How to Reassess your Chess

Wouter_Remmerswaal wrote:

Dear GlasgowM8,

I find it interesting how someone would claim it is as "The truth" when it is a theory. No matter how likely it may seem. The brain is still a thing we do not know much about.
I suggest a slightly more nuanced view of science.

By the way I am not saying it is false what you say, but I simply say that the way you present it is far away from scientific and logical. As a matter of fact I believe that to a large degree you are right. But there is also one thing that I do not understand at all from your argument. How come that people do improve? I've improved playing a lot this year, which isn't a few months. Which I guess I would describe as permanent improvement. And there are many who improve, children who get better. Grandmasters who rise to the top.

But now back to the way you present your argument.
At the moment you are using a technique for defending your opinion/theory in which involves claiming something as the absolute truth. With this you refer to scientific study that you claim are without doubt, but for some reason you do not give the actual source of this claim but you do seem to have the time to write extensive long posts.
By presenting these "facts" this way you are indeed very convincing. It is much more convincing to believe someone who claims to have the truth then to believe someone who claims that something might be that way but that there still is a lot of research to be done. This is a common technique used by people to convince others. It's not a technique of delivering the correct information but rather a way of swaying people to follow your opinion, even if they do not have any correct information to back up their newly formed opinion. Politicians love it!

By using this it is sometimes very hard for the people listening to the arguments to distinguish theories with solid evidence.

So people I ask you. Please think for yourself!

P.S. Again I am not saying wether or not what you say is true or false. All that I am saying is that the way you present it is in a non factual way.

Great post.  You are right.  Totally.  

I should not really have a defence but as an explanation:  For this layman audience I use words like "Truth" when I really should not were it another more knowleadgeable readership, I would use scientific language with all the built in caveats and cop-outs inherent in not stating something that cannot be proved 100% mathematically, but you will have heard of the one about if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, chances are it's a duck.  

It's a chess discussion forum.  Not a PhD Thesis.  These are merely coments based on a "little learning" (which is dangerous thing as we all know) I have and talks with people who have a lot of knowldge about behaviour, free will and the difficulty in being able to break established habitual behaviours.  I thought some may be interested - and I have had a lot of private messages in support and asking for more info (keep 'em coming!).

The most important thing I have said here is that human beings have very very VERY good reasons for NOT changing any behaviour that is subconscious or done without thinking, and while you can change that behaviour (for example how you think about making a chess move,) in the short term you cannot keep that process conscious forever and when it goes into the subconscious state - the new behaviour will be rubbed out progressively (not immediately it takes a bit of time) by the old established hard wired behaviour you had been using for years and years -   that's what Self-Help books do not tell you, and some people (not you) don't know this.  Silman's writing shows that he has not a clue about this....  

And I whole heartily agree with your comment about people thinking for themselves.  

Thanks for your comment.  

GlasgowM8 wrote:

1. Let’s be clear here Silman as far as I know is the only one of the three who is selling the dream of permanent improvement the other two are of course trying to help you improve but in different ways.  But they want your money.  So three teachers who write books ….  Have these players managed to put on two hundred rating points?................

2.  there are ways to improve permanently, yes there are.  But it is very difficult.  And to tell you the truth not really worth the effort, if you are going to put that amount of effort in you might as well do it in a field that would be really beneficial to you, like making more money or becoming a better perosn overall... or raising money for charity or helping homeless lesbian illigal imiigrant run aways......................

You say your web rating has gone up 50 points since you started reading the book, great, well done, and very interestingly you say you “feel you know more”  - I would expect this to be the case, because you do, it is fresh in your mind – but mark my words come August you will not feel this way and if you do you will be doing better than 95% of the people who have shelled out hard earned money for Silman’s book.    Maybe you could report back then?  ............

Hope that is enough to be going on with.

Good luck with your permanent improvement.

 Thanks for taking the time to reply, Glasgowm8, and for your good wishes.

