How a Chess Player Improves from a 500 ELO Beginner to a 2000 ELO Expert
Originally Posted on August 2, 2009 on beginchess
Everyone is different; each person is going to reach a certain level at a different rate. Some people can jump sever hundred rating points in a matter of months, other people will stay at a particular rating level for a lifetime. There is no secret to improving in chess, but there are different things that a person can work on at each rating level.
Throughout my life, I have personally held ratings at each rating level. I believe I can relate better to players at each ELO since I am not a prodigy. I remember spending years at a 650 rating and I have had a peak rating of 1830 in 2016. I’ve spent significant time battling many players at each level as I climbed my way up (and falling back down) the ladder.
As of 2019, I will have played chess for 15+ years on and off. Currently, I believe I’m probably rated around the 1650s. Like most of you reading this I’m not trying to become a professional and I didn’t do any special training regimen. I just play for fun.
The following is based a combination of what I have learned and observed at each level and the post that was written in beninchess which a lot of things I agree with and adopted here. As stated originally, the idea is to show the estimated chess rating, the required knowledge and skill. Then show a rough timeframe of what it would take an average person with a modest amount of commitment to attain a specific ELO rating.
0-500 (less than 3 months of experience) Bright Learner. The realm of the beginning chess player. Player at this stage has just learned the game, he will constantly leave pieces en prise, and make many blunders. Player has no tactical, endgame, or positional knowledge. Player does not know about chess strategy and has no evaluation or analysis skills. A player at this level should just focus on playing more games and learn a little bit of basic theory, tactics, and combinations.
500-1000 (3-6 months of experience) Near Beginner. Player now has several games under his belt. He is able do some calculations and make a few combinations. He misses most of the tactics though, he make a lot of blunders, and leave pieces en prise. He plays without a plan. A player at this level should continue learning the basic theory. Focus on how to develop your pieces, castling early, and controlling the center. Also, start learning tactical motifs; focus on pins, forks, discovered attacks.
1000-1100 (6-14 months of experience) Beginner. Player begins to understand that chess is a two player game, and begins to ask what the opponent’s last move is threatening. He have very basic positional and tactical knowledge. He continue to make many blunders and leave pieces en prise, but less than before. Misses many tactics. He plays without a plan or plays with the wrong plan. Players at this level need to work on finding the right plan as well as review games to see the tactics and blunders missed. A player at this level typically struggle still with blunders and missing winning combinations. Blunders will lessen as you play more games. Work on mating in 1s and mating in 2s.
1100-1200 (1-2 years of experience) Astute Beginner. Player looks for checks, captures, and basic tactics. Has developed an understanding of the threats after opponent’s moves. At this level the player can probably beat the majority of his friends. He continue to blunder and occasionally leaves pieces en prise, but this is not a common occurrence. Sometimes plays with a plan, but the plan is usually incorrect. Since players at this level are starting to realize they are better than all their friends, they start playing unsoundly and breaking chess principles. Instead, you should re-double your efforts on the fundamentals. Focus on developing pieces properly, castling early, avoid traps, and most importantly force yourself NOT to move a piece twice until move 12 (unless you absolutely have no choice because your opponent is threatening to take a piece). This will force you to think really carefully about which squares you move a piece to because you cannot move them again for a while.
1200-1300 (2-3 years of experience) Intermediate Beginner. Players at this level have developed a decent thought process. Player has much better calculation ability and is able to better understand positional strengths and weaknesses. Blunders occasionally and improving in not leaving pieces en prise. It’s at this level that they typically struggle with making a lot of inaccurate moves and failing to see all the opponent’s threats when faced with multiple threats or less obvious threats. It’s a good idea here to focus on reviewing your own games to see better moves you could have made in critical points in the game. Also, in reviewing games, put yourself in your opponent’s shoes to try to understand why he made each move he made and what was he trying to do.
1300-1400 (3-5 years of experience) Advanced Beginner. Blunders still occur but less frequently. One major reason for their rating increase, is that player stops leaving pieces en prise. Player has stronger tactical skills but still misses many tactical shots. Starts to build an opening repertoire, which gets them into the middlegame with a better position. Very limited endgame skills and improving positional play. Starts making better plans due to limited endgame and positional knowledge. Players at this level often have glaring issues with their game and a lot of that revolves around blunders. The best way to clean that up is to focus on avoidance tactics and defensive tactics where your goal is to see and avoid or neutralize your opponent’s combinations.
1400-1500 (4-6 years of experience) Near Intermediate. Players at this level have reached a near intermediate thought process. Player has become pretty good at creating combinations and is able to calculate much better. Doesn't often leave pieces en prise and blunders less frequently. Very good with basic offensive tactics and improving on the defensive tactics side, but still misses a lot. Still building opening repertoire. Starts learning basic endgame and middlegame strategy, but knowledge is still very basic. This level is an important milestone for the beginning chess player because they are on the verge of being an intermediate player. Players at this level typically have trouble implementing plans. Focus on learning how to coordinate pieces to setting up for combination moves or to create weaknesses for the opponent.
