An Update from James Fazzolari

Nearly a year ago I wrote an article setting out my 2023 Chess Goals. Speaking with Matt, we
thought it would be interesting to reflect on the past year, highlight the lessons learned and set new
goals for 2024.

Lots happened during 2023:
 improving from 1382 (provisional) to 1508 rating (in the January 2024 FIDE list)
 playing 46 rated OTB games for +23 -16 =7 (57.61%)
 winning two rating category prizes and one tournament outright (with 1864 performance)
 publishing my first course for ChessGoals on the Nimzo-Indian
 still playing the London System (and loving it!).

We are planning to release the companion Queen’s Indian course in January 2024.
Let’s now reflect on how each goal in my previous article and how they contributed to my
improvement in throughout the last year.

Improve Calculation

This was my primary focus throughout 2023 and that was the right call.
While it took a quite some time before the study started to pay off, towards the end of the year I
was out-calculating higher rated players, resulting in a +6 score in my last event (and clear first
place).

Other than simply calculating more deeply and more accurately, a major lesson learned this year was
the importance of thorough candidate move identification before starting to calculate. Therefore,
candidate move identification is my biggest opportunity for improvement in 2024 – if I see the right
move I can usually calculate it correctly but I am still sometimes missing the candidate move.
Training calculation typically consisted of two to three one-hour blocks each week, taking positions
from the following books and solving as many positions as possible within the available time.
Insofar as books I would recommend, in order: Think Like a Super-GM by Michael Adams, Chess
Calculation Training: Middlegame by Romain Edouard, Recognizing Opponent’s Resources:
Developing Preventative Thinking by Mark Dvoretsky and Grandmaster Preparation: Positional Play
by Jacob Aagaard were useful for me.

Improve Tactics

In my previous article I explained my focus on achieving a certain score in Lichess puzzles. This
pursuit was abandoned partway through 2023 because it was not contributing to any observable
improvement and was probably too similar to the calculation training I was already doing.
On the recommendation of my coach, I tried The Woodpecker Method by Axel Smith and Hans
Tikkanen. At the time of writing, I have about 40 puzzles left to complete the text and so I may try to
complete the book from start to finish in a single sitting before the year is out.
I would highly recommend The Woodpecker Method, or any other well-curated puzzle book, for any
aspiring chess player. The emphasis on candidate move identification and ‘quick’ calculation saw
immediate improvement in my play, both in faster and slower time controls.
I would say I under-valued the importance of tactics training at the start 2023 and will place much
more emphasis on regular tactics training in 2024.

Practice Specific Endgames

In the 46 classical games I played in 2023, four came down to endgames where greater knowledge
made a difference: three advantages were converted into wins and one much worse position was
held to a draw. That’s a good return on the time investment.
I completed Silman’s Complete Endgame Course up to the 2000 rating section and this was more
than adequate for the positions reached during my games throughout the year.
Experience playing endgames, rather than the memorization of theoretical endgames (Lucena,
Philidor, etc), is very valuable for a club player. This leads me to recommend playing endgames with
other club players just to have more experience before they arise in your tournament games.

No Blitz!

I did end up playing quite some blitz throughout 2023, but much less than in 2022. While this freed
up valuable time for other study, it also meant when I did make time to play blitz, I was extremely
rusty and would then have to invest quite some time before I started ‘playing well’.
Blitz is an extremely efficient way to practice your openings. Having now built out an opening
repertoire, it is probably a better use of my time to play some blitz each week rather than studying
openings directly – my repertoire is well developed, so the repetitions are more valuable than
learning some extra lines.
The time spent on blitz needs to be productive. This means not playing when too tired, on tilt or in
the wrong state of mind. It means still been diligent to review the games afterwards and ensure I’m
playing my preparation correctly.

Other Lessons

The games in 2023 taught me some valuable lessons:
 don’t focus too much on openings. Most opponents will not play too much theory and most
games are decided by tactical errors in the middlegame rather than mistakes in the opening
 be prepared to play each game to the absolute finish. Its surprising how many even games
you can win, or how many worse positions you can save, if you are persistent
 try to understand your opponent’s ideas and plans, rather than only thinking about your
ideas and plans. Sometimes we need to stop our opponent’s ideas before continuing our
own. Sometimes our opponent’s plan is a mistake and we should let them play it!
Looking forward to 2024, I am going to be a father to twins in January, which means less time for
everything, including Chess. At the same time, I have built a much stronger chess foundation now, so
it should be possible to still make small incremental improvements.

Let’s set some achievable goals for 2024:
 study calculation a few hours each week
 continue tactics training on public transport (to and from work)
 play some blitz each week to keep my openings sharp and
 play at least one classical time control event in 2024 (and have fun!).
I hope each of you reading this enjoyed a Merry Christmas and have a happy and safe start to the
new year. Looking forward to providing you with more content in 2024!

All the best,
James Fazzolari

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