1. [numbered above] I think Silman is saying he knows how to help 1400-2000 players to improve. At least, that's what "Reassess" seems to say. Perhaps he - and others - have realised the truth of 2. Perhaps I need to also.

Let's see if this thread is still going in August. What you say seems to make a lot of sense - ie, changing ingrained habits (and that includes how you play chess) is hard. I too have interests in this from other fields - and I think so much of life is about establishing good habits.


Most professionals (doctors, lawyers, accountants) learn their trades and become "experts" as adults with a few years of diligent study.


Just because one is a better chess player than another does not mean that the better chess player is a better teacher.  Playing and teaching are two different skills.  Many of the best managers in the game of baseball were mediocre players at best.

TheBone1 wrote:

Just because one is a better chess player than another does not mean that the better chess player is a better teacher.  Playing and teaching are two different skills.  Many of the best managers in the game of baseball were mediocre players at best.

What a strange analogy.

Wouter_Remmerswaal wrote:
TheBone1 wrote:

Just because one is a better chess player than another does not mean that the better chess player is a better teacher.  Playing and teaching are two different skills.  Many of the best managers in the game of baseball were mediocre players at best.

What a strange analogy.

Thank you.Smile

TheBone1 wrote:
Wouter_Remmerswaal wrote:
TheBone1 wrote:

Just because one is a better chess player than another does not mean that the better chess player is a better teacher.  Playing and teaching are two different skills.  Many of the best managers in the game of baseball were mediocre players at best.

What a strange analogy.

Thank you.

You are most welcome.

solomonben wrote:

GlasgowM8 argument (in my opinion, so don't get mad!) is flawed in many ways:

1. He uses as example a pathetic loser like Silman, who couldn't even reach GM level! Why he didn't use someone as Fischer? Kortchnoi? Kasparov? Come on, you cannot use as example of the best in physics, or another discipline, someone who evidently of that field didn't understand much (and the results prove it).

2. If he would have used real players, instead of Silman who is nobody, then his example wouldn't work, because we have seen the raise of 200 points or more in adulthood of players like Fischer or Kasparov. (I continue to quote these two, because are the one I know best as games, I would never waste a minute reading something written by Silman or buy one of his useless copy and paste books, since what he did was just to paraphrase works from Pachman and Euwe)

Then I also noticed another comment where a guy, evidently conned by Silman, was repeating, like a good parrot, that watching fast many games would improve the player. Well evidently many chess players are not able to use their brains. If that system would have worked, we would have seen it first in Silman. But Silman doesn't know how to teach chess or play it (of course he knows the rules, and he is able to push the pieces), and consequently we can see it in his tournament results which are mediocre at best.

In former Soviet Union nations players like Silman maybe would reach a class B level, if they are lucky. So I definitely rule out him as example.

There is then another side of this argument that GlasgowM8 fails to address. What if knowledge itself is not permanent? What if what we believe of chess knowledge in the 1920s is not the same of the 1970s, how would then we compare the leap in rating, when we are comparing two different kind of knowledge? (Chess rules have been changed, thanks to a change in knowledge, without mentioning that computers have also put in doubt fixed knowledge and judgment about some positions, which before were considered won for one side)

Instead we continue to believe that there are some kind of fixed laws which rule ALL the Universe at ALL time, when this is clearly not the case.

I believe this argument is more complex than just mediocre players/teachers like Silman. Life itself is a flowing continuum not something which is permanent.

Look, do not take this the wrong way, but I seriously believe you have some difficulties in reading.  This is not about SIlman, this is about whether a player can improve as an adult by 200 rating points after being at a Plateau for a period of (say) five years.  It has nothing to do with whether anyone is 'pathetic' - which is highly offensive, Silman is a book writer, and whether he may be a great writer in some people's eyes or a poor one in others has hee-haw to do what I argued in all my posts here.  The argument is that the method (please look at this word) Silman (and Kotov, Rowson, Ashley etc.) gives for improving will not result in a permanent improvement.  

