The 10th installment in the Chess Learner Series features Max. He is a 29-year-old chess learner who started taking chess seriously three years ago. Max gives us his secrets used to increase his rating from 800 to 1800+! My own notes will be in italics with the initials MJ. ChessGoals may receive an affiliate commission on links to chess.com and study resources. – MJ
Chess Learner General Overview
How old are you and how long have you been playing chess?
I’m 29 and I started being passionate about chess in August 2017, which is three years and two months ago. I created my chess.com account at this time. Before that, I knew the moves and from time to time I could even play some games online, but it was a really rare activity. My August 2017 rating on chess.com shows that I was around 800 strength in blitz and 1100 in rapid back then.
How many hours per week do you spend on chess?
Several times I needed a few weeks of total isolation from this annoying board game, but other than that 10-30 hours a week. Depends obviously.
Chess website usernames?
What’s your current skill level or rating?
1483 FIDE, I hope at least 200 points underrated, and 1800-1900 on various chess.com’s ratings with peak blitz rating of 2033, from which I was extremely proud of.
In the first year or two, I couldn’t focus during longer games, though now I like them most and my priority is FIDE rated tournaments with standard time control. From time to time I am showing up at local club tournaments too.
Looking at FIDE stats I played 137 standard rated games, that is almost a game per week since when I started. And I hope I will increase this average.
(see also: OTB Chess Events, The Good, The Bad, And The Pandemic – MJ)
I play mostly on chess.com, with 20k blitz, 7k bullet, 2.6k daily and 900 rapid games played there. As one can see I wasted most of my chess time playing quick games online, not to mention watching twitch and chatting there.
(Quick games prove very useful in ChessGoals data, especially for intermediate-advanced players. -MJ)
I use chess.com’s analysis tools nowadays. From the beginning, I always knew that serious no-engine analysis of one’s own games is the straightest road to improve. But only a few times I managed to do it. It is painful, depressing, discouraging looking at all the missed opportunities. At least through some experience, I started to be interested in the position itself, and more often I am checking some variation and possibilities in my games out of curiosity.
I use chess.com tactic trainer every day, sometimes lichess, sometimes chesstempo. It obviously doesn’t matter. What matters is, I think, accuracy. I find it extremely difficult not to guess solutions at some point. By guessing I can achieve the correct rating related to my strength, but I won’t progress that much, at least that’s my opinion. It’s better to waste 15 minutes on a puzzle and even not solve it than to guess few ones quickly. The point is to develop calculation skills, full of patience and order. I struggle with it as well and I constantly reset my chess.com rating if I got a few wrong ones in a row.
Tactical motifs that are important for novices I learned on chess.com lessons. After that, I used a few books too, the ones that were perfectly suited for Kindle to solve in a tram. These are: “Tactics in the Endgame” by Pereira, “Tactics Time!” series by Brennan, and my absolute tactical book favorite “1001 Deadly Checkmates” by John Nunn.
In the beginning, I discovered that e3-d4 and Nf3 setup is giving me a safe position and quite easy development. Therefore I quickly became a Colle-player and even today I like to play some variants of this system. The problem was that Colle struggles against Bf5, Bg4, and even g6 / Bg7 played by black, so I needed something more robust.
And then I bought Simon Williams Bf4 London System DVD. It gave me everything. Nowadays (2 years later only, I know) London is extremely popular, being played and taught by many popular streamers. Back then people were quite puzzled with this weird Bf4 move instead of c4. To this day Bxh7+ tactics are quite popular in my games, even in longer ones. Let’s show London strength using my 2020 OTB standard games results:
With white: 13 wins, 2 draws, 2 losses – 82.4%
With black: 7 wins, 6 draws, 7 losses – 50.0%
Part of the reason may be that I never studied black openings that much. As for d4, I tried Chigorin, and it gave me a few victories but leaving the whole center to white is not working most of the time. Though I recommend Williams and Finegold Chigorin courses to have nice full-of-tricks aggressive opening against d4.
