Learner Series #13 – Crossing 1000

Learner series #13 highlights ChessGoals member Jack Nowland. Jack has been working with the Novice Study Plan since December and recently crossed into the four-digit club. He just started playing chess at age 29 and I’m excited to share his answers to our learner series interview questions.

Learner Series #13 Jack Nowland

GENERAL OVERVIEW

How old are you and how long have you been playing chess?

I am 29 years old and I had never played a game of chess until before the quarantine. I remember I happened to be on twitch one afternoon and caught the first round of the first Pogchamps tournament and it caught my attention. I signed up for a chess.com account that day, which would have been about 9 months ago.

How many hours per week do you spend on chess?

My number of hours really fluctuates based on work and life. On a good week, I can do anywhere from 14-20 hours in a week with games, puzzles, and analysis but there are a lot of weeks when I either need to avoid burnout, am tilting a little bit, or am just too busy when I play it could easily be less than 5 hours in a week.

Chess website usernames?

jnowland on chess.com and lichess (chess.com profile | lichess profile)

What’s your current skill level or rating?

I just crossed 1000 Rapid for the first time this week! I am around 1000 in daily however every win and loss swings this quite a bit, and I am around 800 blitz.

PLAYING OVERVIEW — describe where you play, time controls, how often, etc

OTB

I have never played an over-the-board game, unfortunately. I did get a cheap rollup set over the winter so I could get used to visualizing some of my games in 3D. I joined my local chess club on chess.com (shoutout Westport Chess Club) and am looking forward to joining them on Tuesday nights when everyone can get together again.

Online

I almost exclusively play on chess.com, however, I am working on getting rid of my provisional rating on Lichess so that I can join the 45/45 league that PrestaJay talked about in his interview. I mostly play 5+0 or 5+5 blitz and either 10+0 or 15+10 rapid, I developed a bad habit of spamming blitz games while it is slow at work or when I am bored and it has given me some bad tendencies that I am working to correct by sticking to Daily and Rapid games only and starting fewer games during the workday.

I have been trying to play a few longer games every day. When I am looking for a challenge I enjoy joining a tournament- Westport Chess Club has a weekly tournament and then USCF has tournaments throughout the week. While the level of competition is generally much higher than my ability, I think it has been good for me to test my limits. When I first joined the Westport group I brought up that I was a little nervous about playing players that are so much stronger and they brought up that it is absolutely no risk for me, if I lose a marginal amount of Elo is lost and that it is a good experience. Taking time to look over those games has taught me a lot.  

STUDYING OVERVIEW — talk about what sites you use, how often you spend, tips

Game Analysis

This area is one that I have struggled in the most. For one when I was in the habit of spamming blitz games, the extent of my analysis was generally doing the game report on chess.com, finding my big mistake, and then moving on. The other habit I have is that I do more analysis on a win than I do on a loss, but even in that process I will gloss over key mistakes and blunders that I made because it was a win.

When I do a full analysis, I use a notebook and pencil and write out positives and negatives that I spot in each match as I play through it without an engine, I really try to key in on what my thought process was and why I am making the moves. If there are any key lines that stick out to me I may try to play through those variations but for the most part, I stick to my thinking. I then use the game report on chess.com to see my accuracy score and see where it highlighted mistakes and blunders and retry those mistakes. I am not very diligent about this, but I do try to save one night a week to look at some of my games during the past week. I specifically focus on tournament games if there are any, and then the slowest time controls.

Tactics

For tactics, I mostly use chess.com puzzles, but I was finding that I will rush through these or be quick to give up especially when I am working on them on mobile. What I have started to do over the past month or so is use physical tactic workbooks. I force myself to visualize on paper, and do not have the solution one click away. Any problems that I miss or have trouble with, I add to my missed puzzles book on Chessable that way I can use the repetition features on that website to drill away my mistakes. I have found that using the paper and pencil helps me focus just on whats in front of me and not other tabs or starting random games or anything like that. 

Another book that I like is “How to Beat Your Dad at Chess” while some of the writing is designed for kids, it focuses on “50 deadly checkmates” that have actually come useful in actual games. Looking for ways to set up some of the ideas I learn in-game is really fun, and it also helps with creating plans during the game. 

Overall, I try to set aside at least 30 minutes either in the morning or at night every day to work on tactics.

Openings

I very rarely spend any time on Openings, I have read from many sources that focusing on fundamentals over theory at my level is the most beneficial. The most time I will spend is looking into openings I run into and looking for the best way to get into a playable middle game. Specifically, I remember having to do some engine work on the Petrov Defense and the Scotch Game as I was often losing pieces or getting into bad positions early. 

Endgames

I have not spent a ton of time working on Endgames, I know the basic endgame mating patterns with Queens and Rooks, and have been doing well to avoid most stalemating traps that plagued me early on. I use the Drills on chess.com to work on endgame scenarios that I am going to see at my level. I also recently got the book “100 Endgames You Must Know” and while a lot of the material is a little over my head, playing through the end games and reading the theory behind it has been interesting. I actually used some of the opposition principles in a King and Pawn vs King end game earlier this week that I would have almost certainly drawn if I had not reviewed the information.

Strategy

Almost all of my strategy work has been playing through the book “Logical Chess: Move by Move”. I have really enjoyed working through this book, and it has really helped me in visualizing plans to attack and win games. I enjoy reading through his reasoning for each move and playing through his lines for why what was played works. I am also impressed by the number of different ways he can describe 1. E4.

OTHER USEFUL TIDBITS

I do consume a lot of chess content on Youtube and Twitch, for educational content I enjoy John Bartholomew and Daniel Naroditsky. Specifically, the beginners series that they both have put together has some really good information for improvement. Robert Hess is probably my favorite chess streamer to watch especially when he is doing tournament coverage, he has a great way of quickly and easily explaining ideas that Super GMs are playing and he also finds teachable moments in each game. He also does it without being biased which is a plus for me. I talked about it above, but I really think pushing myself and playing in tournaments with games above my level has been really helpful with growth. 

I would also say, not being afraid to take a day or even a week or two off and let yourself have a break from the grind is important as well. I think some of my best improvement has come after I took time away, or spent time only studying instead of playing a bunch of games and getting angry that I am just spinning my wheels.