A Garden of Meditations

Chess : My journey to 1800

I recently hit 1802 on rapid, my highest so far. Here I reminisce on what I feel were the most productive efforts towards this.

  1. Taking a break : it might seem ironic that the first thing I write here is to stop playing, but it is quite important to know when to recuperate energy. For me, some signs of fatigue include making moves hoping to be right without calculating the top continuations (if you play a move, you’ll have to calculate down that line anyway so might as well calculate before playing) and starting a new game immediately without analyzing how the previous game went (improvement is unfeasible you keep repeating the same mistakes). Stopping playing for the day usually helps, but sometimes taking a few days off is also good after a long binge playing session.
  2. Stop playing blitz and bullet : these shorter formats are not only ill suited, but on the contrary can be harmful when trying to improve. These are best utilized for practising openings and traps, otherwise usually the player who forces their opponent into deep calculations (not the Tal kind) wins by flagging in these short formats. Furthermore, playing too much of these habituates making moves fast without enough calculation, resulting in bad moves even when playing longer formats. Also, perhaps surprisingly, deep opening knowledge is useless at this level – just not making obvious mistakes in opening should be fine. If one indeed wants to study, that time is better spent studying standard endgames instead, since that can convert drawing and losing to winning and drawing endgames respectively.
  3. Solving puzzles : this improves a plethora of important skills – calculating lines till the end, evaluating positions, and spotting tactics, to name a few. Furthermore, this also increases patience, since solving a puzzle usually requires thinking and concentrating for a few minutes at least. This comes in handy when playing longer formats and discourages making moves without thinking. I found Susan Polgar’s Chess Tactics for Champions very helpful in this regard, just working through the first 3-4 chapters boosted my rating by over a hundred points.
  4. Going over games : after finishing a game, it is quite important to go over it to spot mistakes and missed opportunities before starting a new game, otherwise the mistakes will be repeated. Lichess has a useful “learn from your mistakes” feature for this, where you have to actually spot the right moves in positions where you blundered.

That’s it! Just doing this consistently should get one to 1800 in a couple of months. Looking back, I myself didn’t follow most of this advice (do as I say, not as I do :P) – for example, I played way too many short format games, kept playing even when I was obviously too tired, and got impatient and made random moves instead of thinking. So please, don’t make the same mistakes I did and hope you can improve your game!