Your comment that knoweldge is not permanent is interesting, but I do not know, it has nothing to do with this argument, rather I say that there is good evidence to strongly suggest that learning something new to change old habits will result in a short term change but that after a period of time this new habit will be wiped from your habitual way of doing things and the old established habit will re-assert itself.  It does not matter that you identify (with the help of a book by SIlman for example) that you have a weakness in your habitual way of playing certain positions, then work on it, eradicate it, by the time it goes into the subconscious and the work you have done to elimibate that weakness will be progressively wiped ----- and the old established habitual you had for years will reassert itself and when you are playing blitz for example you will play like you did before you identified the weakness. This is what I argue is wrong with the kind of books that Silman and many others write.  

If this has not happened to you, well you are lucky, becasue it happens to almost every chessplayer. 

Now I appreciate that this is a compliated concept.  I appreciate that it may be difficult to follow, as it takes time to appreciate the nuances of this type of multi stage argument, but I would appreciate it, truly, if you would be so good as to not claim that my argument is flawed then not touch upon it at all but instead launch into a tirade against an author like Silman.  This has nowt t'do wi' SIlman as a person and abusing him is no way to win an argument. 

Hope this helps :-)


Fischer saw many thousands of games (millions?).  10,000 hours.  There is nothing special about chess.


Fischer was way better at age 29 than at age 20.  Adult.   See Eriksson's papers on neurocognitive learning.  The only proven thing that separates "experts" from "not" is time invested.  Child prodigies have simply had more exposure to a concept or theme than non-prodigies.

People learn foreign languages as adults and have accents, yet many of those people can speak and understand the "foreign" language better than many native people who do not have accents.  

Such an experiment would be awesome.  If they paid my room and board and gave me a stipend and paid off my debts, I'd love to be a 10-year subject. 

Dvoretsky claims he can make a weak master into a GM in 5 years (is it true? I don't know).  The evidence that only children can become GM's is not scientific but observational and unproven in controlled longitudinal studies.

The time thing you mention I agree with 100% and it is huge.  It is ridiculous to ignore it completely.  Efim Geller learned chess as a young man and Bobby Fischer couldn't beat him until he became the greatest ever.  I saw a clip of Kayden Troff on some morning show where he says he plays/studies chess 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours again at night.  How many adults do you know who can and will do this?

If Silman is awful, then so is every writer in the same genre, because none of their books have made me consistently break online 1400, including several famous reputable tactics books.  

solomonben wrote: and wrote and wrote and wwrote and wrote and still did n't say anything.

Oh you are a troll are you?  Well done, either that or you have  real comprehension problems.    No point in replying once again with feeling because you can't seem to grasp the meaning of five years at a plateau.  Maybe look that up? 

Have fun


I get your point, Glasgowm8: you question the possibility of improving as an adult after plateauing for (at least) five years. I was 1900 otb aged 19. After a ten-year break I resurfaced at 1600 for three or four years. A 15-year break now sees me at 1700 after a year here. Will Silman - or anyone else - help me get back my old otb rating? Will he help me break 2000?

Your main point seems to be that old habits die hard. As a general statement that is true (that is why they are habits). The only answer to the question: "And does this apply to chess?" is, "Generally, yes" - ie, there will be exceptions.

BTW, solomonben, to say that Silman is poor witer/chessplayer is a) manifestly untrue (as an IM that makes him in the top 3,000 players in the world - I believe) and b) simply rude...

...which isn't to say that Glasgowm8's critique of him is wrong.


I do not know, how do I do this?  This is very good quesiton.


Hello, Ben

You make good points about the validity - or otherwise - of ratings. I play chess in different conditions than when I was 1900 otb.

I am still interested in Glasgow's hypothesis about it being v difficult to improve 200 points after a plateau. I suppose for it to be examined 'scientifically' it needs to be observable/repeatable. Who's going to fund the project?

