Monday, January 26, 2015

Year 1 recap. 700 points in 365 days.

Eat your heart out De Le Maza.

Rapid adult chess improvement is possible.  Don't let anyone tell you differently.   Not just me, but people I know personally have seen rapid adult improvement.  Most people in the adult improvement blogosphere are somewhere along that same rating curve.  This isn't about rapid chess improvement at 2100+, or even 1800+, although Axel Smith's progress seems to suggest you can have nice improvement at that level also.  If nothing else, what I've done can take you to 1600-1800 pretty quickly.  What it takes to get from there to 2100 is unknown to me at this time.  That will be the subject of my year 2 update.  My goal is to hit 2000 by the middle of this year.   1000 to 2000 in 18 months as an adult would be pretty remarkable.  I think it's very possible.

My final rating after I left chess in 1997 was 1015 over 30 rated games.  That was after playing for about a year in HS, then trying to pick back up again a few years later.

When I started, I did nothing but try to memorize the openings Kasparov played.  I read over some articles in Chess Life, but nothing more than that.  Never picked up a tactics book or annotated games collection.   I'm surprised I was even able to maintain a 1000 rating like that.

I stopped playing after HS, but decided I wanted to try picking up the game again.  I got Lev Alburt's chess course and Seirawan's books on tactics and strategy.  I played in 2 events and my rating basically went sideways.  After that I stopped playing chess.

17 years later, I came back to the game and wanted to give it one last shot to see how well I could really do.  With the internet and some maturity, I felt I could find a "proper" training plan instead of just picking books out at random from ads and hoping that would do the trick.

Enter spaced repetition training plan and the Knights Errant.  I've never read MDLM's book.  I don't believe that tactics are all you need to get to class A/expert.  I'm not even sure MDLM believes that.  Or maybe he really discounts all the games he played over the course of that year and all the analysis help he got playing at a large chess club in Boston with dozens of masters.  At any rate, I'm not a Knights Errant or a MDLM disciple.  But it was nice to see that people had tried using spaced repetitions for chess training as that had been part of my initial comeback plan.

Long story short, NM Dan Heisman is right when it comes to adult chess improvement.

  1. Know your basic tactics.  He recommends a MDLM style program using John Bain's Chess Tactics for Students book.  Keep doing repetitions until you can solve 85% of the problems in 15 seconds or less.  It took me six times through to accomplish that.  This helps you accomplish one of the most basic things to improve at chess: piece safety.  Don't drop material and you win a lot of games.  Most tactics are going to be of the 2-3 move variety.
  2. Regularly play slow time controls OTB.  Use all of your clock.  Theory without practice is a waste of time.  You have to activate your knowledge. There are lots of subtle things you pick up when playing that get stored for use later.
  3. Analyze your games.  Self-annotate and go over them with a stronger player whenever possible.  The majority of what you need to improve is contained in your own games.  What mistakes did you make and why?  How do you overcome them?  Stronger players can give lots of valuable advice.
  4. Read lots of annotated master games.  I don't believe you need to study much strategy/openings/endgame right away. The people whipping out Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual when they are just getting started are masochistic.  You get a TON of that type of training reading over master games.  You see how they play the openings, plans that develop and how they try to convert their advantage in the endgame.  I think Silman's Endgame book is a good way to handle it.  Know how to mate with certain piece combinations and know some basic K+P endgame ideas.  I learned in my first major tournament last year how overrated knowing the opening was.  In half my games, I was out of my own personal book by moves 4-5.  I just followed basic principles and got a playable middlegame. Then I won those middlegames.
  5. Get a coach.  Maybe this is optional if you regularly play club games and can go over games with stronger players often.  But a good coach can help you figure out the mistakes you're making and how to correct them. 
  6. Be ruthless.  Never accept a draw.  If you have the advantage, convert it to a win.  Don't take a draw because your opponent is stronger.  Go for the throat.  Don't take a draw because you're afraid of losing rating points.  An equal position is a win waiting to happen if you try.  Don't play scared.  You'll either learn something from trying to win or losing.  That will carry forward for hundreds of games.  The couple of points you lose from one is irrelevant.  I made one of my biggest jumps in rating after I stopped playing scared.  I had been in a bit of a slump and started taking early draws because I was afraid of blundering in time pressure.  Once my mentality changed and I was ready to play a game out 100 moves if necessary, I started winning against much stronger players.
  7. Take breaks.  Don't be afraid to take a few weeks or a month off.  You don't want to be sitting in a tournament hall playing games when you'd rather be doing something else.  The training can be hard work and take up a lot of time.  You have to be willing to invest that time, but you have to relax too.
Here's a breakdown of my 1st year training:
Tactics: 3500 unique tactical puzzles across the 7 books outlined on Empirical Rabbit's blog.  I never did finish doing spaced repetitions with the Blue Coakley, although I finished the majority of the puzzles.  It's an excellent book, in fact.  I was a little burnt out with my training program, plus an increased workload around that time didn't help.  My coach said I didn't need to do the repetitions MDLM style I did past Bain, but I do feel like it helped me.  If I had to do it all over again, I'd skip Woolum's book.  The variance is very high for a beginning tactician.  My goal was 10,000 with an undetermined time frame.  Looks like just under 3 years if I keep up that pace.  Easily doable now that I'm doing the vast majority of my tactics on Chess Tempo.

