I love chess. Years ago I said I wanted to be a chess master … and then I sort of stopped for about a decade … but now I’m back! I spent a good chunk of 2015 actively studying, and in the end I blew past my old rating of 1800 and currently sit in the high 1900s, which feels stratospheric.
The appeal of chess is mesmerizing. We start with equal forces, two identical armies on a symmetric board, but a good player will still readily beat a poor one. It’s not luck, it’s not chance, it’s not a teammate dropping a perfect pass. No, it’s all personal skill. If you win at chess, you deserve it, and that feeling really feels great.
I like winning, just like everyone else, but more than that I like knowing I’m right. At any given time, any given position, there is a best move. It might be microscopically better than the alternatives, but it is still the best. The appeal of chess, for me, isn’t just winning but knowing that I played the best moves as often as possible. That’s perhaps my real motivation, and that powers my training plan.
A Focus on Study over Playing
Most amateur chess players spend far more time playing than studying chess. A simple glance at Internet chess sites seems to confirm this. Chess.com offers correspondence chess, and you can find the average 1300-1500 player playing 20+ games at a time. Some have 50+, and at least one person in my Team Canada group has over 100 games on going. If you play that often, you leave no time to study and get better.
Now, I understand that not everyone wants to get better. Well, that sounds weird. How about this: many people want to enjoy chess as a leisure activity, something to unwind with after work. Studying positions and lectures and videos feels like work … because it is work, and people don’t want to treat chess like work. I completely understand. I spent a good portion of my life thinking the same thing, chess as pure pleasure. Now, though, I see it different.
Basically, if I want to be a good player, I need to put in the work. I am willing to do that. My plan is to completely focus on studying chess for at least the first month of 2016, perhaps more. I will study and study and study, playing maybe against the computer but that’s it. After that, I will start playing again, hoping to use what I’ve learned and see if it makes a difference.
Playing More, Much More
Once I start playing, I plan on playing a lot. In 2015 I played 45 total correspondence games, which is about 4 a month. That’s a pitifully small amount, especially as nearly a quarter of those games came against opponents less than 1500 rating. That’s not going to cut it.
In a word, I need to see if my training pays off. Playing one good game isn’t proof, just as losing one game isn’t proof. Five or ten games still are not enough. I need a larger sample size. Fifty is much better, but 100 is a perfect number.
My goal, then, is to finish 100 games by 2017. That’s eight a month over a whole year, but I’ll be spending a few months focused exclusively on studying. I figure 10 games a month should about hit it, and that seems very doable. Worst case scenario, I can just pad my figure by playing hour-long games against the computer, as those will count … and will help keep my ego in check.
Complete All Smirnov Courses
I mentioned studying chess, but I never said what I would be studying. Here is the answer. I own all of GM Smirnov’s courses, and I’ve studied about 70%. More accurately, I’ve watched every lecture and tried a few of the practical exercises, but I’ve only studied four courses, two of them deeply. Not including the Opening courses, which are mostly memorization, or the Study Plan, that leaves me with three to go.
The three courses are Endgame Expert, Calculate Till Mate and Beating Titled Players. These are all relative weaknesses of mine. I’ve never studied endgames before, well, beyond learning a few basics. I find them frustrating and unintuitive, so that will be a struggle. The Beating Titled Players course includes a section on prophylaxis, something I understand even less than endgames, so that should be a treat.
The big one, though, will be Calculate Till Mate. I’ve been excited about that one since I first watched the lectures in passing, while I was eating breakfast. The course has some amazing material in it, but it’s tough. Really tough. That’s why I’ve put it off. It also has an insane number of practical tasks and puzzles with it, which I guess makes sense with it being a calculating course.
If I complete all of this, I should have all the skills and training necessary to be a chess master. Well, I might need to learn more detailed openings and practice more theoretical endgames, but the foundation will be there. That’s my ultimate end goal, which leads to …
Get Over 2000 Rating
Officially, a chess master is someone with a rating above 2200. In general, players rated below 2000 are called class players. A 1900 player would be Class A, 1800 Class B, etc. The exact numbers might be slightly off depending on which federation or country you are in, but that’s the general outline. For those players above 2000 but below the mastery threshold of 2200, the term ‘expert’ usually applies.
Before I can be a chess master, then, I need to be a chess expert. That, I believe, I can do this year.
Really, it might not even be that hard. Last year I effortlessly beat everyone under 1700. My two losses came from terrible oversights, and both in games I was outplaying my opponent. That said, I also escaped with a draw in a few losing positions to lower rated players, so I shouldn’t count my chickens before they hatch.
At the beginning of the year, my rating is currently 1970, my highest ever. I only need 30 points to get there. In 2015 I beat four different 1900+ players, so the potential is clearly there. The only thing that might make it hard, beyond simply not being good enough of course, would be playing so many games. Again, I want to complete 100 games. I earned my previous results through playing far fewer games, allowing myself more time on each position. Playing more games may spread my time and attention thin, making it harder to achieve the same results. Well, we will see, won’t we?
I’ve always wanted to get above 2000. That seemed like the magic barrier, after which everything else would be easy. That’s perhaps not true, but I don’t care. I want that 2000!
My Training Schedule
My plan here is a bit more tentative compared to my physical plan. I do not know how long my initial study period will take. Right now I’m booking it at two months, which seems realistic and maybe even conservative.
I’m following the study plan laid out in Self-Taught GM, which I’ve already started last year. My first 23 days will be spent on my thinking system, and then the next several weeks will be on Endgame Expert. Once I complete that, I’ll start playing games and moving onto Calculate Till Mate.
On a day-to-day basis, I will try to spend 30min each day studying or practicing in some way, but that isn’t always realistic, not with all the other things I want to do. I will have three dedicated chess days each week: Monday, Friday and Saturday. I will put at least one hour in on those days, and anything extra will be a bonus.
That’s my chess plan. Wish me luck!