1500-1600 (5-7 years of experience) Intermediate. Player has intermediate positional and tactical understanding. Able to calculate many levels deep and will see tactics quickly. Rarely leaves pieces en prise. The player still misses more advanced tactics and does not understand subtleties in positions. Has learned the type of player he is and developed pet openings. Still has basic knowledge of endgame and middle game strategies. Inaccuracies are still fairly common. Blunders are rarer, but still happen especially when time is an issue. Because players at this stage don’t make a lot of blunders, and more importantly know how to spot and punish blunders, making one single blunder will decide games. Hence, this is the main thing preventing players from going to the next level. Eliminating blunders and playing several games in a row blunder free games is the goal. Change up your time controls to work on visualization and calculating with time pressures. Try doing visualization exercises and other gaming types, switching things up often helps the brain.
1600-1700 (6-8 years of experience) Astute Intermediate. Player has better thought process, does not leave pieces en prise. A blunder only happens about one in ten games. Strong tactically, both on offense and defense (might occasionally miss a defensive tactic). Has an opening repertoire and plays pet openings. Starting to understand endgame, positional ideas, and developing good analysis skills. Players at this level often have poor positional evaluation abilities and need to develop more advanced planning and positional skills. The best thing to do is to review your games with a higher level player or a chess coach. Compare your thoughts make sure you are understanding the position properly.
1700-1800 (7-9 years of experience) Advanced intermediate. Player has stronger tactical skills and thought process. Player has developed decent endgame and positional skills at this stage. Good positional evaluation and analysis skills. Inaccuracies still happen, but are more under control due to stronger evaluation abilities. Players at this level are much better at exploiting inaccuracies which means that is often the difference between winning and losing. In order to advance further, the player must clean up inaccuracies in their game. The best way is to get a chess trainer to help clean that up. Also, join a local club to play against strong opposition then analyze the game with them.
1800-1900 (8-10 years of experience) Near Expert. Player is strong tactical skills and thought process. Intermediate endgame and positional skills. Intermediate evaluation skills. Very good analyst. Player needs to continue focusing on evaluation and analysis skills. Players at this level typically struggle with seeing and capitalizing on subtle weaknesses in a position. Hence, opening theory knowledge becomes an important component for further improvement. Player has a good database of structures that that can help them when they reach unfamiliar positions in OTB play. Player should reach expert level in approximately 2 more years, which falls in line with expert theory which claims that it takes 10 years to become an expert in any field.
Alex Bai says:
The data in the op is pretty incorrect, in my opinion. BTW, I am a chess expert (USCF 2000+), and it happened in U3 years.
A player with rating of 900 (0-1000) is a pretty strong player compared to the casual chess player. In my high school, the weak chess players at the chess club rarely leave en prise pieces, and yet they are below 900 for sure. 900 players are in my experience, “strong casual players”, or “strong beginners”. The time span seems reasonable. But after this, the “time span” to reach a certain level becomes quite ridiculous. Does someone need 5-6 years to reach 1500?! 5 hrs dedicated a week, I bet someone could easily become a master or at least 2100 player with the right study methods with 5 hrs a week.
But really important is the IMO, openings are NEVER an essential or even slightly important part of improvement: openings are rather useless to concrete chess improvement at all levels below 22-2300, in my experience. Why? In my games against expert level opposition, I am constantly out of the opening by move 4 or 5. I’ve played a good number of games against expert level opposition recently, and the result of NONE of the games had a single thing to do with the opening.
After the opening, someone had an advantage. They lost it, and the evaluation shifted. Then that other player made a mistake, and finally it was a draw (or something like this) . If this happens at the expert level just about every time (openings not mattering) then I think only at a level 200 points or so higher would it even start to matter (and then only a bit). Only the 2400+ need opening prep for serious improvement. Everyone else should ignore it for the most part, I think.
BTW, I wouldn’t say that players rated around 1700 have advanced tactical skills either. I have had a good experience playing against these guys in the past, and I can say that most of them still make tactical blunders pretty easily when their position gets slightly worse, or I get an attack etc.
At the expert level, this almost never happens anymore (even @ class A it is pretty rare) unless it is a serious positional advantage. However, experts sometimes miss “rare” or “invisible” tactical tricks or ideas that could get an advantage or save a game etc. Their tactical skills are better, but only intermediate level. I consider my tactical skills to be at the intermediate level currently as well.
1800s and below should mainly work on basic ideas in chess, and not study too many advanced ideas and can pretty much forget all about the openings if they want to improve. It may seem a bit far-fetched, but trust me: I’ve played against these players before a good number of times, and many of them play pretty terrible moves, making their game unstable and showing a lack of basic chess knowledge and haphazard studying.
Also, I would generally cut out endgame study (but not totally). Endgame study is interesting, since many players do it wrong and at the wrong time in their chess development, IMO.
The first problem seems to be that players only care about the useless theoretical endgames that almost never occur in real life. I have never had to play a lucena or philidor draw etc.. in my entire otb chess playing career a single time (or any other theoretical endgame except theoretical king+pawn). The only theoretical endgame knowledge I have are 2 key king and pawn endgame positions, and they have happened only once each.
It is much more important to study strategy in endgames, and this I did a bit. However, it is even more important to focus on ending the game during the middlegame, so that you won’t need to grind out an ending. Players at the skills levels of U1800 rarely can play a competitive middlegame against good play. Therefore, it is practical to gain good skills here and beat them in the middlegame and forget about the endgame. This is what I did. In the World Open U1800 (2012), only 1 game reached a competitive endgame, and that one was strategic. I scored 7.5 there, and all the games I won except for that one endgame were won by middlegame.