Annotated games: 1,162 annotated master games.  Well, 1,100 if you don't count Heisman since those are annotated amateur games.  But it's a very good and unique book.  It could be re-titled "Top 5 Reasons Class Players Lose Chess Games".   My goal was 2,000 in 2 years so I'm definitely on track.

OTB play:  I played 68 rated games last year.  Including online slow games, I played 109 games.  My goal is 100 games per year and I met that.   I played almost zero online games during the end of last year.  I still might play in T4545, but I'm in a place where it's very easy to find games of at least G/60 OTB every week.


  1. Fantastic result and great summary as well !

    I wish you the very best for your 2nd year :-)

  2. Super! Really super. Wish you a continued success, I am hoping that you will become an expert in 2015.

  3. Great job on your last year. Looking ahead, don't get discouraged if you plateau for a while, it's bound to happen eventually. Also glad to see you've got the "taking breaks" part built in as well, that'll help avoid burnout - the bane of chess bloggers.

  4. well I'm very impressed! and.. encouraged.

    from everything I've read, I was find Dan Heisman's advice on improvement- very persuasive and comprehensive. and I'm happy to hear someone chime in with OTB results on his advice.

    I appreciate the endorsement...

  5. It is a really nice achievement! :) Well done SilentKnight!

    What I found quite shocking was this one --> "1,162 annotated master games". I have played chess since 1997 and I have read/studied just about 80 annotated games so far. Of course studying (replaying) such games should give you the whole picture how the game is conducted.

    Looking forward to your second year! If you achieve 2000 in 2 years time (from 1000 level) it will be remarkable :). Good luck!

  6. I hate having to take you down a notch, but I absolutely feel I must. There is a big difference between someone who played chess prior to the 18-21 range and someone who begins playing afterward. To lump all "adult learning" into one bag is to completely miss the fact that the brain of a youth may have knowledge that has not been integrated, but that is integrated by the time you returned to chess. I have seen this with children who played chess between 6-9, then resume playing at 16. The seeds for the neural pathways had already been sown, so, while Micky was only 885 USCF when he stopped playing at 9, it should be no surprise that 1 month after picking the game back up at 16 that he moved his rating to 1350 after two or three tournaments. High-functioning autists are known to have delays in knowledge integration, similar to that of youths, despite being adults.

    In sum, there is no way to be sure how much the post hoc knowledge integration effected your rating increase over the course of that year. I would imagine that your hard work contributed a majority of the points you earned during the year, even if only a slight majority, but, regardless, I think it is difficult to say how many points of strength were truly earned in that year without occasional random USCF tournaments prior.

    1. I didn't start playing chess until I was 16.

      After a year of playing chess in HS, my rating was 1050. I played no more chess from there until I was 20 and tried to make a comeback after reading over the Alburt book. My rating after 10 more games across 2 tournaments dropped me another 40 points. 2 of my losses were to players rated under 750. I also drew a 600. I'm shocked at just how terrible I was back then since I didn't remember the details of my games. I kept most of my score sheets for a really long time then one day decided to toss them all since I figured I had no use for them. I can only imagine what those games looked like.

      I didn't play chess again for another 16 years, which is right about where this blog picks up.

      About a month before I figured out what my training program was going to be, I played a single standard rated game on I dropped a pawn before move 10. Not a huge sample of games, but that's exactly where my chess was at 20. I've been meaning to post that game for a while and maybe now is a good time for it.

      There's no telling what may have happened if I had randomly played in a few tournaments 5 years ago, but I have no reason to expect different results.

    2. My point was that, if you had played tournaments over the time, your rating would have relaxed as any residual knowledge integrated. The fact that much of what a human learning takes place after the educating process, in a consolidation and integration process, is important in claiming to have gained 700 points in one year. It simply isn't clear how much strength was actually gained over the course of this one year. It may have been only a couple of hundred points. There's no way to tell.

      When I take up playing tournaments again this year, I'll hardly be able to say that all of the rating points I earn during this calendar year will be due what I am doing over this past year and the year to come.

  7. I doesn't beleves you make so grate prograss and is adult. What yor name is? ...I will to look it up. You are child or tean not adult. Cant be to tell if zis is yor graf or no.