Week #52 - A year of studying (and blogging)

Sep 20, 2013, 7:16 PM |

(you can find the full blog at http://cloclotron.net/chess

Already it has been one year since my first lesson with my coach Attila Turzo, which took place September 14th, 2012. We had our 13th 2-hour lesson today, September 20th, 2013.

First, here are some milestones I have achieved and some numbers about my studying and blogging:

  • Reached 1901 rating on chess.com turn-based ladder on September 7th, 2013.
  • 52 weekly reports posted on the blog.
  • 86 games analyzed and posted on the blog.
  • 18 other posts about ideas, principles or funny things
  • For a total of 155 posts on my blog in a period of one year!
  • I have finished 4 chess books: How to re-assess your chess, 4th edition, by Jeremy Silman; Ideas behind the Chess Openings, by Reuben Fine; Chess Tactics from Scratch, 2nd edition by Martin Weteschnik; My System by Aron Nimzowitsch (okay, I'm lying, I haven't finished that one, but I will next week)
  • 13 two-hour lessons with my coach Attila Turzo.
  • 1052 (!) spam attempts on my blog detected.
  • Hundreds of tactical puzzles.
  • Dozens of losses.
  • A few wins...

What did things look like a year ago? Well, I had a 1757 rating on chess.com's turn-based ladder and players above 1800 were very intimidating. I've now managed to get a few scalps above 1900 and even one player over 2000 (once and it was pure luck, I suspect the chess.com server crashed and the database was corrupted, that is the only rational explanation). I had done some puzzles on the Tactics Trainer on chess.com, and read a bit on the Caro-Kann. I had learned basic ideas about the centre. My objective was to reach 2000 on chess.com's turn-based ladder before winter.

How have things changed? I reached 1900 on the turn-based ladder, and that took a whole year! I've almost finished 4 chess books. I've started building an opening repertoire for 1. d4 as White, the Caro-Kann against 1. e4 as Black and also the Slav against 1. d4, although I have not yet learned enough to earn my badge and become a full-fledged member of the Caro-Slav family. I studied some basic endgame ideas like the Philidor and Lucena positions. I learned alot about strategic play. I started to think about prophylaxis. I corrected some of the many psychological problems that I have when playing the game. My coach found me some training partners to play real games with a time control, which, knowing my opponent's ratings, puts me somewhere between Class B and Class A (so I finally got an idea of my chess strenght). I bought Fritz 13 and used it to annotate and analyze my games.

So I have come a long way, but there still is... an endless road that lies in front of me. So much to learn, so many aspects of my game to refine onwards to my ultimate goal of becoming a National Master (rating of 2200). At this point in time I think my intermediate goal would be to solidly enter into Class A (hopefully, also, to play tournaments or join a chess club, which is not easy due to my work schedule and various other addictions), gain thereafter a foothold into Expert level and keep studying... and studying... "Study. Win."

Fortunately, I still have a lot of time to reach my objectives: I have 16 more years to gain the title of National Master. I will probably need more, because I am already quite old and stupid. But that is fine, chess is beautiful, a great hobby and it is always very humbling.

Here are some  "new year's resolutions" which I came up with in the past few weeks:

  • Stop the vast majority of my activity on chess.com's turn-based system. Why? Because I usually have 10 games running simultaneously and this is a huge drain on my mental resources. Also, any games going forward will be set to 15 days per move - no pressure. I can play whenever I want without having to burn vacation time.
  • Stop using the analysis board and opening libraries for the small amount of games/moves I will keep playing on chess.com's turn-based ladder system. Why? Because these tools make you lazy and you don't really learn anything. Sure, the opening book is allowed in those games, but what good is it to have a GM-like position out of the opening if you didn't come up with the moves yourself (or at the very least, remember them from your own memory?). The same is true of the analysis board: it makes you lazy because you don't calculate. After not using it for just one day (!) I found my calculation skills had improved tremendously
  • Play 1 or 2 games maximum per week. Wth time controls, either 15+10 or more. Then spend 1 or 2 hours at least analyzing these games and finding improvements. This is basically the pace that masters have, if you look at the rating curves and game history on FIDE website, for example.
  • Spend the majority of time studying. Right now there is more time invested in playing all these moves on the turn-based system (essentially because my opponents all play their moves daily or many times per day even). By stopping my activities there, I will have more time available for study.
  • Study will now consist of opening repertoire, endgame study and tactical puzzles. In particular, I think the endgame and tactics are very fundamental to chess improvement. It it the way of the soviet school and I think it is a good method. Especially now since I have read Silman's Re-assess and Nimzowitsch's My System, I have a solid positional foundation.
  • An idea that came up now as I was writing this list is to analyze games on paper with a chess board instead of using Fritz 13. Sure, the engine is off when I'm annotating and analyzing, but sometimes the temptation... O! the temptation! is too great to resist. Also, annotating games on the computer is something I find somewhat tedious with the bright screen and all.
  • Work hard on my psychological downfalls. Today during the lesson with my coach I noticed my "instinct" when defending was to play passive moves. Instead, fighting chess is what it's all about. Moves should (ideally) always counterattack. Hopefully, I can isolate and resolve all my other psychological habits which are nefarious to my chess game.

How do you study? What do you think it takes to become a master for an adult? Do you use engines to improve, and how do you use them? What books would you recommend? Do you take private lessons with a coach? Feel free to post some comments!