share. 

So how does this relate to the road not being the same for everyone? 

First, I cannot tell you how many people ask for advice on chess, basically looking for what I did to make it to GM and hoping to replicate it. If you have been wondering why I have been doing this video series of my Fundamental Principle that is why. These principles could literally apply to anything you want to get better at. I have directed them towards chess and based them on my experiences from chess, but they are in a lot of ways general suggestions with some smaller specific suggestions related to chess. If you are looking for the one answer to go from 1000 to GM you will never find it. I know for myself I had to constantly readjust things as I got better and better. And it all comes down to the fact that we see things differently. We all process things differently, and what someone might need to know to help them get from 1700 to 1800 is different from what someone else might need to help them get from 1700 to 1800.

Now it is true that there still are some important things relating to strategy in chess that you have to come to know no matter who you are. But the way someone approaches learning some of those things or the timing that someone focuses on those things will change from person to person. Going back to the example I gave of myself above on being honest. When I was about 2250 I was very good tactically but struggled positionally. I was able to fix my weakness in positional play through studying the classical games and learning the ideas from them. However, that doesn’t mean everyone should follow that same path of getting really good at tactical play and then focusing on positional play. That is what worked for me. I, just like you, am unique. I see things in a unique way to me. I process things in a unique way to me. Will I have similarities to you? Yes, and that is why we can learn so much from other people. But if you try to become me, you will fail. If I try to become you, I will fail. Once you realize that you are not meant to be someone else then you are in the prime spot to learn from someone else. You have to know that you are unique and need to focus on applying good principles to yourself rather than trying to rid yourself of your uniqueness and become someone you are not for the sake of becoming “good”. I should add, however, that this is why you have to connect this with being honest with yourself. Because while we are unique our unique view does not change facts. A good move in chess will always be a good move and a bad move in chess will always be a bad move. Realizing the road is not the same for everyone is not supposed to change what is good or bad, it is there to help us focus on identifying what we need specifically.

Let me give you an example! I have had a few people that have asked me how they go about studying classical games. There are many great books out there that cover the classical games and have some good analysis, but the important thing I always emphasize with anyone is to go in with a specific question or questions. If you read those books then likely you could learn a lot from just the analysis included, but if you take the opportunity to identify what you need specifically and go into those games looking to understand that it will benefit you so much more. That may be something as simple as trying to understand when it is good to trade queens and when it is not. Whatever you feel like you struggle with, go into studying those games with those struggles and looking for how to fix them. 

Lastly, with all of this, I just wish you the best of luck in finding your road to improving in chess. Go study the good concepts, hear what other people have to say and what worked for them, and then apply them to you specifically.

Thanks for reading! Keep an eye out for the next blog I post!

The Videos:

Principle #3: Be Honest with Yourself

Principle #4: Realize the Road is Not the Same for Everyone