Jose (49) Shares How He Improved 220 Points In 8 Months

Learner Series #11

One of the hottest topics we encounter at ChessGoals is adult chess improvement. I met Jose Fernandez-Triana, an adult improver, via email correspondence back in October 2020 and we have been chatting about chess improvement ever since. In this interview with Jose, he will tell us a bit about his background, his chess training, and how he improved 220 rating points in 8 months at age 49.

Introduction

Matt: Hi Jose, can you tell us a little bit about how you first discovered the ChessGoals project?

Jose: I became interested in the ChessGoals website around this summer, after finding it through an online search on chess-related topics. Three articles especially caught my attention:

a) “The effect of age on chess improvement” written in June.

b) A blog post from the SmarterChess Blog “I gained 120 Points in 3 Weeks – My Study Plan”, detailing some significant gains obtained in a relatively short period of time.

c) An article on rating comparisons (different versions have appeared in ChessGoals, I read one version in late summer, but the latest posted update is from November: https://chessgoals.com/rating-comparison/). There, a comparison of ratings (over the board and online) was provided. Of course, this is not the first article to do that, but the data was relatively comprehensive and detailed. And, for users like me, without FIDE or any other over the board rating, it was very instructive to see how our online ratings could be compared to “real” over the board ones.

Then I found the study plans of ChessGoals and looked into the free details provided there. I have not bought any plan yet (I hope to do so in 2021) but I actually started implementing some of the advice shared in ChessGoals. After a few months of trying, I experienced some relatively good increase in my ratings which I mostly credit to ChessGoals -with a few other tweaks which I explain below in case it could help someone else.

Background

Matt: I’m very happy to hear the free content has been helpful. For our readers, we recently added a dedicated page with our free resources. The premium study plans contain similar information to the free content but provide members with a few extra benefits that are explained on the website. Can you tell us a bit about your background as a chess player?

Jose:

I am a 49-year-old research scientist (entomologist) with no previous competitive experience or serious studies in chess. I learned as a child but only played sporadically and for fun while a teenager, and basically stopped chess after that. I started playing online when I was over 40 years old, but only since 2019 have I been playing more regularly on Chess.com and Lichess (after my daughter and wife encouraged me to take chess more seriously and study more). My Rapid rating in Chess.com has fluctuated between the low 1300’s and (very occasionally) the low 1400’s, but for the most part, I was around the mid 1300’s.

By early 2020 my main motivation was to try to stabilize my rating over 1400, but by the end of April, I was only 1330. However, by Christmas, I got to 1556, which represents a little over 200 rating points gained in around 8 months.

Jose's improvement chart
Jose’s One Year History – Chess.com Rapid

Study Plan

Matt: That’s a very impressive jump in 8 months! What did your study plan look like during this timeframe? [I’m adding some additional notes in bracketed italics. To see the summarized bullet points, jump to the Summary.]

Jose:

1- I do not play any Bullet game. Thanks for the advice ChessGoals!

2- I play Blitz games only occasionally (again, following ChessGoals suggestion), mostly to try opening variants and/or to play some chess when I do not have more time. When playing blitz, I tried to use 5|5 or 5|3 time controls and try to avoid shorter time periods. But I do not pay attention to my blitz rating, so when playing blitz I try more new things and am more forgiving of my errors there.

3- I mostly play Rapid games, usually with time control 15|10 (here I follow the advice given by IM John Bartholomew in several of his YouTube videos, as he recommends a minimum time control of 15|10 to develop proper chess thinking). But I also play 10|5, and rarely 10|0. And I am trying to use most of my time there to think about what I am playing (although I still have not been able to overcome the old and bad habit of playing fast without thorough thinking).

4- I try to play at least once per day, ideally 2-4 games. Again, this is advice that I credit to ChessGoals (play more and study less, at least at my rating level).

[Playing recommendations can be found on the Intermediate free study plan page]

5- I have now reduced significantly a bad habit that I had after blundering and losing a game I should have won. Usually when that happened, I played many games in a row afterwards, trying to regain the rating I had lost… but actually most of the time I ended losing the majority of such games, and my rating could drop more than 70 points in a single day. This was demoralizing and affected subsequent play.

Now, I limit myself to fewer games per day, and if I lose a game that I should not, I try to stop there, to regroup and not continue playing like a gambler in a casino. I cannot claim that I have totally avoided this bad habit, but I have reduced it significantly.