Now I mostly am trying to use defenses with similar structures and motifs as the London (Bg3 / Bg6 retreat, Qb3 / Qb6, and many more). That is Caro-Kann against e4 and Semi-Slav against d4. I watched videos, read some stuff too, but still have neither experience nor theoretical knowledge to give any advice here.
My endgame knowledge is based mostly on great chess.com lessons on this topic. I will just say that one of the authors there is IM Jeremy Silman, that is the author of one of the most popular endgames book as well. I doubt one needs much more knowledge in the endgames until let’s say 2000 other than those courses.
At ChessGoals we recommend working through one of the 3 Best Endgame Books. Early in your chess development, the official ChessGoals recommendation is to stick with Silman’s Complete Endgame Course. Simply study the chapters that are in your rating range and know the ideas and concepts well. Approximately 30-60 minutes per week for most players will be ideal. – MJ
I read a little bit of “Reassess Your Chess” by Silman and it helped me, for sure, to at least think about imbalances, including it while looking at chess position. But by far my favorite strategical resource was “Understanding Chess Move by Move” by Nunn. It really is like the title says. I remember that when I started I was annoyed that game collections were full of “comment here, few <<obvious>> moves without comment and comment again”. Nothing like this in Nunn’s book. Every move is explained which for a beginner is like heaven. Book is suited for almost everyone under 2000 though, with a lot of variations in more complicated positions.
Other books that helped and still are helping me understand certain positions are “Lessons with a Grandmaster” by Gulko, where an amateur is discussing positions with a GM, “1960: Tal vs Botvinnik”, Yasser’s favorite book and “Chess Duels” by Seirawan.
Tidbits For Chess Learners
From time to time I play blindfolded chess and I highly enjoy it. Everyone should play it to improve one’s visualization, even if the level of play is disgustingly bad.
A chess beginner, novice, amateur in general eager to improve should definitely watch the “Climbing the rating ladder” Youtube playlist by IM John Bartholomew. It will help to understand common mistakes and bad mental habits on all possible levels.
When your head is dry after work or you want to watch something to eat, it’s nice to use one of many Youtube chess channels with interesting games and nice analysis. My favorite is PowerPlayChess by GM Daniel King, I recommend as well GingerGM channel, Chess.com’s game of the day, The Best of Chess by Sam Copeland, and Saint Louis Chess Club and Chess Club of Atlanta lectures.
To improve via watching and chatting on Twitch one is obliged to follow GMHess, Chess, ChessDojo, Anna_Chess, GingerGM, SamCopeland, and CharlotteChessCenter.
But Twitch gave me motivation and a huge boost to improvement mostly because of the opportunity of playing those strong players, in many cases GMs. As an aspiring chess amateur, you should be grateful and happy for every possibility like that. Of course, you will lose almost all of those games, but you will have the unique experience of playing someone at that strength and you will improve your mental skills, you will slowly overcome the fear of your game being watched and assessed by the big audience and the streamer himself.
Besides mentioned Twitch channels, the ones with a lot of opportunities (tournaments, simuls, sub sundays, etc) to play with strong and famous players are GMBenFinegold (every week at least few tournaments for everyone), IGMGataKamsky (every week some tournaments and simuls, mostly for subs but he is a famous legend and former candidate), GMHikaru, GothamChess, Chessbrah, Fionchetta, BotezLive and many, many more. In your spare time, a good idea is just to check the chess directory on twitch (https://www.twitch.tv/directory/game/Chess). You will have everything you need as a chess enthusiast there, would it be learning and play or just pure fun and talks in chat.
Thanks to Max for giving us such thorough tips in this 10th installment of the Chess Learner Series! Max is tracking his study plan in the ChessGoals Club forums. He is currently following the ChessGoals 12-week Premium Advanced Study Plan. For a limited time, use coupon code max to receive 50% off all premium study plans in the shop. – MJ