Road to Master: An Update
Road to Master: The Journey So Far
It's been almost a full year since my blog where I announced my plan to try to reach the national master title. If anyone did not see that post the goal was to climb from my rating at the time (around 1500 USCF) to national master (2200+) within the next few years. So far, I am happy with my progress. Within the last year I have climbed to almost 1850 USCF and I wanted to make an updated post on what I have learned so along the way along with some updates I have made to my repertoire and training methods for those interested in that sort of thing.
In order to climb over 300 points in the past year I tried to practice every day even if it was in a minor way. I have followed the method coined the woodpecker method in Pump Up Your Rating or the Seven Circles in Rapid Chess Improvement. The idea is essentially spaced repetition of tactical patterns. I personally the books Complete Chess Workout and Practical Chess Exercises although any puzzle book will do. I then set myself a given time to finish a certain amount of puzzles. After completing the book in a few months, I returned to the book and repeat giving myself less time. The idea behind such spaced repetition is to allow the brain to start to recognize patterns and reinforce those patterns giving less and less time each time so that these tactical ideas become second nature. I also do something similar with my opening preparation using Chessable which uses spaced repetition in order for people to learn chess openings. This is particularly useful for critical variations within my repertoire where knowing exact move orders is sometimes important.
In terms of games and analysis I have tried to avoid playing a lot of blitz chess as I felt it was lowering my game and I have also never been that good at shorter time controls. Instead I have focused on long time control tournaments and afterwards I analyze by myself and then with friends without a computer before finally checking our analysis with the engine. I also try to note what I was thinking during the game as well as if time pressure was an issue at certain points in the game. This let's me know if I need to improve my mental state during a game (was I scared of entering complications, the rating difference, etc).
How to Climb
In general, there have been a few basic principles I have stuck to in order to help me climb.
- Know your basic rook and pawn endgames
- Games can be made simpler if, after you get an edge, you can liquidate down to a winning ending.
- The general principles are nice but if you can't convert winning rook and pawn endgames (such as the Lucena position) or defend basic rook and pawn endings (with the third rank defense), you will lose valuable half points.
- Chessable has a free book by IM John Bartholomew on these endgames which I can recommend.
- Avoid offering draws if possible
- Test your opponent's knowledge of theoretical draws such as the third rank defense in R+P+K vs R+K
- Look at the games of Karpov and Carlsen for ideas on creating problems and grinding down your opponents in equal positions
- When in a tough position complicate the game and play with tricks
- 'Hope chess' is a bad way to win and improve but playing for tactical complications and tricks in lost or losing position is sometimes the only way to proceed.
- Not the greatest way to win/draw but tactical tricks in the position are very helpful.
- Complications have saved me some critical half points and sometimes even given me a full point when I should have lost. Make your opponent make the only moves in the position to win the game.
- Take these next two positions as examples.
Game 1 - Campbell (1541)-Sanders (2018)
This was a position that occurred some time ago but an important note on staying vigilant and watching for tactical opportunities. I was going down a piece for a pawn after blundering earlier so rather than suffering I sacrificed the pawn back essentially praying for a recapture on c4 with the pawn. Sanders did just that assuming a trade of queens and a quick resignation to follow and missed my tactical shot available in this position.
Game 2: Opaska (2099)-Campbell (1743)
This was a complicated Semi-Slav that I had misplayed out of the opening and had reached a critical position here. Black had earlier forced the white king to the e2 square in order to complicate matters and provide some tactical threats. This slight complication proved valuable. White should have just taken the exchange with Ng4-h6 but instead sacrificed the knight with Nxe5 to reach the position displayed below where white thought there was a crushing attack but in fact it is black to move and win.
Updating the Repertoire
I have also updated my repertoire slightly although the basic idea has not changed. The main reasons for these changes are to create positions I personally find slightly more interesting.
Double Kingpawn: The Ruy Lopez/Spanish - I play this from both sides of the board and enjoy it immensely.
Sicilian: Be2 Variations/Maroczy Bind Structures - I enjoy the solid and positions Be2 lines favored by Karpov, Adams, Geller and even Carlsen from time to time. I also quite enjoy the bind structures against the Kan, Taimanov, Kalashnikov and Accelerated Dragon variations.
French: Classical 3. Nc3 - I have swapped over from the classical mainline of 4. Bg5 for the modern approach of the Steinitz variation with 4. e5. Additionally, against the Winawer I have opted for the sharp and interesting 5. Qg4 which is not as bad as it may seem at first.
Caro-Kann; Classical - Although the Advance Variation with 4. h4 looks fairly reasonable for white, I have always enjoyed the classical Caro-Kann and did not particularly enjoy facing the h6 variations in the Advance Caro-Kann with 4. h4 which seems to be the best line for black.
I hope you enjoyed this update on my journey to master. Feel free to comment or ask questions about my training, repertoire, etc. Hopefully, this will be another year of 300+ points of rating gain and good chess.