6- I now analyze some of my games, especially my losses (although I am sure that ChessGoals was not the first to advise that but I actually started to analyze my games and realized how important it is after reading the outline of plans in ChessGoals, so I credit them for that!). Unfortunately, I do not spend as much time as I should analyzing the games, so this is still a work in progress.

7- For game analysis, I strongly recommend using Lichess, which is free. In Chess.com you would need to have a premium membership for analyses (with a regular membership you only get one game analyzed per day, after that analyses are run at half the depth), so when I play there and want to analyze my games, I download them and then upload them to Lichess for analysis there. [see also: How To Improve – The Art Of Game Analysis]

8- I study chess every day, although I do not have much time (usually 15-20 minutes per day, or around 2 hours per week). This is still insufficient, but it is a start… I study mostly in Chessable. I started with some of their free courses and loved them. Recently I bought three courses that I needed to improve my opening knowledge. I strongly recommend this website, as even their free courses are plentiful and very good to gain a lot of knowledge.

If you want some of the non-free courses, you can still get them at great prices if you wait for specials throughout the year. Much cheaper than buying books, and the online learning environment I think is much better – although perhaps that may not be the preferred way for everyone, but I love it. I also occasionally study some contents in Lichess, ChessGoals and You Tube (and very occasionally in Chess.com). But I would recommend Chessable as the main resource.

9- I also do puzzles everyday. I would not recommend Lichess puzzles as sometimes they are not great. The ones in Chess.com are great, but you only get 5 puzzles/day with a regular membership. So, what I use mostly is Chesstempo, which provides great puzzles in unlimited quantities. Chesstempo also provides you with endgame puzzles, but those are limited to only two per day for non-premium (too bad, but I still do those 2/day). [see also: Two Systems You Need To Solve Chess Tactics Puzzles]

10- Having said that, Chess.com has many features that are limited to premium membership, which I do not think is worth it. You can find as good or better learning resources elsewhere which are free (Chessable, ChessGoals, Lichess, several YouTube channels). And you can do unlimited puzzles in Chesstempo.

But I do like that Chess.com has the largest pool of players, and their ratings match more closely the over the board ratings. Also, its anti-cheating tools seem to work better (at least they have been endorsed by several chess federations). And its customer service is very fast to respond to any inquiry. [see also: Is a Chess.com Membership Worth It?]

11- I like that Lichess is 100% free and it is run by an enthusiastic and passionate community, not the commercial-looking taste of other sites. And I especially like their game analysis features and free lectures. I do not like the quality of puzzles in Lichess, and its customer service is really basic, almost lacking. I do not know for sure how good its anti-cheating tools are, but they have not been endorsed by any chess federation yet (as far as I know).

12- Last but not least, I started playing games in a more competitive way by joining my country federation (Canadian Federation of Chess, CFC) which started organizing online CFC-rated tournaments around the same time that the pandemic prevented most over the board games. Playing CFC tournaments online has allowed me to connect with other players in a more meaningful way, which is not only greatly enjoyable but also useful: for example, one National Master I played against (obviously I lost badly) was the one who advised me to check Chesstempo for puzzles, which has been great for me.

Playing versus titled players also is very rewarding and encouraging -never mind the results. Although I do not think that I have played particularly well in CFC tournaments, my current CFC rating (1433) is only 100 points lower than my Chess.com rating (there seems to be a broad consensus among CFC players that the current online CFC ratings are a bit underrated for a number of reasons).

Matt: Wow, that was a very thorough overview! It sounds like you are following the percentages in the study plan pretty closely and have found a system that is definitely working for you. You’re also finding a good balance of free resources across websites. Chess.com for games and some puzzles, lichess for analysis, Chesstempo for unlimited puzzles and endgame puzzles, and Chessable for opening courses.

Summary

Matt: How would you summarize your study plan for people just looking for the bullet points?

Jose:

  • Reduce blitz and instead increase rapid games
  • Play daily if possible and try to use most of my clock time
  • Analyze my games
  • Do not go into play many consecutive games (especially after a painful loss)
  • Study daily (even if only a few minutes)
  • Do puzzles daily
  • Start playing some online tournaments with my national federation.

Due to my age and lack of years of chess experience, I do not think that I will be able to gain much more rating, but I hope that trying one of the ChessGoals plans in the near future could help me to improve at least a bit more. If/when that happens, I will revisit this post to comment on that.

Matt: I think there are more points to be gained, Jose. Looking forward to your next update and seeing you in the ChessGoals forums!