Hello everybody. Today we have another guest post from ChessGoals member James. We loved his middelegame posts so much that we wanted to share his chess goals for 2023 with the community.
I have been mulling over chess goals to set for 2023. Writing out my goals publicly, cliché as it may be, allows you (dear reader) to hold me accountable. If the plan does not go well, we can learn from my missteps together.
It is often said goals should be “SMART” meaning: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. We will keep this in mind when we examine my goals for 2023.
In Think Like a Grandmaster, Alexander Kotov described his journey to Grandmaster. He identified the critical difference between himself and Grandmasters was not knowledge of openings, middlegames or endgames. Rather, it was their ability to calculate complex variations quickly and accurately. By making a concerted effort to improve his calculation, Kotov became a Grandmaster.
My coach and I identified the biggest obstacle to my improvement: calculation strength. I pass up opportunities for an advantage because they are too complicated. Or I give advantages away too often because I miss something. I blundered away second place at Nationals this year by miscalculating a single critical move. Ouch.
With calculation being my primary limitation, any calculation training will be specific and relevant to my goals for 2023. I am now working through Chess Calculation Training Volume 1: Middlegames by Romain Edouard (which I highly recommend) and will solve every position in the book. My next book will be Think Like A Super-GM (by Michael Adams) and all the level 1 and level 2 puzzles from Improve Your Chess Calculation (by RB Ramesh). I want to finish this within the first half of 2023. My commitment is to spend about 70% of my available time dedicated to chess on improving calculation.
Sun Tzu wrote, ‘Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory’.
I need to improve my tactical awareness. I am quite able to calculate most short tactical sequences. My issue is identifying when a tactic is present in the first place. If I know a tactic could be lurking I will usually find it, but I don’t always realize when a tactic is present.
To improve, I will review resources for each of my openings setting out the common tactical motifs. A good and much anticipated example would be the Chess Goals Caro-Kann Tactics Course. It describes common tactical motifs in the different Caro-Kann variations. Nice!
Another good resource is a recently added feature on Lichess, ‘Puzzles by openings’. It provides positions from variations you play and asks you to identify and solve tactics in the resultant positions. Very helpful.
Since Lichess provides a puzzle rating, we can take advantage of the same to measure improvement. My puzzle rating is currently 2602 and I set an end of year goal of 2800. I will commit to solving at least five puzzles per week.
Practice specific endgames
Like many adult-improvers, I’m attracted to the logic and theory of chess. I enjoy listening to podcasts, watching videos, or reading chess literature. While very enjoyable, ‘knowledge’ obtained in this manner often does not translate to practical skills we can apply to our games.
For this reason I have been practicing set endgame positions against the computer once per week. The positions are often winning by force with correct play, but still require precision. This is a great way to ensure you always draw with lone King versus King and pawn, can checkmate with Bishop and Knight, understand Lucena and Philidor and so on. Over time, the extra half-point here and there adds up to a lot of extra rating.
For endgames, I use Silman’s Complete Endgame Course. I will finish all the material through the Expert section (2000-2199 rating), then work my way back through all the puzzles again. I will do one section per week, for six weeks in total. This will take at most an hour per week and will make a nice palette cleanser after all the challenging calculation training.
To measure this goal, I will record how many puzzles I correctly solve the first time though versus the second time through. Two cycles should be time to move on to something more demanding. I have Endgame Strategy by Mikhail Shereshevsky lined up next.
Some time ago I stopped playing online blitz completely. Mostly to free up time for dedicated effort to improve my calculation.
Blitz is an excellent way to learn a new opening, test your knowledge of relevant variations and identify gaps in your knowledge. If you need work in these areas then Blitz is an excellent resource. For me, however, blitz was simply too fast to work on my weakness – calculation. When I was playing a lot of blitz, my calculation was not improving. Specific attention was required.
At first I suffered from withdrawal. But after a few months, I do not miss Blitz at all and now look forward to the calculation work. If you need to free up time to work on your weaknesses and improve your practical skills you do not have to sacrifice online Blitz. Consider other chess-related pastimes you could pass on sometimes to free up an extra hour or two each week (I’m looking at you, Twitch…!).
Putting it into practice
I am playing in an OTB classical tournament soon, my first since Nationals in August. It will be interesting to see what difference the specific training set out above will make to my performance.
I hope this article is cause for you to reflect on your own chess improvement to honestly assess what needs to be done for you to move forward. You can always share and explore your ideas with your fellow Goalies in the Chess Goals Discord.
Please each of you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!