ArnesonStidgeley wrote:

I am still interested in Glasgow's hypothesis about it being v difficult to improve 200 points after a plateau. I suppose for it to be examined 'scientifically' it needs to be observable/repeatable. Who's going to fund the project?

Hi Arneson Stidgeley,

There's no need to fund a project.  The work has already been done.  Thousands of chess players have tried and very few, maybe less than 5%, have been able to put on 200 rating points as adults after a plateau of five years.  That means five years at a certain rating give or take a few points.  I do not know any GM or IM or Master who has managed to increase his rating by 200 points after five years at a band of say 50 points.  

I do not think  that this inability to improve is not to do with gaining more knowledge, or the amount of time you devote to chess (God knows I am living proof myself of that :-) but rather something more central to who and what we are and how we learn and what habitual reactions we have.

There has been a lot of published scientific material on this, but few essays.  

Below I give some references of books you might want to pick up (one can be had for free in PDF) and a Podcast where the subject of the habit centre in the brain wiping out new acquired habits or information.  Well worth a listen:

A couple of good places to start are:

“Memory and Brain” by Squire, Larry. Professor of psychiatry and neurosciences and psychology at the University of California, San Diego and a scientist at the VA Medical Center in San Diego

(Drawing on recent work in psychology and neuroscience, this well written text provides a coherent, contemporary account of how memory is organized in the brain. It begins with the synapse and proceeds to a review of the function and structure of neural systems and the organization of cognition. Throughout the book the author takes care to place current research in historical perspective and to identify major ideas and themes in memory research that have emerged in recent years so as to provide a solid foundation for future work. The book is amply illustrated and contains a useful glossary. Intended for undergraduate and graduate students in psychology and neuroscience, it will also be of value to teachers and researchers desiring a clear, authoritative account of our current understanding of how the brain accomplishes memory and learning.)

That book is fairly technical, but it does deal extensively with the procvess of making decision and how these are based on habit when they are repeated and repeated. It is not for everyone whereas the following is:

A very clear exposition by a respected author which has a section on not being able to change habits is included in the book:

"Why Choose This Book?": How We Make Decisions

Montague is Director of the Human Neuroimaging Lab at Baylor College of Medicine.  He devotes a large part of his book about how difficult it is to change an ingrained habit or action. 

 You can also download and interview with Reed Montague where he speaks about the brain’s powerful habit preservation (and progressive wiping of new habits) in a podcast.  He was interviewed by Molly Bentley and it’s available here:

The interview starts 15m 27secs in – listen to it three or four times because it is quite complicated what he is saying.

To get a glimpse of just how hard it is to change habits which are ingrained over a long time and even after recognising that they are bad for you (like many chess playing habits) I would humbly suggest you read pages 93 onwards of the book “The Universal Constant in Living” page 93 onwards, by Mathias Alexander.  I am not sure whether it is legal or not but I know that you can download a PDF of this free of charge if you Google it….

Very interesting to me is the section in that book about what others have called the “Euphoria Syndrome” which is in essence my belief about why people who buy self help books and think they can change (and books to help them Play Better Chess) are kidding themselves on.

Alexander  founded a Technique which helps people use their bodies and minds better and he noticed a pattern time after time with his students. This is fascinating:

Here's the story:  The Alexander Technique seeks to help people use their bodies in a better way by giving them a number of instructions (or directions) which they can use to change their habits.  Trouble is it takes a great deal more effort than just learning about the Technique.  What he saw was happening was that students were learning a bit of the Technique and could not believe how powerful this was - it seemed to solve all their mental and physical problems, they could apply it in any situation by stopping, inhibiting their habitual reaction, applying the directions that Alexander had taught them (and the Alexander Technique is different from chess in that the AT can't be learned it can only be taught in direct contrast to what Botvinnik said that chess cannot be taught it can only be learned... but that is another story...)

So, these students thought they had found a great secret!  They tell their friends about it, proclaim it from on high as an amazing thing eulogise the Alexander Technique as the greatest thing ever, they are euphoric with the powerful secret they have learned and for a while this continues - but it is not a permanent state, and Alexander in his book describes that these students of his were in fact just reacting in their old way as they could not possibly (and did not) actually change their ingrained habitual response or activity, way of thinking or moving or whatever they were trying to actually change.  And after a period, maybe a couple of weeks, a month - but not long - they were regressing, they could not continually put in the same conscious effort of applying the Alexander Technique in every situation, or even the situation they had found success with the AT originally.  

Fact is that Alexander just plain said in his book that short exposure to anything no matter how great a secret will not change the habit centre... permanently, that takes much more work, much much more work - and this is the Euphoria Syndrome, short term high where you think you have found a secret, do not put in enough work and the effect of the exposure to the catalyst for change (be it the Alexander Technique, Yoga, Jeremy Silman's chess book, Lasker's Manual of Chess, a Master class lesson in fusion guitar playing, a Change Your Life in Seven Days Program.... anything at all).  People want to change, or improve or get better and look for a way of doing this, they get elated when something clicks with them, but in reality nothing has permanently changed....

What I have drawn from this and it is you cannot change permanently anything you do habitually – like playing chess - by being told to do something or instructed to do something in certain circumstances or even trying to learn something yourself without a massive and repeated effort and a physical trigger or stimulus which will permanently change your habitual reaction.... it's difficult, very very difficult.  

Hope this helps.  That's my prime reason for posting here.  

And good luck with a permanent improvement! 



Speaking of interesting psychological studies and breakthroughs, a relevant one here is the effect of the belief that we have uncovered a fraud, lie or conspiracy. Once a person believes they have uncovered such a discrepancy, the power it has to consume the mind is unbelievable. Confirmation bias has an incredible way of making it seem like the "truth" we've discovered is proven everywhere, and the possession of this knowledge feels very important.

So, for example, if one discovered the rather true fact that chess improvement is more difficult than reading a book, they might become fixated on the idea that the author of a chess book is a fraud. Once confirmation bias kicks in, they can produce reams of quoted data.


I just received Silman's ''The Amateur's mind'' and HTRYC workbook. I've started Amateur's and I am following the advice I've read on these forums. I've read several Novice Nook articles and basically realise that I am playing hope chess instead of real chess. Silman's books enable me to understand positional play and I think by following the exercises and practising them that they will be part of my playing or rather thinking process. I'm an adult and I have learnt many other activities through books. I am considered a good self learner because I usually apply what I read. It's probably because I do the exercises after learning something new. Although I've played chess many years ago, I didn't know nothing about opening or tactics etc.....So I consider myself a beginner since I started last september by joining

Although many here will talk about the retention of habits etc....I believe every book can have something to help an individual and its up to us to take and leave what we think is useful at that particular moment. I feel The amateur's mind is just perfect for me at this point along with all the other stuff I have to absorb to improve. We will see in a couple of months....


It's like buying a book on how to run a marathon. You can read all kind of stuff about psychology, breathing, running technique, nutrition, etc. You'll think to yourself "I can do that!" But until you get out and pound the pavement regularly for a long period of time, it's all in your head.


Expounding on the point:

I got an hour in with this book today. That hour was enough to get through about 3.5 pages of material, and even then I probably could have given some of the positions more time.

I have a lot more spare time than most chess players are fortunate enough to have, and it's going to easily take me six months to get through this book. I'd be shocked if 5% of the people who buy chess books actually use them in the way they are intended.

KyleMayhugh wrote:

Expounding on the point:

I got an hour in with this book today. That hour was enough to get through about 3.5 pages of material, and even then I probably could have given some of the positions more time.

 Hello, Kyle, I'm certainly with you on the time it could take to go through 'Reassess'. At £23 (what I paid here in the UK) for the whole book it is certainly an inexpensive chess lesson-  less than 50p an hour. Some people, including our friend in the north, might suggest it's not even worth that.